Monday, December 31, 2012

Michael Medved’s Big Lies: A Review of "The 5 Big Lies About American Business" by Michael Medved

During my winter break from seminary I thought I would try to read some books from a different perspective for the sake of intellectual honesty. One of my selections was Michael Medved’s The 5 Big Lies About American BusinessMedved’s book is predictable faire of libertarian economic ideology (errr, policy) that’s light on data and long on anecdotal “evidence.”  Yet that’s absolutely the point, to throw in just enough numbers to convince the average, un-educated, non-critical Medved loyalist that his assertions are legit while also lacing apropos stories throughout to appeal to their emotion. Conveniently, conservatives of his ilk have a disdain for academics because of their “haughty intellectualism” and “liberalism.” Translation, academia can generally see through the B.S. so many conservatives put out under the guise of “fact.” Since these conservatives can’t dispute these critiques their only option is to disparage the source.

Medved’s “Five Lies” are “The current downturn means the death of Capitalism,” “When the rich get richer, the poor get poorer,” “Business executives are overpaid and corrupt,” “Big business is bad, small business is good,” and “Government is more fair and reliable than business.”  His usage of moral vocabulary helps his cause, because words like “good,” “corrupt,” “fair,” and so on are all relative depending on the context and therefore difficult to critique.  I decided to take a closer look at the one “lie” that lends itself to actual data analysis; specifically “When the rich get richer, the poor get poorer.”  

Medved proudly asserts “the claim that progress for the rich causes pain for the poor is logically impossible, historically unsupportable, and culturally (and psychologically) unforgivable” (69-70).  Despite strong words, his supporting evidence is actually quite sparse. I kept flipping to the back of the book looking for the bibliography, but was disappointed every time; too often Medved depends on broad generalizations or “studies” from obviously biased sources like the Heritage Foundation or Cato Institute.  Medved’s biggest error is his interpretation of growth amongst low and middle incomes. No one would disagree that families make more now than they did years ago, what actually needs to be analyzed is whether that growth has been enough to keep pace with the rising costs of everything else (exemplified in line graph below). Not intended to be exact, the graph illustrates that while median incomes have increased, incomes aren’t growing in relation to costs, and when compared to the income growth amongst the top-earning Americans the rich are actually getting richer while the poor get poorer.

Here’s some statistics in response to Medved. In the 30 years I’ve been alive, the median home price has gone up over 200%, the cost of a new car has gone up 275%, and gas has gone up over 220% while median income has only gone up about 81%.  No one would argue that median income hasn’t increased. The real question is whether income is keeping pace with the increases everywhere else.  Data shows that isn’t the case, in fact income has flat-lined, barely keeping up with inflation while the top income brackets have increased exponentially in the same time frame.  Further, the non-partisan Economic Policy Institute asserts that median income households actually lost wealth the last 30 years, which makes absolute sense considering households are spending a bigger chunk of their income for the basics of life.  Consider also that most spending by the “middle class” during the 00’s was on credit.

In another attempt to make his point, Medved uses a “study” by the Heritage Foundation  which asserts households are better off today because of the prevalence of TV’s and microwave’s in the average home (85-86).  A microwave cost $200 in 1984 but I can get one for $50 today.  Additionally, my father-in-law paid a couple thousand for a large flat screen a few years ago; I paid a few hundred last year. Technology almost always gets cheaper, so more families having a TV or microwave doesn’t really represent an increase in overall “wealth.”  Another head-scratcher is the assertion that “eighty-nine percent of the poor report their families have ‘enough’ food to eat, while only 2 percent say they ‘often’ don’t get enough to eat” (86).  The statistics from Feeding America tell a completely different story in which 1 out of 6 Americans lived in “food insecure households.”

Economic inequality is a serious problem in our country, and data clearly shows its only getting worse. It’s time we support fiscal policy as a nation that reduces the gap between rich and poor. And no, I’m not talking about “wealth redistribution” or “socialism,” I’m talking about paying Americans what they deserve.  The wages of the average American worker have been stagnating for the last decade.  Federal minimum wage is $7.25/hour which equates to $15,080/year, below the poverty line for a family of two! Sure, not a lot of folks make just minimum wage, but since much job growth has been in retail and home health care, folks are making $8 or $9/hour, a whopping $18,700/year.  Businesses are making money hand over fist and US workers are the most productive in the world, the problem is that earnings aren’t “trickling down.” We’ve tried lower taxes for top earners for about 10 years and inequality has only increased.  Lower taxes only incentivize top-earners to keep earnings for themselves. A higher marginal tax rate would encourage those same earners to reinvest the money in their business instead of pocketing the money for themselves, which would translate to higher wages and more jobs.

Frankly, I just don’t get it. I may be just plain stupid (and I’ve admitted such before) but to me Medved’s book represents just more justification of self-serving economic policy that I’ve already critiqued (in an oddly popular blog).  Medved may make a reasonable point here or there in his book (like obviously not all business execs are horrible people), but it assumes Capitalism to be a quasi-divine system. Which brings me to a related point, Medved’s usage of Scripture throughout the book is reprehensible.  The Bible has LOTS to say about money and the rich, almost entirely all negative, which he somehow ignores. I’ve criticized Christians for their blind acceptance of conservative economic policy as a way to ease their conscience and I think this is more of the same.  Leaders in Washington are talking right this minute about what to do with the looming “fiscal cliff.”  We can either stick it to the little guy again by cutting needed benefits like food stamps or ask high earners to contribute a little more to society. It’s time to do the right thing America.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Why it’s Time to Reinstate the Assault weapons ban—my proposal after the Sandy Hook tragedy

Yet again a community in America is dealing with the deaths of innocent adults and children due to senseless gun violence after the horrific tragedy in Newtown. Lest we forget the movie theater shooting in Aurora,  the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin, the mall shooting in Oregon, or the seemingly innumerable shootings that have taken place in recent memory there seems to be a never ending cycle of mourning the victims then shortly thereafter forgetting about whatever happened—and the same  thing will happen again this time—or maybe it won’t.  

Folks across America are beginning to try to end this pattern by demanding change to our nation’s gun laws. I wrote after the Aurora shooting of my feelings on guns and gun related tragedies, but I think that far too often general thoughts are buried amongst the avalanche of emotion surrounding gun control/gun rights topic (for  thoughts on gun culture, try here and here).   So, I’d like to propose something very specific—that America must reinstate the assault weapons ban. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) was passed in 1994, banning certain types of semi-automatic firearms or “assault weapons.”  The law was limited to a ten year period and expired in 2004.  There have been multiple attempts to reinstate the law, all being unsuccessful so far.

I know, I know, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” But people are using guns to kill those people—and that’s my problem (When steak knives become the leading instrument used in violent deaths, I’ll be the first one to propose new regulations on steak knives).  But to be honest, guns do kill people—there are over 500 accidental gun deaths a year. There’s also the argument that more guns would make people safe. There are roughly 300 million guns in America, what will make us safer? 400 hundred million, 500 hundred million? Gun rights activists correlate the lack of gun deaths in Switzerland to the prevalence of guns among the populace.  Yet nations such as Britain, Australia, and Japan with very strict gun control laws and very low gun related deaths  defy the argument that taking away the guns will make law-abiding citizens less safe.  Britain and Australia both enacted tough laws after similar gun massacres so those now calling for more gun control in the wake of this tragedy are not without precedence.

All the young victims in CT were shot with an “assault weapon,” and similar weapons were also used in Aurora and Oregon.  The shooter in Wisconsin used extra-capacity magazines for his handgun. Yes, handguns are used to kill people every day, but these assault  weapons increase the death toll exponentially. Oddly, the weapons used in Aurora, Oregon, Wisconsin, and CT were all purchased legally yet were not used illegally until they were used in accordance with their designation as “assault weapons.”  There is no reason for the public to have access to these dangerous weapons; they represent a serious public health risk.  Gun advocates will counter that guns are for protection, sporting, or hunting.  OK, let’s go with that.  I have no problems with hunting rifles, and I’ll even concede handguns for protection, but it’s the assault weapons that need to go.  So, I’d like to propose reinstating the AWB with some modifications. 

First, I propose banning so-called assault weapons. As evidenced by the fact that the CT shooter’s gun was “grandfathered” in despite stricter gun laws being enacted, simply restricting future manufacturing or purchasing of these weapons is not enough, rather all of these weapons must be taken out of the public.  For such I propose something like the following, returning the gun to the manufacturer in exchange for another gun or allowing these weapons to be permanently stored at gun ranges.  The latter would solve the fear of the “government taking all our guns” and still allow them to be used for “sporting.”  If such weapons really are just for “sporting,” there should be no complaints about them only being available at a gun range.  Privately owned businesses could store the individual’s weapons for them and make them available for use at the range only.
Second, I would propose limiting the sale of high-capacity magazines.  As evidenced in Wisconsin and Aurora, such magazines allow an individual to do a large amount of damage without even having to reload.   Again, gun advocates claim these are used at firing ranges, fine—then these same folks shouldn’t have any problem keeping them at the range only.
Finally, for those who fear the “slippery slope” that limiting some guns will lead to the eventual illegality of all guns, I propose the law also have an expiration date, such as the initial AWB did in 2004.  For the period of time the law would be in enactment, I propose independent studies be implemented to examine the effectiveness of the law. For example, did the ban on assault weapons lead to a decrease in death by assault weapons?  At the end of the period, the law would be re-examined, utilizing the studies to determine if the law was effective. Such could be done repeatedly.

This is my proposal, some will think it goes way to far, some will think it doesn’t go far enough, but either way, something has to change.   Our nation cannot continue to suffer repeated tragedies and sit idly by—this can and must be a defining moment in the history of our nation.  Will we take steps to create a safer society? Or will we simply kick the can down the road and forget all about this horrible tragedy and whether anything could be done to prevent it…until the next tragedy strikes? 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Let's make Affordable Education a reality for ALL.

This past semester I had the opportunity to travel down to the U.S.- Mexican border with a group from Phillips Theological Seminary to study border and immigration issues with an organization called Borderlinks.  It was an eye-opening experience; we traveled across the border for two days, staying at a local community center in Nogales, Senora Mexico.  For the other days, we were in Tucson, Arizona and the surrounding area exploring the many facets of this complex issue.  One of the last days of the trip we had the opportunity to sit and talk with a group called Scholarships A-Z.  This group was founded by young adults seeking to create a resource for themselves and their fellow students to find scholarships to help them pay for college.  These students are children of undocumented immigrants and their organization is to help similar students fund higher education since their current immigration status makes them ineligible for any kind of government aid or even “in-state” tuition.

My group and I sat in the basement of the Borderlinks facility in a clutter-filled office that had only been recently given to Scholarships A-Z for use, and listened to two of the leaders of the group (both children of undocumented immigrants, both full-time students at the local community college, both trying to fulfill their dreams of receiving an education) share their story with us. These young Americans shared the story of how their organization came to be, how they had struggled –and continue to struggle—finding ways to finance their education because of their legal status and how they and others like them decided to start this organization to meet those needs.  These were smart guys; both had excelled in high school and had bright futures ahead.  The only problem was that their immigration status made financing that education nearly impossible, so they had set out to organize a list of scholarships that were available to other young students in their situation.

As I sat listening to them that afternoon, I was less than sympathetic.  Already feeling uneasy from a stomach bug I had apparently caught while south of the border, I was dealing with the mental anxiety of having just found out my grandmother had been diagnosed with cancer when I was calling my mom to tell her that my baby daughter had been taken to the hospital the night before.  I already had a lot on my plate.  Sure, they had a sad story, but so do millions of other American kids from poor backgrounds trying to achieve a better life.  After all, I know firsthand how hard financing higher education can be.  My wife and I have taken out countless loans to pay for our education and probably will still be paying them off by time by own daughter is ready for college.  Oh, yeah, and I’ve got to somehow save up for her college. “We’ve all got problems,” I thought.

Then it hit me, the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., came sounding forth in my mind.   Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Here I was, worried only about myself, forgetting that I will never have justice if these young men don’t have justice, I will never find affordable education if these young men can’t find affordable education.  I realized, then and there, that justice for them—affordable higher education for these young men—whether it be in the form of scholarships, government loans, pell grants, or instate tuition would be in turn justice—or affordable education for myself, my wife, and my young daughter.  Because we are all interconnected, when one suffers, we all suffer. When one is healed, we are all healed.  When one finds affordable education, we all find affordable education. 

I continue to be amazed how easy it is for me to take that same path, to worry only about myself and my own needs.  I see that same tendency so often in our society.  As we fight for resources, we grab them for ourselves, squeezing them ever so tightly in our fists. Yet, what happens, the tighter we squeeze, the more they slip out through the cracks between our fingers.  If we would rather open our hand, we would find that there is enough for me, enough for you, and enough for these young men in Tucson. 

One of the ways we can make affordable education a reality today is by supporting the passage of the DREAM act legislation in our own states and nationwide. In supporting the DREAM act, You support high-schoolers across the country dreaming of achieving an education for themselves, for their family, for their country, and for their world. Get more info about the DREAM act here. I encourage you to call your congressman, which you can find here, because affordable education must be a reality for ALL.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The PARTY OF PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY just blamed somebody else

'Romney Rolls Royce' photo (c) 2012, Mike Licht - license: way back when that secret video of Mitt Romney came out in which he described the 47% of Americans who don’t pay taxes as “victims” who would vote for the President no matter what? Initially he said he had misspoke, later he declared that he was “completely wrong.”  The Democrats of course hammered Romney on this “47% controversy” while the Republicans did their best to downplay the comments right up until they lost the election.

It’s a funny thing, for the last two year the Right has declared that Obama was dividing America, promoting “class warfare” and pitting one side against the other. Well, what did the Right do as soon as they lost the election? They went right back to the “47%” mantra again (technically now it’s the 52%).  Rather than taking some personal responsibility for promoting policies that are often out-of-touch and unpopular, the Right chose to blame the media, the electoral college, and most of all the so-called “moochers.”

Now I’ll be honest, the Right has done a fabulous job framing the narrative, promoting the “job creators” while demonizing the “moochers.”   This was an election, they said, between the “makers” and the “takers.”  Conveniently of course, they were very limited about what was and was not an “entitlement.” 

'The '47' Percent' photo (c) 2012, Peter Stevens - license: I talked to a man who blamed Obama for his two years of unemployment, yet when I pushed back that the two years of unemployment benefits he received (thanks to Obama) was itself an entitlement, he retorted that he had “earned” that.  It’s quite the self-serving narrative, if it’s something that benefits a conservative its “pro-business” or “good for America,” if it’s something that benefits low-income folks it’s an entitlement.  Give me a break.  That small business tax credit used to buy the Lexus SUV because it’s classified as a “light truck,” the subsidies on corn that turn a crop into a profit, the tax breaks a city or county gives a business to relocate, the DARPA funded project called the internet on which so many business rely on, the streets so many drive on, and the 15% tax paid for money made off the hard work of someone else (who themselves get taxed higher).  These, and many, many more are all example of entitlements whether you want to call them that or not.   A Facebook friend posted that he was glad his family had taught him to “reject entitlements.” I’m sure they gave back the many tax deductions and credits they received every year and will continue to receive.  Oh, wait, probably not.

What’s even worse, the Right has intertwined this narrative with Scripture. This unholy alliance—true heresy if I’ve ever seen such—is anything but biblical.  Try as they might to convince that “personal responsibility” is a biblical value, if we could go back in time and speak with Peter, Paul, and John they’d have absolutely no idea what we were talking about.  The Bible, written and assembled over 2000 years ago in a culture massively different than our own can’t be used to justify our own 21st century ideas without a horrific hack job.  Anachronistically reading the text, many try to interpret individualism into a world that was entirely communal.   There was no “I,” there was the family, the community, and the society.

The problem, of course, is that so many on the religious right have blindly followed this shoddy interpretation and engrained it into their spirituality. Questioning the “doctrine” of personal responsibility becomes akin to attacking their faith and they come at you with the same anger and fury as if you were questioning the very existence of God.  Further, they’ve constructed a quasi-Calvinistic theology that asserts their financial “blessings” are because they have found favor in the eyes of God.  Conveniently ignoring the many passages about taking care of the poor and not stockpiling wealth, they sit in their McMansions or drive their Escalades while reflecting on how “God has been good.”  Reality check, you’ve been good to yourself.

If I’m a “moocher” for voting for Obama, you are selfish, egotistical, and materialistic for voting Romney.  Heck, I thought the Democrats were wrong in ’08 for elevating Obama to a “Savior-like” status, yet Rush Limbaugh has practically deified Obama as the omnipresent, omniscient, eternal “Santa.”  Republicans, it’s time to take some personal responsibility for your policies. If you won’t, feel free to continue losing elections, because there is a majority of Americans who believe the same things I do:

-That health care is a right, and not a privilege

-That it is the duty of a democratic society to educate its citizenry

-That no stomach should ever go to bed hungry

-That minimum wage is not a living wage

-That just as this country welcomed our white, European ancestors seeking a better life; we should also extend that welcome to our neighbors south of the border who want the same for their families


(oh, and I forgot to use “hypocritical” in the entire blog, until now)

Monday, November 5, 2012

The most important election of your lifetime…if you’re an old white guy.

I’m sure you’ve heard it said over and over again in one form or another.  The constant and repeated cries about the significance of this election, that it will shape our country for the next four years and beyond, that our vote will have a lasting legacy on our kids and our grandkids. 

This is the most important election of our lifetime and I ask you to vote for love of country this Tuesday” Mitt Romney recently wrote on his Facebook page.  For his part, President  Obama has made similar declarations in his own commercials, alluding to the magnitude of each and every vote by referencing the 537 vote margin which gave George W. Bush the victory in Florida in 2000 and thereby the Presidency of the United States of America. 

A local talk radio host (@davidsirota) satirically tweeted that “On Tuesday, ‘the most important election of our lifetime’ (2012) will end & ‘the most important election of our lifetime’ (2016) will begin.” How prophetic—no, @davidsirota isn’t predicting the future, he’s speaking the truth.  It’s doubtful the rhetoric  will ever decrease, especially as the average voter becomes less and less informed and our society continues to place more and more importance on the present, forgetting about all else.  Yes, if we forget history we are doomed to repeat it.

To be honest, in the grand scheme of things, are things really going to change that much? I strongly, strongly doubt it—either way.  Is Romney really going to overturn Roe vs. Wade? Highly improbable.  And what, if Obama gets re-elected he might raise taxes on a tiny sliver of the American populace by like four percent?  Congress really has far more influence in legislation—yet even there things are so deadlocked not much will really change. Change is the most overused word in politics.

That being said, there is however a smaller and smaller segment of the American populace for whom this election will have significant and lasting consequences—the angry, old, white male.  The Republican Party has been dominated (even that word doesn’t seem strong enough) by angry, old, white guys.  But, there’s a problem; as GOP Senator Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) put it so eloquently, “the demographics race we’re losing badly. We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term” (Washington Post 8/29/12).

Here’s the thing, he’s right.  Demographics indicate that the grip white men have had on the political realm in the U.S. in quickly slipping away.  Think about just how many angry white guys are going to die in the next four years—and worse, they’re not being replaced.  The percentage of the population growth among whites is miniscule compared to growth in minority groups. Some predict that by 2050, white Americans will be outnumbered by minorities.  And here’s the kicker—minorities vote Democratic (at least now).  Three-quarters of Latino voters and about 90% of African-Americans support Obama.  The trends don’t look good even getting away from ethnicity.   Of young adults under 30, 33% don’t claim a religion and tend to vote liberal. Oh, and this isn’t official, but the 31,000,000 Facebook likes Obama has versus the 11,000,000 Romney has should tell you something.

This is the last we will see of the Republican Party—or at least the Republican Party of the angry, old, white guy. For them this is the most important election of their lifetime, because either they’ll be dead by the next one or a good number of their buddies will be.  Considering the amount of money they have spent supporting Romney, they know this to be true.  Forking over that kind of money will come with some serious kick-backs if Romney wins, so don’t be foolish enough to think he’s actually going to do anything for middle-income Americans.  Romney represents the big, last, final gasp of old, angry, and often rich white guys’ chance to control this country. Yes, it is the most important election of their lifetime.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Halloween, the holiday we celebrate 364 days a year

I’m not a big Halloween fan; spooky, scary stuff don’t appeal to me and I try to stay away from things that go “bump in the night.” I don’t like horror movies either—especially the “torture-porn” genre that have become the norm like Saw or Hostel  (I actually think it’s disturbing that someone could be entertained by watching another human be gruesomely killed, but that’s for another blog).  One thing I’ve noticed about Halloween, it’s perhaps the only day of the year we are actually honest with everyone else. What do I mean?

Halloween is when we actually outwardly show something we tend to do all year long—Not be ourselves.  When celebrating Halloween, we explicitly pretend to be someone we are not, or someone we want to be, or someone we wish we could be whereas the other 364 days of the year we’re far less explicit about it.  Halloween is perhaps then the one day of the year we’re actually being honest with ourselves and everyone else.

 As if we weren’t hard enough on ourselves, very often it’s the external influences of others telling us who we should be or how we should act, trying to label us or force us into labels.  We’ve got friends, or family, or society trying to push their expectations on us. Like truly being ourselves wasn’t hard enough already, we’ve got to try to fit into the labels others make for us or be who they expect us to be.

A wise man once told me that we spend our whole lives learning to be ourselves, growing comfortable with ourselves, accepting ourselves for who we really are.  It’s a calling perhaps; our destiny in life is to be ourselves, to become comfortable in our own skin and celebrate what makes us individually who we are. 

What if instead of celebrating being someone different—or not being ourselves—we celebrate being authentic? What if we were honest with ourselves about who we really were and what we really wanted? What if we stood alongside those wanting to come out and be there true selves?  Further, what if we created safe places and safe spaces were people (including us!) could be who they really are?!

Maybe for Halloween this year we can “dress up” as a “mysterious, often unseen spirit” – our true self!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Conservative Christians, following the way of Jesus…as long as it’s fiscally responsible.

If only Bill O’Reilly was the only one advocating this position.  Conservative hero Michelle Malkin has often cited the need to “limit our compassion” in regards to providing medical treatment to the less fortunate.  Thanks to folks like O’Reilly, Malkin, and evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem championing their own neo-liberal economic policies under the guise of Christianity, this misguided view has “trickled down” to the average Joe.  In a recent conversation, someone told me that  “it was never expected that the church would take care of everyone …there were guidelines for who should receive support…there were stipulations…those who were taken care of had to fall into the categories mentioned.”  Yeah…that comes straight out of the Bible.

As the preceding video shows so well, somehow conservative Christians have bought into these neoliberal, libertarian, and “free-market” economics.  Even worse, this economic policy has crept its way into Christian theology.  Perhaps you have seen the video posted above before, this idea that Christians should be “responsible” and “set limits” on their charity, only if it “makes sense.”  Christians are willing help others out if they “deserve” it or are willing to help themselves. 

Jesus was anything but “responsible;” if anything he was a troublemaker and a firebrand.  There was a time (Matthew 4:18-22) when that he told a couple guys to literally walk off the job and follow him. Think about that, Jesus told two small business owners to stop being productive and instead live off entitlements and charity! What a job-killing socialist! I remember another time; another guy wanted to follow Jesus but said he needed to bury his father first. Jesus said, let the dead bury the dead (Luke 9:60) How outrageous! How irresponsible! Jesus should have given him time to arrange his 401k, set up the trust funds, go over the financial documents… Oh, and do I even need to mention the time Jesus went nuts and trashed the market at the temple? (Matthew 21:12)  Jesus was anything but a sensible, responsible, limiting, guideline-making philanthropist. 

So, we are forced to ask, why have conservative Christians embraced this economic policy so readily? Because they can get the best of both worlds.  They get to talk about being “holy” and “Christ-like” on Sunday while driving home in their Lexus to their McMansions.  Listening to Christian radio, they drive over the bridge under which the homeless sleep, past the bus stop where the low-income earners sit, and around the food bank where a line stretches around the building.  Then, over a plate full of food, they thank the Lord they are not like the other “sinners” (Luke 18:11) all before saying “Grace” (somehow they also have forgotten they grace they themselves received from God, despite their own unworthiness).

 Conservative Christians have embraced such an economic policy because it lets them ignore other “troublesome” passages about rich people having a hard time getting into heaven (Matthew 19:24) or a rich man in hell for not helping the less fortunate (Luke 16:23).  “Buying into” (literally) such economic policy allows conservative Christians to keep their conscience at ease while at the same time reinforcing their own “righteousness.”

Well, I’m saying enough. I’m calling you’re bluff.  It's B.S.


Jesus was anything but “responsible” with his compassion…

Matthew 9:36 – “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for (some of) them”

Matthew 20:34 – “Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes (of those who didn’t depend on government for medical insurance)”

Matthew 14:14 –“When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for (those who were willing to help themselves) and cured their sick”

Matthew 9:35 —“Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness (of those who had coverage for their pre-existing conditions)”

Matthew 10:8—“Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment (to those who meet the stipulations)”

Oddly enough, it’s conservative Christians who are so often accusing “liberal” Christians of “picking and choosing” which verses they follow.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Can we please have a REAL conversation about politics?!?

·         Loren Richmond Jr. @relentlessloren

@chrishayes Called me crazy, but I think everyone *is* "entitled" to food and housing. – Retweeted by Loren Richmond Jr. @relentlessloren

·         Brandon Anderson @bander9289

@chrishayes @relentlessloren  Really? Entitled even to those that will take handouts their entire lives? Maybe I'm missing some context. 

·         Loren Richmond Jr. @relentlessloren

@bander9289 @chrislhayes it's funny we're talking about context within an environment that limits us to 140 characters. #antithetical :)

·         Loren Richmond Jr. @relentlessloren

@bander9289 Your tweet made me realize that twitter is emblematic of the problem of political discourse today. We think we can say all that needs to be said in 140 characters

After listening to Mitt Romney’s 47% fundraiser speech, I thought I’d be all clever and retweet something on Twitter from @chrishayes about food and housing being an entitlement.  Thing is, I have no idea who @chrishayes is.  One of the people I follow retweeted @chrishayes and I liked the tweet at first glance so I thought I’d also retweet it. Well, as recounted above, @bander9289 critiqued my retweet, asking for some context.  I tried to say something clever back, realizing he had made a good point.  Eventually I ‘fessed up, acknowledging to him that he had gotten me. 

A professor once told me it takes the Left two paragraphs to say what the Right can say with one sentence, and for that reason it’s been easy for those on the Left to accuse the Right of being overly-simplistic and glib…until recently.   It seems as if the Left has fallen into that same trap of the Right of trying to boil down complex issues into one-liners, and twitter has become the medium of choice.  As detailed above, I am just as guilty.

So what’s the point? I’m frankly sick and tired of political discourse being turned into a series of 30 second TV spots or pointless headlines, and you should be too.  There are serious issues in this country, the national debt is crazy, the poverty rate is skyrocketing, and unemployment is widespread.  Must I go on?

If you really care about this country, stop letting FoxNews—or MSNBC for that matter—continue to speak for you.  Stop letting the rich and powerful tell you what to think—think for yourself.  If we take a deep breath, take a step back, and actually try to understand what the other person is saying fruitful dialogue is possible. But when we jump to conclusions, paint with broad strokes, stereotype, sling mud, and worse we’re just reinforcing the negatives.  Compromise is not a bad thing.   I know realistic, intelligent, meaningful conversations are possible because I’ve had them before.  I know we’re capable of having constructive dialogue—I’ve advocated for it in the past, and I will continue to do so in the future.

I’m ready to have a legitimate, lengthy, respectable conversation about what we need to do to move our country forward.   Are you?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Which standard of Speech do you adhere to?

If you have grown up in church at all, you’ve likely heard a lesson or sermon on chapter 3 in the book of James.  (My pastor just preached a GREAT one from which the idea for this blog came). It’s about the dangers of the tongue and all the problems that can be caused when we let our tongues run wild.  The tongue is contrasted to the rudder of a ship which though small can steer the much larger vessel, and a bridle which is able to control a powerful horse.  The tongue, says James, is a little fire and yet is able to set a whole forest ablaze!  The point is that despite being such a small part of the human body, the tongue—or more specifically the words we say—can have a profound impact on the world around us, and far too often that impact is for the worst. Anyone who has ever “stuck his foot in his mouth,” or worse, has so-called “foot in mouth disease” understands all the problems that can come from letting our tongue run wild.  The tongue, or more specifically our words and speech, can be very dangerous.

This week in America, we have been tragically re-acquainted with the dangers of “speech.” (I don’t think I need to rehash the tragedy that took place a few days ago in Libya).  While there seems to be much debate about whether the attack was planned or not, what spurred that attack, as well as other protest in the Middle East is much more certain.  Just as James says, speech can have very bad consequences.

America is a country that values freedom of speech; it’s the first Amendment of our Constitution.  Free speech is an extremely important part of the fabric of America, yet even it has limits.  It’s illegal to scream “fire” in a crowded theater, if I shout “bomb” in an airport I’m going to be spending a lot of time talking to Homeland Security, and if I make a legitimate threat against the life of the President the Secret Service is going to be all over my as*. What we see then is that speech, true to James, can be dangerous, out of control, and meant for harm.  Oh, and it’s also illegal.  This describes exactly the “speech” of this controversial video.

What I find troubling is that many have run roughshod with the misguided idea that by condemning this video, the leadership of this country is somehow condemning American values.  (Put aside for a moment the  fact that the initial criticism was not of “free speech,” but rather the misuse of such speech to offend believers of all religions) President Obama responded wisely that a key Presidential characteristic was sometimes “holding your tongue” (my paraphrase).  Obama’s bit about thinking “through the ramifications (of your comments) before you make 'em" sounds a lot like the biblical wisdom of James, wouldn’t you say?

What’s ironic is that nearly all the criticism of the administration and it’s supposed “lack of appreciation” for First Amendment rights and American values comes from the right—the same folks who claim to be unabashedly Christian and the “true” followers of the Bible.  Funny, they don’t talk about other American values of respect for other religions or the biblical teaching of being careful about what one says. 

The question ultimately comes down to, which standard of speech do you most value? America’s or God’s? 

So then, I condemn speech such as this video not as an American, but as a Christian.

Monday, September 10, 2012

What an iPhone app taught me about the Presidential election.

My Brother-in-law turned me onto a new iPhone app that can listen to a presidential TV ad and give all the background information regarding the message told.  Essentially it will do an instant “fact-check on just about any national political ad.” Well, sort of…

The app tells who paid for the ad, how much they have raised, and how much they’ve spent over the election season.   There is also a “see claims made in this ad” option which links to different articles which explain the premises made in the ads.  A “Love,” “Fair,” “Fishy,” or “Foul” poll also allows users to vote on how accurate the commercial was.  

I decided to give the app a try on my wife’s iPhone and was pleasantly surprised by how well the app performed—and thanks to the fact that pretty much every other commercial is a political add on network TV during prime-time—I was able to get a pretty good sampling in only an hour.

Rather than rehashing all the ads and the truth (or rather lack thereof) of each ad, I’d rather just draw some simple conclusions.  Just about anybody would agree that there are far too many political ads on television.  Most would also agree that there is far too much money involved in running for political office.  Just today (9/10/12) the Obama campaign reported that they raised nearly $117 million in the month of August to Romney’s $112 million that same month.  August was actually the first month Obama outraised Romney, but combined, they’ve raised over $1 billion (so far!)! And that’s not even counting all the various “Super-Pacs” or other special interest groups. 

It seems pretty obvious to me, and I think it should be to most everyone else as well, that there is far too much money in politics.  By time the election is over, I imagine somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 to $2 billion will have been spent.  What a huge waste of money! There are millions out of work, millions more in poverty, roads in desperate need of repair, and dare I say a huge national debt, yet we’re spending this much money on getting someone into office.  President Obama is hardly innocent in this regard, he initially vowed he would only use public (tax payer funded) monies in his 2008 election but then changed his mind and began his own fundraising efforts.  (Side note, if both candidates had only used public campaign money this election, they would have each received $91 million for the entire campaign!)

By now we should all agree that there is far too much money in politics, yet strangely enough one political party actually wants to increase the availability of money.  Yep, more stupid attack ads, more “I approve of this message,” more of every other commercial being a political ad, and worst of all—more horribly misinformed voters. 

Here’s my recommendation:

Good: Use this or some other app to fact-check commercials.

Better: Turn off the TV when a political commercial comes on.

Best: Stop supporting politicians that want to put even more money into politics and rather demand                      they actually start using less.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What have the Romans ever done for us?!

I'm taking a class this semester on the social world of early Christianity. Our professor had us watch this video.  I reminds me of a bunch of conservatives sitting around complaining about the government.  Substitute "Rome" for "the government" and laugh with me at their foolhardiness!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Thanks to Feminism, I can be a Father

The other day I was thinking about one of my co-workers, he works while his wife stays home with the kids.  I thought that must be nice for her, but inversely, I realized that it also meant he must have to work a lot to pay the bills.  Being a “traditional” family, that’s sort of the way things go, the man works however many hours to pay the bills while the woman stays home with the kids managing the house and doing the majority of the child rearing.

Being a new father myself, I imagined myself in the same scenario—working fifty or sixty hours a week to make ends meet, then coming home to do home repairs, yard work, and so on.  I realized that such a scenario wouldn’t actually leave much time for me to spend with my child. But then it hit me, that’s exactly the point, I’m not supposed to be doing that—that’s the woman’s job.

In America right now, and especially during this political season, there are two images being portrayed as to what our society should look like; what it really means to be an “American.”  Many are suggesting that we need to go back to the “good old days.” What does that really mean? At least in the context of the family, when some speak of “traditional family values,” what they mean is the dad working and the mom staying at home with the kids.  Leave it to Beaver is the model of the true American family, the ways things should be.

Well, I decided I don’t want to be that kind of man.  I want to be a part of my child’s rearing; I want to help change her diapers, feed her during the night, and take her on walks.  If I’m working fifty hours a week, working in the yard, and doing repairs around the house I can’t do as much as that as I want.   So I’m left with a choice, abandon the traditional image of what being a father looks like in society or miss out on bonding opportunities with my daughter.  Sure, many traditionalists are going to question my status as a good man because I don’t do all the things they expect me to do (work, work, work), but so be it. 

You may be wondering what this has to do with feminism—everything!  It was/is the feminists who continually challenge the status quo, the ways things “used to be,” the good old days.  It’s feminists who point out that a patriarchal society only works for the men.  It’s the feminists who say it’s ok for me to be the father I want to be.  Think about that, I as a man am actually reaping the reward from the hard work of thousands of women over the years who have sought the end of a patriarchal society of “traditional family values.” 

More so, I have the assurance that I can encourage my daughter as she grows  up to do whatever she sets her mind to—no need to worry that only certain careers open to her or that she’ll automatically be considered lower than a man is intellect and capability.  Yes, there still is far too much gender discrimination, but I’m thankful for how far we’ve come.

So, thanks to all the feminists and others who struggle to change the status quo! I fully support you and am with you as we continue to work to bring equality and opportunity to all people.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Hey, how about some ‘legitimate’ science?

If only this was new. Many would have us believe that the comments by Representative Todd Akin of Missouri were “fringe” views or not representative of the Republican party and conservative Christian circles he is a part of; if only that were true. 

When Akin was asked what he thought about abortion being legal in cases of rape and incest, he said that "First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare, if it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down, but let's assume that maybe that didn't work or something. You know I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.” What?!

There’s two incredibly offensive points just in that short statement—first the suggestion that only certain rapes are “legitimate,” and second the complete medical falsehood that a female can “shut it down” when necessary.   Akin says he misspoke, but more likely it was a “Freudian slip.” Last year, Akin co-sponsored a bill with Paul Ryan that would have denied the use of federal funds for abortions only in cases of “forcible rape.”   Heck, the GOP platform seeks to deny abortion in ALL instances. Akin’s views are hardly fringe.

That the GOP is distancing themselves from Akin’s comments and demanding he abandon his run for Senate in Missouri has little to do with their disagreement with his views but rather with the realization that his continued presence in election may cost the Republicans the election.   Tonight on Hannity, Sean pretended that he wanted Akin to quit out of principle, but Hannity’s guests revealed the truth;  Akin is/was the Republican’s best shot at beating a Democratic incumbent and taking control over the Senate.   Missouri is also a crucial swing state in the upcoming presidential election, and if a few more vote Obama in response to Akin, there goes the state and therefore the election.

Akin’s comments represent a continued problem with conservative Christianity in general.   Whenever science disagrees with the theological or political views of conservative Christians, they simply deny the legitimacy of science.   This idea that women can “shut it down,” is hardly new—I heard the same thing when I was in junior high while in Christian school.  It’s just another example of Christians either denying science or simply making up their own to fit their own views.

This tactic of denying science or simply making up their own has been done again and again.  Global warming?  Scientists the world over all assured us the global warming was a coming reality, something that will require drastic action to stop or at least slow down.  Yet thanks to a smear campaign and their own “science,” most doubt the existence of global warming.  Evolution?  Again, having discarded and denied science, conservative Christians have made up their own “creation science” in order to prove the “veracity” of the Genesis account(s).  Of course, those who actually claim to be Christians and accept modern science are “denying the truth of the Word of God.”

Christianity denying science goes back hundreds of years. Copernicus, the man who discovered that the earth actually revolved around the sun, held back publishing his findings until he was on his death bed in fear of the backdraft he would face from the Church.  Galileo actually had to recant his acceptance of this same view under threat of excommunication.  What was the big deal with this new science by Copernicus? It contradicted the Bible—Joshua 10:13 says that the sun stood still, which obviously meant that the sun revolved around the earth.  Copernicus then was “contradicting the Bible.” Sound familiar?

Thankfully, all “Christians” don’t think that way (me for one), but for those who do, it’s time for a change—stop twisting or simply denying facts when they don’t fit with your point of view.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Forget Chick-Fil-A, boycott Christianity

With all the hullabaloo about a certain chicken sandwich business these days and the people who run such institution, I think it’s time to set the record straight—Chick-Fil-A is not the problem.

 Sure, Dan Cathy wasn’t doing himself or his business any favors when he said that “we’re inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage. And I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude that thinks we have the audacity to redefine what marriage is all about” (Washington Post). Whatever one feels about that statement on a moral level, it doesn’t seem like a smart idea to alienate potential customers.  Of course, Chick-Fil-A quickly backtracked from Cathy’s statement when this all started to blow up, posting on Facebook that they treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender” and that “going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”

Regardless of the craziness that has since ensued with mayors trying to ban the restaurant from their cities, Mike Huckabee declaring a “Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day” and the huge turnout that followed, and the “kiss-in” protests after it all falls short;  Chick-Fil-A isn’t the problem, Christianity is the problem.

"One of the disturbing things about Church history is the Church's appalling track record of being on the wrong side of the great social issues of the day" -- Richard Stearns (President of World Vision).  In his book, The Hole in the Gospel, Stearns recounts how Christianity as been on the wrong side of slavery, civil rights, AIDS, and so on.  In that same way, Christianity is on the wrong side when it comes to gay marriage and homosexuality.

My beef isn’t with a chicken sandwich anymore, it’s with a religion that has made this issue its rallying point. It’s with Christians narcissistically convincing themselves that they are the ones in America being oppressed.  Being that Christianity is the largest religion by far in America and a huge percentage of Americans consider themselves to be Christians, 78.4% in fact according to a Pew Forum survey, those seeking marriage equality are actually the ones being oppressed. They are the ones being denied “equal protection under the law” yet countless numbers of Christians assured themselves that they are heroes of the faith because they ate a chicken sandwich.  Last Wednesday wasn’t a good day for Christianity—it was a day that should quickly be forgotten.    

The majority of present-day Christianity continually disregards any modern biblical scholarship that disagrees with their narrow-minded positions.  Despite the continual refrain of “believing what the Bible says,” Christians could care less about what the Bible actually says.  Their interpretation isn’t even close to being accurate, but that’s what happens when one insists on reading the Bible as if it was written in the 20th century when in fact it was formed thousands of years ago in cultures vastly different then our own.

So like the Occupy movement, perhaps that’s what needs to happen to current-day Christianity. Those who claim to be followers of Jesus must demand change or boycott the religion of Christianity until the religion changes.  I like chicken sandwiches, I like waffle fries, and I like good customer service so I’ll probably eat at Chick-Fil-A again, but they aren’t the problem, Christianity is the problem.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Obamacare pro-family policies beginning August 1st.

What does “pro-family” really mean these days?  The term is used quite a bit by certain folks in regards to different policies these days, but when it’s all boiled down, what someone usually means when they say they are “pro-family” is that they oppose gay-marriage and abortion. Is that the only way to be “pro-family?”  It seems that if someone is really “pro-family,” they should support other policies that help families.

 The Affordable Health Care Act, or “Obamacare” as it is so commonly referred to as, does a lot to support families.  Unfortunately, because of all the demagoguery and misinformation by political pundits, few of these details ever get discussed. “Eight new prevention related health measures are now being provided to 47 million women under the Affordable Care Act. Previously some insurance companies did not cover the eight preventative services, or only offered co-pays or deductibles. However beginning on August 1, or at the next renewal date, the following services will be completely covered by the insurance companies.” (Houston Chronicle)

·    Well-woman visits.

·    Gestational diabetes screening that helps protect pregnant women from one of the most serious pregnancy-related diseases.

·    Domestic and interpersonal violence screening and counseling.

·    FDA-approved contraceptive methods, and contraceptive education and counseling.

·    Breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling.

·    HPV DNA testing, for women 30 or older.

·    Sexually transmitted infections counseling for sexually-active women.

·    HIV screening and counseling for sexually-active women.

These new parts of the law are explicitly pro-family.  While traditional “pro-family” advocates emphasize that they are “pro-life,” rarely it seems do they do actually promote any policies that protect the lives of mothers.  Providing well-woman visits and Gestational diabetes screenings will help ensure the health of mothers and potential mothers across the country. 

By providing support and screening for domestic violence, “Obamacare” works to protect the often most vulnerable members of the family—the women.   Helping screen for and protect women from violence protects the family and is thoroughly “pro-family.”

As nearly any mother will confess, breatfeeding—despite that mothers have been doing it for thousands of years—hardly comes easy.  It seems pretty obvious to me that providing support and supplies to moms is a good thing. Breastfeeding is good for moms and for babies, perhaps one might say it is “pro-family” to encourage breastfeeding, as Mayor Bloomberg of New York City did.   

I could go on, but I think you get the point.  There are many other policies that are “pro-family” that don’t involve gay marriage or abortion and if one claims to truly be “pro-family,” it seems fairly logical that they should support policies that actually help that family rather than seek to repeal them.