Monday, August 30, 2010

Why The Beck Event Didn’t Need Politics

Palin likened the rally participants to the civil rights activists from 1963. She said the same spirit that helped them overcome oppression, discrimination and violence would help this group as well."We are worried about what we face. Sometimes, our challenges seem insurmountable," Palin said. "Look around you. You're not alone." - Yahoo News

Many of the pundits and talking heads were concerned today about what the motive was for Glenn Beck’s rally over the weekend. Many questioned why Mr. Beck who has been one of the staunchest critics of this president would hold a political rally without the politics? By all accounts the rally was a cross between a revival meeting and a church picnic. There were no political speeches extolling the shortcomings of this president and his administration. There were no references to liberalism, socialism, or Obamacare in any of the speeches. So with one of the largest captive audiences in recent memory why was there no demagoguery by two of the best in the business?

The answer is really very simple. All one has to do is look at the demographics of the rally goers to understand that there was no need for these types of speeches. The majority of the participants were white, over 50, and evangelicals. With this group there was no need for over the top rhetoric, racists signs, or t-shirts. Just as the Pope does not have to detail the tenets of the Catholic faith during Mass at St. Peters Basilica neither did Glenn Beck have to give the tenets to those gathered at the rally? Is there any doubt what the political leanings of those people in that demographic would be? The people who showed up at that rally are conservative right-wing voters and their politics is their religion. In their minds there is no separation of religion and state or religion and politics. America in their minds is a Christian country and anyone who does not share their brand of Christianity is an outsider. One of the reasons that President Obama’s religion is questioned and is treated with skepticism is because he does not espouse or demonstrate their brand of Christianity. So we get “He says he is a Christian and I take him at his word.”

When groups of like minded individuals get together there are certain ideas or values that don’t require being spoken. Your very presence at the event signals your agreement with the group’s positions on politics, social values, and community mores. We are God’s people and everyone else are godless infidels who are not worthy of our compassion but instead they are worthy of our contempt. The thing to remember with group dynamics is that certain words can carry special meaning that the majority of the group understands so even a non-political rally can carry political significance. So instead of talking about liberals or foreigners we talk about those who share our version of religion and those who don’t. To the folks in the crowd the meaning is crystal clear and there is no difference.

"When the government puts its imprimatur on a particular religion it conveys a message of exclusion to all those who do not adhere to the favored beliefs. A government cannot be premised on the belief that all persons are created equal when it asserts that God prefers some." - Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun

The question that continues not to be asked today is not why more people think that President Obama is a Muslim today than when he was elected. The question that needs to be asked is in a country where we supposedly have freedom of religion why does it matter what religion he is. So we have these endless conversations on the television about what the poll numbers mean to the President’s ability to do his job and no conversation about the hypocrisy of this whole conversation. The thing that should scare the hell out of all Americans who value freedom about the Glenn Beck rally is that today it is the liberals tomorrow it will be the Methodists or the Catholics. A prime example of this is the fall-out from some Christian groups that stated following the rally that because Glenn Beck is a Mormon he is unfit and offering a false gospel. You see that once the hate mongering starts it becomes contagious and it will infiltrate and contaminate everyone it comes in contact with.

What Glenn Beck was attempting to do was to marry religion with politics. He is seeking to rally the troops under the cross, the flag, and oh yeah a little gold wouldn’t hurt. America has a history of following these Elmer Gantry wannabes promoting that good ole time religion. The problem with these charlatans is that their version of ole time religion is not very old. I truly believe that no group has done more to divide the Church in the history of the Church than the Evangelicals. According to them God is constantly providing new revelations that only they can hear and decipher which of course makes it next to impossible to dispute. Glenn Beck decries the liberation theology of others yet as you can see from Ms. Palin’s remarks that this is exactly what they are promoting only it is liberation for those who are the most liberated in the country. Who is more liberated than middle-aged white people? What they don’t realize is Beck, Palin and their rich cronies are the ones who are oppressing them.

You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do. - Anne Lamott

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Citizens Against Taxing Big Oil

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time. – (attributed to) Abraham Lincoln

One evening I was watching the news minding my own business when I was astonished by what I saw. It was an ad paid for and produced by the American Petroleum Institute or API. API is the main trade association for the oil and natural gas industry. According to the commercial which depicted what appeared to be ordinary Americans upset because the Congress is considering raising the taxes on the industry by 80 billion dollars in the 2011 budget. According to these ordinary Americans raising taxes during a recession on anyone is bad policy. This rationale sounds eerily familiar to the rhetoric being used to justify keeping the Bush tax cuts. It is this type of blatant propaganda that must be exposed for what it is.

What is amazing to me is that we have all read how energy company profits have been at all-time highs for the last decade. Each quarter they set new record highs not just for energy companies but for all corporations. So with all of these record profits you would think that these concerned energy titans would be using that money to research and develop new cleaner energy technologies right? Wrong. Many of these companies are using less than 1% of their income to research new clean energy technologies. Most of them are using these enormous profits to buy back their stock and thus insuring even larger profits in the future. So at the end of this decade of record profits we are to assume that taxing these companies is going to wreck the economy and kill 400,000 jobs?

We as Americans through the work of our political leaders have been subsidizing an industry that continues to make money hand over fist. We do this not only in paying higher energy bills but also through subsidies to this industry.

All of this political gamesmanship aside, consumers have good reason to be angry. Not only are the oil companies racking up extraordinary profits, they’re doing it while continuing to enjoy generous tax breaks and economic subsidies paid for by the same people who are also paying exceptionally high prices at the pump. Essentially, consumers end up paying oil companies twice for the same product, first subsidizing their production and then buying the finished product at inflated prices.Larry West

So let me get this straight, the people who are being gouged are upset because the people who are gouging them are going to have pay taxes on these record profits and lose some of the subsidies they don’t need in the first place. How stupid do they take us for? I thought the ad about an energy company being in the people business was bad, but this one sets a new low. The thing that troubles me the most about this ad is that the people being interviewed obviously have no clue who the tax would impact. One woman states that some people are barely hanging on so raising taxes would be a burden. I agree if the tax was for ordinary working people but this tax is on an industry where the top 5 companies made over 550 billion dollars under the Bush administration and has not slowed down since. Are we to assume that the oil industry is just barely hanging on? If it weren’t so dishonest it would be almost comical.

We as a nation I believe will not get serious about clean energy until we make it too painful to continue down the path we are on. Unfortunately humans respond best to two stimuli; pain and fear. Most of the countries that are pioneering clean energy and sustainability are doing so because they had to. Until gas prices reach about $5 a gallon we will continue our urban sprawl with bigger and more congested highways, we will continue to refuse to develop and implement clean energy sources for providing energy to our homes and businesses, and we will ignore rail and other transportation alternatives. The truth is that gas prices will reach $5 the question then becomes do we allow the profits to go to an industry that has repeatedly shown it has no desire to provide clean sustainable energy or do we create a self-imposed tax that will be used to fund the switch to clean energy? How can we expect an industry with little or no incentive to develop the clean energy technologies we need?

Following the oil embargo of 1973 the nation of Iceland embarked on a radical and massive shift in its energy policy. Because the cost of fuel had skyrocketed they made the calculated determination that they would begin to seek alternative fuel sources and conservation. The people of Iceland created a self-imposed tax on oil to fund their transformation to renewable energy and today are reaping the benefits. So while we went left (change suppliers), they went right (reducing dependency and alternative sources). So while they now enjoy the freedom of renewable energy we are still being held hostage by foreign governments (many of whom are hostile to us) through our big oil companies. History has shown us that we will not develop sustainable energy policy until the last drop of oil is gone. The problem with that strategy is by that time it will be too late.

The use of solar energy has not been opened up because the oil industry does not own the sun. - Ralph Nader

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I’m Not Paid To Be A Role Model

"I'm not paid to be a role model. I'm paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court." – Charles Barkley

Every time I read about the excesses of professional athletes and entertainers I am reminded of this quote and subsequent commercial given by Charles Barkley. Although he received a lot of criticism for the ad what he stated remains true. It has always amazed me how we as a society place the responsibility of providing the mores of our society on those who have demonstrated nothing more than a penchant for athletic or artistic ability without regard to their suitability as humans. Tiger Woods is no exception. With his divorce finalized, his personal and professional life in shambles what can we as a society take away from this monumental fall from glory?

I cannot think of any athlete that was better packaged as a commodity than Tiger Woods. He was handsome, articulate, and wholesome. He is the closest any black athlete has come to the all-American image reserved for white athletes and celebrities. And no athlete has capitalized more on this squeaky clean image than Mr. Woods whose empire has been estimated as high as 900 million dollars. But for all of his financial wealth and marketing savvy it appears that Tiger Woods is just another fallible human with all of the frailties and shortcomings as the rest of us. If there was ever an athlete that epitomized the consummate role model it was Tiger Woods. His well crafted image was the envy of many on and off of the golf course. So what went wrong?

What happened to Tiger Woods is not unique in the annals of celebrity or history. It is the result of this cult of celebrity or personality that has been created to market merchandise to our consumer driven society. The problem with this strategy is that in order for it to work there has to be a direct correlation between athletic prowess or celebrity status with ethical behavior. You see in a culture where everyone is ducking responsibility from everything from their children, to their fellow citizens, to life in general. We need these surrogate heroes to provide our children and in many cases ourselves with this hypocritical message. In creating this parallel universe we force these superstars to live up to a standard that no human could possibly maintain. We basically set them up to fail and when they do fail we hold these contrived public apologies to allow ourselves the opportunity to forgive our fallen heroes.

The problem is that we honor people for being heroes who really aren’t heroes at all. Being a great athlete or celebrity does not make you hero in and of itself. What makes one a hero is what one is doing with the God given talent that they have been given to help others. Many of our best athletes and celebrities have proven to be pretty lousy human beings. The truth is that real heroes aren’t good marketing tools. The school teacher who continues to struggle for excellence in a troubled inner city school district, the average Joe who risks his life to save a stranger, or the people who everyday sacrifice their own lives for the benefit of others. These folks aren’t glamorous or exciting. And that’s why in our society we value entertainment over attainment. Style is to be valued over substance. Our children are offered these false idols to emulate without anyone asking the question, “What kind of person is this?”

The true tragedy of Tiger Woods is that we will have learned nothing from this. We will continue to follow this cult of personality. We will continue to reward those who are willing to be prostituted as heroes while the true heroes of our society will be ignored except when they too can be used for marketing purposes. Has our culture become so devoid of true nobility that we have to rely on marketers to tell us what a true hero is? Have we become so enamored with the cult of celebrity that true virtue is now no virtue? While Tiger Woods is the latest victim of this phenomenon this is in no way about him. It is about the larger issue of what do we value as a culture. Are we left to accept the empty characters that are being thrust upon us in an effort to get us to buy more and more crap we don’t need? Although he and many others like him accepted the trappings that went along with his notoriety how many of us know the pressure of trying to appear perfect when you are deeply flawed? And can trying to carry that burden create flaws of its own? Can anyone live up to the expectations we as a society place on these unfortunate ones who happen to excel at some sport or entertain us? Isn’t it enough that they provide us with the entertainment we seek?

I don’t know if Tiger Woods can recover from this episode in his life. I can’t begin to imagine the difficulty of having your life implode while billions of people watch. What I do hope is that we as a society begin to recognize the damage we are causing to not just these people but also to ourselves by creating these false idols. True heroism is not something you do in a stadium, or on a course, or on a stage it is what you do every day in how you live. There are millions of unknown heroes who aren’t paid millions of dollars, who aren’t receiving plaques or awards but none the less they continue to persevere every day in thankless sometimes hopeless circumstances. The time has come for each of us to be our own role models by living up to the ideals we want so desperately to bestow on others.

“Being a hero is about the shortest-lived profession on earth.” - Will Rogers

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How the Black Church Has Failed Us

Almost 90% of Black Americans express absolutely certain belief in God; compared to just over 70% of the total U.S. population. Two other important statistics gleaned from this survey: (1) 80% of Black Americans report that religion is very important in their lives as compared to 57% of the general U.S. population; and (2) 55% of Black Americans report that they interpret scripture literally as compared to 32% of the general U.S. population. - PEW Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life

There has been a lot of discussion lately concerning the role of the black church. It has been accused of subjugating women and keeping them single, it has been accused of hypocrisy concerning gays, and for being impotent when it comes to resolving the major social issues that we face as a community. While these may be legitimate criticisms and worthy of discussion I don’t think these are the reasons for the failure of the black church in our communities. What many of these authors argue is that in their opinion the church should become more liberal on social issues. I couldn’t disagree more.

Based on the research you would think that black people were the most pious people in America if not certainly the most religious. But in looking at the data there seems to be a disconnect between what people are saying and what they are doing. I believe that disconnect is a direct result of the “Gospel” they are receiving from the pulpits. I would never claim that the black church is some monolithic entity that follows the same doctrine in all locations. But in my experience the message being preached in most black churches is the same message that was preached during reconstruction. The black church continues to manifest itself as if nothing has changed in the last 250 years. The problems that we face today as a people are not the same problems we faced following slavery when the daily lives of black people were controlled by outside forces.

If we are to overcome the new challenges that face us such as unwed single mothers, the disintegration of the black family, and the escalation of black crime and violence we must provide new solutions. The church has not provided black people with the direction and the tools to attack these challenges. As a result you get this disconnect between believing in God and living for God. An example would be the discussion concerning the black church and the high rate of single mothers. What the authors fail to realize is that prior to becoming a single mother these women were single non-mothers who attended church and professed a belief in God, a belief that spells out in its text in chapter 2 that we are to be married prior to having children. This is in chapter 2 of the Holy Bible which the majority of black people believe to be literally the Word of God. If we can’t get pass chapter 2 of our Holy Book what chance will we have with the other concepts being expressed later?

The black church doesn’t need to become more liberal in its interpretations of the Word; it needs to become more consistent. The black church has fostered this belief in the “Magic Jesus”. A Savior who will magically appear and solve all of the cares of life so long as you pledge allegiance not to Jesus but to this church and thus removing all responsibility for one’s behavior by the waving of a wand. So rather than providing black people with the tools to combat crime, irresponsible behavior, and lack of preparation the church instead gives them a lucky charm or a magic genie. In 1967, 25% of black children were living in single female heads of households today that number is over 70%. While the black church is not the single cause of this epidemic it has remained primarily silent during this explosion. Want to have pre-marital sex; don’t worry magic Jesus will save you. Don’t want to prepare your children for the future; don’t worry magic Jesus will fix it. Instead of offering magic Jesus the church should be providing our people with things like parenting training, character building classes for our young men being raised by single mothers, and financial training.

Finally, there must be an awakening in our people concerning our role in God’s plan. Prior to being our Savior Jesus must be our Lord. Jesus states, “If you love me, you will obey me.” To blame the institution that you are not being obedient to for your problems is like my going to school every day not paying attention and then blaming the school for my lack of learning. We should stop excusing our behavior because we are black, or we are poor, or discriminated against. As a human being I owe it to other human beings to do certain things. Not because they are white things or black things, rich things or poor things, they are human things. I owe it to other human beings not to kill them, to pick up after myself, and to try and be the best person I can be. These are not acting black or white, they are acting human.

The time has come for our churches to leave the rhetoric of the reconstruction era behind when blacks were unable to control much of their daily lives and recognize that there are things we must do for ourselves. We must come out from the pews and pulpits and reach out to those who need our support and guidance. We must provide those in the pews with the tools to better their lives and the lives of their children. The black church will need to do a better job of reaching out to our men by providing them more than just a magic Jesus and we must do it while we have them there. The majority of black men were in church at some point in their lives and the church lost them. The children have not failed, we have failed them. We have to do a better job of training them up to be men of character and that job cannot be done by women.

The Jews tried to keep Christ contained within their law, while the Greeks sought to turn Him into a philosophy; the Romans made of Him an empire; the Europeans reduced Him to a culture, and we Americans have made a business of Him. – Unknown

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The Right Wing War Against The Future

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" – Statute of Liberty

For the past two years the Republicans, the tea-partiers, and the other wing-nuts have been waging war, but despite the prognosticators on cable and the talking heads they are not at war with President Obama, the Muslims, or the Latinos. These folks are not upset about health-care reform, deficits, or bail-outs. This war is not about secret Muslim terrorist’s plots, socialist takeovers, or gangster governments. What we are witnessing is the historic battle between those who cling to a false sense of history against what they see as an uncertain and frightening future. A future that is frightening because it is looking darker and more foreign.

For all of the talk about the promise that is America the truth is that there is and always has been a large segment of our society that has sought to prevent the inevitable movement into tomorrow. The one constant in life is change and those cultures that have resisted change have done so at their own demise. It’s not like we don’t have thousands of years of human history to study and learn from. But let's not forget that the Flat Earth Society still meets annually. All we have to do is look at our own brief history to witness the lengths that some will go to prevent the march of time. Our history is filled with anti-immigrant, anti-religion, and racial prejudice all under the same pretense of maintaining someone’s version of their America that didn’t include the unfortunate groups who were targeted.

It is mind boggling to me how those who sought change, tolerance, and what appeared to be an embracing of the future by electing our current president could so easily be frightened by the rhetoric of those who for personal gain are willing to stoke the fears of so many. I believe that America is schizophrenic. On the one hand we want to be perceived as this nation of tolerance and equal opportunity and on the other hand we cling to this desire to maintain the status quo. Change is great so long as nothing really changes or change is what other people need to do. I believe that there is a deep seated fear within all of us that we try to keep hidden. A fear that dates back to the beginning of human time that if fed or left to fester can lead to unspeakable horrors in the human soul.

We all at some point have had to face this fear of the others. Some of us have been able to confront these fears and overcome them and are better people for it. However, there is also a segment of the population who has chosen not to confront these fears and instead have chosen to allow innuendo and stereotypes to reinforce their worst fears about their fellow citizens. I guess it just goes to show that if you repeat something often enough and loud enough some people will eventually begin to believe it. What is troubling to me about this current state of political discourse is that the further we get into the term of this president the more people begin to question his religion, his right to be president, and even his Americaness.

What the wing-nuts don’t seem to understand is that in a republic form of democracy the representatives govern by the agreement of the governed. Once you delegitimize the government then anarchy and chaos are sure to follow. You can’t throw gas on the conspiracy crowd by calling the government illegitimate and unlawful and then expect them to recognize it for the rhetoric that it is. I don’t think there is any serious person who would argue that our government is broken, but those who have for years worked to break it should not be rewarded for their efforts.
We have a choice in America as we’ve always had. We can cling to our fear of the future and each other choosing to try and go backwards. The problem with that strategy is that you can never go backwards because the world you are trying to recapture never truly existed. Or we can continue on the path we have embarked on choosing rather than fearing change we embrace it and rationally direct it.

The liberties of none are safe unless the liberties of all are protected. – Justice William O. Douglas

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