How to Explain the Biblical Death Penalty

death_penalty15


As both a Christian and a Democrat, I not only have to argue regularly with Republicans who see their party’s support of the wealthy as being one and the same as Christianity, but I also have to endure attacks from Democrats who hate religion, Christianity in particular. If fact, just a couple hours before I started this article, I had a Democrat reply to a comment I made on Facebook, saying that my Facebook page, “Rescuing Religion from Republicans,” inspired him to consider starting his own page called, “Rescuing Humanity from Religion.” My short response to him was that Stalin and Mao already tried abolishing religion in the former Soviet Union and Communist China, and it did nothing to lessen brutality. In fact, atheist Stalin killed 22 million people and atheist Mao killed 46 million, compared to Hitler’s 17 million; which proves that brutality does not come from religion, but from the very thing that the Bible tries to stop – the diabolic pride and mercilessness that causes brutality. And sometimes, God used the death penalty as a deterrent to merciless behavior.

Possibly the biggest factor that makes so many people question the goodness of Christianity, and especially the Bible, is the fact that, for ancient Israel, the Bible’s Mosaic Law imposed the death penalty for sins and crimes we consider to be minor. These biblical punishments have led many people, including Christians, to reject the Bible as the Word of God. Others simply reject the “brutal” Old Testament in favor of the “loving” New Testament. Being the scientifically-minded person that I am, I don’t believe in rejecting something just because I disagree with it. I would need anti-biblical evidence to outweigh pro-biblical evidence; and I have not found that to be the case. Thus, I have no choice but to look the death penalty straight in the eye and deal with it, asking “How can a loving God command the death penalty for crimes other than murder?”

First, I have to start with the American, but non-biblical, belief that the punishment must fit the crime. We’ve been raised to see it that way, but most people in world history have not been. Throughout history, many punishments have been more severe than the crime appears to be, because the punishment serves first and foremost as a deterrent. For example, Deuteronomy 19:20 says, regarding the punishment for the crime of perjury, “The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you.” The death penalty was not intended to hurt the innocent, but to keep the innocent from becoming criminals. As long as people were fairly warned that violation of a given law brought death as a penalty, the person breaking that law was being treated fairly, because they knew as they planned to commit their crime that doing so would most likely result in their death. This is not the same as killing someone for supposedly being a witch (i.e., Salem) or for have different beliefs than the church (i.e., The Inquisition) – that’s brutality. The Bible imposed the death penalty for actual deeds.

Second, and more important, is that God realizes that death is not the only horrible thing one can do to a person. I’m not speaking of the death penalty as much as I am the crime of murder. We tend to think that murder is the only crime bad enough to be punished by death (if we believe it’s okay to have a death penalty at all). Murder is not the only thing that ruins life, however. Other crimes than ruin people’s lives without killing them, and they are just as bad. The Bible shares this view. For example, Ecclesiastes 4:1-3 says, “Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power—with no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead, who have already died, more fortunate than the living, who are still alive; but better than both is the one who has not yet been, and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.” This passage tells us that a life of suffering in this world is worse than never having been born. It contradicts the common notion that death is the worst thing there is, by telling us that a life of suffering is the worst thing there is. The truth is that everybody dies eventually, but not everybody has to suffer oppression; and if we all obeyed the Bible’s laws, no one would suffer oppression.

So it makes sense that God would impose a death penalty for those who cause suffering. God cares about victims too much to allow those who ruin others’ lives to get away with it. If breaking the Sabbath oppresses people by creating a society in which much of the population has to work 7 days a week just to keep up with the competition, then life becomes oppressive and not worth living. God valued weekly rest for His people so much that He imposed the ultimate penalty for those would neglect human well-being. It’s not that He wanted to be brutal, but that He simply wouldn’t budge on His insistence that everyone have a weekly day of rest. Here in America, we go very light on the oppressors, and we think we’re kinder than God for doing so. But the truth might be that we have far less concern for victims who suffer at the hands of oppressors than God does.

Likewise, if adultery ruins lives, which it does, then it makes sense that God prescribed the death penalty to prevent people from imposing suffering on their spouses and children. As for men having sex with men, it too was adultery, since it appears that everyone was married in early Israel. The inheritance structure, in which a man inherited land from his family and then took a wife and had children to live off the land, required marriage in order to work. If the men didn’t marry, they would have hoarded the produce of the land to themselves, and the women would have been left destitute with no husband and no land to live off of. This might be why male homosexuality was punished by death, while female homosexuality gets no mention in the Mosaic Law.

Third, most Americans believe there are things worth dying for other than death. That’s why people stand up for causes (like labor and civil rights) in the face of violence, while others join the military. If nothing was worth dying for, we would simply let invading nations take us over without putting up a fight. We would let them work us like slaves and abuse us, because we think such suffering is nowhere near as bad as death is. The reason we fight back, however, is because we value freedom from oppression as much as life itself. Now, one might argue that this kind of death is different, because it’s good people voluntarily giving their lives to prevent abuse and oppression of others. But I would argue that if good people can give their lives (or even be drafted and forced to give up their lives) to protect people from oppression, why can’t the oppressors be forced to lose their lives to protect people from the very oppression they impose? God might find it kind of strange that in modern America we declare it good for an innocent person to die to prevent the suffering of others, while we declare it evil for a guilty person, who has already caused suffering, to die as a deterrent to other oppressors.

So, unlike many people, I don’t see the Old Testament as a book about a blood-thirsty, angry God. I see it as a book about a God who cared so much about the well-being of His people that He required strong sentences for those who would ruin life for others out of their own selfishness.

I realize that when it comes to some laws, like that of cursing your mother or father, the death penalty seems severe. Even I think so. But we also have to realize that we don’t know everything just because we live here and now and are, therefore, smarter than all other people in the history of the world. That’s an arrogance that author C.S. Lewis called “the snobbery of chronology.” There are probably a million ways of thinking in world history, and God’s laws were designed to be effective in the time and place in which they existed. It’s wrong for us to try to judge God’s laws by the standards of modern thought-trends.

Oh, and one more thing…the Bible never says that “children” are to be put to death for hitting or cursing their parents. It says, “He” who strikes his mother or father… It doesn’t even say “she.” That law was for adult men. The biblical law was for adults, just like our law is. So let’s not allow those who hate our faith to make this false accusation without correcting them.

Why having a “Washington Outsider” as president won’t fix Washington

 

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a caucus night rally Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a caucus night rally Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

 

Three of the 16 presidential candidates in the 2016 Republican field were people with no political experience – Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and Donald Trump. They, along with first term Senator Ted Cruz, managed to garner most of their Republican voter support by running as “Washington Outsiders,” – people who are going to change the way Washington works.

Yes, people are fed up with the big money influence and gridlock in the nation’s capital, so they say they want to elect a president who is going to “shake up Washington” (as Trump promised in one of his campaign commercials) or “change the way Washington works.” I have bad news for those people: It’s impossible for a president to accomplish this. Many have tried, and all have failed.

In 2008, Barack Obama ran as a Washington outsider. In fact, he had only been in the Senate for a few years before he ran. He was new to Washington. And while he succeeded in many things, especially during his first two years when the Democrats controlled Congress, he failed to change the big money influence and Republican obstructionism in Washington.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan ran as a Washington outsider. He had been governor of California, which was 3000 miles from Washington. So how did he change Washington? Well…the Pentagon paid $600 for toilet seats and $400 for hammers. That’s a change. And let’s not forget Iran/Contra. The Reagan administration suffered 138 indictments. That’s the worst in American history. As for changing Washington for the better, he failed.

Before Reagan, Jimmy Carter ran as a Washington outsider in 1976. He was viewed as the polar opposite of Richard Nixon, a corrupt politician who had long been part of the establishment. American voters decided they preferred a humble peanut farmer from Georgia over anyone who had experience in Washington. Carter was never found to have engaged in corruption, but he didn’t change the way Washington worked. In fact, some suspect that his honesty hurt his effectiveness at getting Congress to work with him.

Now someone might argue that these governors and first time senators still had some political experience, but “What about someone one who had never been elected to office?” That person would be Herbert Hoover. He was a successful business man and world famous charitable organizer. Once he became president in 1929, his own party refused to work with him, because he lacked the interpersonal skills it takes to garner votes for his political agenda. He went down in history as one of America’s worst presidents.

So why can’t presidents “shake up” Washington?

First of all, what does it mean to “shake up” Washington? It’s almost as if Trump supporters think he’s going to literally shake people in Congress and chew them out for not doing it his way. That’s not going to accomplish anything. It’s no solution at all. In fact, it will render him ineffective, even within his own party, just like Herbert Hoover.

Second, the president lacks the power to “shake up” Washington. He can’t do it by executive order, because executive orders only change the way things work in agencies that fall under the executive branch; they have no impact on Congress, and Congress is where the gridlock and big money influence reigns. He can’t just give the Congress a good talking to. As President Obama said in the 2016 State of the Union Address, he knows Congressmen he talks to who would like to do the right thing, but they can’t because the voters back home will vote them out of office.

And that’s the source of the problem. The same voters who say they want to shake up the way Washington works keep voting for the very same congressmen who cause the gridlock and serve the interests of the corporate wealthy. The president is powerless to stop them. Only the voters can stop them.

So that leads us to the formula for change in Washington:

Voters have to become deeply interested in congressional elections. But even that’s not enough. They have to have deep interest in congressional primaries. In the general election, most people tend to vote for the representative of their party, especially at times like these when the parties are so clearly divided over issues. That’s why incumbents usually win. Most states and districts have more voters representing one party than they do the other, so the majority party is pretty much a lock to win.

If we are going to bring about change, we have to make the change in the primaries by voting for better representatives within our parties. Yet most people are reluctant to do that, because the person who already occupies the office has proven they can beat the other party’s opponent, since they have already done so. Nominating someone new comes with an increased risk of losing the election to the opposing party. Add to that the fact that most people don’t even know what primary challengers’ faces even look like, and the incumbent is likely to win the party nomination the vast majority of the time.

The sad fact is that the voters won’t apply the formula I just described, especially within the Republican Party, since they are the party that has represented the interests of the corporate wealthy since the 1890s, and they have a very effective way of brainwashing their voters. The Democratic Party has a better chance of making change, as they strongly oppose ruling like Citizens United. But to really make change that matters, however, we have to pressure our representatives to ban what I called “post term payoffs,” where companies who lobby congress reward ex-congressmen with jobs that pay 10-20 times more than they earned in Congress. Imagine being a Senator and seeing your colleagues who give the lobbyists whatever they want then get hired by those lobbyists’ companies after they leave Congress and get paid 3 million dollars a year. How do you secure such future riches for yourself? Give the lobbyists what they want. As of 2012, 53% of former congressmen worked for companies who lobbied Congress. This is what we have to stop if we are going to have any hope of fixing Washington. But nobody’s talking about it, not even in the Democratic Party. Therefore, Washington isn’t getting fixed anytime soon. But now that we just elected an extremist radical president with no experience, it just might get a whole lot worse.

NAFTA didn’t kill jobs. Bush’s tariffs on imported steel did.

nafta-protest

Donald Trump reiterated yet again in his first debate with Hillary Clinton that NAFTA was the worst trade deal in American history and that he would renegotiate much better trade deals, although he failed to give any details as to how he was going to do that. Trump, as well as many far left Democrats, have repeatedly stated that NAFTA has killed millions jobs and is the primary culprit for most of our economic woes. Trump and his anti-free trade supporters are incorrect.

To clarify, I should say that this is incorrect on a macroeconomic level. I’m sure some of you can tell a story or two about a U.S. plant that closed and moved its operation to Mexico; however, that was already happening in the 1980s, before NAFTA was even a glint in George H.W. Bush’s eye (his administration negotiated it, not the Clinton Administration; Clinton just signed it). But nationwide, manufacturing jobs increased after the implementation of NAFTA; they did not decrease. According to The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Manufacturing Jobs, Month-by-Month, 1939-2016, in December 1993, when NAFTA was signed, the U.S. had 16.8 million manufacturing jobs; and according to U-3 Unemployment rate, Month-by-Month, 1948-2016, the overall unemployment rate was 6.5%. Throughout the rest of the Clinton years, manufacturing jobs would go on exceed 17 million as early as 1994, and the unemployment rate would steadily fall to 3.9% by the end of the decade, adding over 20 million total jobs to the U.S. economy. Granted, manufacturing jobs didn’t grow by much, but they didn’t decline, either. And the competition for manufacturing jobs came primarily from China, not Mexico.

In 2002, George W. Bush did the opposite of a free trade agreement. In an effort to protect the struggling U.S. Steel industry and win over union voters in the upcoming presidential election, Bush placed a protective tariff on steel, mostly at a rate of 30% (http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/general/2002/03/05/bush-steel.htm). According to Donald Trump’s ideology (he has often suggested increased tariffs on China and Mexico), such a move should have increased manufacturing jobs throughout our great nation. It didn’t. Manufacturing jobs fell from 15.4 million in March of 2002 to 13.4 million by August, 2008 (and that was a month before the banking fiasco triggered an economic collapse).

Here’s why:

While the steel industry loved the tariff, industries that used steel to manufacture everything from furnaces to bicycles to construction beams, hated it, because it hurt them by raising the cost of raw materials used in production. Also affected was the auto industry. Of course, we all know what happened in 2008-2009 to the auto manufacturers – they needed bailouts. While various factors played a role in their near demise, increased prices on steal didn’t help. And this is why such tariffs are harmful. Steelworkers may have lost jobs up front without the protective tariffs, but there were far more American companies and employees who manufactured with steel than there were steel manufacturers, and the tariffs hurt their ability to compete on price. What’s ironic is that if it weren’t for the government bail out of the auto-makers, they would have gone out of business, leaving the steel manufacturers fewer clients to sell to, thus ultimately killing steel jobs after all.

Once upon a time, it was the progressive Democrats who believed in free trade, while Republicans opposed it. The original progressives of the 1890s and early 1900s, led by Christian pastor and three-time presidential nominee, William Jennings Bryan, called the tariff system of the time “a subsidy from the poor to the rich.” Bryan campaigned for replacing the tariff system with income taxes on the wealthy, because tariffs on imports were (and still are) paid for by the consumer when they buy the end product. And when tariffs are high, U.S. manufacturers can charge higher prices to consumers, thanks to the lack of competition. So, in a tariff system, consumers pay higher prices than necessary and bear the bulk of the U.S. tax burden, while the wealthy pay much smaller percentages of their incomes to taxes and make more money from being able to overcharge customers.

Woodrow Wilson was the first president to greatly reduce protective tariffs. But after the 1929 stock market crash, Herbert Hoover and a Republican Congress implemented the Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930, an act that many economists see as a major contributor to the severity of the Great Depression, which was just a recession when the tariff became law. Other nations responded by placing reciprocal tariffs on US goods, thus hurting industries that had not yet been hurt by the recession. And the increased cost of raw materials added to the cost of production and greatly burdened businesses. The Republicans blew it, and the anti-tariff Democrats took over in 1932, controlling the House of Representatives for 60 of the next 64 years.

As for countries seeking revenge with reciprocal tariffs, what you get worldwide is the cost of goods and materials being prohibitively high, making nearly all products more expensive, thus decreasing their availability. In other words, there’s less to go around for everyone, increasing the need throughout the world. Tariffs create poverty. Everyone in the whole world is created in the image of God; therefore, no one should suffer due to protective tariffs. It’s hypocritical for so-called progressives to accuse the American wealthy of rigging the system so they don’t have to share their riches with the rest of us and then actually advocate that we rig the tariff system so we Americans don’t have to share our riches with the rest of world.

I think this is why President Obama favors the Trans Pacific Partnership. I’ll admit, I don’t know everything that’s in it. But, generally, free trade is good for everyone in the long run. The Chinese are developing their own free trade agreement and alliance with India and 14 other countries than will make it even cheaper for them to produce goods and undercut our prices. So we are competing by effectively adding Japan, South Korea, Australia, Chile and others to the NAFTA alliance. As we move into the future, individual countries won’t be able to go it alone. Alliances will be essential to survival.

I trust Obama on this far more than I trust Trump. Obama is an intellectual, just like Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Trump is an emotionalist who stokes anger by placing the blame for our problems on chosen scapegoats. He differs little from Ron Paul. Their campaigns are about getting people to shake their fist at the government, even their own party, rather than doing their homework on how to create intelligent solutions for complex problems. And unfortunately, a lot of working class progressives are now falling for their deception. Don’t get me wrong. I believe in progressivism. But true Democratic progressivism favored free trade, because it’s cheaper for consumers and actually increases jobs nationwide. It’s not the simplest thing to understand, but it’s easy enough for anyone who’s willing to take a few moments to look at the macroeconomic realities and numbers. Hopefully, progressive leaders of the future will do what’s right for the working class and not just promote what sounds good to the uneducated mind.

Eight Republican Small Government Arguments Debunked

big-government (1)

When the Republican Party opposes laws that protect us from the life-ruining effects of corporate greed, they tend to argue that such laws create big government, which, they say, is evil. They advocate for small government instead, which allows the corporations to exploit workers, consumers and the environment. They employ several well-rehearsed arguments in an effort to convert voters to their way of thinking. Here are some of those arguments and why they are wrong. [The following is an excerpt from my book, “Rescuing Religion from Republican Reason”]

1) Government regulations always have negative unintended consequences.

Imagine you’re on a camping trip. Out of the corner of your eye, you see a black bear approaching from the opposite side of your tent. He doesn’t seem to know you’re there. You realize that if he gets too close, he could become startled and attack you. You’re in danger. You need a solution. One solution is to do nothing. The bear will then enter your campsite and likely harm you. Another solution is to run away. If you do, you’ll ensure your demise, because bears love to chase, catch and maul other animals, including you. Another possible solution is to bang pots and pans together before the bear gets too close. Since bears dislike loud noise, the bear will turn and walk away from you. Life saved! Of these three possible solutions – doing the right thing, doing the wrong thing, and doing nothing – only doing the right thing worked. Doing nothing was nearly as bad as doing the wrong thing.

Unfortunately, anti-government Republicans, especially of the libertarian variety, usually insist that we must do nothing to address the harmful effects of greed in the business world. They repeatedly claim that the government makes every problem it addresses worse, so the government should limit its actions to the defense of property rights. Yes, sometimes governing officials choose wrong solutions, making existing problems worse or creating new problems worse than the original problem. This is a part of what decision-making is all about – choosing between solutions that work and those that don’t. People in power make mistakes just as all humans do. It’s up to us to vote for the best decision-makers. But to vote for those who refuse to make decisions altogether is to let the devil have his way.

Thanks to the thousands of decisions our government has made over the years, it’s easy for anti-government types to sort through them and find some bad ones to use as examples of how government decisions always have negative unintended consequences.

However, countering their argument is even easier. All we have to do is identify laws and regulations that do far more good than harm. For example, most business regulations that protect workers and consumers from harmful chemicals in the workplace, in our food, or in the environment do a tremendous amount of good. Child labor laws are also good. The only negative consequence is that the business owners make less money when not exploiting children. Republicans warn that business owners will pass the extra expense on to consumers in the form of higher prices, making life worse for everyone. (They’ve made this claim in opposition to child labor abolishment, to the auto safety regulations of 60s, the Clean Air Acts of 1970 and 1991, and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. And yet, economic doomsday failed to materialize every single time.) But this can only happen if consumers are willing pay more for that product or service. The truth is that most households have a limited amount of income to spend, so they must make choices where to spend it. If business owners raise prices, consumers will choose to buy less, which hurts the business’s sales and profits. So, in many cases, businesses simply must keep prices where they are, leaving the owners no choice but to earn fewer millions. This is what corporate powers fear. That’s why they promote the unintended consequences argument.

One industry in which the benefits of regulations have been far greater than the unintended consequences of them is banking. Before banking regulations were enacted in the 1930s, widespread banking industry collapses afflicted every generation throughout the previous century. Once the regulations were implemented, our banking industry was catastrophe-free for over 50 years. Then along came banking industry deregulation of the 1980s and 1990s, and following soon after were the Savings and Loan bailouts of the late 80s and the bank bailouts of the Great Recession in 2008-2009. Without regulations, our banking system proves to be a disaster that robs depositors and tax-payers of their money. So it’s not government regulations of greed-driven business practices that have negative unintended consequences; it’s what the government allows in the name of enriching the wealthy that has negative unintended consequences.

2) Regulations kill jobs.

Even after the deregulatory disaster we call the Great Recession, Republicans continued to oppose financial industry regulations designed to prevent another collapse and future bailouts. They, of course, called these “job-killing regulations.” They apply this term to most financial, environmental, workplace, and consumer product regulations. They claim these regulations will cost businesses extra money, and that they’ll have no choice but to cut jobs, since they’ll no longer be able to afford to pay their employees.

Indeed, they are correct in saying that regulations cost more. For example, if a power plant’s owners allow poisons and neurotoxins to run into a river, that costs them next to nothing. However, if government regulations require that toxins be stored in special containers and shipped to government-approved toxic waste dumps that keep toxins out of the general environment, this costs them a lot more. They must buy the containers, pay a company to haul them away, and pay for maintenance of the dump. If the power plant is in poor financial shape, this could force the owners to cut some jobs. Although, if it’s in good shape, the jobs will remain, since the plant needs all of its employees to service its customers. Here’s what the Republicans fail to tell us: Either way, the money the plant pays in obedience to the regulations goes to other U.S. companies; it does not leave the economy. This money creates jobs that build and maintain the dump, manufacture the containers, and haul the containers away. Thus, the regulations create jobs; they don’t destroy them. Some businesses may be worse off thanks to regulations, but remember that they were enriching themselves at the expense of others, anyway. So they don’t deserve that money. Also, without the regulations, many of these businesses would simply pay the money saved to their owners who are likely to sock it away in commodities or investment gambling rather than create jobs with it.

3) For every regulation we add, we must take one away.

“The impact of any proposed new regulation must be offset by removing another regulation of equivalent cost.” This is a quote from Mitt Romney while on the campaign trail in April of 2012. Out of concern that government regulations cost the corporations he represented too much money, he and other Republicans have proposed that we simply refuse to add any more laws that protect us from the harmful effects of greed; if we do, we must remove existing laws of equal cost.

Since regulations are simply laws that pertain to businesses, it makes sense to imagine how such an approach would work if we applied it to laws for individuals. For example, in recent years, Americans tend to disapprove of texting while driving, because it causes deadly accidents; therefore, many states have made it illegal. So if we apply the “if you add a law, you must take one away” principle, then we would have to simultaneously make drunk driving legal in order to keep the number of personal laws from increasing. This, of course, is absurd. The reason the new texting law has to be added is because a new technology came along that enabled people to endanger one another in a new way. Offsetting this new law by legalizing drunk driving simply increases the number of road deaths. This defeats the purpose of having laws, which is to protect people from the harm caused by those who throw caution to the wind. The only way to keep road deaths low is to add the new law without repealing the old ones. The number of laws is not important here; the well-being of people is.

In the business world, not only must we protect ourselves from a financial industry that never stops scheming to get people’s money, but in North America, over 1,200 new chemicals are developed each year.  Manufacturers continually add new, potentially dangerous chemicals to cleaning agents, pesticides, beds, cosmetics, and, of course, food. In addition to that, businesses continue to invent new technologies, which, like weapons, can be used for good or for harm. Imagine if our government had adopted the “for every new regulation, take one away” mantra before the computer age, or the television age, or the automobile age. We would have no speed limits, drivers’ tests, minimum driving age, drunken driving laws, standards for vehicle safety, or requirements to stop at red traffic lights and stop signs, because adding these regulations would have supposedly added to the size of government and limited our freedom.

4) Regulations take away our freedoms.

This is a statement designed to appeal to the lazy mind. If you don’t think about it, it makes sense that the more rules we have, the less freedom we have, since rules take away our freedom to do whatever we want. What conservatives fail to realize is that regulations, which are nothing more than rules for businesses, actually increase our freedoms, as well as the freedoms of businesses to prosper.

Let’s go back to the life insurance example I used in the Pure Capitalism chapter. Imagine buying a Whole Life policy at the age of 25 that will pay $200,000 to your family when you die. And let’s imagine that you pay all of the premiums over the course of 20 years, and then the insurance company goes bankrupt before you die, so that your family will never receive any benefits for all of the premiums you’ve already paid. You will have thrown away thousands of dollars and gotten nothing in return. If this were the norm in society, you (and most other people) wouldn’t buy life insurance, since doing so would be a risky gamble, because the insurance companies would have to stay in business your whole life in order for you not to lose all of your money invested in premiums. Without government intervention, the life insurance industry would barely exist, because no one would trust it.

Fortunately, government regulations have come to the rescue. First, as I previously stated, all states have guarantee funds that pay your claims if your insurance company becomes insolvent. But that alone would not be enough to save the industry. It would be easy for companies that behave irresponsibly to exploit the guarantee fund for the sake of excessive short term profits. For example, a company could specialize in charging high premiums to high risk customers (those with health conditions that make them likely to die within the next few years), pay out enormous profits to themselves in the short term, and then declare bankruptcy when the claims come due. They would then walk away with millions, while the insurance companies who’ve behaved responsibly would pay the irresponsible company’s claims through their mandatory contributions to the guarantee fund. This scenario would have the effect of driving up the cost of insurance for everyone, and it would encourage companies to behave badly in order to come out on the winning side of the guarantee fund. In fact, companies who behave responsibly would probably leave the industry out of frustration over the fact that they have to fund the claims of those who behave irresponsibly.

This is why states have heavily regulated the insurance industry. Their regulations keep the insurance companies solvent by requiring that they follow ethical practices. These regulations, combined with the guarantee fund, strengthen consumers’ trust in the industry and its products, so that the industry has the freedom to thrive, while the consumers have the freedom to buy the insurance they feel best fits their needs.

Ask any Republican politician about a scenario like the one I just described, and they will likely reply that they don’t oppose regulations like these. And they are correct. This is why Republicans don’t abolish these regulations when they have control of federal, state, and local governments. The Republicans, whether they admit it or not, understand that many regulations are good for business. What Republicans oppose is not all regulations, but regulations that might limit the profitability of the handful of industries that control their party – namely the oil, coal, and gas industries, the banks, the pharmaceutical industry, the defense contractors, and a few others. When Republican politicians and pundits say that regulations take away our freedoms, what they really mean is that regulations take away the freedoms of big industries to hurt consumers, employees, the environment, and sometimes even smaller competitors for the sake of even greater profits.

5) Government must not increase regulations or taxes unless waste and fraud are eliminated.

Would you refuse to heat your home if you found that three percent of the heat escapes through windows and the opening of doors?

If so, stop heating your home! Almost all homes allow more than 3% of indoor heat to escape. For some, the number is probably closer to 30%. So why do you still choose to heat your home? It’s because staying warm is of far greater importance to you than eliminating all waste and inefficiency. You know that some waste is inevitable, so you do the best you can to minimize that waste. But you pay for heat despite the waste, because your body needs warmth to live.

In 2013, we learned that the Pentagon wasted $1 billion of taxpayer money on a logistics support system that never materialized.  This waste reminds some of us of the $600 toilet seats and $400 hammers the Pentagon purchased in the 1980s, during Ronald Reagan’s presidency.  So do we cease to have a national defense because of government waste and inefficiency? Of course, not. That would be suicidal! We need a national defense!

Likewise, our nation needs to tax its people to pay its bills. It needs agencies to regulate and inspect businesses for the sake of our protection. The Republican argument that we must eliminate or reduce these, because of bureaucratic waste, is downright absurd. Waste will always exist. There will always be inefficiencies. We must do the best we can to minimize these. I think both parties agree on that. Unfortunately, the cost of completely eliminating waste is often more costly than the waste itself, because it often requires micro-management, which means hiring more government workers to oversee the government. Nonetheless, government agencies must continue to do their jobs, regardless of waste, because the well-being of people is of greater importance than the elimination of waste and incompetence.

It’s on this last point where the parties differ. Republicans desire to eliminate many necessary institutions in the name of waste reduction.

Generally speaking, Democrats care about needs; Republicans care about nuisances. Democrats care about people suffering from lack of food, shelter, and medicine. They care about children getting an education and having a fair chance to live a life fitting for someone created in the image of God. They care about protecting workers, consumers, and the environment from disease-causing toxins, physical dangers, and thieving scams. Republicans care little about these things. Instead, they care about the nuisance of having to pay taxes or the nuisance of having to do paperwork required by regulations. They care about the fact that government is sometimes inefficient, corrupt, or incompetent. Yet when Republicans totally control government, as they did for 6 years under George W. Bush, these nuisances fail to disappear. If anything, Republicans have made government more corrupt. History has proven them to be guilty of this past century’s worst scandals: Teapot Dome (Harding), Watergate (Nixon), Iran-Contra (Reagan) and the Iraq War (Bush). So how can they insist that those who oppose corruption vote for them?

Republicans have also made government more incompetent by underfunding agencies and underpaying government workers. Then when their budget-slashing causes problems, they effectively say, “See! We told you government is incompetent! Vote for us! Because we hate government!” If you vote Republican because you hate government waste, fraud, and incompetence, you may want to ask yourself if they’ve ever made much progress in eliminating them when given the chance.

6) Free enterprise is more efficient than government.

This may be true (although I’ve worked for some incredibly inefficient corporations). But it’s beside the point. It’s just another distracting argument. Few Democrats argue for socialism in which the government owns businesses. Most of what the government does, free enterprise cannot do. Free enterprise cannot run our law enforcement and judicial system. If it did, corruption would abound, and the wealthy would rule far more than they already do. If free enterprise ran agencies like the EPA, OSHA, the FDA, and the SEC, they would be useless, because the business community would effectively oversee itself.

Even infrastructure, which has historically been built by government, has sometimes been turned over to private ownership with disastrous consequences. Such was the case with the Ambassador Bridge that connects Detroit to Canada. The government had allowed the bridge to be privately owned, operated, and maintained after it was built. In 2012, Detroiters got to vote on a proposal to let Canada build and pay for a second bridge that would shorten commutes for citizens living on either side. However, this would mean decreased tolls and profits for the owner of the Ambassador Bridge. So he launched a fear-driven add campaign to get the people to vote against the second bridge.  Fortunately, the majority of people did not fall for it. Nonetheless, this proves that private ownership of infrastructure can work against the common good, because private interests can stifle competition by manipulating the government.

7) Our government is power hungry.

Imagine yourself as a major shareholder or executive of a company that’s profiting at the expense of the well-being of others. And imagine that U.S. citizens want to elect leaders willing to pass legislation to stop you. Will you stand idly by as you’re in danger of losing millions of dollars for the sake of humanity? Your greed simply won’t let you do that. You, and all other corporate predators facing similar challenges, will use your wealth, power and influence to place politicians in government who look out for your interests. This may include encouraging those who represent your interests to run for office, donating to their campaigns, and backing a propaganda machine that distracts the public from your power grab by accusing the government of being power hungry. Such a campaign may claim that Democratic politicians are power hungry control freaks who want to take away our freedoms like Hitler would.

But does such a claim have any basis?

How much power does a congressman really have?

In order for a congressman to exert his power through legislation, he must get 217 House representatives and 51 senators and a president to agree with him. That’s not much power at all. The checks and balances of our system limit individual power among government officials.

One might argue that congressmen enrich themselves with bribes and kickbacks. Indeed, this happens from time to time. However, as we learned in the Rob Blagojevich scandal (in which he tried to sell a vacant Senate seat), the penalties for such crimes are significant. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison.  Most politicians are unwilling to risk so much just for extra cash.

Only through working together as a political party can politicians have a lot of power. But even then, it’s not really the politicians who have the power; it’s those who control their party. In the case of the Republicans, that appears to be big industry. The corporate wealthy can appoint their representatives who vote for their interests. Of course, who knows their interests better than politicians who come from the corporate world? Not only will they vote for the interests of their peers, but they can campaign as “job creators,” and thus, distract the populace from their true agenda.

In the 2012 election, coal industry executive and multi-millionaire Bob Smith (R) ran against incumbent Bob Casey Jr. (D) for a Senate seat in Pennsylvania. Bob Smith was a Tea Party “job creator” who railed against big government. In some of his campaign ads, he said he favored changing the law so that if Congress could not agree on a budget, congressmen wouldn’t get paid. They would forgo their salaries.

At first listen, this sounds good to the average voter: it’s the job of Congress to pass a budget, so if they don’t do their job, they don’t get paid. But upon further examination, Smith’s idea was really a plot to give the upper hand in budget negotiations to wealthy congressmen from the corporate world. Congressmen who come from a public service background, or who have little wealth, need their congressional salaries to support their families. Wealthy corporate executives and investors who become congressman need no salaries, since they are already wealthy. This gives the wealthy Republicans power over middle class Democrats in budget negotiations. If the Democrats want to eat, they have to give in to the Republicans.

Politicians from the corporate world have numerous ways of paying themselves. They often use the government to enrich themselves and the big business owners who fund their campaigns. First, they vote for massive tax cuts that can add millions of dollars per year to their wealth, so their enormous tax savings dwarf their congressional salaries that only pay them thousands of dollars. Someone like Bob Smith might vote to remove safety and environmental regulations from the coal industry at the expense of the environment and the safety of workers – all in the name of greater profits for himself. And, of course, politicians can vote for the government to give money, in the form of subsidies or contracts, to businesses they own and invest in or that fund their campaigns.

Corporations excel at one thing: manipulating their environment to maximize their riches. Therefore, corporate executives elected to government excel at one thing: manipulating their environment to maximize their riches. That environment is our government. “We the people” have a choice: We can elect officials who represent our interests, or we can elect officials who manipulate the government to benefit the wealthy. When we elect these anti-government types from the corporate world to run the government, it’s like electing a mobster to run a police department. A mobster will weaken and corrupt the police department so it’s unable to protect the city from the mob. If the mobster police commissioner is particularly sly, he may even manage to turn the city’s population against the police, giving the mob even more power to do evil and freeing it from the only force that can protect its victims.

8) Big government increases corruption.

This argument implies that small government prevents corruption. History shows this not to be the case. One of the most corrupt politicians of all time was William Magear “Boss” Tweed. He was the head of New York’s Tammany Hall political machine in the 1860s and 1870s, the supposed good old days of small government. Yet it was the small government environment of that time period that enabled Boss Tweed to have so much power. On multiple occasions, Tweed used his power to legislate advantages for railroad magnate, Jay Gould, who, in turn, gave Tweed a major share in his companies. Tweed served as director of numerous businesses and manipulated government to serve them. In 1877, Tweed was convicted of stealing between $25 million and $45 million tax payer dollars through his schemes. This is over a billion dollars’ worth of money today.

Tweed was not the only corporate manipulator who changed laws to place competitors at a disadvantage. In 1890, the Republican-dominated Congress, led by Senate Finance Committee Chair, Senator Nelson W. Aldrich, passed the McKinley Tariff, which eliminated the Sugar Tariff on imported sugar. They did this, because the Sugar Trust in the Deep South wanted to weaken their San Francisco-based competitor, Claus Spreckels, who sold cheaper sugar that he imported from Hawaii, which was exempt from the old tariff. The Sugar Trust imported their sugar from Cuba, which was not exempt from the tariff. Since shipping sugar from Cuba was cheaper than shipping from Hawaii, the Sugar Trust was back on top once the tariff on raw sugar was eliminated. That however, cost the government about 50 million dollars per year in tariff revenues. Add to that the permanent subsidies the government had committed to pay the Sugar Trust as part of the deal, and the U.S. government went from having a budget surplus to having more than a 100 million dollar per year budget deficit (note: the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890, which committed the government to buy 50 million dollars’ worth of silver per year from American mining companies also played a major role in the deficit).

Notice, again, how politicians with close ties to the corporate world are the most corrupt. When government fails to police corporations, corporations control our government. When we vote for politicians who have close ties with the corporations, like Boss Tweed, Mitt Romney, or Tom Smith, we vote in favor of corruption. Corruption existed in the past; it exists today; and it will exist in the future. While it’s difficult to quantify how much corruption existed in any given period, it seems to me that it was worst in the past when government was small.

Contrary to what small government conservatives tell us, corruption often finds state and local governments to be the path of least resistance. Today, more than ever, voters pay little attention to local and state politics, because their eyes are fixed on the national media. Local newspapers are practically gone, leaving voters less aware than they used to be. But even before the demise of local print media, local government corruption managed to fly under the radar.

Take, for example, the sewer scandal of Washington Township, Berks County, PA, where I grew up. In the early 1990s, when I was away at college, homeowners throughout the township received notice that they would all have to pay about $8000 each to install a sewer system in a mostly rural township in which everyone already owned septic systems for which they had already paid. How did this happen? The township leaders, working closely with the contractors who would profit from the mandatory sewer system installations, voted it through without notifying the township’s residents. Why didn’t residents object at the meetings? Because they didn’t attend the meetings. I once attended one as required by my 10th grade social studies class, and what I observed was a boring, tedious gathering of a few old men in flannel shirts. Few people want to repeatedly endure such boredom. That, along with the fact that most people are busy raising their families, keeps people from getting involved with local government. Conservatives may argue that we should get more involved. But the reality is that people don’t, and often, those who do are business people looking to manipulate local government for personal profit.

The state level of government, while more in the public eye, is still more susceptible to corporate influence than the federal government is (although, the federal government is certainly not immune). Take, for example, the asbestos dump in Valley Forge National Park. How did a toxic dump wind up in the middle of this national treasure? According the National Park Service website, “PA [Pennsylvania] permitted Ehret [the asbestos dumper] to dispose of manufacturing waste routinely by pumping it through a slurry pipeline into the former limestone quarries in the State Park.” Valley Forge was a Pennsylvania state park, and the state allowed this asbestos dumping from the 1890s to the 1970s. In 1976, the federal government made Valley Forge a national park. The National Park Service then prohibited further dumping, roped off the site, and has since been in the process of cleaning it up.

Of course, this clean-up has been at the expense of tax payers. Ehret can’t pay for it, because they are no longer in business. Even if they were, they would not be liable, since the state made it legal for them to dump there. To sum it up, Ehret got rich, while the taxpayers cleaned up their mess. And all of this was because state governments are even more easily corrupted by corporate power than the federal government is. Both left and right wing national media organizations, especially those that millions of us watch on TV, fix all eyes on the federal government in an attempt to dig up dirt on the politicians they want to defeat in the next national election. If the U.S. Congress tries to sneak corruption past us, there’s a good chance we’ll find out about it. But few people are watching the state and local governments; and that’s the way corporate corruption likes it.

The biblical stance on the size of government

United_States_Capitol_-_west_front

[The article is an excerpt from my book, “Rescuing Religion from Republican Reason.”]

Fear of Totalitarianism

Humans in the 20th century witnessed something the world had never quite seen before – the totalitarian state. While other powerful governments in history have muscled their way into their citizens’ lives, modern technology enabled Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union to control every aspect of those lives. For example, the Soviets assigned every citizen a specific job. Career choices were not allowed. They told people where to live. They worded every radio broadcast their people heard and directed every movie they saw, all in an attempt to control their thinking. Their society sounds like something from a horror movie. But it was real.

Naturally, Republicans accuse Democrats and moderates of being like Nazis and Soviets any time they attempt to implement a solution to protect Americans from big businesses. Sometimes they’ll go as far as to frighten people into thinking Democrats actually have a master plan to create a totalitarian America. Less extreme Republicans simply accuse the Democrats of promoting big government, merely implying that Democrats desire to control every aspect of American life. Once Republicans establish this mindset of fear in gullible Americans, they offer salvation to their followers by means of the opposite extreme – small government.

Sayings like, “The government that governs least, governs best,” establish in the minds of voters that small government is righteousness; it’s a morality. If it is indeed a morality that is one and the same as Christianity, then the Bible should consistently show God condemning government power. However, when God placed Joseph in a position to instruct the Pharaoh of Egypt, Joseph commanded the government to exercise significant power in the name of feeding its people, and God didn’t object. In Gen 41:34-36, he said, “Let Pharaoh take action to appoint overseers in charge of the land, and let him exact a fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven years of abundance. Then let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming, and store up the grain for food in the cities under Pharaoh’s authority, and let them guard it. And let the food become as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which will occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish during the famine.”

God had given Joseph the power to interpret the Pharaoh’s dream so that Joseph could warn the Pharaoh, implement a plan to save the people from starvation, and then bring his family to Egypt to save them from starving, too. To accomplish this, the government had to take the farmers’ crops, so they could set enough aside for the coming famine. This taking of food was a powerful act of government. A modern Republican or libertarian would label such an act as big government overreach, if not totalitarianism. If Joseph had been a libertarian, like Ron Paul, he would have let the people starve in the name of liberty and small government. God, however, was unconcerned with these false moralities; He was concerned with the well-being of people.

How Big Should Our Government Be?

If we want to establish the most righteous size of government, it makes sense for us Christians to look to God’s nation of ancient Israel for a comparison. Our initial gut response might be that God’s government was much smaller than ours, because His nation was a primitive, agrarian society. However, that point is subjective. It all depends on how we measure the size of government. If we count the number of government workers, only 0.7% of the U.S. population worked for the federal government in 2010, compared to an average of 1.0% from 1954-1991.  How does this compare to the Bible? It’s hard to say. It’s unlikely, however, that the number of law enforcers, judges, tithe collectors, etc. made up much less than one percent of the population.

If we measure the size of government by how much it taxes and spends, our government is similar in size to ancient Israel. God’s tithes for ministry, festivals, and the poor totaled 23.3% of income. Plus, God required leaving food behind in the fields for the poor, and He prohibited selling food to them at a profit. So that probably brings the wealth redistribution total to about 30% of income. As of 2010, America taxed 24% of its output,  so that’s a lower percentage than what the Israelites had to share. And keep in mind that the Israelite number doesn’t include expenditures for the military and the functioning of government. It is merely the percentage of wealth redistributed for the common good.

If we measure the size of government by the power it exerts over multiple aspects of people’s lives, God’s government was larger than ours, because He ran a one-religion nation. His laws controlled sexual behavior, diet, appearance, and rituals of worship in addition to business conduct, property distribution, and injury retribution. In a multi-religion nation like ours, legislation can only control the latter.

Some might argue that our government has more surveillance ability than that of ancient Israel, and that’s true, but that ability does not increase government power in any practical sense. Stable governments of all sizes throughout history have always had the ability to make and enforce laws and to throw people into prison or have them executed, even if it was for nothing more than questioning or opposing the decisions of those in power. If anything, our government today has less power than past governments, thanks to video and photo surveillance conducted by common citizens that broadcasts brutal acts of government and law enforcement officials to the world and incites people to react against them.

God never speaks about “size” of government in the Bible. This is probably because such an argument is of no value. In Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, God holds the nation of Israel responsible for making sure it follows all of His laws, statutes, and ordinances. He then gives plenty of details as to how He’ll punish them if they fail. God’s focus is on justice being served, regardless of how many people or laws it takes to make it happen.

Likewise, our focus should be the same. The size of government is irrelevant. Focusing on it simply distracts us from the issues at hand. There are good laws and bad laws; there are good regulations and dumb regulations. We should seek to pass good laws and get rid of harmful ones (or prevent their passage). If lawlessness increases, then the size of law enforcement must increase. If street crime increases, a larger police force is needed. Likewise, if corporate schemes increase, more regulations and inspections are needed. If America’s businesses weren’t so corrupt, we wouldn’t need so many regulations. We need big government to fight big greed.

When we seek to pass good laws that protect the powerless from the harmful effects of corporate greed, Republicans try to distract us by accusing us of making government bigger. They know that if they can make us fear big government, “we the people” will vote away the only power we have by turning our government over to them. They will, in turn, strip away regulations, so the corporate wealthy whom they represent will grow even richer at the expense of the innocent.

When Republicans realize that they can’t scare enough people into believing that Democrats want to implement a totalitarian government the way Stalin and Hitler did, they argue that “big government” regulations are bad for everyone. In other words, if we don’t let big business have its way, our economy will suffer, prices will rise, and jobs will disappear. Next week we’ll refute several of their arguments.

How corporations make us dependent upon them, and how that system fails

Big_banks

According to the American Presidents’ Series biographies, Thomas Jefferson, as governor of Virginia during the Revolution, wanted Virginia, after the Revolution, to give 50 acres of land to every man who lacked land – a government handout, free of charge – so that every man and his descendants could be self-reliant. Jefferson dreamed of an America in which people worked hard and were self-sufficient, but he understood that a person had to first possess the means with which to work and provide for oneself in order to actually be self-sufficient.

In 1862, Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act into law (which had been championed in Congress by Andrew Johnson in the 1850s, but initially vetoed by Buchanan), giving 150 acre Midwestern homesteads to eastern families who lacked land and were willing to move west and farm them. By 1934, 1.6 million families had received 270,000,000 acres (about 10% of the nation’s land) from the U.S government, so they could possess the means by which they could provide for themselves. To Johnson and Lincoln, such grants were essential to the idea of independence. They knew that you couldn’t be truly independent if you had to depend on someone else to determine if you could have a job and if you got paid enough to live. Also, you could not borrow money to engage in business if you lacked the property to put up collateral. They knew it takes money to make money, and most wealth in the agrarian past was generated by having land.

Today’s world is completely different.

This is no longer a nation of family farms. It is a nation dominated and controlled by corporations – legalized systems of stealing in which the corporate wealthy make millions or billions of dollars when their risky business ventures do well; but when they go bust, and they owe millions or billions of dollars, the owners declare corporate bankruptcy, forcing their debts on society, all while personally keeping their riches. This lucrative double standard attracts numerous owners, making corporations so large and efficient that they dominate the marketplace and take away people’s means to provide for themselves.

Most young Americans go out into the world today with practically nothing and are fully-reliant on the corporate wealthy for jobs and income. So if the wealthy provide only 180 million jobs for 200 million workers, 20 million people have to be unemployed. If 40 million jobs pay less than $10/hr., then 40 million people have no choice but to earn an unlivable wage. Those who are crushed and left out by this system cannot depend on themselves, because they have neither the farmland to live off of nor the wealth needed to start a business; therefore, they are left to fully rely on handouts, whether they be from the government or from charity (and charity has always proven to be a huge failure on a national level). The only reason Americans are dependent on government for income is that our system of dependency on the corporate wealthy for jobs and income fails millions of people at any given time.

And even if a person does have reasonable wealth and opens a hardware store, their business will soon fail, because the mass efficiencies of mega-corporations like Lowe’s and Home Depot undermine small business owners’ ability to compete on price. So not only are those who would have been farmers 100 years now just employees for a corporate grocer, but now those who would have been small business owners 50 years ago are just employees for corporate retailers. They are no longer independent. They are dependent.

But it doesn’t end there.

Now that the vast majority of workers are fully-dependent upon the corporate wealthy, the corporate wealthy are replacing workers with technology. This has always happened, to some extent, but mostly in manufacturing. And since America was lucky and smart enough to build up a strong consumer base during the decades following WWII, service industry jobs were abundant enough to replace manufacturing jobs, and we survived. But now technology is replacing service industry jobs. It has already replaced travel agents, postal workers, brick and mortar book stores employees, and sales reps (replaced with websites in which the potential customers can utilize interactive demos that you once needed a sales rep to show you in person).

And the number of jobs being replaced is about to increase at an exponential rate over the next few decades. Self-driving cars and trucks will eliminate millions of transportation industry jobs. Fast food will serve itself. More effective versions of “Siri” will replace nearly all call-center sales and customer service jobs. It’s likely that 30% of the workforce will be displaced during the best of economic times by 2050. Conservatives will argue that we can stave off these job losses with impoverished wages, but such a plan will fail to stave them off for more than a decade due to the rapidly falling costs of technology (for example, a $1000 HDTV in 2009 costs $200 today in 2016).

The corporate system, due to its efficiencies and concentrations of wealth and power, has hoarded the means of survival, forced us to rely on them, and now that we do, they are taking away the jobs and income we rely on them for, so that millions of us have no hope for living anything other than an unbearable life of poverty. It’s hard to imagine a more evil system.

So what do we do about this?

We can predict what the Republican Party will do. They will likely continue to blame us workers for our neediness, while defending the means-hoarders’ rights to not have to share their wealth with the millions of us they have forced to depend on them. If their way wins, America’s future will be a calamity more devastating than we can imagine.

But for us progressives, it’s time to revive the idea of a Guaranteed Basic Income. It’s pretty much like Social Security for everyone. All Americans over a certain age (like 18) will receive a fixed income regardless of whether or not they have a job or any savings. So if, in the year 2050, 30% of the workforce is unemployed during the best of economic times, thanks to technological displacement, the unemployed will still have the means to survive, while those who have jobs will receive both their guaranteed basic income and their pay from their employer.

While this system is not as ideal as everyone having a job is, it’s where we will someday have to go to avoid catastrophe. The good news is that it is affordable. Using today’s world as an example, it would have to meet the needs of about 200 million Americans ages 18-65. If each received $15,000/year, which is about the same as the current average Social Security retirement benefit, that would cost $3 trillion per year, which would increase our current federal budget from $4 trillion to $7 trillion. So taxes would then have to rise from 18% of GDP (where it is now) to 32% of GDP, which is similar to some western European countries, today. If you add on state and local taxes, the average tax rate would be about 40%, maybe those in the top 2% of income earners would pay 50% (just like the Reagan tax rates of the early 80s), while lower income earners would pay less than 30%.

I can now imagine various detractors saying that such a system will make people lazy. This will be true to an extent, but from what I’ve seen, most people have enough pride and greed in them to desire more income than $1200/mo, so there will be plenty of competition for jobs. On the positive side, those employers who abuse their employees with power trips and unbearable hours for unlivable pay may no longer be able to do so. If they abuse employees, those employees can leave. Perhaps this will bring about a workplace culture of respect for employees rather than the current culture of abuse and disdain.

Regardless of what the problems would be with a guaranteed income, the corporate system combined with technological advancement will leave us no choice but to implement it. Otherwise, our nation will be overrun with out-of-control poverty and violent crime, while the lack of consumer spending money will cause the investments of the wealthy to go bust, crashing the world economy like never before.

I’m surprised none of the current progressive politicians have taken up this cause. Perhaps it’s because they are concerned more about the next 4 years than they are the next 40. Both Nixon and McGovern favored versions of this system in 1972; however, so its return to the foreground of progressive politics isn’t unrealistic. Perhaps it’s time for you, the voter, to pressure your representatives to look out for our long term needs rather than just their own short-term successes.

5 Reasons why Rachel Maddow’s lesbianism is NO reason for Christians to reject her show

SLIDE%20Rachel%20Maddow_courtesy%20MSNBC

Since Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart left their politically-oriented shows on Comedy Central, the only cable news/punditry show I watch on a daily basis is “The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC.

When I mention this to conservatives, especially of the Christian variety (although not always), they’ll say something like, “Isn’t she a lesbian?” And they say this with a crinkled nose, furrowed brow, and disgusted facial expression, as if lesbians are smelly. Their stated disapproval of Rachel’s sexual orientation is intended to invalidate both Rachel Maddow and her show. In their minds, if they can invalidate the person, then all of the information, education, and intellectual analysis that comes from that personal is also invalid, evil, and should be avoided.

Here are several reasons that Christians should not invalidate Rachel Maddow’s show because of her lesbianism.

1) Judging a person and that person’s works based on their sexuality is a major sin.

As Romans 3:10 says, “As it is written, ‘There is no one righteous, not even one.’”

All of us fall short in some ways, but not in all ways. There are thousands of things a person can do right or wrong. However, most of us tend to judge a person as good or evil based on only one or two of those things. I believe this is one of the reasons judgmentalism is such a major sin. It’s not that people might not deserve some judgment; it’s that we are so bad at judging people. And we have hundreds of years of church history, where wicked church leaders persecuted now-revered church reformers, to prove it.

Naturally, the Bible allows for us to judge deeds as right or wrong. If we couldn’t do that, we couldn’t have legal and judicial systems. And it allows us to judge statements, laws, policies and legislation as right or wrong; otherwise, how could we function as a society? But judging a person as evil is the equivalent of taking our seat on God’s throne and damning an entire human life. We don’t have that right, nor do we have that ability.

When we judge a person as evil, then we ignore and reject all of the good things that particular person says or does. Likewise, when we crown a person as righteous, we become blind to their sins and their lies. This is how Christians are led astray in their beliefs. We should judge the issues, not the people who tackle those issues.

2) Lesbianism gets fewer biblical mentions than failing to wear tassels on your garments.

The Bible contains two passages telling the ancient Israelites to wear tassels on their garments as a part of their religious identity. The Bible contains only one passage addressing lesbianism. And in doing so, it says, in Romans 1:26, “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural…” The word “exchange” seems to imply that the women had sexual attractions and relations with men and then chose to “exchange” them for attractions to and relationships with women; it does not technically address women who have always been attracted to those of their own sex. But that’s another debate. Regardless, this is the Bible’s only attempt to address lesbianism in any way. Heterosexual men who look at a women with lust, which is pretty much all of us, get at least as much biblical attention as lesbians do.

3) Fox News is the sexually immoral channel, not MSNBC.

As an open-minded fellow, I’ve watched about as much of Fox News over the years as my stomach could take. Of course, Fox News’ highest rated cable news show has been The O’Reilly Factor. On that show is a segment called “Waters’ World,” where a reporter by the name of Waters interviews people on the street in an attempt to show just how clueless they are about politics, history, and current events. Of course, in 2014, Waters was sent to Florida to interview supposedly liberal college students at Spring Break. So he couldn’t help but interview some girls in revealing swimsuits. But hey, if that’s what people are wearing, what can you do, right? Maybe it just so happened that the hottest girls in the most revealing swimsuits had the most interesting answers.

But then I noticed something that was pretty hard not to notice. Normally, Waters had always interviewed people in a semi side-by-side manner, so the camera could see both the interviewer and the interviewee from the front. But when Waters interviewed girls wearing thongs at Spring Break, the Fox News camera showed about half of the interview from the back, so that we TV viewers could get a really good look at the scandal of these girls’ bare bottoms.

Yet despite Racheal Maddow’s supposedly rampant sexual immorality, I’ve never seen her show us bare bottoms, busty bikini babes, or clip after clip of Beyoncé’s most sexually-enticing videos (an obsession of O’Reilly’s). For some strange reason, Rachel Maddow sticks to the important political topics of our day, while Fox News, who claims to represent Christian holiness, feels the need to repeatedly titillate their viewers. And I haven’t even begun to address the fact that their news women just happen to be more physically attractive that 98% of the female population. What are the odds of that?

Jesus says “You will know them by their fruits.” Fox News has offered up an overabundance of sexually-enticing fruit in its programming, while Rachel Maddow has not.

4) The Rachel Maddow show is as honest as it gets.

The Bible contains about three dozen passages condemning lying and deception. So Bible-believers should emphasize honesty when judging the righteousness of a given program. I can honestly say I have never found a lie on the Rachel Maddow show…no lies about economic stats and no false, unsupported accusations about what a particular politician plans to do to us. I can’t say the same for Fox News programs.

In 2014-2015, I witnessed numerous lies and deceptions on Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor.” In fact, O’Reilly said, on the very last of his shows I watched, “The economy is terrible…Under president Obama, the household median income has fallen 20%.” Having a link to census.gov saved among my favorites on my computer, I immediately went to Table H-6, which shows the year by year history of household median income, and I saw that it had not fallen at all since Obama’s first budget year. Household Median income had actually risen from $49,777 in 2009 to $53,657 in 2014. O’Reilly flat out lied. For me, that lie was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I haven’t watched O’Reilly since.

5) Rachel Maddow opposes greed and oppression of the poor.

As I’ve stated elsewhere, the Bible contains over 100 passages condemning greed and oppression of the poor, including some passages calling on God’s people to take political action (for more on the social justice verses, see http://politicallymoderatechristian.com/7-bible-quotes-of-social-justice-as-a-purpose-of-gods-law/). It’s the most frequently addressed societal issue in the Bible. The half a dozen passages addressing homosexuality and abortion combined pale in comparison. Rachel Maddow, along with most of the Democratic Party, calls out and condemns corporate tyranny and oppression, as well as the Republican Party’s excuses as to why they refuse to do anything to stop it.

I have no idea what Rachel’s religious beliefs are, but I know her intent and messages are far more in alignment with the Bible than those at Fox News. So it’s time that Christians pay attention to what she has to say.

Do Republicans prefer a boom-bust economy?

 

Wall Street Crash...The front page of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper with the headline 'Wall St. In Panic As Stocks Crash', published on the day of the initial Wall Street Crash of 'Black Thursday', 24th October 1929. (Photo by FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Finally, a wealthy Republican business man has said openly what I’ve suspected for quite a while. In an interview with the Globe and Mail in 2007, Donald Trump said, regarding the collapsing housing market: “People have been talking about the end of the cycle for 12 years, and I’m excited if it is, I’ve always made more money in bad markets than in good markets.”

This is eye opening news. Could Trump try to place the economy on a crash course for the sake of increasing the wealth and power of the Trump Dynasty?

It seems more likely than not.

But don’t be misled into thinking that Trump is the only industry captain to believe in this approach. I’ve believed for quite some time that the Republican Party intends for us to have these boom-bust cycles.

For example, in December of 2014, as the Republican-led House had to pass a spending bill to keep the government from shutting down, they snuck in a last minute provision that would repeal the Dodd-Frank ban on tax payer funded bailouts of banks that engaged in risky derivatives speculation. The measure had been an essential part of Dodd Frank, because the purpose of that law was to keep America from again having to bail out banks that become “too big to fail” with billions of tax payer dollars so that the economy doesn’t again collapse under a frozen financial system. The government bailed out the Savings and Loans in the late 1980s to the tune of about 150 billion dollars (about 400 billion today) and then bailed out the banks to the tune of about 800 billion dollars in 2008 and 2009.

You would think that any leaders of a nation that wanted what was best for that nation would desire to put an end to such exploitation of the American people, especially leaders who continually attract votes under the guise of opposing taxation and spending. Yet the Republicans were so eager to return Wall Street to its predatory position that they couldn’t even wait until the Democrats officially gave up their majority in the Senate come January, 2015.

The question is why?

Why do the Republicans want to set up the economy for another crash?

I believe the answer is that they prefer a boom-bust economic cycle.

Steady, continual economic prosperity with as few downturns as possible may benefit the working class. But that’s not what benefits the ultra-rich. Certainly, when an economy is booming, the rich get rich. The stock market booms. Profits soar. Dividends are paid to owners. The working class enjoys greater prosperity, and the rich enjoy the greatest prosperity. But when the economy goes bust, as it did in the Great Recession, the rich don’t suffer like everyone else. And it’s not because they have riches to fall back on.

First, the richest of the rich use the economic downturn to eat up their competitors. For example in the banking industry, there were 13 major banks before the recession. Afterward, there were 6 banks. The ones who had been the largest and most powerful to begin with effectively doubled their share of the industry as a result of the recession. Now as the economy picks up, they will earn at least twice as much this time around. The same goes for Trump. He expands his piece of the market pie when the economy contracts, and then when it expands again, he makes even more than before the crisis.

Second, businesses can buy capital at fire sale prices during an economic downturn. Prices of equipment fall when smaller competitors go out of business. Commercial property drops in price as well. For those who are well-prepared for the recession, the weak economy is simply a buyers’ market.

And finally, every economic crisis pushes wages lower, and they never quite recover. This happened in the late 1800s. The 1870’s depression was followed by the 1880’s recession and then the 1890’s depression, and wages fell further each time. Every time there’s high unemployment, workers competing for jobs have no choice but to accept lower wages, and employers are more than happy to offer them. By the 1890s, the workers wore so impoverished that the Democratic Party embarked on an entirely new course under Christian preacher William Jennings Bryan, known as the Progressive movement, which sought livable working conditions and pay for employees.

The same is true in recent decades. We saw household incomes increase by 62% in the 30 years following WWII. But the recessions of the mid-1970s and the early 1980s pushed wages down, and a lot of people never recovered. Then the minor dot-com recession of 2001-2002 set wages back a little more before the Great Recession knocked them back even further. It’s quite likely  the corporate wealthy realize that with each recession they impose upon us wages will take another blow from which they are unable to recover. Recessions allow them to exploit the American people, something the Republican Party has been doing for them since the 1870s.

(For years by year household median income data, check out table H-6 at the Census Bureau website: https://www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/data/historical/household/ )

The biblical case for the rich being the least righteous class

Trump_Evil

[This is an excerpt from my book, Rescuing Religion from Republicans]

 

Are the Rich More Righteous?

According to 2012 Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, the corporate capitalist free market system “not only produces wealth but also virtuous people whose worldly enterprise complements the work of the Creator.” Unfortunately, many Christians hold this same naïve, deceptive view. The Republican politicians and pundits they admire paint a picture of the corporate wealthy as righteous hard-workers who give us the products, services, and jobs we love. The say their contribution to our well-being is so great, and their righteousness so excessive, that their excessive wealth is well-deserved.

As I shared in the Pure Capitalism chapter, I’ve worked in corporate sales for 18 years. I’ve witnessed to a great extent the lure of wealth that chokes out the fruits of the Holy Spirit. According to the Bible, “Better is the poor man who walks in integrity, than he who is crooked though he be rich (Proverbs 28:6).” This runs contrary to Republican claims that the wealthy are more righteous, since many of the rich business executives and owners despise integrity and practice and encourage the crookedness that God condemns. This passage implies that any business owners, executives, and sales people who enrich themselves through deception are worse than poor people, not better.

Not all business owners, executives and sales people are deceptive, however. So are honest rich folks the most righteous people in America?

Not necessarily.

The Bible also condemns the love of money – the very thing that drives the wealthy in their pursuits. Here are a few examples:

Luke 12:15, “And He [Jesus] said to them, ‘Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.’”

Hebrews 13:5, “Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.’”

1 Timothy 3:1-2, “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money…”

Loving ourselves and loving money go hand in hand. When we love ourselves more than others, we make our desires our priorities, and then we seek money above all else. We devote the vast majority of our time, desires, and energy to its pursuit rather than to honoring God and serving others.

Proverbs 23:4, “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; be wise enough to desist [NRSV].”

This last verse condemns not only the love of money, but the obsessive pursuit of it. Many Evangelical Christians subscribe to the politically conservative belief that there’s no such thing as working too much, that the person who works 15-hour days, six or seven days a week, is the kind of righteous person who makes America great. I’ve also heard business owners, especially when expressing disgust over having to share their wealth through taxation, brag about how they work 7 days a week to make money, as if their righteousness exceeds those who work less.

God disagrees. It’s a sin for us Christians to be slaves to wealth accumulation. That’s not to say we shouldn’t work hard when we work. But we must realize that God didn’t put us here to get rich and meet the world’s requirements for success. Rather, we need to put relationships and serving God, neither of which pay money, ahead of worldly business. Our focus, and a significant amount of our time, must be on God’s will. The person who gets rich focusing on wealth 14 hours a day is less righteous than the low income earner who works eight hours, honors God, serves others, and nurtures relationships.

Not only are excessive work hours less righteous than modest hours, but some professions are less righteous than other professions. The financial industry is the perfect example of a profession in which obsession over wealth accumulation is often the sole goal of daily business. Meanwhile, teachers, social workers, fire fighters, pastors, rescue workers, paramedics, and police officers have a different goal. Their goal is to help others. When they make their career choices, they choose to forgo riches in the name of doing good in the world. Some even place their lives on the line. In the eyes of today’s Republicans, they made the wrong choice; they should have chosen the selfish pursuit of riches, instead.

So, do the wealthy deserve their riches?

Some will say the rich work harder. But how many work harder than Sofia, who works 80 hours per week but only makes $40,000 a year? If the average American works 40 hours per week (the average is higher than that) and earns $40,000 per year (which is close to the median income for the nation), how does that compare to the executive who earns $4,000,000 per year? To justify his pay based on hours worked, he would have to work 4000 hours per week. This, of course, is impossible, because a week only contains 168 hours. So we cannot say the rich deserve their pay based on more effort.

Some will say the rich are smarter. Maybe they are, but that doesn’t make them more righteous. Also, how much money does a good idea really deserve? Having an idea pop into your head isn’t exactly painful, like giving birth is. Nor does it require any great sacrifice.

Some will say the rich risk their money in business investments. While this is untrue for highly paid business executives, who are hired by corporations they do not own, it is true for corporate investors. Still, this risking of excess money pales in comparison to people who risk their lives on the job, such as firefighters, policemen, bridge repair workers, and convenience store employees, all of whom earn far less.

Some will say the rich are more productive. My response is, “What are they producing? Is it something people need? Or is it something that will wind up in a landfill in a few years? Or, worse yet, is it just some tricky financial scheme that promises riches to its investors, but in reality, only brings riches to its creators?” As I stated in the Pure Capitalism chapter, I once sold lawn treatments door to door. No offense to my friends who still work in that industry, but it bothered me to push people to buy a mix of chemicals to apply to their lawns. When someone said, “I really don’t mind if my lawn has some weeds” or “I don’t believe in putting chemicals on my lawn,” I never had much of a response, because I agreed with them. Nurses, missionaries, school lunch ladies, and crossing guards all contribute more to society than lawn treatment service companies do, and they contribute far more than sports franchise and casino owners do. Sometimes the word production isn’t as positive as it sounds. In many cases, it describes the conversion of natural resources into wasteful, and even dangerous, products.

Some will say we choose to make the rich wealthy when we “vote with our dollars” by purchasing their products and services. In other words, if I buy a package of hamburger at Wal-Mart (I normally do not shop there), I’m voting for its executives and major shareholders to earn millions, while their cashiers and shelf stockers earn little more than minimum wage; and I’m also voting for similar pay disparity at the farm that raised the cattle, at the plant that packaged the meat, and at the trucking company that delivered the meat to the store. And here I thought I was just buying hamburger. A logical continuation of this argument says that if I don’t like Wal-Mart’s pay disparity, I can go to Giant or Kroger where the same disparity may also exist. Depending on which product I’m looking for, I may have no choice but to buy it from a big corporation. That doesn’t mean, however, that I approve of, or am even aware of, its inner-workings and pay structure. I’m simply buying the product wherever I can get it.

So there’s really no moral reason why the rich deserve so much more than the rest of the human race. If anyone deserves that much, it’s people who risk their lives to help and save others. Those who deserve it least are those who use their existing riches to game the system, short sell stocks, play the real estate market, or time commodities prices. Even those who own businesses or invest in business growth, and therefore play a crucial role in the economy, play no more of a crucial role than their workers and customers do. No large business can succeed without owners, workers, and customers. Take away any one of these three, and any given business fails.

Movie “God is Not Dead” escalates culture wars rather than turning the other cheek

[I wrote the following article a couple years ago after seeing the original “God is Not Dead”, but never published it. Now that “God is Not Dead II” has come out, and there has been some controversy over it and SNL’s parody of it, I figure there’s no time like the present to publish it, because the damage done by such films needs to be addressed. I hope to view “God is Not Dead II” eventually, but I can’t go to theaters due to my severe LED and fluorescent lighting sensitivity here in my post-Lyme years, so I’ll have to wait for the DVD.]

Upon recommendation by numerous fellow Christians, I rented the popular Christian movie, “God is not Dead.” For those of you unfamiliar with it, the movie tells the story of a Christian college student whose philosophy professor tries to make every student sign a paper stating that God is dead, so they can skip the topic of religion in the class, and as a reward, every student gets an “A” on that part of the course. The Christian student refuses and is forced to make a case in front of the class in favor of Christianity, while the professor threatens to fail him if he fails to convince the class of the existence of God.

The premise of this movie paints a picture of Christianity under attack – innocent Christians being persecuted by academia, despite having done nothing wrong to inspire such attacks. But the movie goes further. It paints every non-Christian character in the movie as a horrific human being, from the non-Christian who dumps his girlfriend the moment she tells him she has cancer to atheistic university professors who scoff at Christians and speak to them in condescending tones. Meanwhile, the Christians in the movie are presented as nothing more than innocent people with hearts of gold who just can’t understand why anyone would want to persecute them. Naturally, this is an oversimplification of human nature, because I’ve known my share of friendly professors and condescending Christians over the years. Worse yet, it’s the sin of judging people (judgmentalism) as being evil simply because they are out of alignment with the Bible on a single issue. The truth is that there are thousands of things a person can say or do right or wrong, so it’s a major sin to judge people on just one or two of those things, as this film does. When we do, we effectively take our seat on God’s throne, doing what only God has the authority to do.

The movie also promotes stereotypes by going as far as to feature a cameo appearance by Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson, who is verbally attacked by a reporter from a publication called “the New Left,” whose bumper stickers read, “Meat is Murder” and “I Love Evolution.” She asks him how in the world he can be proud of killing ducks and then, with a sour sneer on her face, asks him if it’s true that they pray to Jesus on his show, as if that’s the most despicable, audacious thing a person could do. So, all in one character, the movie manages to lump democrats, vegetarians, and those who believe in a universe older than 6000 years into the same evil cesspool as atheists who have a seething hatred for Christianity.

This movie could have been a good one, because the arguments made in favor of the existence of God and intelligent design are good. In fact, I would have been much happier with a movie that spent all of its time on the existence of God debate. Instead we got a movie that spent 20 minutes on the debate and the rest on inflaming the culture wars.

What I want to know is how the evangelical church expects to recruit people to the faith (which is the meaning of the word “evangelical”) by attacking vegetarians, non-Christians, Democrats and scientists. Do they really think that non-Christians who see this movie will want to join the faith after they’ve been portrayed by Christians in such disparaging and stereotypical ways?

Unfortunately, evangelism has been rendered worthless and ineffective, because Christians have failed to turn the other cheek. Yes, the church has come under attack by atheists at times. But let’s not forget, it was Christians who once made it illegal, to the point that a person would go to jail, for teaching evolution in a school (this is what led to the famous Scopes Trial of 1925). We Christians have also tried to block mosque construction and gay marriage, because they violate our religion, even though we live in a nation that has, since its inception, guaranteed its people religious freedom in which no one can be forced to obey someone else’s religious beliefs. Yet, when these persecuted groups lash out against Christians, conservative Christians act as though they have no earthly idea why anyone would want to attack us (reminds me of U.S. foreign policy). They then strike back with attacks of their own, as the producers of “God is not Dead” did, which only makes matters worse.

What Jesus called us to do when insulted or attacked by others is to “turn the other cheek.” That means we Christians need to be the bigger person. If those we’ve persecuted in the past lash out, we need to let it roll off our backs rather than return fire. Others who verbally attack us, or even legally attack us, as has been the case with lawsuits that seek to remove all Christian symbolism from our nation’s landscape, are to be dealt with in a biblical manner, which is one of respect. If others truly persecute Christians, and we Christians respond peacefully rather than vengefully, then society will see the Christians as righteous and those who persecute us as evil, and people will turn to embrace Christianity. This is what happened in ancient Rome and later in Africa. But if we Christians go on the attack, we will be seen as the persecutors, and people will turn against the faith. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s been happening over the past several decades.