Wednesday, April 30, 2008
The McCain-Clinton gas holiday proposal is a perfect example of what energy expert Peter Schwartz of Global Business Network describes as the true American energy policy today: “Maximize demand, minimize supply and buy the rest from the people who hate us the most.”
This article in the NYTimes today helped summarize some of my recent fuming over oil/gas prices and big oils suspect relationship with our federal government. Without going in to research references here, I will just throw out a few historical generalities that one of the main reasons our government has no answers or concern about new energy sources, gas emissions, or the price of oil is...THEY ARE ON THE RECEIVING END OF THESE HISTORIC PROFITS! I have a few bones to pick with this Bush administration of 8 years...but this is one of the ugliest smelling aspects of their agenda. They have little or no interest in cleaner fuels and limiting oil use. Lets face it, the Bush family for 3+ generations has been all about profits from oil and gas. As I mentioned on another thread here, I would love to have such a profitable business over which I also happen to rule over the government regulations of said business. How can you lose?
Unfortunately, we Americans, and even further...the extended world community...is losing to these slimy big business oil barons and companies. And talk about anti-patriotic...raking in these record profits and then sharing them with our Arab enemies...who happen to be funding much of the "Jihad" our soldiers are dying for! Does anyone else see the connection here? I am just totally disgusted with our country's lack of leadership on these energy issues...and this government's obvious hidden agendas in Iraq and elsewhere. These actions and motivations are traitorous in my opinion.
Based on this weeks “McCain-Clinton gas proposal”, I am going to have to update my regard for Obama…the only one of the candidates who has not supported this jackass resolution to ease consumer cost while doing nothing on the fundamental problem of clean energy costs. Is there ANY sanity left in government ANYWHERE? UGH!!!
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
This is my own takeoff from a NY Times article I read today with the same title. While we all are entertained and oft times perplexed by the current 3 candidate Presidential race…I think its time to face the fact that all…the media, the candidates, and we the voters…are missing the boat about what the real needs in America are.
As Mr. Herbert in his article alarmingly points out:
- An American kid drops out of high school every 26 seconds (1 MILLION + per year)
- Two thirds of all teenagers of age to graduate from high school are incapable of mastering college-level work
- In the “Common Core” survey ( http://www.commoncore.org/ourreports.php ) , nearly 20% of respondents did not know who the USA fought in World War II
In addition to these unfortunate facts, you don’t have to look far to see these inadequacies played out in our culture.
- 1 of every 9 black males is behind bars, representing 41% of the nation’s 2 MILLION inmates. You can only imagine their job prospects when/if they get out of jail.
- 1% of our population is in a federal or state prison. Highest percentage of any industrialized first world country. Shameful! How did the Land of the Free become the world’s leading jailer?
- COST of incarceration? Averages $30,000 per year. About 60 BILLION annually. Couldn’t that somehow be spent more profitably for rehabilitation and in our country’s educational pursuits? This “paying your debt to society” is running the society into bankruptcy.
- Is this because crime rates have been increasing? Actually, NO. They are about what they were in the 1970s. It’s just the PUNISHMENT that has increased. Incarceration does NOT reduce crime. So we need to find a better answer for this.
- The social costs of incarceration extend to our family structures… An estimated 24.7 million children (36.3%) live absent their biological father. You think this might have anything to do with children’s education capacity?
- America's imprisonment of drug offenders dwarfs the incarcerated drug populations of all of Europe. In fact, America has 100,000 more persons behind bars just for drug offenses (458,131), than the European Union has for all offenses (356,626), even though the EU has 100 million more citizens than the US. And Europe is arguably a more liberal, less religious culture than America. How do we explain this?
While I could go on and on with alarming statistics that raise many questions, I think some connections here are obvious. While citizens and politicians continue chanting for more legislated morality and better education for our children…the masses are dying on the vine for lack of attention, education and treatment for our real ills by their government, churches, schools and other social institutions. The idea of incarcerating every drug user and getting “tough” on crime without some form of rehabilitation or job training/placement for these misplaced persons just doesn’t hold water…and is helping to sink our county into financial ruin. If something doesn’t get changed soon…I’m afraid it will be too late for our country. The terrorists we so fear in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere will over run us just by waiting for us to implode with our own denials of freedom and lack of self controls at home.
So, with this quick snap shot in hand, why can’t we get our government, and governing “wannabe’s” to address these REAL issues instead of focusing on just cutting taxes, growing the economy and “being tough on crime”? Instead of coming up with answers and ideas for these issues, these Presidential candidates are busy drinking shots and beers with the blue collars, and talk talk talking about “uniting America” and helping the “average American”. Sounds good…but tell me HOW you are going to do that? How are you going to reduce prison populations, restore fathers to their roles in children’s lives and get ALL the above better educated to meet the global competition for jobs and productivity we are facing?
Nobody wants to deal with the TOUGH questions…because… they are CLUELESS in America…
Monday, April 21, 2008
Well…thanks to the focus of our powerful media and a major state government police action against a polygamous sect that has set off the alarm bells, we now have for more than a week observed from afar the three ring circus of this retention of 416 children from this religious community.
While most of us do not relate to these people nor share their views or lifestyles, this situation does call on us to consider and want to know the real facts/issues behind this domestic conflict. The lines in our country between church and state, liberty and responsibility, and the role of government justice systems is being continually blurred by actions on all sides. It seems to me the pendulum is swinging at extremes on the moralities at stake. The “religious right” wants increased legislated morality and government controls in place while secularists want more freedoms and independence to live without influence of religion. All claim they have the right not to be exposed to the other side’s views or influences. Hence you are seeing a more divided America…and world at large.
I don’t claim to know anything about this sect or their religion. I know a little about Mormonism, but I understand these people are way outside the current Mormon church…though it sounds like maybe they’re just a more FUNDAMENTALIST form of same. Probably trying to revert back to living in the good ole 1800s, wagon train days. I don’t relate to their isolationism, their dress, their hairdos or polygamous beliefs. But…I don’t think I am in a position to deny them their sovereignty to live that way if all of them are in agreement. And while I understand the concerns we and government people have about children being abused even within religion…I’m not sure we have the right to go in and intervene as we have. It is now coming out that the original call from a supposed minor being forced into marriage and having children was a hoax…and I share liberal ideals about our government being VERY CAREFUL about arresting or intruding on individual privacy without substantial proof. If we are to believe the latest media reports, it sounds like “cause” is going to be difficult for these bureaucrats to prove. And this could then end up another case of all the lawyers in Texas making money by suing our “rich” government for unlawful intervention. Then these people can just build a nicer temple and bigger houses for their big families off of government revenues…which come from our tax dollars! (Reminder to self to write a blog on “tort law reform” someday soon).
From a rationale standpoint on this issue of parental control or rights…I think we and our government should walk very carefully about trying to control these family situations. While many touters in the media have been screaming “brain washing” and “child abuse” in this situation, we should be careful about how far we allow government to intervene here. Main reason being…the ACLU and various atheistic leagues and movements are writing and concerning themselves about ALL children from ALL religions who get programmed or indoctrinated in many ways by their families and churches. At what point do you draw the line between educating, parenting, and leading a child down the road of any particular faith…versus indoctrination, brain washing and unfair control of a child’s sovereign rights to reject that religion or way of life? Who is going to make the call between parental rights and children’s rights versus the rights and power of “the state”? This can get very messy in a hurry and have repercussions on all levels of parental and religious freedoms…and perhaps justifiable limitations there of. Again, who’s qualified to make that call?
One could argue from a religious standpoint that parents and the family are sacrosanct in respect to raising and nurturing their children and should have no societal or governmental interference. After all, the good book says to “honor your father and mother all the days of your life”. Some interpret that as meaning Gods way is that children should remain subservient and obedient to their parents all their lives. Perhaps that is what these people in this sect are dealing with as core values.
On the other hand, if life begins at conception and is to be recognized as a living individual with rights at the earliest age…then one has to respect the individual wishes of that child. If they want to leave their home, church or town…they should have the right, correct? But…most of them don’t have the wherewithal to do so…no job, money…not enough learned independence. So…whose job is it to “rescue” these children if they need rescuing? The governments? The/A church? A local agency of some kind?
I observed an interesting interview this past week between the Anglican Bishop of England and one of the most renowned atheists of today (that interview will probably make another topic for discussion here soon). In that interview the atheist brought up the question about religious education and programming…and is it correct to program a child ONLY in the religion or philosophy of you the parent? And is there such a thing as a “Christian, Muslim or Jewish” child, or is that something the child should decide at a certain age? I suppose a child has no choice about being Jewish since that is a race and a religion. But to assume that child will be or is of the Jewish faith is another thing. Many obviously turn toward other religions or secularism. But, this issue does reflect somewhat on this Polygamous sect in the news today. What are the various rights between the parents and the children? How many of these 416 children went “willingly” with the officials, or were they coerced to do so against their wills? If so, what right does our government have to do so? And to probe even deeper, how would any of US feel if our children were yanked out of our church or their school and taken by government authorities for “questioning and processing”? Probably not too happy about it.
And one final question that crossed my mind. Do these people call THEMSELVES polygamist? Do they have other “labels” for themselves that might be more defining or meaningful? Who initiates these labels and why do we use them? And while we ponder that, weren’t many of our Biblical heroes polygamists (David, Solomon, Abraham?)…and if so, does God really care about that issue?
Ah…I know…I always ask the impossible questions…:)
Thursday, April 17, 2008
The video imbedded here on this blog is an interesting discussion between Glenn Beck and Ron Paul just a couple weeks ago. While Ron Paul was and is the Republican I most identify with on issues and who obviously didn’t have the image and political "savvy" we Americans seem to require in our presidential candidates...his message continues on and I hope does continue with some of the grass roots support that surprised a lot of pundits this political season.
The biggest head turning point in this discussion for me was that we are seeing the end of our monetary system as we have known it all our lives. The dollar has been sinking fast over the past few years and our economy is being supported by false "buttresses" of the FED printing more money and PROTECTIONISTIC re-actions by our federal governments and agencies in bailing out banks and businesses that are in the pockets every day of our elected government officials. If you know me, you know I have historically been a positive thinking person...to be an entrepreneur makes this a core requirement for survival in life. But one of the core reasons I moved OUT of the USA in 2001 after basically going broke in the tech stock decline and losing my job with one of the largest internet integrators in the USA...was because of seeing these factors starting back then. As Paul points out in the video above, ALL monetary systems historically have a life cycle and an end. For most of our lifetimes the US dollar has been the most stable and desired currency on the globe. Why? Well, originally because it was based on the "gold standard"...and the paper we circulated was equal to a commodity backup of gold. Basically, flat paper currency was easier to transport and exchange in the market place but had some backed value. Now...who knows how to value our paper currency...or the cash balances in our bank accounts or money market funds?
It was basically during this century’s great world wars that the "big" governments had to deplete their gold reserves to pay the costs of these wars. While most anything can be justified to win wars that had so much at stake, it is interesting to wonder why we never returned to some standard for our money when the world affairs settled down a bit (You can view an interesting general history of gold standards at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gold_standard with a lot of interesting cross external links). In modern times, it is quite difficult to pin down monetary controls and values. What is a million dollars worth anymore? How much do we need to really be financially "secure"? What are the main factors that control what my dollar's buying power or value is against the rest of the global market place. Why is my dollar now buying so little in the world at large? Why is it now more expensive to buy land and real estate in Panama and elsewhere in this region for Americans than it is for Europeans and even Canadians? How has our economy...and national debt...gotten to the hideous level of valueless ness against the rest of the world? And more importantly, what are we going to do about it? I am convinced very few voters in the USA are concerned about these issues. We are allowing our attention to be pushed to other less important agendas like race, religion and other moral issues...while completely ignoring the huge morality issues of money, debt and trade. While probably many of you will never see it my way...I am personally concerned about seeing the day where Americans are drowning economically, weighted down by their mortgages, tax bills and credit cards, having no government funds left to bail them out...and all the sudden prayers will be going up to Jesus who will then be about the only potential answer to an impossible situation.
I don't believe it HAS to come down to this crash of our system as we know it. But...if we leave the same politicians and clowns in charge of all that is controlling the systems that support us and our security...we WILL someday find ourselves in an out of control situation and deep ditch from which we will not be able to dig ourselves out. We have to get back to core fundamentals of survival when it comes to our money...and quit spending that which we don’t have. We will not be able to feed others if we cannot feed ourselves. We will not be able to free others if we ourselves are not free. You don’t think this is all at stake? Think again and open your eyes and ears and mind to all that is going on in the world...and in our own government and systems. There is a lot at stake...and I don’t believe that God is going to magically come in to fix it. It is really up to us...we will live with the fruit of our own labors...or lack thereof.
The latest in current "sound bit" political battles primarily controlled by big media in the USA is the feasting of political "piranhas" on Barack Obamas "insensitive" comments about the poor working class clinging to their guns and religion as an answer to their economic depravity and lack of inclusion in the political process. Now, I must state from the outset I am still not clear on who to vote for in this coming election. I like and respect McCain as a war hero, patriot and independent maverick type in the Republican party..."my kinda guy". But he has me hugely concerned on his foreign policy now mimicking what I see as failed policy by the Bush administration and lack of answers for our economy's current demise. Hillary...well, for a variety of reasons I wont go into here I can't see ever voting for her...and it has nothing to do with her being a woman.
Barack on the other hand has gotten my attention like he has many in both mainstream and "off stream" America. He is obviously intelligent and well spoken (we have missed that in the white house for about 8 years now)...and is running a campaign on uniting versus dividing our country. This agenda is tempting to any person of sound mind when looking at our current global challenges. And yes, it is meaningful for me as old enough to remember the civil rights movement and riots of the late 60s even in my hometown...to see our first viable "minority" candidate for President. Yet, now he is being labeled by his own Democratic rivals as "elitist" and out of touch with the working class. So as usual I try to get around all the media hype and find out what he said IN CONTEXT...and whether I agree with it or not.
This 60 minutes segment I copy above from youtube.com gives a bit more context to his statements than the 3 sentence sound bites the media usually gives on such issues. To be honest...if I had been sitting in that audience I think his supposedly "elitist" statements would have gone right past me. When you say "some" people who are religious, or "some" people who own guns are "escapist" or reacting to other issues in their lives...that does not mean you are saying ALL people of religion or who have guns are doing this or have these motivations. It’s like taking offense at a description of some rapist or murderer who was formerly religious or who has blonde hair and blue eyes like me...and taking it personal that they are labeling me a rapist or a murderer just because someone LIKE me did these things. It just doesn’t stand up to reason. Yet, all is fair in politics and every word or phrase can be construed to mean something far from which it was intended to mean. I feel the Bible itself is used this way more than any other book...people interpreting and twisting it out of context to back up their own presupposition. Gotta give credit to the power of our minds to twist things like this, but unfortunately it clouds truth and reality like a bad thunderstorm.
It seems obvious that all current candidates NOT named Obama are going to want to slow him down and/or bring him down. I still have concerns about many of his policies...but I sure wish the other candidates would focus on the real issue differences and not rely on the mud slinging and cover-up of their own lack of ideas or positive agendas. I don’t think Obama was that far off the truth for many of the demographic he was describing...but unfortunately as the front runner he is going to be hounded for every word or "half truth" he utters for the foreseeable future. So far I am still rooting for him as the Democratic nominee even if I don’t know if I will vote for him or not. And I appreciate "Meet the Press" as the most balanced news show of its kind in treating these issues fairly and interestingly.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
(click on image for todays video)
Todays surprising news was that Tiger is out 4-6 weeks after a third arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. The whole golf tour and industry is panicking about this news in light of potential lost interest of the public and lost revenues for golf. While I understand the panic, I cant help but wax a little analytical about this reaction of the golf market.
No one can take away from the obvious talent, dedication and success of Tiger with his domination of the sport these past years. He has been exciting to watch, is doing some good things with some of his money, and has definitely brought the sport to the mind and reality of previously disenfranchised demographics.
All that being said, I have been continually critical and concerned about how our media...and culture at large...creates hero worship around the images of these talents and often hold them up for unrealistic expectations and scrutiny by the world. I do credit Tiger at staying so consistent in his game while being so much in the limelight and adulation of the masses. If he was a politician, he would probably come off more like a demagogue than a golfer. But, he so far seems to stay true to himself and his passion for golf and his family around him. Thats a good thing.
On the other hand, we know no one is perfect. I have always said that if you want to know the real content of a person's character, play golf or poker with them consistently and you will see their character revealed:). Tiger is quite vocal at times at his game...and OF the game overall sometimes. He reacts and swears from time to time stongly...on camera...in ways that I never remember seeing Nicklaur or Palmer do. Golf has become a less "gentlemenly" sport than it used to be. And less elitest as well...so maybe thats not all bad. But...I do miss the "decorem" and class of the sport of the old days. You didnt have players playing to the camera and doing whatever they could to enhance their images so their endorsement fees would go up another million or so per year. Golf is now BIG business, and the purses, like in all major sports, have skyrocketed to what could be termed ridiculous proportions.
I do see a "silver lining" in this absence of Tiger. The media and the industry overall will now have to focus and market NEW heros. There are great players besides Tiger on the tour who get little or no publicity. There are great shots every weekend on the tour that we the public never see because the focus is so much on the "product image" of Tiger...even when he is way behind in the tournament. Is that the fault of the media, or the fans? Do the fans not care about the other players, or is the media just tainting the picture a bit for the market? I hope for the sake of golf that they can show balance in coverage going forward, and this in turn may even make the other players play BETTER, or believe more in themselves because they are getting equal coverage. Its amazing what people and players can step up to when they are put on the line...and this will be good for golf.
Monday, April 14, 2008
Much of the debate or discussion focused on an apparent absolute of our democracy that believes OUR government’s role in the world is to bring humanitarian support to all starving and abused countries...because we are a "Christian" nation. Apparently the government has taken over the role of the church and religion where it comes to being your brothers’ keeper. Whatever happened to biblical concepts like "render to Ceasar what is Ceasars, and to God what is God's"...perhaps the first recorded statement on separation of church and state? How is it that "Ceasar" now is responsible to take his peoples tax money and redistribute it to the poor and downtrodden of the world? Perhaps this stems from a hidden guilt trip about TAKING so much of its citizens money if they do something “good” with it. I always thought the Federal government’s role was to provide for the execution of constitutional justice, and protect our borders and personal freedoms or rights. I don’t think the founding fathers ever perceived the USA's role as policeman and financier of world governments (Ah...but I guess I need to publish soon my treatment on Libertarianism as a preferred federal govt model on another thread).
While I acknowledge that religion is a strong factor in our country's social and cultural dynamics, I continue to grow more and more uncomfortable with the role of religion in our politics. Nothing is dividing our nation...and world...more than religion and other totalitarian philosophies. It used to be bad enough when we were divided simply by color lines...whites, blacks, Indians and Asians...all living in their own neighborhoods or reservations and "staying to their own". Jews were not allowed membership in many of the nation’s most renowned social and golf clubs. Let’s face it, we so soon forget that women didn’t even get to vote in our country until the 19th amendment to the constitution was passed in 1920. But now...we have a woman AND a black candidate running to be the Democratic nominee for President. And now, the biggest fights being picked are about these candidate’s religions, churches, their pastors, and analyzing their every position based on someone’s religious values. So...our leadership will now be divided by religion...not race or sex. Is that an improvement? Does that really help us determine who has the most leadership capacity in this troubled world we live in? It’s scary to contemplate.
As for "Compassion"...I find very little compassion demonstrated between religions, political parties, the races or the sexes. Most humor on late night talk shows and in comedy clubs is a reflection of continued difference and ridicule of those differences. Sure, it can be humorous to see our own silliness and stereotypes brought to the limelight by a funny comedian…but most of the time it reflects no compassion or understanding of why those differences or mannerisms exist. And when it comes to “compassion” for the fallen or “sinners”…there is a lot more judgment and smirking about people’s private lives than there is forgiveness and understanding of the human condition. Just trying to find national news that isn’t totally focused on a politician’s sex life or an actors drunkenness or divorce reveals how focused we are as a “Christian nation” on compassion and acceptance.
My biggest struggle with most of the world’s religions has been this lack of compassion and a sense of dictating to the masses how they must behave in order to gain God’s (or the churches?) acceptance and support. I believe true faith should be based on a relationship to God as an individual’s life long pursuit of understanding and wisdom. I experience my faith from a variety of directions and forces. From the beginning was the parental caretaking and education received that tells us what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Family members become the first molders of what we believe in and help determine how secure we feel as we grow and mature. This for obvious reasons is quite subjective. Then later in life we start grappling with our own identities, thoughts, emotions and reactions to the new stimuli around us. In some cases we start evolving in more independent directions than originally suggested by our families, communities or church. The average person starts asking the where, what, when and why questions of the meaning of life. Some of us seem bent towards the intellectual while others go with the “senses’ or emotions. Some of us most screwed up humans are grappling in some personal zone in between those extremes. Still…faith and belief to me are more about God and truth finding us than vice versa. The more I travel and the more I experience, the more I realize how much I DON’T know for sure. And yet that also expands my respect for life and what it offers if we just open up our minds and our eyes to what is sometimes obvious if we face realities in our lifetimes. It is in this pursuit of life that real religion begins for me…an ongoing discovery of my spirit, my truths, and yes, my limitations. No one else can take responsibility for me in this process…and nor can I be responsible for another’s faith.
On the other hand, most world religions are built on a creed of belief and a code of conduct that is unrealistic in most cases, and unnatural to the human condition at the least. As religions try to pave the way to explaining God, creation, the universe and all the mysteries those subjects encompass, they usually fall back on a huge gauntlet of rules and regulations to live by that prove you are in…or out…of God’s (that churches’) graces or acceptance. Based on those core principles, you now see the world divided by various religions, labels and doctrines…all believing only THEY have the truth…the acceptance of the Creator…and the only way to live. Men are judged by their deeds and appearances to the common religious community…how they dress…how they talk…how they act.
Mixed into these various religious communities you have the aspect of the “wolves and the sheep”. Most members of a religion are “the sheep” who need a Shepard (sometimes known as “the wolf”). The sheep are deemed as too weak and feeble minded to understand the big picture of life, so they are groomed to submit to the Shepard or leader to whom they can submit their wills and their minds…usually in some form of “blind faith” that will help them explain all the unknowns surrounding them. For other sheep, it is just a matter of having a “curriculum of life” to follow that will give them boundaries and controls from which to live their lives and make their daily decisions. It is deemed much safer, and more acceptable, to submit to a religion and its dogma than to live in sovereign control of your own life and thoughts. Somehow the individual’s thoughts, desires and leanings must always be subservient to the “church” or religious figure that is respected and in some cases “worshipped”. In this submission there is much humility, fear, self deprecation and sense of personal worthlessness. In place of the sovereign individual’s independence, religion gives a sense of belonging, not being alone, a sense of absolutes about that which is beyond our comprehension. You have community, a cause, and an easy answer for all the hard questions…and when you don’t have the answer you can just easily shrug and say “may God’s (Allah, Jehovah, His/Her) will be done”. Or in modern slang…”Que sera, sera”.
When it comes to faith based on compassion, I still have to go with my roots and fundamentals of Jesus’ teachings and example. Here was a practicing Jew who developed a whole new way of looking at life and God in the middle of some horrendous times for his people who were not living free and under Roman rule. From my reading of his story, he was a cast out and unaccepted by his peers…and those who ruled over him. His fights were primarily with the religious and government leaders of his time, and his followers were simple people who had potential. These people were from all walks of life…fishermen, tax collectors and prostitutes. These were not people coming from the main stream of life in that day. They were taught the golden rule and the early Christian church grew because they took care of each other…took in the poor and needy…and from my reckoning tended to be disconnected individuals searching for light in a very dark world. Jesus words and example brought meaning, unity and yes, compassion… in a day and age where there was little of that…in the government OR the church. These people didn’t meet in big fancy buildings or cathedrals. They started out meeting in each others homes…or spending the weekend together out on the Jordan River or by the Sea of Galilee. They fought among themselves for leadership and “who was the greatest”. These were the most human people Jesus could find if you ask me. And in a short 3 years or so this group/community formed a movement based on forgiveness and acceptance that to some extent over ran all other religions and movements of that day and has grown for over 2000 years into a huge religion whose principles arguably have brought the worlds best ideas for building community, developing economically, and yes, taking individual responsibility for actions and reactions. This mixture of Judeo Christian religion in the world has influenced much of what is good in the world. Concepts of freedom, rights, love, and compassion itself have come from this tradition though I believe there are other religions that have many of the same attributes.
At the end of the day, I believe it was this compassion and openness to disparate individuals that caused the growth and popularity of Christianity over other religions. But now it seems the term “Christian” has come to mean just another “organization” with laws and bylaws. This organization’s focus is membership committees to bring in enough support to pay for the building, utilities and a pastors salary so he’ll stay in that building and tell us what we want to hear. And these churches feature judicial branches (deacons and “sessions”) to examine behaviors and write conformity clauses for those members. It seems we humans live in a cyclical mentality where we are initially compassionate until we get to know people. Then we “group up” and become critical of how that person we were compassionate to reacts or grows from our compassion. If they don’t become more like us, we begin to disassociate and look for others. We tend to be one sided in the human condition where we want to influence and change others, but we ourselves don’t want to be flexible for change or to be influenced. We want to talk, not listen. We want people to see things our way, and when they don’t, we just go our separate ways instead of accepting difference and focusing on the majority of the human experience we have in common. Jocks don’t mix well with nerds. Intellectuals don’t have much patience with laborers. The pretty people tend to look for others of like image to associate with. And drunks and partiers…well, their best friends are usually from the same lifestyle for a reason(s).
At the end of the day, I am looking for a religion that shows compassion for ALL humanity. Not just educated or pretty people. Not just those who are programmed to believe the same and “drink the same koolaid” together. I am suspect of any religion that does not include some prostitutes, gamblers and government officials…because those are the types Jesus called into his family from the beginning.
And which of the Presidential candidates do I want to vote for and go to church with? Who shows the most compassion in their agenda? Who is most fair and impartial about the distribution of wealth and justice in our country? Who does the least talking and takes the most action? Who practices what they preach? That’s who I want to associate with…and vote for as my President. Now…just where is that compassionate leader? And what religion is he?
Sunday, April 13, 2008
The welfare king of the 21st century by Dean Baker
To help advance his 1980 presidential campaign, Ronald Reagan invented the "welfare queen;" a woman who drove to pick up her check every month in a Cadillac. This mythical figure helped galvanize support among working class whites who felt that their tax dollars were being frittered away on people too lazy to work, most of whom they believed to be black.
There was little truth to the mythology of the welfare queen, the vast majority of welfare stints were always short and were usually the result of family breakups or job loss. Furthermore, welfare never amounted to more than a trivial item in the federal budget, coming in near one percent of total spending. And, most welfare beneficiaries were white. But the welfare queen mythology proved to be an effective political tool, propelling Reagan to an election victory and boosting Republican prospects over the next two decades.
But the old welfare queen mythology has run out of steam. The Republicans are victims of their own success. Welfare rolls have plummeted in the decade following the 1996 welfare reform. Work requirements and harsher qualification rules make it hard to sell the image of a whole class of lazy freeloaders.
If the welfare queen is dead, then it's time to say, "Long live the welfare king." This person really exists, his name is James E. Cayne, and taxpayers just handed him almost $50 million. Mr. Cayne got this gift when J.P. Morgan renegotiated the terms of its takeover of Bear Stearns. The buying price went up fivefold, fetching Bear Stearn's stockholders $1.2 billion instead of the $236 million in the agreement brokered by the Fed last week.
While Bear Stearns shareholders may still have been unhappy about their losses even at the higher price (the stock had been worth more than ten times as much a year earlier), in reality this was a very generous gift from US taxpayers. As an inducement to carry through the takeover, the Fed gave J.P. Morgan up to $30 billion in guarantees, in case the bank has to make good on Bear Stearns' liabilities. In other words, J.P. Morgan is being given the opportunity to do some gambling, with the taxpayers committed to making good any losses. The money that J.P. Morgan paid for this privilege went to Bear Stearns shareholders, not the taxpayers.
James E. Cayne did especially well as a result of the taxpayer's generosity because as the former CEO of Bear Stearns, and current chairman, he owned a great deal of the company's stock. To put the taxpayer's gift to Mr. Cayne in some context, this is approximately equal to the amount paid in TANF to 10,000 working mothers over the course of a year.
Of course Mr. Cayne and the rest of the Bear Stearns stockholders are not the only incredibly rich people benefiting from the taxpayers generosity these days. The Fed's actions are reining down taxpayer money all over Wall Street. When Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke rushed in to save Bear Stearns last week, he made two other important policy changes. He indicated a commitment to protecting other major investment banks and he opened the Fed's discount window to the investment banks. These are both huge taxpayer subsidies to these titans of free market capitalism.
The story of the discount window is straightforward. The Fed is allowing investment banks, which are subject to none of the restrictions or disclosure requirements of commercial banks, to borrow at a government subsidized interest rate. Currently the discount rate is two-and-a-half percent. Those seeking to refinance mortgages, most of whom are probably better credit risks these days than the investment banks, may want to call Mr. Bernanke and ask for the same deal.
While the subsidy involved in the below market lending is easy to see, the commitment to support the investment banks is probably the bigger subsidy to the Wall Street crew. The basic story here is that the investment banks made commitments, mostly in the form of credit default swaps, that they lack the resources to honor. These credit default swaps are essentially a form of insurance. The investment banks promise to make payments to bondholders in the event that there is a default on the bonds they hold.
The banks were prepared to deal with an occasion default, but they don't have the resources to deal with the sort of large-scale collapse that we are now witnessing as a result of the bursting of the housing bubble. Mr. Bernanke has effectively told the banks' creditors not to worry, because the Fed will make good on these credit default swaps, even if Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, or Goldman Sachs can't.
This is a very nice deal for the investment banks, because they got the fees for selling the credit default swaps, not the Fed. And they were very big fees, making the banks and the bank's executives extremely wealthy. In effect, the investment banks sold insurance that they actually were not in a position to provide. Instead the Fed is providing the insurance, but the investment banks get to keep the money they got from selling the insurance: nice work, if you can get it.
This is yet another episode of the Conservative Nanny State, the story of the how the government intervenes in the market to redistribute income from those at the middle and bottom to those at the top. In this case, the media would have us applaud Mr. Bernanke and the Fed for keeping the financial system from freezing up and preventing the economic chaos that would follow.
While the Fed deserves some credit for preventing worse financial distress in the face of the collapsing housing bubble, government handouts for the very richest people in the country are difficult to justify. In other areas, we usually expect to see some quid pro quo, for example, serious regulations on lending and perhaps restrictions to accomplish social goals, like a cap on executive compensation ($1 million a year should attract a much more competent crew). This is welfare as we know it now.
The author is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer (http://www.conservativenannystate.org). He also has a blog, "Beat the Press," where he discusses the media's coverage of economic issues. You can find it at the American Prospect's website.
While I still dont know who I am voting for this year...I AM heartened to see a successful black politician getting broad acceptance in the electorate. Its about time we focused on ideas and leadership no matter what race, age, sex...or religion...is part of their makeup.
Just thought I would fire off a few personal thoughts and observations today incase you were bored…or had the passing thought of…I wonder what Ed is doing and thinking about today. Come on…I know you thought of me, didn’t you? LOL
As many of you know, in my advancing years I have been starting to reflect, and write, quite a few thoughts on subjects that have always been important to me. I think one of life’s biggest challenges is to stay on top of who we are, what we believe in, why, and thereby be able to make clear cut decisions on how we want to live…and even with whom. Maybe someday some of you will read a compilation of my thoughts, past, feelings and beliefs. Right now because we live apart generally and are not privy to each others daily lives, process and changes in thinking, it is hard to be sure we know where each other is coming from. It is nice we have in these modern days the internet and other cheap immediate forms of communication…yet, most of us don’t really spend much effort or time daily talking to each other or discussing many of the important issues we face in our lives. Most of us are probably just too busy living our lives to worry about reporting on them.
That being said, I have tried to make it a point this year to be more communicative and open about myself with those who I think love and care about me. And sure, part of it is probably a selfish form of expression and part of the exercise of deciding who we are and what we believe by speaking or writing it. Religion, faith or belief is obviously one of the big issues and concerns facing our lives…and the world at large. Because for many years I have not been active in a church or religious movement of any kind, I know there has been speculation and in many cases concern about me, my soul, and just overall personal well being. I accept that concern and questioning as part of the act of “loving” your brother or a family member. In some of our conversations, I know some of you have not been very comforted with some of my views or lack of them. At the same time, I have tried to live my life honestly and forthrightly to the reason of my own mind and personal decisions…and obviously we don’t all take the same paths or see things the same ways. But hopefully through it all, love and acceptance of difference will endure between us all.
In thinking and writing about these things lately, I have come upon a realization that I think worth sharing with my loved ones. I have grown reticent to use labels and simple words to describe myself, feelings or beliefs in most of my adult life…mostly because I have found words and labels too limiting or misleading in capturing the whole or reality of those senses. And on many subjects, I am still too early in my journey to make many blanket statements about what I know “for sure”. But if I were to find the best definition of what I would call myself as a person of faith, I would say the best description would be an “Existential Christian”. Now, some of you have probably too many years from your textbooks to even define clearly what “existential” means…so let me help here briefly as I can. The core definition I prefer from American Heritage Dictionary is “A philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual experience in a hostile or indifferent universe, regards human existence as unexplainable, and stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of one's acts.” When added to the noun definition of “Christian”… a person who exemplifies in his or her life the teachings of Christ…it brings an interesting combination of definition to a person.
The best summary of “Christian Existentialism” I have found online is at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Existentialism . This school of thought is primarily traced back to the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard in the early 1800s who I studied briefly back in college days but somehow missed the deeper personal connection I now have with his experiences and train of thought. His understanding of Christianity was based on three major assumptions…”1) that the universe is fundamentally paradoxical and that the greatest paradox of all is the transcendent union of God and man in the person of Christ. 2) Having a personal relationship with God supersedes all prescribed moralities, social structures and communal norms, and 3) following social conventions is essentially a personal aesthetic choice made by individuals.” To add Ed’s abbreviated summary to this concept, a relationship or faith in God/Jesus/Abraham/Mohammed/ or Buddha…requires a very personal, subjective understanding of that which we believe in. No two people are going to have exactly the same experience, feeling or thoughts related to that belief…and therein lays the essence of the one to one relationship Jesus describes when it comes to faith in him and his Father. A PERSONAL faith if you will, based on each of us sorting out our faith and not conforming to others ideas or experiences that you can’t relate to. That would be a contradiction to the truth you have and submitting to some socialist style religion or faith…going along for the sake of “common good” or not stirring the pot or feeling your own ideas/observations have merit. This then would put our faith in the hands of other men…and mimic the world religions that strive for conformity and conviction to a common dogma or movement…that then stands against other dogmas or movements…and we know ALL religions can’t be right…can they? Back to the times of the “Crusades” of old…
In pursuing more objective material on my self examination on this subject, I ran across another website created by a young man in his 20s. As I read his views along with many postings on the blog he has there from many people…I felt like I found a real “soul brother” in what I have been experiencing along these lines most of my adult life. When I was in my early 20s I started having many of his same convictions and thoughts…yet never took the time (nor had the internet as a tool to do so) to explore or state my thoughts. The site is http://www.existentialchristianity.net/ . Under the “articles” link on the webpage is a pretty good series of writing on major theology issues…and I have yet to find much of anything I disagree with there. So…until I take time in life to do my own website and series of published writings…my new author friend Timothy Neal can give you a pretty good insight into my own personal beliefs and views at this point in life. No, I am not a “follower” of Timothy, but I can imagine him being very similar to Paul’s Timothy in the new testament of the Bible. Remember…part of the secret in an “existential life” is that discovery is ongoing, truth and absolutes CAN be subjective, and that separating ourselves due to matters of doctrine/belief is petty.
I offer this not to “convince” anyone of anything…but only to provide insight and open the door of “self” a little bit wider to those I love and trust. I am always open to dialogue and constructive criticism on any subject…including the above :).
so...come participate with me here. lets be open and mutually accepting of our similarities and differences. the beauty of this exercise is the "dream" that through communication and self revelation...at least to those we know and trust...we can demonstrate and even test our ideas and feelings in the "community". it is a GOOD thing to communicate and be heard. it is a fundamental human need to communicate and share our minds/ideas. unfortunately too many people think no one cares to hear them...or many of us have not learned to take contradiction well. how is it we have grown so insecure as to not want to open our "free" mouths and minds because "someone might not agree with us". sure...we ALL prefer APPROVAL and ACCEPTANCE of our ideas...but if we only communicate and share with those who AGREE with us, we will then be living in a vacuum of thought and rationale. worse yet, we will never be challenged to expand our horizons to consider there may be another way of looking at things. to my mind it is these sensitivities that keeps the masses of the world "in the dark" and fighting enemies they do not understand...because they are unwilling to talk OR listen. part of my quick and early embrace of "the internet" was because i see this medium as a great tool of hope in making information and truth available to ANYONE in the world. this technology breaks down false borders and idealogy boundaries that "statist" powers want to keep in place so they can control the masses. i am personally gratified to see the internet starting to supercede the "bought" mass media as the place for individuals to get real news and perspectives that are open and not commercially tainted. sure...you cant believe everything you see and hear on the internet...not in a book...or by someones lips moving. but at least you can search and "change the channel" by your own volition to try and verify what you are seeing or hearing. this individual liberty and access to information...while sometimes daunting...is also hugely enabling to live our lives free to pursue real truth.
i dont know about you...but some of my most meaningful interpersonal moments have been through resolving huge conflicts via talking and listening. it is always refreshing in life to experience a breakthrough with a friend or even your "significant other" when communicating through a conflict or disagreement. it is amazing what can be accomplished...and how good it feels...when we turn conflict into renewed understanding and acceptance. when we care enough to confront difference and change our own behavior because we now understand how it affects someone we love or care about. these are real breakthroughs in the human experience...and doesnt happen often enough. normally we run from conflict or differences. but until we face them headon...we continue to live with those conflicts and uncertainties.
for a very personal example...i am lucky to now have the most comfortable, secure relationship with a woman i have ever experienced. we are very different from each other in many ways. we have different interests, different strengths and weaknesses, and of course fundamentally we are in trouble...because we are man and woman:). even though we now spend most every day together, work together, play together, etc...there are many things we dont confront UNTIL WE HAVE TO. AND...there are many issues we dont really talk about...but when i share some of my writings with her...she ends up understanding more of where i am coming from as a person and in my mind and the background of events and experiences that have shaped who i am. i think this helps her know better how to relate to me...even in our differences...and we learn to respect our mutual differences of thought or experience. to me this is VERY healthy for both of us...and our future.
sooooo...now you hopefully better understand the intent here...and feel free to share or comment to the extent you are comfortable. Just register for this blog and fire away with me here. i welcome you to the world of my mind...and our mindshare together.