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

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[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.

Why it’s wrong for Christians to blame the poor for their poverty

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No one better summed up the modern-day Republican stance on personal responsibility than Herman Cain did while running for president in 2012. He said, “Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks, if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself! It is not a person’s fault because they succeeded; it is a person’s fault if they failed.” Yes, society has freeloaders who fail. But this statement goes beyond that. It says that anyone who’s unemployed during a recession is to blame for their situation. This includes teachers and police officers who were laid off due to budget cuts. This includes architects and construction workers who lost their jobs due to a collapse of the housing market. This even includes sales reps who fail because they refuse to tell the lies it takes to succeed in selling products and services for dishonest companies. This statement also says that those who are not rich are at fault. In other words, if people struggle financially because they’ve chosen low paying jobs that help others, like teaching or social work, they’ve done wrong; meanwhile, those who seek riches above all else are righteous, even if their schemes bring more harm than good to society, as was the case in the financial industry crisis that sparked the Great Recession.

Is Cain’s view consistent with the Bible?

Let’s examine Exodus 22:21-24 which says, “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict [‘take advantage of’ in the NIV] any widow or orphan. If you afflict him at all, and he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.”

Unlike Herman Cain, God does not blame the poor for their poverty in this quote, nor does He blame them (or accuse them of class warfare) for being unsatisfied and crying out. He blames those who place them in such a situation, namely the rich and powerful. To God, poverty and oppression result from evil committed by the powerful, not from choices of those unable to support themselves.

Cain made his statement in response to Occupy Wall Street protesters who cried out against the sins of the financial industry and the corporate world that have expanded the nations disparity of wealth over the last 30 years. While not everyone at those rallies was poor, they represented lower income Americans, some of whom had it pretty hard. Rather than heed the cries of the poor and their representatives, Republicans like Cain have turned a deaf ear to them. This behavior defies Proverbs 21:13, which says, “He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be answered.” Some of us might read this verse and imagine an ancient world where the poor literally cry in anguish as wealthier people walk by. But this is not how poverty looks in the real world. In the real world, the poor usually cry out in an organized fashion. They organize politically to cry out for help in paying for health care. They organize into unions to cry out for fair wages – wages that provide food, clothing, shelter, basic enjoyment (yes, having some pleasure in life is a necessity), and a wage appropriate for their contributions to their companies’ successes. They even cry out to the government to organize itself to protect them and their environment from the harmful effects of corporate greed.

Rather than close our ears to the cry of the poor, the Bible requires that we have compassion on them. For example, 1 John 3:17 says, “But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” Republican Christians will respond to a verse like this by saying they do have compassion on the needy. Indeed, many Christians give money to help those in foreign nations. This is a good thing. Unfortunately, when it comes to the American poor, their hearts close. Some will say they choose not to help the American poor, because we have a system to meet their needs. This is true. However, it’s this system that Republican Christians, especially those of the Tea Party persuasion, are hell-bent on abolishing. They tend to believe that America is the land of opportunity; therefore, those who finish last deserve to suffer for not taking advantage of America’s opportunities.

Let’s remember, however, that opportunity is only opportunity. Opportunity combined with hard work doesn’t assure prosperity. Many try their best and still come up short. The formula for prosperity is hard work, plus opportunity, plus God-given ability, plus knowing the right people, plus luck (changes in market conditions, etc.). Only hard work is within our control. The rest is beyond any person’s control; therefore, we must not arrogantly close our ears to the cry of the poor and working class in our country. Much of their suffering is beyond their control. Here’s a short list of opportunity destroyers beyond any person’s control:

1) Competition – A wave of spiritualism, promoted by books like The Secret, has immersed America in a can-do spirit that conflicts with both the Bible and reality. This religion teaches that those who focus on something they want badly, such as money, good health, or a career in a certain field, will receive what they desire if they dwell, to the point of obsession, on positive thoughts of desire and avoid negative thoughts. Some call this the Law of Attraction.

The Law of Attraction, unfortunately, is a lie. It’s invalidated by a much more powerful force, something I like to call the Law of Competition. My Law of Competition says that if you obsessively focus on becoming president of the United States in the year 2020 and never doubt, and 1 million other people do the same, only one of you will become president in 2020. It won’t necessarily be the one who wants it most or thinks most about it, it will be the one who competes best. The rest of the presidential hopefuls will fail, despite all of their positive thoughts. This Law of Competition applies to any situation where an object of desire exists in smaller quantity than those who desire it.

Law of Attraction proponents often speak of how we live in an abundant universe. This, too, is a lie. The necessities of life, along with pleasurable things, exist in limited quantity; therefore, we must compete for them. Among these necessities are jobs.

Republican Christians who despise government assistance programs often tell rags to riches stories to convey the point that in America, the land of opportunity, everyone can have a high-paying job if they just try hard enough. It’s certainly true that hard work can lead to great riches. However, it’s only on the individual level that hard work, etc. might lead to riches. On a national level, not everyone can be rich or close to it. Even if all Americans were to work their hardest and get PhDs, they wouldn’t all prosper. In such a situation, if our nation had 160 million workers and only 140 million jobs, 20 million people with PhDs would be unemployed. And if 30 million jobs paid less than $10 per hour, then 30 million people with PhDs would earn what is a pretty unlivable wage. The reality is that the majority of jobs in America are low-paying, and regardless of how hard everyone tries, the majority of people will be working-class poor. It’s just like a foot race; someone has to finish last.

Since capitalism has always been a system of winners and losers, it’s wrong for Christian leaders and politicians to promote the lie that every individual can win simultaneously if they just try hard enough. Instead they need to ask, “How badly must the losers lose? How badly must they, being created in God’s image, suffer for not being smart enough, well-connected enough, or cut-throat enough to make it in a dog-eat-dog economy?” We need to address the realities of our winners and losers system rather than pretend that poverty is a choice.

2) Injury, Illness and Disease – I could share with you one of many stories of people whose employment options are limited by physical disabilities or who suffer so much chronic pain that they struggle to function on the job, but I think everyone has at least seen, if not known, someone with such struggles. Sometimes we can blame someone for a disease that may have resulted from irresponsible health choices, like smoking, drug abuse, or poor food choices. But for every case like this, others suffer chronic headaches, fatigue, etc from toxins in the products they use or in the environment. Not only are these illnesses not their fault, but they are often the fault of those who enrich themselves through environmental neglect. (I, for example, found after many years that I’m allergic to chemicals used to make mattresses flame-retardant. I suffered a decade of relentless sinus infections and headaches when windows were closed over the winter. Now I sleep on an air mattress, and sinus infections and headaches are rare.)

Not only does poor health hurt job performance and limit career opportunities, but medical bills devastate family finances. Illness and injury play a major role in more than half of all personal bankruptcies. And, prior to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, in ¾ of these cases, the injured or ill person was insured.

3) Below Average Intelligence – Many politically-conservative Christians say, “If you work hard, and you’re smart, you’ll be successful.” This statement implies that the opposite is true: If you’re lazy and stupid, you’ll fail; and failure, according to Herman Cain, is your own fault. Most individuals can take some blame for laziness, health permitting. Stupidity, on the other hand, is different. If you attended public school, you may recall some childhood classmates who struggled to learn. In my elementary school, those were the kids in the 3rd reading group. They weren’t bad kids. Many of them behaved. They simply struggled to learn. Some really struggled. I remember coming home from college for a visit and seeing one of those kids who really struggled, now an adult, pushing a broom at the local grocery store. It’s likely that broom pushing was about as high-paying a job as he would ever find. According to many Republicans, even those who are Christians, this is an example of a bad person who deserves a life of malnutrition, squalor, and misery, all because he’s not-so-smart. If he has children, they deserve misery, too, maybe even starvation or death from exposure, all because their father lacks intelligence.

Proverbs 14:31 says, “Those who oppress the poor insult their maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor Him.” If any of us were born too stupid to figure out how to get rich, or even get a job, we are as God made us. It’s no person’s fault that they’re stupid; it’s God’s fault. Yet, God has no faults! Therefore, people are as smart as God made them, and no one has the right to judge God’s creation. When we blame the poor for their lack of intelligence, we “insult their maker” – God – for making them as they are, and we judge God as evil and incompetent. Those to whom God gives smarts, skills and lucky breaks have no business being arrogant toward those who receive a less lucrative package of abilities from Him. And nowhere does the Bible say that less intelligent people should struggle to survive as punishment for their stupidity.

4) No Time, No Money – When I think of people who have insufficient time and money to achieve business success, I think of Sofia [fake name to protect identity]. Sofia worked a 40 hour week as a teller at a bank my company partnered with. She also worked a 40 hour week as a cashier at a grocery store. The average pay between those two jobs was probably around $10 an hour. So her reward for 80 hours of hard work was $800 a week, or about $40,000 per year. At the same time, I earned $45,000 per year (working about 50 hours per week) and lived in a one bedroom apartment. On my income, I could pay my bills, save a few thousand a year for retirement and take a week-long vacation. The difference between Sofia and I was that Sofia had kids. With kids, Sofia had no opportunity to save any money or enjoy herself as I did. (Conservatives often argue that poor people are irresponsible for having kids they cannot afford. This is an anti-biblical claim. Bearing children is a God-given right. “Be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28),” is God’s first command in the Bible. I won’t go as far as the pope and say birth control use is sin, but I’m certain that choosing not to use it is righteous in God’s eyes, since it didn’t exist throughout most of human history.)

Having to work 80 hours for low pay, Sofia had no extra money to fund a business start-up or seek higher education, nor did she have time to develop skills that could lead to higher-paying jobs or dream up entrepreneurial innovations. Having come from a low income background, Sofia was stuck in low income jobs, investing all of her time and money in present-day survival rather than in future ambitions. Millions of Americans suffer similar disadvantages. Few of our nation’s millionaires, on the other hand, have ever suffered these disadvantages. Most of them have come from middle to upper class families that fund their ambitions and free up their time to develop marketable skills and dream up big ideas.

Why I, as a gun owner, now believe the NRA really wants criminals to have guns

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I know the title of this article sounds like a conspiracy theory. And that bothers me, because I hate conspiracy theories. And as a Christian, I believe it’s a great sin to assign false motives to someone else. It’s effectively the sin of slander and bearing false witness. I can’t help but see the devil in such false accusations as, “Obama wants to take all of our guns,” when Obama has said no such thing, and “Obama wants to be a dictator,” when he has indicated no such thing, and my favorite, from the comments section under a 2014 Mike Huckabee Facebook post is, “Obama wants to give us all Ebola, so he can declare Martial Law.” So I’m hesitant to assign motives to the NRA, but their actions are leading me toward one conclusion, and one conclusion only – that the NRA wants criminals and terrorists to have guns, so the industry makes more money at the expense of innocent lives.

For most of my adult life, I assumed that the NRA was just an organization of gun owners that represented their interests, and nothing more. My mom was an NRA member, and when I bought my parents’ house after she passed away in 2000, I had no intention of removing the NRA sticker from the sliding glass door. But when NRA president Wayne LaPierre propagated the rumor that Obama was coming to take all of our guns, even though Obama never even suggested so little as a ban on the further sale of assault rifles, I got suspicious. And then the NRA proceeded to oppose every one of the president’s common sense gun regulations, no matter how little those regulations would have intruded on the rights of gun owners. But that’s not what led me to first suspect the NRA wanted criminals to have guns. It started with something that predates Obama.

During the tenure of Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell (2003-2011), the governor promoted legislation in PA that would limit an individual’s ability to purchase a handgun to one gun per month. They could buy 12 guns per year, but only one per month. The reason for such a proposal was that some people without criminal records would buy 10 or more guns at a time, take them to crime ridden areas, and sell them for profit to ex-convicts who could not legally buy guns on their own (about 40% of guns used in crimes were purchased legally but then used by someone other than the purchaser to commit the crime). The intent of the bill was to keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals. So how did the NRA and their Republican puppets in the legislature respond? You guessed it. “The NRA killed the bill in committee. It never even got to a vote,” said Rendell in his book, “A Nation of Wusses.” So the next time you hear the NRA and the Republicans say they can’t do anything to limit gun violence because Obama is just too ineffective and divisive as a president, remember that they’ve opposed common-sense, un-invasive gun laws at the state level, too – a place outside of Obama’s jurisdiction.

When you consider how little negative impact such a law would have on a law-abiding gun owner, you have to ask, “How could anyone be opposed to such a law?”

The worst that could happen to someone who wanted to buy multiple guns for their own or their family’s sake would be that they have to wait a little bit, just like someone who gets a learners’ permit to operate a vehicle has to wait to get their license. Clearly, the NRA opposition to such a bill has nothing to do with denying the constitutional rights of a gun owner or laying a heavy burden on that person. The only logical conclusion then is that the NRA wants criminals to have guns, especially when you also consider the NRA’s fierce opposition to requiring gun shows to do background checks and their refusal to deny gun and ammo sales to terrorist associates already denied the right to fly on all American airplanes. The level of inconvenience these laws would cause is minuscule compared to the value of the lives such a law would save.

NRA supporters might make the tired old argument that passing such laws would be a “slippery slope” toward the abolishment of gun rights. But such an argument is invalid. First, there is never an excuse to do the wrong thing, especially for Christians. Second, it’s not as if passing such sensible laws would somehow prohibit pro-gun congressmen from being allowed to vote against future laws that might actually infringe upon gun-owners’ rights. Third, the “slippery slope” argument is simply the argument extremists make when they know their position is evil, but they believe the position of the extremists at the opposite end of the spectrum is even more evil, so they oppose the righteous solution that lies in the middle, because they fear that any compromise on their part might be seen as a victory for the opposite extreme. Again, this is never an excuse to do the wrong thing.

The final piece of evidence that has led me to believe that the NRA is more desirous of criminals and terrorists having guns than they are concerned about the “slippery slope” is Mike Huckabee’s quote in response to the Charleston church shooting, when he said, “The one thing that would have at least ameliorated the horrible situation in Charleston would have been that if somebody in that prayer meeting had a conceal carry or there had been either an off duty policeman or an on duty policemen, somebody with the legal authority to carry a firearm and could have stopped the shooter.”

Remember, this was a 10 person Bible study meeting on a weeknight. Hiring 7-day-per-week security isn’t in every church’s budget (and not all Bible studies are on church property), so, effectively, Huckabee’s answer to gun violence is that tens of millions of Americans (at least 1 in 9) should carry guns on them at all times to protect themselves from mass shooters. If Americans heeded Huckabee’s words, the weapons industry would make billions of dollars from all of the people buying guns to protect themselves. Of course, the number of accidental shootings resulting from so many casual gun carriers would most likely number in the thousands, and so would the number of shootings by casual gun carriers with quick tempers. And because of the latter group more people would then have to arm themselves for protection. That’s a glimpse of what a guns-everywhere society looks like.

As a Christian gun owner who once favored the NRA, I now have no choice but to oppose it. We’re talking about innocent lives here, and the NRA getting its way will destroy thousands more of them per year. And their motive is quite simply…Money! The gun industry had been losing ground in recent decades as younger generations have found more interesting things to do than sit in the woods hunting animals, so the industry has to find other sources of revenue. Spreading lies to drive fear among those who still love guns has been their most lucrative marketing strategy.

– K. Scott Schaeffer

10 Past Evils that Small Government Failed to Stop

triangle-fire

[This is an excerpt from the book, “Rescuing Religion from Republican Reason”]

As I stated previously, I worked in corporate sales for 18 years. There are things I think I know, and there are things I know indisputably. What I know indisputably is that a significant percentage of people will do anything for money if they can get away with it. For many corporations, there is no concern for right versus wrong. All that stops them from doing evil is the strong arm of the law. Here are ten examples of the innocent suffering where the strong arm of the law was absent:

Triangle Fire, March 25, 1911 – The year before this fire, Triangle Shirtwaist workers went on strike demanding sanitary conditions and safety precautions, including fire escapes and open doors to the streets. They didn’t get them. The fire killed 146 women, average age 19, because the doors were regularly chained shut by management to keep employees from leaving early or taking breaks. When the fire broke out, few could escape. No owners were ever tried for a crime. According to libertarianism, these business owners were in the right, because the factory was their property, and they could do whatever they wanted with it.

Breaker Boys – from the 1870s to the 1920s – Boys 8-12 years old would work 10 hour days, six days a week inside the entrances of coal mines, separating coal from other elements. In the state of Pennsylvania alone, there were 20,000 breaker boys in 1880. Numbers peaked at 24,000 in 1907. Labor activist “Mother” Jones complained, “Fifty years ago there was a cry against slavery and men gave their lives to stop the selling of black children on the block. Today, the white child is sold for two dollars a week to the manufacturer.” In today’s money, that two dollars equals about $40, just enough to feed the child.

The libertarian Republican might argue that the children’s parents were “free” to choose to send them to the mines. The truth was that families were so impoverished they had no choice but to make their children earn their keep. As I stated in the last chapter, money buys liberty; those who lack money have no freedom but the freedom to live a slave-like existence in a laissez-faire, corporate capitalist, libertarian society.

The Freedom Rider attacks – 1961 – The Freedom Riders were a mix of white and black Americans riding buses bound for a civil rights rally in New Orleans. The riders chose to have African-Americans sit up front as a symbol of their convictions. City government officials in Birmingham, Alabama, under the influence of the Ku Klux Klan, carried out a plan to have KKK members attack the riders on numerous occasions, while the police were prohibited from intervening. Most riders were beaten to a point that they could no longer continue on the journey and had to be replaced by new Freedom Riders. Only when John F. Kennedy threatened to use federal force to protect the riders did the state of Alabama reluctantly offer some protection. The KKK was so powerful that it controlled local government, but it was nowhere near powerful enough to control the federal government. Ultimately, it was the federal government that put a stop to the atrocities against African-Americans in the South, because state and local governments, corrupted by the KKK, refused to do so in the name of states’ rights and small government.

The Leaded Gas Scare – 1920s – Standard Oil and DuPont Chemical workers suffered severe neurological effects, and even death, from lead exposure while manufacturing leaded gasoline. Had the government had workplace safety regulations enforced through inspections, these people would have been spared terrible suffering.

Hawks Nest Tunnel (Union Carbide) disaster, Gauley Bridge, WV 1927-1930 – According to a congressional report, 426 workers died and 1500 were sickened by silicosis while digging a hydro-electric tunnel and mining silica within it. The excessive silica dust inhibited lung functionality. Company management, knowing the dangers, always wore masks when on site, but no safety precautions were taken or permitted for the workers. Safety precautions would not have been all that expensive. But to the truly greedy, even small amounts of money are worth more than human life.

Today, Republicans complain about the nit-picky nature of OSHA. Having worked in a furnace manufacturing plant in my younger days, I agree that they can be a nuisance. But as we examine history, it becomes clear that we are far better off being annoyed by OSHA than we are suffering death and dismemberment at the hands of the greedy.

Shipping deaths of immigrants coming to America – early to mid-1800s – When American ships returned from delivering exports to Europe, they loaded up with European immigrants looking for a new life in America. In the late 1700s, about 10% of passengers died en route to America. So did the ship’s owners improve conditions to save lives? Not at all! In fact, they did just the opposite. They proceeded to regularly oversell passenger space, cramming up to 1000 people below deck. Conditions on board were so unsanitary that one in seven people died from cholera in the 1840s. By 1845, 20% of incoming immigrants died en route to America, more than twice the death rate from a few decades earlier. On board the April, in 1847, 500 German immigrants died. These atrocities serve as proof that lovers of money will kill for even more money.

Avondale mining disaster, Plymouth, PA 9/6/1869 – Just a few months before the disaster, politicians serving coal company interests defeated legislation to have safety inspectors and better ventilation for mines. All 179 men in the mine died, some as young as 12 years old, because a fire blocked the mine’s only entrance and suffocated the workers. In neighboring Schuylkill County, 556 mine deaths occurred from 1870-1875.

Cuyahoga River fires – 1868 to 1969 – This Cleveland area river caught fire 13 times during this period, due to an overabundance of oil and other industrial pollutants in the river. The largest and most expensive was in 1952. It did one million dollars in damage to boats and buildings along the shore. The most famous was the 1969 fire featured in Time Magazine. A 1968 Kent State study of the river affirmed that a large section of it had no animal life. Thanks to aggressive environmental legislation and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the river has been cleaned up and fires haven’t been a problem. Even northern pike and steelhead trout, which can only live in clean water, have returned to the river. According to libertarian ideology, the EPA is an unnecessary evil, because the threat of corporate lawsuits is all it takes to prevent pollution and river fires. History has proven the libertarians wrong.

Enron and rolling blackouts – early 1990s – George H.W. Bush supported 1992 deregulatory legislation that removed government price controls and allowed risky investment behavior. Within the first 6 months after the law went into effect, California experienced 38 rolling blackouts. Enron also deceived investors through acts of creative accounting, leading people to invest in a company that would soon go bankrupt.

Health insurance deception (personal story) – 1990-1991 – As I prepared to move to Nashville, Tennessee to study at Belmont University, I bought a small, student health insurance plan. The plan’s prospectus said the policy would cover “up to $5000 for surgeon’s fees,” among other things. About nine months into the policy’s coverage period, I had a hernia operation, and the surgeon charged $3000. How much did the insurance company pay? They paid $1000. Apparently, “up to $5000” meant they would pay whatever the felt like paying, but that it wouldn’t be more than $5000. It’s deceptions like these that “we the people” need to fight by means of our democratic government. This is one of the reasons that health insurance industry regulation, like that found in the Affordable Care Act of 2009, is so important.

This list of atrocities is indisputable proof of the dark, satanic power of pure, unrestrained greed – not the greed of a sole street criminal running off with someone’s belongings, but the calculated, cold-hearted greed of rich, corporate owners and executives. This greed is every bit as pervasive today as it was 100 years ago; in fact, it’s probably more so, because a far higher percentage of Americans held religious values 100 years ago. If we let greed have its way in the name of small government, our future will likely be even more oppressive than our past. We can’t let our guard down. We must be forever vigilant against greed. Our most effective defense is our democracy in which “we the people” can choose and pressure leaders to protect us through the strong arm of the law.

This is not to say that all leaders we choose to protect us are righteous heroes. If the leaders fail, we must replace them. If the leaders steal our tax money, we must watch their every move, identify the theft, and reveal the evidence to the world. If our leaders are incompetent or inefficient, then we should replace them with leaders who do a better job. Of course, to do this, we need to know who our leaders are, not just the president, not just the U.S. congressmen, but our state and local representatives, too.

Here’s what we shouldn’t do: Don’t commit intellectual suicide by saying that all politicians are corrupt and then vote for the anti-government types who say the same. They say this because the big businesses they represent are diametrically opposed to “we the people.” There’s nothing worse for predators than when their prey have power over them. That’s what democracy does. It gives the prey power over their predators. The anti-government types hate democracy, because it keeps them from funneling tax money to corporations and enabling the corporations to exploit the working class. They want you to vote away the power of democracy, so they can increase their stranglehold on America.

Small government is both incapable and unwilling to protect its people from big business. When government is small and businesses are big, businesses effectively become the government; government obeys them, not the people. If you want to replace our big government with a small one, the only way it’ll work is if we abolish big businesses. That would mean outlawing corporate liability protection, which would make corporations go away. Our landscape would then be populated with only small businesses, and we would only need a small government to regulate them. Of course, we’d no longer be able to produce cars, planes, and major appliances or distribute gasoline, phone service, and internet service. And society as we know it would collapse. But that’s the choice we have. We either return to a primitive, agrarian, small trade society run by a small government, or we embrace a democratic government in which “we the people” have enough power to protect ourselves from corporate rule.

– K. Scott Schaeffer

Five ways the USA was never a Christian nation

500px-USA_Flag_Map_svg

To argue that any idea or solution is un-American is to imply that the American way is righteousness; it too is a morality. For a Christian, this is the equivalent of saying that the American way is one and the same as God’s way. This is what the Republican Party, as well as many Republican pastors, would have us believe. They tell us that America was originally a Christian nation and that its traditional values are biblical values. Indeed, our nation was settled by Christians from multiple denominations, so naturally, their descendants who freed the nation from England’s reign were mostly Christians, too.

But does that make the nation Christian?

It’s naïve to assume that Christian founders had no choice but to create a Christian nation. Christians often do un-Christian things. For example, not all Christian business owners conduct their businesses as Christians should. This is especially true if we count as Christian all people who call themselves Christians, even if those who rarely read the Bible, pray, or attend church. Likewise, our nation’s founders were a group comprised of devout Christians, Christians in name only, and some non-Christians, such as Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson (who liked some, but not all, of Jesus’ teachings, but denied His divinity).

The truth is that America’s founders could have designed our nation to be like God’s nation of ancient Israel, but they chose, instead, to go in a different direction. Here are some major differences between God’s nation and the nation our Founding Fathers established:

1) Freedom of Religion – In God’s nation, there was no freedom of religion. Even at the time of the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago, people believed that different religious beliefs couldn’t co-exist within the same society. They thought that conflicting beliefs would have a cancerous effect on their faith. Looking at Christianity in America today makes me wonder, sometimes, if they were right. It’s a lot harder to live the Christian life when everyone around you openly engages in non-Christian behavior. At heart, many of us Christians realize this and try to fight off alternate lifestyles through legislation. But we can’t do that in a society built on religious freedom.

2) Republican government – Rome, the nation that worshiped Greco-Roman gods, like Mars and Aphrodite, was a republic. So was the Union of Soviet Socialists’ Republic (USSR), an atheistic nation. God’s nation of ancient Israel was not a republic.

3) Democratic government – Ancient Greece, the most homosexuality-promiscuous society in world history, established the first democratic city-states. Our founders followed their lead, not God’s. (I think democracy is the best system humans have ever devised. I am not condemning it. I’m just stating that it does not come from God.)

4) States’ rights – While God divided Israel’s land among the twelve tribes, He did not give each tribe the right to make their own laws. The Law of God applied to the whole nation. It was a federal system. There were no states’ rights to conflict with, or undermine, the national law. Our nation’s founders, on the other hand, chose to leave many rights to the states when they ratified the Constitution. This was an unbiblical decision. But let’s not assume they all wanted it that way. It’s not as if the founders all shared a unanimous vision of a nation in which power was split between states and a federal government for centuries to come. They were divided over the matter, to the point where they formed opposing political parties – Adams and Hamilton led the Federalists against Jefferson’s Democrat-Republicans throughout America’s earliest decades.”

The harsh reality of their time was that the states existed first. They were created by England as colonies. Upon realization that the states couldn’t survive as a federation, James Madison led the charge to draft a Constitution that would give more power to the federal government. To bring this Constitution to life, the states had to ratify it, meaning that each state’s leaders had to vote to give up some of their power to the new federal government. Nobody likes to give up power, so the Constitution had to be watered down to appease power-hungry state leaders. The Constitution is a man-made document of compromise; the Bible is not.

Many Republicans and Libertarians have stated that emphasizing states’ rights protects us from the tyranny of a large federal government. Yet our history shows the opposite. Strict adherence to states’ rights kept African-Americans bound in slavery before the Civil War and segregated from the rest of society after it (Plessy v. Ferguson). And, as I stated before, states’ rights was the reason the Supreme Court shot down the Owen-Keating Act of 1916 (in the case of Hammer v. Dagenhart) that prohibited interstate trade for companies that employed children under the age of 14. Strict adherence to states’ rights has inflicted tyranny upon millions of Americans, because individual and corporate wealth and power manipulate small states far more easily than they do a large, federal government. So, ironically, it’s been the federal government that has often come to the rescue of those oppressed by the tyranny of states’ rights.

5) Slavery – The original Constitution allowed for slavery and counted slaves as three-fifths of a person for electoral purposes. On the other hand, Exodus 21:16 says, “And he who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.” This selling refers to the selling of a human into slavery. I’ve had Republicans argue to me that Africans usually did the kidnapping and the selling, while Americans merely did the buying and driving; therefore, our nation’s founders were faultless for allowing slavery. This argument is nonsense. If you knowingly pay a robber for stolen goods, you go to jail. If you pay someone to kill someone for you, you go to jail. If our nation’s founders had modeled our nation after God’s, buying and owning kidnapped slaves would have been a crime. Also, the fact that the Constitution had to contain a three-fifths compromise is further proof that it was a negotiated document, not an eternal guide to righteousness.

All of this is not to say we shouldn’t abide by the Constitution, or that our nation’s founders are to be disrespected. They risked their lives and made great sacrifices to establish our nation. I believe most of them made the well-being of the American people a top priority. But the fact remains that they established a secular nation. It is not one and the same as God’s will. The founders were not prophets, apostles, or messiahs; they were mere mortals. The Constitution is not sacred scripture; it’s merely a framework for a government. Other nations have constitutions and founders, too. We are no better than they are. We Christians should never cite the Constitution or the nation’s founders as sources of righteousness. Only the Bible teaches us right from wrong. If we place quotes from the founders and the Constitution on par with Bible quotes, we worship our nation and defy the 1st Commandment that prohibits us from having any gods other than God Himself.

 

Marco Rubio book review: American Dreams

A solutions-oriented book marred by some fatal flaws

Having reviewed books by Republican candidates Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, and Donald Trump, I expected this book to be just like theirs. Those books were largely devoid of solutions and full of rhetoric designed to scare readers away from the Democrats. This book certainly contained its share of the latter, but it contained far more specific solutions that the other books did.

The first two and last two chapters of the book contain most of the anti-Democrat accusations, while the middle chapters focus more on solutions. I’ll highlight the most noteworthy solutions first and then address some of the political rhetoric for those who care to keep reading beyond the solutions.

GOOD SOLUTION: “The elimination of payroll taxes for those [who are working] past retirement age could be accomplished with little or no effect on Social Security revenues.”

GOOD SOLUTION: Lower taxes on business money overseas, so they bring it back to America (known as repatriation). (Bill Clinton suggested this in his book, “Back to Work.”)

GOOD SOLUTION: Reduce the corporate tax rate. (Obama called for lowering the rate to 25% a few years ago, but the Republicans in Congress refused to pass it.)

GOOD SOLUTION: His plan for a Wage Enhancement Tax Credit for low income earners sounds like an interesting replacement for the Earned Income Tax Credit. It’s paid to the worker regardless of whether or not they have children. Although his claim that this will lead more low income men to get married seems far-fetched, since few men make marriage decisions based on economics.

GOOD SOLUTION: He has interesting ideas on higher education reform, such as the Investing in Student Success Act in which investors pay for college and then get something like 4% of the students’ earnings in the post-college years, and the Student Right to Know Before You Go Database. The question is whether these programs will make enough of a difference. Regardless, our Republican-majority Congress could be passing these acts right now; but they’ve chosen not to, probably because Obama is in favor of some of the same solutions, as Rubio says (loc. 1412), “And to his credit, President Obama has also proposed changes to our higher education accrediting system.”

But just when the solutions make Rubio seem electable, then come the HORRENDOUS ideas:

HORRENDOUS: “The Lee-Rubio [tax] plan would also eliminate the double taxation of capital gains and dividends income.” Loc. 1517— Rubio mentions this in passing, without any further elaboration, and for good reason. This is the most evil part of the plan. He wants to eliminate capital gains and dividends, which is how the corporate wealthy earn almost all of their money (Calling it “double taxation” is to make it sound immoral). His plan lets BILLIONAIRES GO TAX-FREE!!! Someone like Donald Trump, who inherited $200 million, invests it in various companies and makes $10 billion, would pay no tax on what he makes, since he makes it from capital gains rather than from getting a paycheck. Meanwhile, WORKING CLASS AMERICANS make up the difference and bear ALL OF THE TAX BURDEN.

HORRENDOUS: His solution for Medicare: replace it with “a premium support system [a fancy word for “voucher”] that would give seniors a fixed amount of money with which to purchase health insurance.” Loc. 1926. — We already have a “support system” that gives college students “a fixed amount of money” to spend at colleges, and results are disastrously high-priced education. Why would health insurance be any different?

HORRENDOUS: “Modernize our legal immigration system toward a merit-based one. That would mean reassigning existing visas away from family-based immigration” loc. 747 — In Rubio’s system, those who can contribute the most to our economy (the wealthy) are welcome, while poor immigrants are criminalized. That might be good economics, but it’s lousy Christianity. We have more wealth to share than anyone, yet Republicans like Rubio are stingier than anyone.

HORRENDOUS: The National Regulatory Budget, which “would be an absolute dollar limit on what federal regulations could cost the economy in a year.” Loc. 594 —There are about 1000 new chemicals created every year. Rubio’s plan would allow unlimited exposure of them to workers, consumers and the environment, unless limitations on previously-regulated hazardous chemicals were lifted so that the new chemicals could be regulated. The more dangers and scams the corporations create, the more regulations we need to protect workers, consumers, and the environment from them.

Rubio misleads the reader into thinking money spent on regulations leaves the economy: “One study put the costs of regulation during the first 5 years of the Obama administration at an astounding $500 billion.” Loc. 574 — TRUTH: If a coal plant must retrofit its facilities, it must pay other companies to do that job, thus increasing the number of business to business transactions within the economy, which creates more jobs than if the corporate wealthy just sit on their money.

HORRENDOUS: Rubio ends the book with a disastrous chapter on how sexual immorality is the cause of poverty, as he cites various statistics on how children from single-parent homes have higher poverty. Rubio may be right that immorality might explain why a person is at the back of the jobs line, but it doesn’t explain why there aren’t enough jobs for everyone in that line. If there are 200 million workers and 180 million jobs, 20 million people have to be unemployed, even if everyone in America comes from a 2-parent home and has a PhD to boot. Until Rubio and other Republicans are willing to address this macro-economic reality, they will never improve poverty. In fact, when you consider that the last three times the Republicans have turned the White House over to a Democrat, the unemployment rate has never been below 7.3%, it’s clear the Republicans make poverty worse.

DECEPTIVE RHETORIC:

BAD: “And yet seven years into his presidency, struggling Americans are – by every measure, worse off today than they were before he took office” Loc. 94 — TRUTH: Unemployment, GDP, the DOW, and the annual deficit are just a few numbers that have improved since then.

BAD: “The economy shrank by the highest rate since the Great Recession on the 1st quarter of 2014” Loc. 94 — TRUTH: Here’s the GDP for that 5 quarter stretch: 3.0, 3.8, -0.9, 4.6, 4.3. The negative quarter was the result of ice storm paralysis in the east, where cities like Atlanta lost 6-9 days of productivity. That’s 1/10th of a 90 day quarter.

BAD: “President Obama told a campaign audience in Virginia, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.” loc. 199 — TRUTH: Obama really said, “Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.”

BAD: “I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about dealing with the Affordable Care Act Web site.” — TRUTH: I’ve used it every year, and it’s worked just fine. It worked about 100 times better than when I tried to install Kaspersky Anti-Virus, but Rubio wants to be extra tough on the ACA site, while not pointing out how corporate sites are often far worse.

BAD: Obamacare has been the single largest impediment to job creation in the United States for the past several years.” Loc. 585 — TRUTH: Yet the unemployment rate has fallen from 10% in 2009 to 4.9% in 2016.

BAD: “But if there’s one thing we learned from the Obama administration’s failed taxpayer subsidies of companies like Solyndra, it’s that the government is a lousy venture capitalist.” Loc. 623 — TRUTH: The money lost on Solyndra only represented 1/80th of the money Obama invested into clean energy. If a venture capitalist is right 79 times out of 80, he’ll soon be the richest man in the world.

BAD: “The army is set to be reduced to pre-WWII levels. The navy is at pre-WWI levels.” Loc. 2251 — TRUTH: We have 11 aircraft carrier fleets while no other country has more than one. And we spend over 600 billion a year on defense, which is more than the next 8 biggest spending countries combined. He’s apparently talking about the number of active troops (he never cites a source on this), not taking into account the fact that technology (like drones and missiles) reduces the need for troops.

GOOD RHETORIC: Rubio does sometimes share the other side of right-wing talking points. Here are a few examples:

GOOD: “the fact is poverty is more widespread in rural areas than in cities.” And then mentions that 85% of “persistently poor counties” are rural. This dispels the notion many Tea Partiers have that the poor “moocher class” are black and Hispanic.

GOOD: At least when talking about the decline in the workforce participation rate, he mentions that its largely due to baby boomers retiring. Most Republicans deceive their audiences by blaming it on welfare or claim those not in the workforce represent the “real unemployment rate.”

All in all, this book is a worthwhile read, but only if you balance it out with a book or two from the other side of the aisle. I recommend the book, “Rescuing Religion from Republican Reason.” It’s my favorite, but I have to admit I’m a bit biased on that one.

 

Statistical proof that minimum wage increases don’t kill jobs

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As the minimum wage debate rages on, Republicans, and even some Democrats, tell us that raising the minimum wage would hurt the economy, thus hurting everyone. There are two fronts on which they make this argument: One is that a minimum wage increase will kill lots of jobs, because business owners cannot afford to pay their workers that much. The second is that the increase in wages will drive up inflation. I will tackle these issues the way I like to tackle everything – by examining comprehensive economic data.

Since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started tracking the unemployment rate in 1948, we’ve had 20 minimum wage increases. Here they are, along with the unemployment rate at the time of the wage hike, and then the unemployment rate 12 months later, so we can see the long term effects:

Date      Wage     % Increase     UE rate     UE rate 12 months later          Difference
1/50      $0.75      88% (40c)      6.5%            3.7%                                             -2.8
3/56      $1.00      33%                4.2%            3.7%                                             -0.5
9/61      $1.15       15%                6.7%            5.6%                                             -1.1
9/63     $1.25       9%                  5.5%             5.1%                                             -0.4
2/67      $1.40      12%                3.8%            3.8%                                              0.0
2/68      $1.60      14%                3.8%            3.4%                                             -0.4
5/74      $2.00      25%                5.1%             9.0%                                            +3.9
5/75      $2.10       5%                 9.0%             7.4%                                             -1.6
5/76      $2.30      10%                7.4%             7.0%                                            -0.4
1/78      $2.65       15%               6.4%              5.9%                                            -0.5
1/79      $2.90      10%               5.9%              6.3%                                            +0.4
1/80      $3.10       7%                 6.3%              7.5%                                            +1.2
1/81      $3.35       8%                 7.5%              8.6%                                            +1.1
4/90      $3.80      13%               5.4%               6.7%                                            +1.3
4/91      $4.25      12%               6.7%               7.4%                                            +0.7
10/96    $4.75      12%               5.2%               4.7%                                            -0.5
9/97      $5.15        8%                4.9%              4.6%                                             -0.3
7/07      $5.85      14%                4.7%              5.8%                                            +1.1
7/08      $6.55      12%                5.8%              9.5%                                            +3.7
7/09      $7.25      11%                9.5%               9.4%                                           -0.1

These stats prove the job-killer argument wrong, by showing that 12 of the 20 wage increases did NOT result in a higher unemployment rate 12 months later. That includes the two biggest wage hikes, percentage wise, in 1950 and 1956. These numbers imply that minimum wage hikes actually improve unemployment numbers.

For those who want to dwell on the few exceptions where the wage hikes were followed by large rises in unemployment, we have to keep in mind these hikes coincided with major recessions that were brought about by other causes ranging from OPEC to the banking crash. The ’73-’74 recession had seen three quarters of negative GDP (which is what defines a recession) by the time the minimum wage was enacted in May of ’74. In all major recessions, peak unemployment numbers lag behind drops in GDP by about 18 months (give or take a few months), so the job losses caused by falling production were mounting just as the wage was increased. The same goes for the 2008 increase. The high gas prices of 2008 hurt the economy, but then in the fall of ‘08 the banks crashed, so that by the summer of 2009, unemployment was reaching peak numbers.

No matter how you slice it, there’s no consistent evidence here that minimum wage increases kill jobs. If anything, the largest increases created jobs. Yes, a small number of workers might lose their jobs in the short run and some small businesses may go under if they’re already struggling. But the vast majority of minimum wage workers, as well as those earning a little more than minimum wage who also see raises, spend their raises within the economy, so that business owners have to hire more workers to service the increased number of customer purchases. That’s why significant wage hikes lower unemployment (assuming of course, that all other factors influencing the economy remain the same).

As for inflation, here’s a similar chart on that:

Date      Wage     % Increase     UE rate     UE rate 12 months later          Difference

1/50       $0.75     88% ($0.40)      -2.1%                   8.1%                                    +10.2
3/56      $1.00      33%                     0.4                      3.7                                         +3.4
9/61      $1.15      15%                     1.4                       1.3                                          -0.1
9/63      $1.25      9%                       1.0                       1.3                                         +0.3
2/67      $1.40      12%                     2.8                      4.0                                         +1.2
2/68      $1.60      14%                    4.0                       4.7                                         +0.7
5/74      $2.00      25%                   10.7                      9.5                                          -1.2
5/75      $2.10      5%                       9.5                      6.2                                          -3.3
5/76      $2.30     10%                      6.2                      6.7                                         +0.5
1/78      $2.65      15%                      6.8                     9.3                                          +2.5
1/79      $2.90      10%                      9.3                    13.9                                         +4.5
1/80      $3.10      7%                      13.9                    11.8                                          -2.1
1/81      $3.35      8%                      11.8                     8.4                                           -3.4
4/90      $3.80     13%                      4.7                      4.9                                         +0.2
4/91      $4.25     12%                      4.9                     3.2                                            -1.7
10/96    $4.75     12%                      3.0                      2.1                                           -0.9
9/97      $5.15      8%                        2.2                      1.5                                           -0.7
7/07      $5.85     14%                       2.4                     5.6                                          +3.2
7/08      $6.55     12%                      5.6                     -2.1                                           -7.7
7/09      $7.25     11%                    -2.1                      1.2                                           +3.3

Here, 9 of the 20 minimum wage hikes did not result in an increased inflation rate. Yes, conservatives might argue that 11 out 20 times it did. But if you average all of these numbers together, you’ll see that the average increase in the inflation rate per minimum wage hike was only 0.5%. So if our average inflation rate is 2%, a minimum wage hike will increase it to 2.5%. That’s something the average person wouldn’t notice.

Now the person who opposes a larger minimum wage hike all the way to $15 per hour might point to the largest wage hikes in 1950 and 1956 and say they increased inflation the most. That’s a fair point, especially since there was normally not much inflation in the 1950s. Since a $15/hr. minimum wage is more than doubling our current one, we are likely to see over 10% inflation as a result. That’s why we should apply caution in setting our new minimum wage rate. In the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, the minimum wage, inflation-adjusted for today’s dollars, ranged between $9-$11 per hour. So going to $15 would be unprecedented.

So why is it that minimum wage increases cause very little inflation?

It’s because most pricing is not set on the cost of production, but on the amount that consumers are willing to pay. I remember when I bought my first home computer in 1999. The computers with Pentium II processors had cost about $1500. But then when the Pentium III processors came out, they then cost $1500, and the Pentium II prices dropped to about $600. Is that because the manufacturer suddenly found a way to manufacture the Pentium IIs at less than half the price, but not the Pentium IIIs?

No.

The Pentium II prices dropped drastically, because customer demand for them fell so dramatically after Pentium IIIs hit the stores. Prices were set based on what consumers were willing to pay, not on the cost of production.

Throw on top of that the fact that, in today’s hi-tech world, the cost of the technology to produce goods and services is usually far greater than the cost of labor, so that increasing labor costs have a minimal impact on the cost of production, and you’ll see why minimum wage hikes have far less of an impact on inflation than the average person might think.

But you are now smarter than the average person for having read this article. So you just might want to share this newfound wisdom with your politically-conservative friends.

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

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Three of the 16 presidential candidates in the 2016 Republican field are/were people with no political experience – Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and Donald Trump. They, along with first term Senator Ted Cruz, have managed to garner most of the 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” or “change the way Washington works.” I have bad news for those people: It’s impossible for a president to accomplish that. 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 took 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. 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. 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. So 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 if we elect an extremist radical president with no experience, it just might get a whole lot worse.