Saturday, December 01, 2012

The Real Cliff We Face

This so-called “fiscal cliff” we face resulted from an agreement reached last year between Democrats and Republicans in Congress to increase the debt limit high enough to fund the government past the 2012 election. Now that the election is over, the result of that agreement - about $670 billion in budget “adjustments” - is upon us. Those “adjustments” will come, unless Congress acts sooner, in the form of $135 billion in across-the board cuts to discretionary spending, and $535 billion in TAX INCREASES.

What we’re actually debating here is how to pay the tab for things we’ve done since 1980 (before then, the budget was more or less balanced) but for which we lacked sufficient revenue to pay as we went - those things include, a military incursion in Grenada, deployment to Lebanon, the S & L collapse, military intervention in Panama, the First Gulf War, Kosovo, invasion of Afghanistan, invasion of Iraq, two tax rebates (stimulus), homeowner mortgage rescue plan, financial system rescue funding during the 2007-2009 meltdown, automotive bailout, a second round of banking and mortgage bailout, and a general stimulus spending package - all of it facilitated with borrowed money.

Congress is on the verge of dealing with the situation the way Congress always does - at someone else’s expense. They’ll wring their hands and fret over the terrible mess we’re in, but in the end, they’ll pass a bill that does most of what will already occur - raise tax rates and cut domestic spending, which translated means paying for it with middle class money and the poor’s misery. Congress created this problem - both the underlying fiscal issues and the looming automatic changes. All this talk about “fiscal cliff” and “second recession” is nothing more than an advertising campaign to cover the real cliff we face, which is Congress’ pitiful lack of leadership.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Evil Begins With A Premise You Accept

First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.

The words of Martin Niemoller, a German pastor and theologian who endured the Holocaust in a concentration camp, reflecting on how the Nazis, with the help of the church and typical German citizens, implemented their policies and committed the atrocities of that era.

Evil is always incremental. It starts from an easily acceptable, but subtly deceptive, beginning and moves logically from one step to the next, until even the faithful find themselves embracing a goal that they would have easily rejected earlier. That's how the Nazis did it. They started with something that almost all Germans agreed with - the economy was bad - and then they took them to an end no one could have imagined - the systematic murder of over 6 million foreign immigrants, blacks, gays, disabled, and infirmed.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Last Call For The Church

In this election, we, as Christians, are invited to support Mitt Romney, a man who is a member of a religion that by any traditional, classic definition is decidedly non-Christian, and to support a party whose agenda emphasizes the pursuit of money, power, and wealth. We now are told by leaders of the faith - many of them long regarded as bastions of the evangelical Christian faith - that because Romney is a virtuous person, we should ignore Biblical truth - against which the untruth of Mormonism is obvious - and support him over a candidate whose primary domestic goal has been to address the needs of the poor, the needy, and the sick. We are urged to do this, not because of some new found theological insight, but solely for the purpose of removing one president from office and installing another.

Theology, in one sense, is our statement of what Scripture means and how it applies to our lives. For almost two thousand years we've said that it is the standard by which we as Christians know and determine the truth, and that our actions should conform to it rather than twisting it to conform to the things we want to do. If we cast aside that standard - both as it applies to the religion of the candidate, and to the candidate's agenda - merely for political advantage, how can we then claim Scripture as an objective authority for anything? Has not our goal become our standard? Are we not forcing our faith to conform to us, rather than us to our faith?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

What This Election is Really About

In assessing this current presidential election, many of you have suggested we as Christians should cast our vote based on abortion, gay marriage, and the economy. Those are serious issues, but something far more serious is at stake.

As to abortion and gay marriage – we lost the abortion battle in the 70s and 80s when we opted to support elected officials who only gave lip service to the issue. And we lost our position on marriage when (contrary to Jesus’ teaching) the Church found a way to accommodate serial divorce and remarriage. Now, divorce rates are the same for the Church as for society at large, reflecting society’s value of marriage rather than that of Scripture. And not even conservative justices or politicians are willing to risk their appointments or elected careers to un-do Roe v. Wade. Time and the human context have moved on. The day for addressing those issues has passed.

Today, America stands at a precarious moment, and the question we face, both as a nation and as the Church, is, "Will you care for the poor, treat the immigrants among you (legal or illegal) as you treat yourselves, and care for the sick?" This is the question Jesus described in Matthew 25:31ff, the answer to which defines what it means to be a member of the Kingdom of God – a Christian. Those who care for the poor, the stranger, the sick, the imprisoned, are in. Those who don’t, are out. How we as Christians answer politically on those issues determines how we define America and ourselves. The stakes couldn't be higher.

We're at a turning point in history - the turning point. One way - defining America in terms of conservative economic policy and consumerism (idolatry), turns us toward Babylon and the end (Revelation 17ff). The other, defining America as a country of compassion for the poor, sick, and foreign (Matthew 25:31ff) allows the moment to pass and human history to continue. That's what this election is about.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Billy Graham Move Toward Romney Is Deplorable

As many of you are aware, Mitt Romney recently traveled to North Carolina where he met with Billy Graham. Following that meeting, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association removed references from its website that classified the Mormon religion as a cult. Franklin Graham has issued a statement suggesting that America is at a crossroads and that we should all vote for a candidate who supports Biblical principles and the worship of God. His message implies not so subtlety that our support should go to Mitt Romney. This statement from the Grahams is deplorable.
Since the founding of our nation, America has been a place where truth is valued, liberty prized, and justice (however imperfectly) has prevailed. We have been a nation of that character because Christianity has been the bedrock of American culture and the core of that Christianity has been the Church of Bible-believing Christians, primarily evangelicals. But for the past thirty years, the evangelical wing of the Church has defined Christianity solely and only in terms of personal piety, and has woefully disregarded and discarded what Jesus said about the poor, the imprisoned, and the foreign among us. In place of that truth, we have adopted conservative Republican economic and political philosophy – which vilifies the poor, castigates the imprisoned, and excoriates the immigrants among us. Now, we see the result of that choice as America has become a primarily secularized society with no collective consciousness of the Christian values that made us great. But instead of repenting of our error and turning to the truth we have only redoubled our flight to politics and political action, competing for votes, legislation, and government initiatives rather than the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens.
Franklin is correct. America is at a crossroads, and so is the Church. The question before the Church is whether it will hold to the truth of the Gospel and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish God’s will in the world, or cast aside the truth and run in fear to the arms of politicians who promise one thing and do quite another. That the Mormon religion is a non-Christian religion is beyond denial. That the Grahams would forsake the truth and suggest otherwise, merely so they can feel comfortable about supporting Romney, is a travesty. We, and they, shall live to rue this day.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

I Will Not Vote For Mitt Romney

Since the age of eighteen, I have seen myself as an evangelical Christian voter. I believe in the authority of Scripture, and I consider issues like abortion, national defense, budget deficits, health care, and immigration when deciding which candidate to support in presidential elections. In the upcoming presidential election of 2012, I will not vote for Mitt Romney, and here's why.
First, on the abortion issue, beginning with Ronald Reagan, every Republican presidential nominee has campaigned as the pro-life/anti-abortion candidate. But none of those nominees who actually reached office did a single thing to effectively change the law on the topic. All they did was campaign on the issue, raise money on the issue, and use it to incite voters to vote for them. I’m tired of being manipulated. So, I’m not basing my vote on the abortion issue.
Mitt Romney, a former Wall Street fund manager, is the Corporate America candidate, backed by powerful people with lots of money. Most conservatives think his ties to the business world are a good thing and are convinced that what’s good for major corporations is somehow good for private individuals. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The people and entities bankrolling Romney’s candidacy - major multinational corporations, banking and finance companies, and super wealthy individuals - are bent on making government nothing but the lapdog of multinational business interests. They already control Congress. If Romney wins this election, they will control the White House and all but the smallest sliver of the Supreme Court. If Romney wins, profit and profit alone will rule. Privatization will be the watchword but it will be code for "looting the public property." Everything - health care, the poor, illegal immigration, funding for Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and the use of federal lands - will be analyzed on a cost-benefit ratio.
Social Security will be privatized in a plan marketed as an attempt to give individuals greater control over their financial future and the opportunity to participate in investment vehicles that offer attractive returns. In reality, it will be nothing more than a government-enforced income stream directed toward Wall Street firms operated by the same people who caused the financial meltdown of 2008 - all in the name of profit. They will squander that income stream on complex transactional schemes that have no underlying value - much like the ones that fueled the 2008 meltdown - and when the money evaporates and you’re left with nothing, the Republican-led government will say to you what they say to the poor now, “Too bad. You made wrong choices. You bear the consequences.” Even though the “wrong choices” were decisions made by money managers in New York over which you had very little control.
The prison system will be outsourced also, and turned over to for-profit corporations, many of which are already operating prisons in several states. In order to subsidize the cost and bolster profit, inmates will be charged exorbitant fees - the imposition of which will carry the force of law and which they will have no means of paying. Release, even after serving the statutory criminal sentence, will be conditioned upon payment of those fees. Being unable to pay, they will be forced to work for wages, at or below the minimum standard, and will become a source of permanent, government-enforced, slave labor.
Illegal immigrants will be rounded up in a Holocaust-style military operation, much of it outsourced to private security firms who perfected their craft in Iraq and Afghanistan and who already have a ready cadre of trained personnel willing and able to do the job. Like the outsourced inmates in prison, illegal immigrants will be charged excessive fees to cover the cost of finding and detaining them. Those who can pay will be deported or allowed to immigrate to another country. Those who can’t will be shunted into the outsourced prison system where they will become part of the slave labor pool. This is how the Nazis treated the Jews before World War II and we’re well on our way to doing the same thing.
The court system will be radically transformed in the name of “tort reform” and reduced to little more than a corporate-controlled arbitration system, ostensibly to contain the cost of litigation but the real motive will be the limitation of risk and a reprieve from accountability for business, all to maximize profits. The real loser will be the American individual, who will lose the last opportunity for individual justice.
Government programs to assist the poor will be drastically curtailed, and in most cases eliminated, in the name of budget reform. All who are physically able to work will be told to get a job or starve.
Health care rationing, which conservatives fear will be imposed by the liberal left, will actually come from the conservative right as part of the never-ending lust for lower taxes and greater profits. Already, Romney is proposing to transfer Medicaid funding to the states, a move that will lead to the elimination of the program (states have no money to fund their own programs, much less a program the size of Medicaid).
The agenda is already in place. The will to do it is creeping up on us. Conservative politicians have energized their right wing base with rhetoric vilifying the poor and illegal immigrants. Evangelical churches - churches that actually believe the Gospel and understand that Jesus really meant what He said - have bought into the conservative political viewpoint, equating conservative politics and national loyalty with the Gospel. This election is the watershed moment for our nation. If Romney wins, the American story will become one of the saddest stories in history - the greatest democracy in the history of the world deceived into voting itself out of existence, all in the name of profit.
And that’s why I will never vote for Mitt Romney, and neither should you.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Real Story Behind The Unemployment Rate

While unemployment remains stuck around 8.5 to 9 percent, and many analysts continue to insist the economy is in dire straits, corporate profits are at an all-timehigh. The reason profits are high is quite simple. Corporations have fired many of their employees and have required more production from those they retain. Those mighty corporations, who tell us they need lower taxes and less regulation to spur employment, are the very ones shrinking the number of available jobs. But they aren't shrinking their workforce because they can't afford to retain the employees. They're reducing the number of employees because executive compensation is tied to quarterly profits and firing employees is the quickest way to affect the bottom line. This is why major corporations oppose labor unions and support right-to-work laws - getting rid of the unions gives executives much greater latitude in firing employees, which provides greater flexibility in reaching those target numbers for the quarter, resulting in million-dollar bonuses for executives at the expense of hourly wage earning American workers.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Secularization of the Christian Right

In the 1970s, as the Carter administration took office and American politics moved beyond the Watergate era, conservative Christians began to exert renewed influence in American elections. Always a political force, the 1970s saw an organized effort to corral evangelical Christians and harness their votes as a force for change. Much of that effort focused on opposition to abortion and attempts to counteract the Supreme Court’s (at the time) recently announced ruling in Roe v. Wade. Chief among the organizers was Jerry Falwell. His Moral Majority organization became the standard bearer for that effort.

As a primary strategy, leaders of emerging conservative Christian political groups sought to target key elections and issues as a way of injecting a Christian worldview into the political process. By electing Christian leaders, it was supposed that the direction of government policy could be turned from what was perceived to be godless secularism to an embrace of Biblical values.

Initially, the effort was energized by Jimmy Carter’s rise to the presidency but when Carter went along with the Democratic Party’s position on abortion and when he failed to pursue policies on school prayer and education that Falwell and others supported, the Moral Majority turned its attention to the Republican Party and, more specifically, to Ronald Reagan.

Through the Reagan administration’s two terms, the Moral Majority remained at the forefront of the conservative Christian political movement and continued to provide a voice for evangelicals in their attempts to exert influence over the political process. But as the Reagan era came to a close, public sentiment regarding the group’s primary issues waned. The broader context of the Christian church moved towards opinions more in line with the general public. Many evangelical political groups found themselves marginalized.

In the late 1980s, the Moral Majority ceased to exist as a formal organization and the group splintered into what is now identified simply as the Christian Right – a loose confederation of Christian leaders and organizations. The Christian Right, however, has moved one step beyond Falwell’s Moral Majority and has focused less on electing Christians to office and more on marrying Christianity with secular conservatism. The Christian Right still coalesces around the pro-life issue, but spends most of its energy promoting traditional conservative positions on lower taxes, less government regulation, and opposition to increased government control over health care. As a result, what were once merely political positions on taxes and government regulation now have become articles of Christian faith for many evangelicals. It is this shift of perspective that has marked the end of the Christian Right.

In the 1980s, no pro-choice candidate ever obtained the Christian Right’s endorsement. Indeed, most evangelical political groups were organized specifically for the opposition of that very position. At the same time, no candidate who did not profess to be a Christian ever received that group’s support. Now, things have changed.

That Mitt Romney is a Mormon is well-known. His position on abortion prior to his entry into his first presidential campaign is equally well-known. In spite of efforts to morph Mormonism away from the writings and influence of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, Mormonism is not a Christian organization. The traditional, bright-line distinction between what is and is not Christianity comes from the apostle Paul’s Letter to the Romans and consists of two points – the exclusive deity of Christ and His physical resurrection. Mormon beliefs fail on the question of Christ’s exclusive claim to deity.

Today, members of the Christian Right find themselves endorsing a candidate for president who is neither Christian nor opposed to abortion. And they offer that support not because they think Romney will advance the pro-life position, but because they think he will reverse recent legislation that attempts to provide health care insurance coverage for 40 million Americans who are without it. In the process, those in the Christian Right have abdicated their claim to Christianity and have become nothing more than conservative political lobbists masquerading under the name of God, in an attempt to manipulate voters, solely for the purpose of maintaining their supposed political power. They have ceased to be Christian and proved once and for all that they are more devoted to political power than to the standards of the Christian faith.

Friday, April 06, 2012

A Thought For Good Friday

Jesus didn't say, "Love the sinner, hate the sin."

What He actually said was, "Love the sinner. And when you've done something about the sin in your own life, then you can talk about theirs."

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Myth About Drilling For Oil

In the current election cycle, we’ve heard from Republican candidates about how we can reduce high gasoline prices by drilling more domestic oil wells here in the US. You should know that suggestion is nothing short of campaign myth.

Refining capacity and domestic consumption aside, the price of crude oil is the single biggest factor affecting gasoline prices. As oil prices rise, gasoline prices rise, too. However, prices for crude oil are not set by a national market. As a general rule, oil produced from a well in Texas goes into the global bucket with oil from every other region in the world. Minor variations in price are based on sulfur content of the oil and transportation costs, not simply on the region from which it came. For more US drilling to change the price of oil, we would have to increase our production to a level high enough to lower the global market price (by increasing the amount of oil available in the market, therefore driving down prices). Based on oil production alone, moving gasoline prices from $5 per gallon to $2.50 per gallon would require a doubling of current global oil production.
Global oil production stands at a rate of 74 million barrels per day. In order to double global oil production, thereby reducing the cost of oil by one-half, the US would have to produce 74 million barrels of oil per day. US production, already the third largest in the world, is currently 6 million barrels per day. Moving the global market price low enough to drop oil prices to half the current price would require the US to raise its production by 12 times its current rate. The US currently has about 530,000 oil wells in production. Increasing production levels to twelve times the current rate would require more than 6 million new wells. Even if the US had the reserves to exploit, drilling that many new wells would be physically impossible.
Merely meeting US demand with US oil, a presupposition behind the call for additional drilling, would be equally impossible and do little to affect the price of oil. Currently, the US consumes about 19 million barrels of oil per day. With production at 6 million barrels per day, the US would have to triple domestic production in order to meet current demand. That alone would require the addition of a million new wells and would still not insulate US consumers from the effect of global oil prices. Simply producing as much oil as we consume would yield no market dynamic that would force oil companies to sell their oil at prices below that fixed by the global market.