Sunday, December 21, 2014
America's annual economic orgy, otherwise known as the Christmas shopping season, finally winds down
The Holidays In America: Blind Consumerism
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
The psychopathology of consumerism and the subtle brain washing of mind control: We have become programmed like robots to spend more than we can afford on things we don't really need. Like sheep headed to the trimmers, we dutifully spend our meager incomes at the bidding of a myriad of shop-till-you-drop gimmicks while our highly vaunted capitalist economic system fleeces us all. The worst part is that the useless junk we buy doesn't benefit the US economy, it benefits mainly Red China's. Those who control America's shadow government – the real movers and shakers from behind the scenes, not their puppets in Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court – have sold out our country to the opposing side and have thus committed treason. The reason most people don't care about or won't even consider this glaring reality is because they can “live so much cheaper” buying the very inexpensively made garbage that China has been dumping on America's shores since the 1980's. Cheaper at first, yes, but due to shoddy manufacturing and poor quality, Chinese products are notoriously short-lived and invariably cheap imitations of much better quality merchandise that used to be made here in the US. But that, of course, was before corporate America and Wall Street shipped all those middle class American jobs overseas for pennies on the dollar. And so we fight and claw for the thriftiest deal at the various suburban big box stores, purchasing with our meager earnings from our multiple part time jobs (because there are no other jobs available), shopping at other chain stores who offer pathetically and similarly low wages and zero benefits to their staff. Just like your employer.
So, how much can we save on all these wonderful items (LOL)? That depends on whether one can afford to pay cash while doing their shopping or not. If one uses plastic instead of paper, that person always ends up paying far more in interest, fees and hidden charges than they would have had they bought a similar higher quality item at the finest store in town and paid cash. How much could we save now? Let's ask some more pertinent questions and explore some far more evident realities about this issue. For example, what about the Chinese workers slaving in dangerous non union factories for 1-2 dollars a day? What does the company make off the deal? Who is actually winning? Is it really the mesmerized consumer, all teary-eyed with joy while giggling gleefully at 30, 40, and 50% off deals? Or could it be that the whole stinking thing is rigged from beginning to end? Of course it is! Just look at what is being sold and calculate how much it costs to make it. If I look at a can of pork and beans on the grocery shelf and it's priced at 75 cents, it doesn't take a marketing genius to figure out that 75 cents is an outrageous markup. The cans are made by the millions, so they cost just a couple of pennies each to manufacture. The contents of the can usually cost even less, and ditto for the label. So we're looking at 2 cents for the can, 1-2 cents more for the contents, and maybe an extra penny or two for the label. Add another penny or two as margin for error and we have 7 cents. Seven cents, and the retail price is 75 cents? So the gross profit is more than ten times the cost, or a markup in excess of 1,000%. Or consider a far more expensive item such as the latest I-phone. They sell for about $300-400 dollars and up plus tax, but there was a posting on the Internet just recently to the effect that it only costs Apple, Inc. about $120.00 to manufacture I-phones because they were being made in China, resulting in a 150-300% markup. So much for “God bless America”.
"Oh," the politicians and talking heads say to us on TV, "it's the American workers. They don't want to work menial jobs like canning pork and beans. And we can't assemble I-phones in America because its workers aren't qualified." Never mind that there are many thousands of recent college graduates who are living with their parents because they are unable to support themselves. There simply are no jobs for these poor young adults, and yet they are expected to repay predatory and exorbitant student loans. The careers for which they have been training have already been out-sourced to the third world during the last 4+ years that these hapless individuals have spent earning their degrees. They have all been robbed of their educations, which have been rendered worthless by the multinational corporations and the US military-industrial complex who are running the whole show.
Yet we are expected to perform our patriotic duty as well as appropriately celebrate the “feast of capitalism” as we shop till we drop looking for that most fantastic deal. We are in the process of being programmed to slave at multiple part time jobs working for starvation wages and with no health benefits while being expected to buy $300,000.00 houses, $70,000.00 cars and trucks plus big screen TV's and I-phones. While all this is occurring, certain employees of multiple multinational corporations are being well paid to line the pockets of senators, congressmen and supreme-court justices in Washington D.C., while sitting on presidential cabinets making decisions regarding our planet's future, our future, and our children's future. Is it any wonder that the entire world seems to be coming unglued?
Meanwhile our consumerism is devouring the planet into what might soon become more lifeless than the moon or a Wall Street tycoon's conscience. Yet, mesmerized by commercials with intelligence levels less than a jackass after having a brain amputation, we roll blindly into the gates of the shopping centers turned shopping malls turned humongous big box stores. To share with you what brought out this little speech, consider the following 2011 release from the Associated Press.
"A shopper in Los Angeles pepper-sprayed her competition for an X-box and scuffles broke out elsewhere around the United States as bargain-hunters crowded malls and big-box stores in an earlier-than-usual start to the greed-fueled madness known as Black Friday. For the first time, chains such as Target, Best Buy and Kohl's opened their doors before midnight on the most anticipated shopping day of the year. Toys R Us opened for the second straight year on Thanksgiving itself. And some shoppers arrived with sharp elbows. On Thanksgiving night, a Walmart in Los Angeles brought out a crate of discounted X-boxes, and as a crowd waited for the video game players to be unwrapped, a woman fired pepper spray at the other shoppers 'in order to get an advantage,' police said. Ten people suffered cuts and bruises in the chaos, and 10 others had minor injuries from the spray, authorities said. The woman got away in the confusion, and it was not immediately clear whether she got an X-box. On Friday morning, police said, two women were injured and a man was charged after a fight broke out at an upstate New York Walmart. And a man was arrested in a scuffle at a jewelry counter at a Walmart in Kissimmee, Fla. In the U.S., Wal-Mart, the world's biggest retailer, has taken steps in recent years to control its Black Friday crowds following the 2008 death of one of its workers in a stampede of shoppers. This year, it staggered its door-buster deals instead of offering them all at once."
-- The Associated Press, Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 26, 2011
Lennon and McCartney of the Beatles wrote in the song "Revolution", "you say you want a revolution, well you know, we'd all love to change your head." Yes, it is more than changing Wall Street or who resides in the White House. It is, ultimately, about changing ourselves. If we all really want some serious change, then change must start from within. Speak from your heart to your kids about consumerism, greed and how they are affecting the planet as well as our behavior. Help them to understand that it's not about how much we have, but rather how much we contribute. Life is not about how much we own or the value of our possessions, life is all about making a stand for good things like faith, mercy, kindness, and above all, love. Instead of buying your wife a new car and maybe going into debt, take her up on the highest place around where you live, or to some favorite romantic spot, and renew your vows to her. Instead of buying your husband a new bag of golf clubs, give him a night he will never forget. Enjoy each other and be loving to each other. To enjoy is to enjoin, to enjoin is to unite.
Consumerism, capitalism and the vain pursuit of worldly goods keeps us isolated by gimmicks of sensationalist advertising of strikingly beautiful women, absolutely perfect children and gorgeous, flaming hunks of men that are created off the corporate mold. To put it simply, the corporate mold is a load of BS. And who is being molded in all these advertising gimmicks? You are! For what purpose? To make others rich at your expense. The blue chip corporations have a very good reason for doing all this. As long as they can keep us isolated, we can never be united. Don't go there. Keep your money. Find richness in your heart, your spirit and your character and share that this year instead.
Sunday, December 14, 2014
Ending Poverty: How We Can Make God, and Each Other, Happy
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
With about 99% of the wealth in America in the hands of a little over 1% of the population, the US has a bigger and wider gap between the richest 5% of American money earners and big business owners and the remainder of working Americans than there is in many supposedly “third world” countries. The widespread and systemic unemployment or underemployment that currently exists in the US job market is no longer just an economic problem, it has – here in the early 21st century – become a civil rights issue. The US job market has been turned into a raffle, where one lucky person gets the job while entire groups of others get left out in the cold – sometimes even literally. I am vigorously maintaining that every human being has the basic, God-given right to a livelihood and to a living wage. Anything less becomes a civil rights violation and therefore that jobless person(s) are victims of systemic discrimination. And so I state unreservedly that restarting the civil rights era protests, demonstrations, sit-ins and the occupation of whole buildings or city blocks is the most effective way of addressing the rampant inequality and persistent economic hardship that currently exists in the US.
Fortunately, this has already started here in the US, with the advent of the protests for Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner. But these protesters are behind the curve. Because before them there was Occupy Wall St., “we are the 99%” and Anonymous. And before them there was the Arab Spring in Egypt, the summer of 2011 in Great Britain and Greece in Europe, and Libya, Syria and Gaza in the Middle East. So from a political standpoint, the current crop of protesters here in the US had some catching up to do. But that was before the rest of the world got on board protesting globally for the three murdered Americans in Florida, Missouri and New York. So now, like an echo from the fairly recent past, the protests over police violence has echoed across the globe and is still reaching a crescendo. The least common denominator to all this rage in the streets is that of being economically disadvantaged. People everywhere find themselves surrounded by wealth and opulence, luxury and self-indulgence, while they are themselves isolated from it. It is one thing to be rewarded for success and a job well done. But it's an altogether different matter to have obscene riches flaunted in your face on a daily basis just because someone can. I think what we really need to do is find a way to end poverty. I can sum up the answer in one word: Education. Otherwise those who are poor will always remain so.
Who’s responsible for the poor? Back in the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth, English lawmakers said it was the government and taxpayers. They introduced the compulsory “poor tax” of 1572 to provide peasants with cash and a “parish loaf.” The world’s first-ever public relief system did more than feed the poor: It helped fuel economic growth because peasants could risk leaving the land to look for work in town. By the early 19th century, though, a backlash had set in. English spending on the poor was slashed from 2 percent to 1 percent of national income, and indigent families were locked up in parish workhouses. In 1839, the fictional hero of Oliver Twist, a child laborer who became a symbol of the neglect and exploitation of the times, famously raised his bowl of gruel and said, “Please, sir, I want some more.” Today, child benefits, winter fuel payments, housing support and guaranteed minimum pensions for the elderly are common practice in Britain and other industrialized countries. But it’s only recently that the right to an adequate standard of living has begun to be extended to the poor of the developing world.
In an urgent 2010 book, “Just Give Money to the Poor: The Development Revolution from the Global South”, three British scholars show how the developing countries are reducing poverty by making cash payments to the poor from their national budgets. At least 45 developing nations now provide social pensions or grants to 110 million impoverished families — not in the form of charitable donations or emergency handouts or temporary safety nets but as a kind of social security. Often, there are no strings attached. It’s a direct challenge to a foreign aid industry that, in the view of the authors, “thrives on complexity and mystification, with highly paid consultants designing ever more complicated projects for the poor” even as it imposes free-market policies that marginalize the poor. “A quiet revolution is taking place based on the realization that you cannot pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you have no boots,” the book says. “And giving ‘boots’ to people with little money does not make them lazy or reluctant to work; rather, just the opposite happens. A small guaranteed income provides a foundation that enables people to transform their own lives.”
There are plenty of skeptics of the cash transfer approach. For more than half a century, the foreign aid industry has been built on the belief that international agencies, and not the citizens of poor countries or the poor among them, are best equipped to eradicate poverty. Critics concede that foreign aid may have failed, but they say it’s because poor countries are misusing the money. In their view, the best prescription for the developing world is a dose of discipline in the form of strict “good governance” conditions on aid. According to The World Bank, nearly half the world’s population lives below the international poverty line of $2 per day. As the authors of Just Give Money point out, that’s despite decades of top-down, neo-liberal, extreme free-trade policies that were supposed to “lift all boats.” In Africa, South Asia and other regions of the developing “South,” the situation remains dire. Every year, according to the United Nations, more than 9 million children die before they reach the age of 5, and malnutrition is the cause of a third of these early deaths.
Just Give Money argues that cash transfers can solve three problems because they enable families to eat better, send their children to school and put a little money into their farms and small businesses. The programs work best, the authors say, if they are offered broadly to the poor and not exclusively to the most destitute. “The key is to trust poor people and directly give them cash — not vouchers or projects or temporary welfare, but money they can invest and use and be sure of,” the authors say. “Cash transfers are a key part of the ladder that equips people to climb out of the poverty trap.” Brazil, a leader of this growing movement, provides pensions and grants to 74 million poor people, or 39 percent of its population. The cost is $31 billion, or about 1.5 percent of Brazil’s gross domestic product. Eligibility for the family grant is linked to the minimum wage, and the poorest receive $31 monthly. As a result, Brazil has seen its poverty rate drop from 28 percent in 2000 to 17 percent in 2008. In northeastern Brazil, the poorest region of the country, child malnutrition was reduced by nearly half, and school registration increased. South Africa, one of the world’s biggest spenders on the poor, allocates $9 billion, or 3.5 percent of its GDP, to provide a pension to 85 percent of its older people, plus a $27 monthly cash benefit to 55 percent of its children. Studies show that South African children born after the benefits became available are significantly taller, on average, than children who were born before. “None of this is because an NGO worker came to the village and told people how to eat better or that they should go to a clinic when they were ill,” the book says. “People in the community already knew that, but they never had enough money to buy adequate food or pay the clinic fee.”
In Mexico, an average grant of $38 monthly goes to 22 percent of the population. The cost is $4 billion, or 0.3 percent of Mexico’s GDP. Part of the money is for children who stay in school: The longer they stay, the larger the grant. Studies show that the families receiving these benefits eat more fruit, vegetables and meat, and get sick less often. In rural Mexico, high school enrollment has doubled, and more girls are attending. India guarantees 100 days of wages to rural households for unskilled labor, paying at least $1.25 per day. If no work is available, applicants are still guaranteed the minimum. This modified “workfare” program helps small farmers survive during the slack season. Far from being unproductive, the book says, money spent on the poor stimulates the economy “because local people sell more, earn more and buy more from their neighbors, creating the rising spiral.” Pensioner households in South Africa, many of them covering three generations, have more working people than households without a pension. A grandmother with a pension can take care of a grandchild while the mother looks for work. Ethiopia pays $1 per day for five days of work on public works projects per month to people in poor districts between January and June, when farm jobs are scarcer. By 2008, the program was reaching more than 7 million people per year, making it the second largest in sub-Saharan Africa, after South Africa. Ethiopian recipients of cash transfers buy more fertilizer and use higher-yielding seeds.
In other words, without any advice from aid agencies, government, or nongovernmental organizations, poor people already know how to make profitable investments. They simply did not have the cash and could not borrow the small amounts of money they needed. A good way for donor countries to help is to give aid as “general budget support,” funneling cash for the poor directly into govenment coffers. Cash transfers are not a magic bullet. Just Give Money notes that 70 percent of the 12 million South Africans who receive social grants are still living below the poverty line. In Brazil, the grants do not increase vaccinations or prenatal care because the poor don’t have access to health care. A scarcity of jobs in Mexico has forced millions of people to emigrate to the U.S. to find work. Just Give Money emphasizes that to truly lift the poor out of poverty, governments also must tackle discrimination and invest in health, education and infrastructure.
The notion that the poor are to blame for their poverty persists in affluent nations today and has been especially strong in the United States. Studies by the World Values Survey between 1995 and 2000 showed that 61 percent of Americans believed the poor were lazy and lacked willpower. Only 13 percent said an unfair society was to blame. But what would Americans say now, in the wake of the housing market collapse and the bailout of the banks? The jobs-creating stimulus bill, the expansion of food stamp programs and unemployment benefits — these are all forms of cash transfers to the needy. I would say that cash helps people see a way out, no matter where they live.
Friday, December 12, 2014
Dissident literature: The perfect stocking stuffer for avid readers, political wing nuts, and pundits.
“The Middle and Working Class Manifesto”. Before there was Occupy Wall St., before “the 99%” and Anonymous, before Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, before the 'Arab Spring', Syria and Palestine, there was this book, the book that inspired it all. $9.95, free shipping, tax deductible.
Sunday, December 7, 2014
The Coming Revolution May Not Be Televised
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
Thanks to the injustices against Trayvon Williams in Florida and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri earlier this year, and more recently Eric Garner in New York City, it is abundantly clear to “we the people” that war has been declared on us by our government, with the police looking like poorly paid wannabe mercenaries. I write today about these repeated clashes that have grown into a kind of cultural resistance not seen since the civil rights protests and anti-war demonstrations of the 1950's, '60's and the early '70's. This culture of resistance, which has been building up gradually ever since that time up until now is beginning to have a noticeable effect as it continues to grow slowly but steadily. There are cracks in the pillars of power, and they're starting to get a little bigger. It’s up to us to shine the light on the lies, the spins and the 'black ops' and shadow government that has been operating smoothly behind the scenes ever since they killed President John Kennedy to seize power. It is up to us – 'we the people' – to uncover the systemic open corruption that has been stealing America's future. I look back over the events of the past two years and feel cautiously optimistic, because I have seen this movement that is continuously building momentum.
Here in Atlanta's inner city where I live and work as a freelance writer, Web pastor and itinerant missionary, I have perceived what I would describe as a strong sense of suspense in the air. Some people say that they weren’t feeling enough pain to warrant being angry about the Ferguson and New York decisions, and that we hadn’t reached the tipping point as of yet. They're only interested in taking the safe way out. I have had still others tell me that, as a Christian minister, it's my duty to follow the laws without question and pay my taxes unfailingly. They have told me that it is not right for a Web pastor to take sides in favor of the protesters, much less write and blog about it. But to them I quote the Book of James, where it is written about those in charge who abuse their authority: “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay your workman who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.” (James chapter 5, verses 1-6 NIV) There are others, however, who are ready to strike, such as what just happened with the fast food and convenience store workers this past week all over the country. The folks who barricade themselves in their homes and apartments are gradually becoming outnumbered by those who insist on staying out in the streets and making their extreme displeasure known to those who still presume to be in charge. They have staked out a place in the heart of the monster and held it. Excitement and wonder are seemingly everywhere.
Could 'we the people' really take on Wall Street and the lobbyists on Capitol Hill? Obviously Wall Street and the offices on K Street in Washington, DC thought so because they ordered excessive and constant police protection. They must have seen something brewing because Wall Street firms had donated unprecedented millions to the NYPD over the previous year. It was police aggression towards peaceful protesters that grabbed public attention and sympathy. For example, a few weeks after the start of Occupy Wall Street in September of 2011, an amazing 43 percent of Americans supported Occupy, a figure that remains largely undiminished to this day.
Three years later, the physical encampments are gone, but the Occupy Movement remains, along with its cousins, the '99%' and Anonymous Movements, worldwide. Occupying public space was a tactic, not an end in itself. It was a way to make the issues visible, a place for people to gather, a model for a new way of doing things based on respect, mutual aid and democracy and a demand to reclaim what has been ruthlessly taken. When the financial crisis hit in 2008, there was an expectation that the government would respond appropriately to stabilize the economy and that we simply had to weather the storm. What we saw instead were massive bailouts of the industry that caused the crash and greatly inadequate steps to secure jobs, housing and health care. This turned some already catastrophic financial crises caused by runaway private speculation into an immense source of private gain for the same very financiers responsible for the catastrophe to begin with. Even worse, it made those catastrophes so much more catastrophic than they really needed to be in the first place. And all this happened prior to the current epidemic of violence in America's streets and the apparently casual shootings by police officers of unarmed men (in one of the worst cases, a 12-year-old boy was shot to death by the police in Cleveland, Ohio because he held a toy gun).
As a result of all this mess, we’re not heading toward greater income equality. We're not opposing social and economic injustice like 'the 1%' do, but we’re not building up the middle class or supporting unionization either. We’re not eradicating poverty and hunger, they are getting worse. We’re not expanding educational opportunity, fewer and fewer people can afford it. We’re not rebuilding infrastructure, and it's falling apart. We most certainly aren't doing anywhere nearly enough to improve race relations. Nothing we’re doing looks anything like the society we built from the New Deal through the 1970s. We’re not doing any of the things that would lead to a more stable and just economy. In fact, we’re doing just the opposite, which means the billionaire bailout society will become even more firmly entrenched. This means that if left unchecked, the trends towards greater inequality and suffering will not only continue, it will accelerate as well. But the billionaire bailout society may have went too far in their exuberance for still more wealth. According to a Stanford study, “animosity toward the financial sector reached its highest level in 40 years in 2012” which undoubtedly fueled the Occupy and 99% Movements, and anger remains high (or higher, take your pick) to this very day. A majority of Americans believe that not nearly enough was done to prosecute the bankers.
When drowning in so many crises it is sometimes hard to see above the surface of the water, but the anti-globalization movement and its offspring, the Occupy and “the 99%” Movements, are having an effect. Since 2000, the World Trade Organization has been unable to advance its agenda and 14 free trade agreements have been stopped by public pressure. Like low-wage workers in the fast food and retail industries, workers must join together to let Congress know that the WTO is not the right path for the U.S.” Another broad coalition of groups has come together to stop the TPP. If they are successful, this will be a huge victory against transnational corporate power. And JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon admitted that the bank broke the law. Another important win that is inspiring many in the US took place in Colombia, where farmers went on a prolonged strike to win back the right to use their own seeds. The anti-Monsanto and anti-GMO movement is strong here. Thousands of people marched there this week for a law to protect themselves from pesticides. And, despite an outpouring of money, a vote to label GMO products in Washington State is still holding strong. In still another anti-1% effort by 'we the people', stopping the imminent attack on Syria earlier this year was a win for people everywhere and a loss for the military industrial complex. Raytheon and Lockheed Martin in particular were set to make hundreds of millions from it. We must be vigilant, though, because the current diplomatic path could be used to justify an attack in the future in either Syria or Iran.
It is important to recognize these victories and to build from them. It is also important to remember that we never know how close we are to achieving significant change. The Occupy movement spawned the “Idle No More”, “Workers’ Rights" and 'Climate Change' movements. Our eyes are open and we can’t ignore what we now see; we know that it is the plutocratic system, not individual inadequacy, that is causing poverty in America. We know that the $1 trillion given by the Federal Reserve to private banks could have created 20 million desperately-needed jobs. We know that the 400 richest people in the US have more wealth than the GDP of entire countries – like Canada and Mexico, for instance! And we know the names of those who control the wealth and exploit people and the planet for it. We no longer expect “leaders” to create the change we need. We are all leaders and change depends on our actions and ours alone. Since the system is too dysfunctional to attempt to repair it, the most logical and practical thing to do is replace it. Humankind already has a tool available off the shelf as a basis for launching such a project, and it's called 'the Internet'. The government of the future will be small, efficient and nearly paperless.
The culture of resistance necessary to create the kind of world we want to live in is already here. Actions are taking place daily in the US and around the world. You won’t hear about most of them in the mass media. This week alone, more than one hundred women, most of them undocumented, were arrested in Washington, DC to protest the ways that immigration policies harm their families. Dairy workers in New York protested their abusive working conditions. Protesters in Vermont, ages 65 to 94, chained themselves to the entrance of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power plant to demand its immediate closure and Marylanders protested outside an ‘arms bazaar.’ The Cascadia Forest Defenders scaled the capitol building in Oregon to drop a huge banner to protest clear-cutting.
Resistance is not all protesting, it also includes building alternative systems to meet our basic needs. Many who are active in OWS, 'the 99%' and Anonymous have been hard at work at this since the physical occupation was shut down. This week the Occupy Money Cooperative announced its launch with a fund raising campaign. They will provide low-cost financial services to the millions of Americans who are unbanked and under-banked and who are preyed upon by banks, check cashing services and payday lenders. It will be an opportunity for all to opt-out of big finance. Just as OWS created the infrastructure that was used to organize Occupy Sandy, and continued for months afterward to provide services to those affected by Superstorm Sandy, occupiers in Colorado responded to the needs of people in the Boulder area who were hit by massive flooding.
Hard work is being done every day to take on entrenched corporate power and create a new world based on principles such as mutual aid, community, equity, solidarity and democracy. Although we face an uncertain future, we embrace the chaos that defines our times. There is no alternative but to challenge the status quo of ever-increasing debt, shrinking job opportunities and disappearing civil rights. We can’t say what the outcome will be or whether we will live to see the world we hope to create. Can there even be an endpoint? Perhaps the most important piece of social transformation is not a goal but rather is the process of living in a way that is consistent with our values. We live in the culture of resistance which requires constant nurturing to bend the arc of time towards justice.
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Sunday, November 30, 2014
What Would Jesus Protest?
By Rev. Paul J. Bern
It started in the Spring of 2011 as most age-defining movements do, with significant unrest and some recognition of what is right and wrong. It started with some people willing to take a stand against rampant injustice. Before long, some more people join. Next time we look it is in another city, then another country. Sweeping across the globe, the civil unrest known by a number of names, such as the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, Anonymous or “we are the 99%” continues to capture the attention of everyone, despite the attempts of the military-industrial complex and their media conglomeration to slander it, discredit it, and lie about it. It is in that same revolutionary spirit that those who are protesting day and night in Ferguson Mo. and simultaneously around the world are on the evening news every night.
By now everyone realizes that there is a “la cosa nostra” of ultra-powerful people (sometimes called the Illuminati) that control the vast majority of wealth in this world, beginning with the US and Europe. They have spoon-fed us American Idol, pro wrestling and other sports, reality TV, idiotic soap operas, and Dancing With the Stars while sneaking around behind our backs tampering with our voting rights, stealing elections, repealing sensible regulations designed to protect us, and enacting laws totally in favor of the rich – and all this occurred as the 1% shipped all our jobs overseas for pennies on the dollar. I know this to be true because it happened to me. There can be no question that their goal is the redistribution of wealth and consolidation of power to the 1% elite while squeezing the once proud middle class into the new working poor caste. You can already hear the screams of "class warfare!" The problem is we didn't start the war, they did. The same ones screaming “class warfare” the loudest are the ones who are waging the war.
Apparently, when the Arab Spring, Occupy, 'the 99%', Anonymous and Ferguson Movements first started, the power elite underestimated the intensity and dogged determination of the protesters to make their voices heard. They couldn't possibly fathom America's outrage. In their arrogance, they simply didn't comprehend that people had caught on to the illegal Ponzi schemes, crooked midnight deals and winner-take-all financial piracy of the money-worshiping top 1%. That's because our children have been going to the same 'dumbed down' public schools for the last generation or two. But since OWS, “the 99%” and Ferguson have gone viral in the social and political fabric of America, the 1% have begun frantically looking for ways to neutralize this latest movement, but they are already too late. So the next thing they did was to criminalize it, orchestrating mass arrests for the entire world to see. They tried to intimidate the protesters and occupiers by sending in their police squads in full military gear, but that backfired on them too as it only served to garner more sympathy for the people's cause. Next up was an attempt to mock the group and pretend they were somehow uneducated and clueless about why they were protesting at all. That has backfired as well, as all these grassroots movements has generated considerable interest, not only from the general public, but also from some very smart people and astute observers.
Turns out that OWS, “the 99%” and the folks in Ferguson know exactly why they are protesting. Not only are the police out of control and therefore a direct threat to our very lives, people everywhere are arriving at the same conclusion – correctly, by the way – that it is financial suicide to go into hock for $100,000 to get a Bachelors Degree only to be offered jobs that require a paper hat or a $19.95 shirt and tie when they graduate. They become furious when they see billionaires with golden parachutes getting bailed out while their parents are getting evicted. They are vehemently opposed to an economic and educational system that is only available to those who have enough money to pay. They have already read the 2011 United Nations Resolution stating that Internet access is a basic human right (search that), and that denying Web access to anyone due to their inability to pay is a human rights violation at best, and a criminal act at worst. They already see capitalism for what it is – an economy based on greed, plunder and conquest at home and abroad. They see all the homeless people on the streets while entire neighborhoods are littered with abandoned, boarded up houses that represent the shattered dreams of countless families, some of whom are now living in shelters or with relatives because there is no where else for them to go. They see all the school teachers, fire fighters and police officers who continue to get laid off so the country can have more for the top 1%, and so they can have more money for pointless foreign wars. They do not think that 1% of the population should control 99% of the wealth in this country -- and they are absolutely right. Plus, they are scared half to death of the police, and justifiably so.
So what would Jesus protest? Would Jesus protest merciless treatment of the neediest people? “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew chapter 5, verse 7). Of course, the flip side of that coin is that unmerciful, arrogant and belligerent people will be shown no mercy by God. Would he oppose the top 1% who have 99% of our country's wealth? He already has: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God” (Matthew chapter 19, verses 23-24). Would He stand against bully authority? He sure did and still does. “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 'So you must obey [authority] and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them'” (Matthew 23, verses 1-4).
The Occupy, Anonymous and 99% Movements, and the ongoing protests in Ferguson, St. Louis and throughout the planet are all about the least fortunate of us, and it is these very people who want their lives back. They have lost jobs, careers, homes (some of which had been paid on monthly for years or even decades), savings, pensions and even their health. Economic and racial inequality reigns supreme across our land, and the misery that it has spawned threatens to grow into revolution in American streets (cue “Revolution” by the Beatles, “For What It's Worth” by Buffalo Springfield, etc.).
Throughout the Bible the number one theme after Christ's salvation is taking care of the least fortunate in society. Jesus said that if we want to be considered religious, then we are to look after the welfare of widows and orphans. “Whatsoever you do for the very least of my brethren, that you do for me”, and this nugget of wisdom holds as much meaning today as when those words were uttered by Jesus 2,000 years ago. The divine truth of human equality that He illustrated with that verse is something that has yet to be fulfilled, and it's our fault. Human equality was a radical notion in the time of Christ, and many churches continue to leave out of the teaching of this revolutionary aspect of His ministry. So long as racial and ethnic hatred persist, equality cannot flourish. It's up to ministers like myself to address this issue, and I encourage all who read this to join me in my efforts.
I am painfully aware that some conservative Christian writers, and a whole lot of 1%'ers, are apparently in love with the Old Testament verse that says, “If a man will not work, then neither shall he eat”, presumably in reference to strikers, protesters and “occupiers”, but they are forgetting the original context of that verse: “Even while we were with you, we gave you this command: "Those unwilling to work will not get to eat." Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and meddling in other people's business. We command such people and urge them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and work to earn their own living. As for the rest of you, dear brothers and sisters, never get tired of doing good. Take note of those who refuse to obey what we say in this letter. Stay away from them so they will be ashamed. Don't think of them as enemies, but warn them as you would a brother or sister.” (2Thessalonians 3: 10-15, NLT)
The context reveals that these verses do not apply to the OWS/99% or Ferguson people. On the contrary, the people protesting want some real justice for Mike Brown, but they also want to work and can't find jobs, and that is why they are protesting! You may be of the opinion that the protesters are "lazy" or somehow not trying hard enough but I have actually been through what these protesters are experiencing. I know what it's like to see a 22-year career evaporate, and to not be able to find enough work to sustain oneself. I know what it's like to wind up homeless through no fault of my own, and I have personally experienced how homelessness, even for relatively short periods of time as was in my case, can and will literally ruin one's health. Like these multitudes of others, I too can attest to how brutal it is out there. The true unemployment rate is very likely double or triple what the government is telling us. The jobs being offered have absurdly low wages that are simply not enough to live on, come with no health insurance, and are often temporary or part time.
The other truth revealed from the context of these verses, however, is how we should be acting. The apostle Paul does not say that we should treat these people with contempt, lie about them, or sneer at them. He does not say they should only help those who can afford to pay. Instead, we should be doing for others what we would have them do for us. We must treat others the way we want to be treated. We must love our neighbor as ourselves. He says we should treat them not as enemies but to warn them as if they were a brother or sister. “Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen, for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims. Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows. -- Isaiah 1: 15-17 (NLT)
What God is saying here is to check your hands before raising them in praise to Him to see whose blood you have on them. Give up your sins. Trust Jesus implicitly. Learn to do good. And then what does the Lord say is doing good? Seeking justice. Helping the oppressed. Defending the cause and fighting for the rights of the needy. If anyone really and truly thinks that there is no injustice in our current judicial system (such as the Ferguson white-wash – oops, I meant to say 'grand jury'), then I would call them heartless and soulless. If you honestly do not believe that there is oppression for the lowest in our society today then I advise you to stop watching Fox News and come on out in the street to join us. There is a real world out here and it is really hurting.
The people at Ferguson, Mo., New York, Chicago, the deep south and the West Coast want social and economic justice. They want the same thing God speaks about throughout the entire Bible. They want the same thing Jesus taught about. Once Christ told a parable about the Good Samaritan. Most of us know the story. A man is mugged and essentially left for dead on the street. He is passed over by a Temple priest and a tax collector. But a Samaritan stopped and helped him, bandaged him, and paid for him to recover at a nearby inn. But the context of this parable is the point. Jesus told it because He was asked the question -- "who is my neighbor?" The Samaritan was chosen as the hero of this story by Jesus because there was much hatred towards them by the Jewish people at that time. Who is my neighbor? I think this is the question we need to ask ourselves every day. We need to ask it when we hear the hate merchants on TV and radio trying to stir up our darker side. We need to ask it when we think that we know the motives of people we never even met. We need to ask it when we start to use God to defend things He obviously would never defend (such as waging war). Jesus finishes the Parable of the Good Samaritan with these words: "Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?" Jesus asked. The man replied, "The one who showed him mercy." Then Jesus said, "Yes, now go and do the same." (Luke 10: 36-37, NLT)
As far as the teacher of law that asked the initial question here was concerned, only fellow Jews were his neighbor. Anyone else was looked upon with disdain. We have that same spirit infecting this country too. The other side is presented only for the purpose of blame and hatred. Those who find themselves on the extreme right look upon the OWS crowd negatively because they are not their neighbors to them. It is the Occupy, 99%, and Ferguson protesters who have become the 21st century Samaritans. They also sneer at the protesters in Ferguson as being just a mob of rioters and looters, when in fact only a small percentage of all those engaged in the street protests engaged in such illicit activities, as if they are all somehow unworthy of mercy. They are somehow to blame not only for their own plight, but supposedly for the plight of the country as a whole. God requires something from us and He spelled it out very plainly in the Old Testament: “No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6: 8, NLT)
The world sells various shades of gray to hide the truth, spinning it and disguising it as it goes. The truth is that if somehow anyone thinks Jesus would support a system where over 40 million people are homeless while the ultra rich clothe their dogs, then I suggest that maybe they do not understand what "doing what is right" truly means. If anyone thinks that Jesus would support a system where 16,000 children die every day from hunger while the world's top 1% gets richer and fatter, then I am not so sure that they understand the concepts of loving and being merciful. Not just being merciful – really loving mercy and walking humbly with your God. I want you to think the next time someone is trying to sell you on the notion that the Ferguson, OWS and “the 99%” people are 2nd class citizens. It makes me wonder what their motivation is for saying such things. If anyone has the snooty opinion that the Ferguson, OWS and 99% folks are lazy troublemakers, then that becomes their problem. If you have the political opinion that they should go home and find a job, fine, but have any of you tried to find a job lately? Ask someone who has been unable to find work for months or even years! Brothers and sisters, those are nowhere near being Christian arguments. They are most definitely not Biblical arguments – and they are devoid of any compassion, any mercy, or any humility. What will we do to help all these people? What would happen if you lost your job tomorrow, or if a family member were to be killed by the police? What have we done lately to help each other? Because in the end, that's all that really counts.
Sunday, November 23, 2014
Celebrate Thanksgiving By Buying Nothing This Year
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
Is there a tradition any more primitive or disgusting practiced across America today than that of Black Friday? Hordes of consumers mob stores for great deals on useless "goods" like flat screen TVs that one must have a cable TV subscription to watch it, smart phones and tablet computers that break every time they're dropped, video gaming “stations” that are addictive, or the latest clothes manufactured by Southeast Asian or Latino children in some God-forsaken sweatshop somewhere. Every single year I am further struck by the apparent lack of focus by Christmas shoppers on the original reason for the season. Thanksgiving is the holiday when we give thanks for what we have and count our blessings. It is a time to put things into perspective and realize that we are not so poor after all, economic hardship notwithstanding. St. Paul wrote, “I know what it means to have little and I know what it means to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content no matter what my circumstances.” We would all do well to learn to do the same.
The Christmas shopping season is the time when we are supposed to be celebrating the birth of our Lord. Instead, all I see each year are large crowds of people caught up in an orgy of consumerism and materialism. Hordes of people buying this and that, spending like there is no tomorrow in a feeding frenzy of capitalist consumerism. Think about how much good it would do if the birth of our Lord was celebrated with that much enthusiasm. What if we were to organize a National Buy Nothing Day to protest economic inequality? Or how about a $15.00 per hour minimum wage? Or maybe to protest the cost of higher education, we should boycott our student loans! What if everybody stopped sending in their payments until the loans were forgiven? Two thirds of the US economy is consumer spending. Think of what a shock wave it would send if any such national protest/boycott were to be organized!
We're in a pretty messed up place politically and environmentally. Multinational corporations and financial firms pretty much own the government. Global warming is not only a real and present danger, but rapidly accelerating. There is a plastic "raft" in the Pacific Ocean bigger than Texas. And as people we're constantly being taken advantage of to make this situation last longer so that corporate profits and bonuses can climb even higher than they are now. The strong link between these two things – our society's consumerism and the terrible political, social, environmental, and economic situations we're in – demands immediate and urgent action. By buying things from these corporations and feeding into this model of an economy, we only encourage and empower it. So I'm asking you: please join me in buying nothing this coming weekend.
So this Black Friday, I'm calling for a Wildcat General 3-day Strike. I'm asking tens of millions of people around the world to bring the capitalist consumption machine to a grinding – if only momentary – halt. I want you all to not only stop buying for 72 hours, but to shut off all but your most essential lights, all your televisions and other nonessential appliances. I'm asking you to park your car, turn off your phones and log off of your computer for the day. I'm calling for a three-day interlude of fasting and prayer. From sunrise to sunset we'll abstain en masse, not only from holiday shopping, but from all the temptations of our greed-based and debt-funded lifestyles. Ideally, everyone will power down their electricity for the day and just enjoy some time with their family or friends or both. If you can't do that, at least refrain from the Black Friday madness. Don't go to a store for some kind of deal. Avoid the stress by not going out in the traffic. Don't shop at the big box stores - in fact, don't shop anywhere. Just take a break for Friday, Saturday and Sunday and do nothing at all.
You know the old truism: a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Things are falling apart – the temperature rising, the oceans churning, the global economy heaving – so why not do something? Take just one small step toward a more just and sustainable future. Make a pact with yourself: go on a consumer fast. Lock up your credit cards, put away your cash and opt out of the capitalist spectacle. It may be harder than you think, that is, the impulse to buy is more ingrained in many of us than you may have ever realized. But you will persist and you will transcend – perhaps reaching the kind of epiphany that can change the world.
Some might criticize me for publicizing this idea during such a tough economic times. "We need people to consume in order to drive the economy!" To that I say this: it's not good if we need people to buy useless crap in order to maintain our economy. That needs to shift fundamentally. And the only way to shift it is to stop buying useless crap. So will you join me? Will you take the plunge and break the chord from your normal consumerist ways? Let's all stay at home Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and have a time of prayer and fasting, and some quality time with each other. In this case, fasting doesn't mean we must totally abstain from food. But you can go on a liquid diet (soup only, etc.) for 3 days without doing yourself any harm. I have done this before successfully, so if I can then so can you! If we're going to give thanks, then let's begin by giving thanks to God.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
Sunday, November 9, 2014
The Ongoing Obscenity of Our War on Terrorism
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
The war in Afghanistan lasted more than 11 years as of this year. The original reason for the US military invasion was to hunt down and capture or kill Osama Bin Laden as the chief perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks. The reason it took the US military more than a decade to find him was because they were looking in the wrong country. Oops, sorry Mr. or Mrs. taxpayer, we got the right guy but we had the wrong address. Oh well. At the height of its military operations, the United States was spending $60 billion per month on the twin wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. That is not counting all the other bases the US military now has in well over 100 countries around the world, such as Germany, Japan, Okinawa, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, to name a few of the major ones.
This leads to a fundamental question; why are our military forces still there after fighting the longest war the US military ever fought? Osama Bin Laden is long gone and we are still there, seemingly chasing our own tails. But that was before the truth came out about two things. First, Afghanistan is a country with vast untapped natural resources, including enormous copper deposits. Second, all the fuss about Afghanistan's poppy seed crop being a target of the 'drug war' here in the US is just a bunch of bull. Upon closer examination of what has been happening there out of sight of the American public, it becomes apparent that it is none other than the CIA running the show. So when you see teenage gang members selling heroin on any given street corner in America, you can thank the CIA. This is a stark contrast to what I have been teaching about being a people of peace. It brings the US “war on terror” into sharp focus and sheds light on the hypocrisy of the American Empire's military machine and its illegal incursions into third world countries where it does not belong. The truth of the matter is that the U.S. position with respect to the dictators in the Arab world has been one of pure hypocrisy. We have supported these tyrants in the name of "stability" and the "war on terrorism", but it has been a policy that has contributed mightily to the oppression of the people in those countries (which is a betrayal of our own revolutionary past, not to mention our fight against tyranny, as well as exacerbating the Islamic terrorism being used against us).
It has been amazing that the people who are in revolt against the dictators and their regimes haven't linked the U.S. with the tyranny they have been forced to live under. Contrary to what is being reported in the Lame Stream Media, their rebellions have been non sectarian, grass roots and non ideological in every country they have occurred and completely unrelated to Islamic fundamentalist or 'jihadist' terrorism. That last fact would seem to expose and make America's policy in the "war on terrorism" while initiating wars in the Muslim world obsolete and absurd. The irony is there has been little if any mention in the media of our wars and the war on terrorism possibly because they have had nothing to do with these Arab rebellions. Yet it is a topic of urgent need. The closest form of mentioning anything in this regard came from “W's” administration Secretary of Defense Robert Gates who said during Bush 43's second term in office, "Any new secretary of defense who advises a president to engage in land wars with vast armies in foreign lands needs to have his head examined".
The fact is our entire policy of pre-emptive war and occupation and the whole "war on terrorism" is a ruse, an unnecessary and a cruel invention concocted by neo-conservatives and cold war warriors who were itching to replace the defunct Soviet Union with an enemy we must oppose in a fight to the death (as we now see in our endless "war on terrorism"). Not only is the war on terror a reason for the American Empire to exist, it has become the only reason for its existence. It was and is a fantasy perpetrated by them and foisted on the American people. The terrorist attacks on 9/11 became their cause for that endless war and is the real, but unfortunate, legacy of that fateful day. But in light of the unfolding democratic "awakening" in much of the Arab world can there not be serious discussions deep in the bowels of the White House of the absurdity of our continuing to fight wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen as well as Iraq (not to mention the proxy war the CIA has been fighting against the Assad regime in Syria)? Gates' comments allude to the insanity of fighting these wars (even if he put it in the context of new misadventures). From here it seems the U.S. resembles (in its ability to end its wars) a giant ship at sea that takes an excruciatingly long time to reverse course. Like the Viet Nam quagmire we seem stuck, committed to the un-winnable yet unwilling and unable to face reality. War is an ongoing obscenity.
Sunday, October 26, 2014
Nine Scary New Technologies That
Big Brother Wants to Implant Inside You
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
The world we live in is finally starting to catch up with the book of Revelation in the back of the Bible. Thousands of years ago, God declared through His prophets that in the last days there would be an explosion of knowledge, and that the sealed books given to the prophet Daniel would be opened. "But you, Daniel, close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many shall go here and there to increase knowledge." Daniel 12:4 He also said that as this was happening, a man of dark countenance would rise and deceive the whole world. As you read this, we stand poised on the razor's edge of prophetical history. One group, the blood-bought redeemed of the Lord Jesus Christ, wait in anticipation of the Blessed Hope found in Titus 2:13, as it is written: "... while we wait for the blessed hope -- the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ." Everyone else is unwittingly waiting for the Man of Sin, the Antichrist in the flesh, to step out of the shadows and onto the world stage. Our question to you is this - which group are you in? "He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name." Revelation 13:16,17
Implantable everything is right around the corner, there is no stopping it. Wearables will have their moment in the sun, but they're simply a transition technology. Technology will move from existing outside our bodies to residing inside us. That's the next big frontier. Here are nine signs that implantable tech is here now, growing rapidly, and that it will be part of your life (and your body) in the near future.
1. Implantable smartphones
Sure, we're virtually connected to our phones 24/7 now, but what if we were actually connected to our phones? That's already starting to happen. Last year, for instance, artist Anthony Antonellis had an RFID chip embedded in his arm that could store and transfer art to his handheld smartphone. But what takes the place of the screen if the phone is inside you? Techs at Autodesk are experimenting with a system that can display images through artificial skin. Or the images may appear in your eye implants. Researchers are experimenting with embedded sensors that turn human bone into living speakers. Other scientists are working on eye implants that let an image be captured with a blink and transmitted to any local storage (such as that arm-borne RFID chip)
2. Healing chips
Right now, patients are using cyber-implants that tie directly to smartphone apps to monitor and treat diseases. A new bionic pancreas being tested at America’s Boston University, for instance, has a tiny sensor on an implantable needle that talks directly to a smartphone app to monitor blood-sugar levels for diabetics. Scientists in London are developing swallowable capsule-sized circuits that monitor fat levels in obese patients and generate genetic material that makes them feel "full". It has potential as an alternative to current surgery or other invasive ways to handle gross obesity. Dozens of other medical issues from heart murmurs to anxiety have implant/phone initiatives under way.
3. Cyber pills that talk to your doctor
Implantables won’t just communicate with your phone; they’ll chat up your doctor, too. In a project named Proteus, after the eensy body-navigating vessel in the film Fantastic Voyage, a British research team is developing cyber-pills with microprocessors in them that can text doctors directly from inside your body. The pills can share (literally) inside info to help doctors know if you are taking your medication properly and if it is having the desired effect.
4. Bill Gates' implantable birth control
The Gates Foundation is supporting an MIT project to create an implantable female compu-contraceptive controlled by an external remote control. The tiny chip generates small amounts of contraceptive hormone from within the woman's body for up to 16 years. Implantation is no more invasive than a tattoo. And, "The ability to turn the device on and off provides a certain convenience factor for those who are planning their family.", said Dr Robert Farra of MIT. Gives losing the remote a whole new meaning.
5. Smart tattoos
Tattoos are hip and seemingly ubiquitous, so why not smart, digital tattoos that not only look cool, but can also perform useful tasks, like unlocking your car or entering mobile phone codes with a finger-point? Researchers at the University of Illinois have crafted an implantable skin mesh of computer fibers thinner than a human hair that can monitor your body's inner workings from the surface. A company called Dangerous Things has an NFC chip that can be embedded in a finger through a tattoo-like process, letting you unlock things or enter codes simply by pointing. A Texas research group has developed microparticles that can be injected just under the skin, like tattoo ink, and can track body processes.
6. Brain-computer interface
Having the human brain linked directly to computers is the dream (or nightmare) of sci-fi. But now, a team at Brown University called BrainGate is at the forefront of the real-world movement to link human brains directly to computers for a host of uses. As the BrainGate website says, "using a baby aspirin-sized array of electrodes implanted into the brain, early research from the BrainGate team has shown that the neural signals can be ‘decoded' by a computer in real-time and used to operate external devices." Chip maker Intel predicts practical computer-brain interfaces by 2020. Intel scientist Dean Pomerleau said in a recent article, "Eventually people may be willing to be more committed to brain implants. Imagine being able to surf the Web with the power of your thoughts."
7. Meltable bio-batteries
One of the challenges for implantable tech has been how to get power to devices tethered inside or floating around in human bodies. You can't plug them in. You can't easily take them out to replace a battery. A team at Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is working on biodegradable batteries. They generate power inside the body, transfer it wirelessly where needed, and then simply melt away. Another project is looking at how to use the body’s own glucose to generate power for implantables. Think the potato battery of grammar school science, but smaller and much more advanced.
8. Smart dust
Perhaps the most startling of current implantable innovations is smart dust, arrays of full computers with antennas, each much smaller than a grain of sand, that can organize themselves inside the body into as-needed networks to power a whole range of complex internal processes. Imagine swarms of these nano-devices, called motes, attacking early cancer or bringing pain relief to a wound or even storing critical personal information in a manner that is deeply encrypted and hard to hack. With smart dust, doctors will be able to act inside your body without opening you up, and information could be stored inside you, deeply encrypted, until you unlocked it from your very personal nano-network.
9. The verified self
Implantables hammer against social norms. They raise privacy issues and even point to a larger potential dystopia. This technology could be used to ID every single human being, for example. Already, the US military has serious programs afoot to equip soldiers with implanted RFID chips, so keeping track of troops becomes automatic and worldwide. Many social critics believe the expansion of this kind of ID is inevitable. Some see it as a positive: improved crime fighting, universal secure elections, a positive revolution in medical information and response, and never a lost child again. Others see the perfect Orwellian society: a Big Brother who, knowing all and seeing all, can control all. And some see the first big, fatal step toward the Singularity, that moment when humanity turns its future over to software.
Sunday, October 19, 2014
The USA Is Becoming A Failed State: 8 Simple Steps to Turn It Around
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
As I look around me today, I see the United States of America as a failing country. There are just too many things going wrong with our country today. Failing to adequately tackle the problems in our economic system: Failing to reflect on the deep flaws in our system of government: Failing to repair our image abroad: Failing in education, in health care, in human rights, in religious tolerance. In fact, we look a lot like the USSR in 1990 - except with more big-screen TV’s. And we all know what happened to them. And so I have written this article listing what I view as the worst problems, followed by some helpful suggestions for solutions to the mess that we Americans find ourselves in today.
You may well take issue with my central contention. You may say that we are prosperous because our GDP is so large. Or that our government works properly (though I don't really expect many of either political persuasion to seriously consider that notion), or even that we have a great health care system? I respect anyone's right to those opinions – freedom of expression is one of the few things our country hasn't managed to screw up in the last couple of hundred years. But in every case, the data backs me up. Allow me to try and substantiate my claims first, before suggesting a few possible solutions.
First, let's take a look at the economy: in 2009 alone, 131 banks failed. The 2008 bailout granted billions of dollars – with strings attached – to private companies who then used the money to short-sell the market, make countless billions more, hand the government back its money (removing the strings) and pay out lavish bonuses while Americans lost their jobs. It is estimated that by 2016 our national debt will exceed one year's Gross Domestic Product. Meanwhile, the median family income is less today than it was a decade ago.
Our government, meanwhile, is no longer run by competing ideologies but by corporate interests (I include both parties in this category since both are moneymaking enterprises). There are good Republicans who would prefer that your cancer-stricken child had health insurance. There are responsible Democrats who are horrified by our country's spend-now pay-later approach to finance. But since they are beholden to a higher power – the almighty dollar – they have convinced themselves to vote with their wallets, not with their conscience. At the Federal level, AT&T and Goldman Sachs have contributed over $75M over the last 20 years, and the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, plus the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, aren't far behind.
Across the world America's reputation is tarnished, perhaps irrevocably, and yet we find our President – in the words of former vice-president Dick Cheney – following the 'Bush Doctrine' of a surge in forces occupying a foreign country with seemingly little chance of categorical success. We are seen as an economic and religious bully, and we don't seem to care. We vilify our political enemies for their human rights records, and import cheap goods from countries we know to exploit child labor. We are, to much of the world, intolerable hypocrites.
Apologists for the American health care system, not to mention 'Obamacare', will continue to defend those systems at all costs, claiming that so-called 'socialist' states such as England, France and Sweden (which, incidentally, is actually a constitutional monarchy governed by a center-right coalition) kill their citizens at will in order to save money, or make you wait thirty years for a kidney transplant. Deflecting (especially with such utter garbage) doesn't make our system any better, and it's always bad business practice to spend too much time putting down the competition. When our own kids can't get health care because mom and dad have no money to pay, something is terribly wrong. Any anthropologist will tell you that we took care of our young when we were Neanderthals – so what's changed? For one in six of our citizens to be uninsured is a national disgrace. We deny basic human rights to our own people! Whom you choose to marry is not a matter for the government to decide, it is a matter for the individual (“work out your own salvation with fear and trembling before the Lord”). So it is for what religion to follow, if any (although I will continue to vigorously preach pure Christianity as the only true way to eternal salvation). Some may not like our choices, but they are inalienable rights and you should be free to exercise them as you will. Our US Constitution says you can (search: first amendment).
As far back as 2005, statistics showed that hate crimes against Muslims were increasing 50% year-on-year (although one 2013 report shows that the numbers are falling again). Even so, the FBI reported that in 2008 hate crimes against homosexuals had increased 9% from 2007, and those motivated by religion had risen by 11%. This is outrageous in the extreme as far as I am concerned. The track we have taken over the last fifty years has been the wrong one (I use that figure deliberately - the USA in the 'fifties was probably the happiest and most prosperous state that ever existed). We have let corruption, greed, fame, intolerance and a stubborn refusal to acknowledge our problems almost ruin our nation. We are failing to live the American Dream, and if we don't start now our children will never even know what it was. I have a couple of fairly radical ideas. I'm sure you have some of your own, and I welcome them in the comments below. I have chosen not to expound on what I personally think the consequences of these actions would be, as I would be diving headlong into speculation that could easily (and should be) challenged.
1. Immediately and totally stop all corporations from giving money to political parties.
2. Acknowledge that politics and religion do not mix well, for good or for bad, and that the most powerful religious leaders tend to be the worst ambassadors for their faith.
3. Make a promise to our children: you will be well-educated, and you will be treated when you are sick.
4. Change the game. Capitalism is broken and must be replaced. Any time you have less than 1% of America's population controlling the upper 99% of the cash flow, some legislated redistribution is clearly called for (or maybe an executive order to that effect). We can start with worker owned businesses instead of shareholder ownership. Public business ownership will still exist, but smaller – such as a cooperative – will be better in many cases.
5. Take a page out of the Bible and just treat everyone else with some genuine respect. If it was good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for you. Leave the gays alone. Leave the blacks alone. Leave the Muslims or the Christians alone. When respect departs, enmity is the next train along.
6. Pay for it. Child labor is inexcusable. If it costs an extra ten bucks, or extra hundred bucks, to buy something that was made by willing workers, pay it. And the same goes for government. You want health care? Pay for it. More troops? Pay for them. Tax breaks for corporations? Not a chance, they have way too many of those already.
7. Form coalitions based on issues, not parties. Not every NRA member is anti-abortion. Not every tree-hugging hippie thinks that owning a gun is wrong. When a party tells you how you should think, and what issues should be thrown together into what bucket, you're a lot closer to communism than you think you are.
8. Buy American whenever possible. From what I can tell, the great empires of yore – from Egypt to Rome to England – were 'first-to-market' with some manufacturing innovation or other, that led to more innovations, and greater strides, that in turn led to them becoming the largest producers of goods in their region. This happened to the USA from the dawn of the twentieth century until the 'fifties. Then we began to transform into a service economy, just as those others did. Producing goods is what is making China become a world powerhouse, and if we are to compete, we must produce our own. American goods are always equal to the best even though they are almost never the cheapest, but if we are to reinstate our status as the world's greatest country, we need to start by supporting our own businesses and workers.