Sunday, August 31, 2014
America's Damaged Workforce
excerpt from , "Occupying America: We Shall Overcome"
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
For my Labor Day message today, I would like to make some observations about the plight of America's work force and the strongly negative effect that long-term unemployment is having on our fellow citizens. If we could find a least common denominator for the complaints of the Occupy and 99% Movements, one of the things America is most furious about would be the lack of jobs and the damage this has done to America's workforce. While real unemployment (not the government's version) is at historically high levels considering the economy is supposed to be in recovery mode, the tragedy of long-term unemployment is especially troublesome. The longer a person remains jobless the more difficult it is to find new work. Many prospective employers often disparage the long-term unemployed for being lazy, having out-of-date skills and not having the confidence to step into a new position. And on top of that some companies including PMG Indiana, Sony Ericsson and retailers nationwide have explicitly barred the unemployed or long-term unemployed from certain job openings, outright telling them in job ads that they need not apply.
With the numbers of long-term unemployed increasing, it may be reasonable to think a great deal of effort is being expended to address the issue. Unfortunately, that is not the case. More time and effort is being spent cutting unemployment benefits than devising job or retraining programs. Why is so little being done for the 6.3 million long-term unemployed? Why have “99-'ers” (those out of work for 99 weeks or more) been abandoned by Congress and the White House? They seem more inclined to cut social safety net programs in order to continue tax cuts for the wealthy. There were 3.3 million US households earning more than $250,000 a year as of the end of 2013. These 2.5 million households are given an inordinate amount of congressional and executive branch attention compared to the 6.3 million households experiencing long-term unemployment. Are the families of the wealthy more deserving of taxpayer benefits than the families of the long-term unemployed? The actions of Congress and the executive seem to indicate that they think this is the case.
The Great Recession has cost US workers millions of jobs and those jobs have not come back as quickly as they disappeared, and in many cases those jobs will never return. According to the Economic Policy Institute, “In total, there are 6.9 million fewer jobs today than there were in December 2007.” Seven million jobs vanishing in just four years, the media has failed to present the unemployment problem, with all its associated economically devastating consequences, for what it truly is. There is passing mention of discouraged workers and the underemployed, but the true scale of the jobs crisis isn't given anywhere near enough attention considering the magnitude of the problem. What follows are some unemployment details that mass media under reports or ignores completely.
 The jobs deficit: That is the total number of jobs lost plus jobs that should have been created since the great recession began in December 2007. There are 6.9 million fewer jobs in 2013, the latest year for which these records are available, than at the start of the Great Recession, but that tells only half the tale of the jobs deficit. There is also the matter of creating jobs to keep up with the increase in workforce population. Those new workers include high school and college graduates, plus immigrants. The number of jobs that need to be created each month to accommodate new entrants into the workforce ranges from 150,000 - 200,000. Adding together the jobs lost since the recession and the new jobs needed for population growth, the total jobs deficit is estimated to be 11.3 million. A massive effort such as a public works program is required to fill that absolutely enormous jobs hole.
 Filling the jobs deficit: According to the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, DC: “To fill that gap in three years – by mid-2017—while still keeping up with the growth in the working-age population—would require adding around 400,000 jobs every single month. To fill the gap in five years—by mid-2019—would mean adding 280,000 jobs each month.
 There is a monthly Bureau Labor Statistics report giving an indication of the number of unemployed per job opening, which stands currently at 4.9. But those aren’t the only unemployed wanting a full-time job. There are the 2.6 million marginally attached workers and 8.8 million underemployed (those who want full-time work, but are working part-time). I’m not going to include the 3.9 million non-unemployed unemployed. When those 11.4 million workers are included, there are 25.4 million workers and 3.2 million jobs, or 8 unemployed or underemployed workers per job opening. In addition, part-time jobs are included in job openings counts; however, there is no difference between full and part-time positions. It is only determined if the position exists, not which type of position it is. However, it’s important to know how many job openings are part-time, since part-time jobs usually pay less and offer fewer, if any, benefits. Currently there are 139,627,000 employed workers, of which 27,034,000 are part-timers. More than 19 percent of all workers work part-time. If nearly 20 percent of all available job openings are part-time, there are only 2.56 million full-time jobs for 25.4 million unemployed and underemployed who want full-time work, or 10 workers for each available full-time position; more than double the 4.9 workers per job opening touted by most media outlets.
 Marginally attached workers: From the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “These individuals were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey.” Currently 2.6 million workers are considered marginally attached. If they are included in the unemployment rate, that rate increases from 9.1 percent to 10.6 percent.
 The underemployed: These are the number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers). These individuals were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job. The “real” unemployment rate increases to 16.2 percent when the underemployed and marginally attached workers are considered. There is a point at which the BLS stops considering an unemployed person unemployed. That point is reached when an unemployed person has not looked for a job in the previous 12 months. When asked, the BLS replied, “The 3.9 million individuals not in the labor force that you are referring to responded that they wanted a job, but had not looked for a job in the last 12 months. They are not considered unemployed because they had not actively searched for work in the four weeks preceding the survey.” I recall no mention of these 3.9 million from any mass media outlet. This 3.9 million are the most discouraged of discouraged workers, but if the jobs market was improving, these millions would start to become part of the unemployed once more. If these 3.9 million were added to the “real” unemployment rate the rate would increase from 16.2 percent to 19 percent. Nearly one in five American workers is either unemployed or underemployed.
 The long-term unemployed: These are the 6 million-plus jobless who have been looking for work for 6 months or more (not including the not-unemployed unemployed). Long-term unemployment receives occasional mass media recognition, but it scratches only the surface. There are subsets of the long-term unemployed that show the depth of the problem more clearly. The 6 million long-term unemployed represent 43.1 percent of all unemployed. Of that 6 million, 4.458 million have been jobless for 52 or more weeks and within that group 2.04 million, a record high, have been unemployed for 99 weeks or more.
How many unemployed collect unemployment benefits? It may seem reasonable to assume that all 14 million unemployed collect unemployment insurance benefits, but that is not the case. In September 2013 7.3 million unemployed collected benefits, which was only 51 percent of all unemployed. What message can be taken from this list of realistic and discomforting unemployment figures? The bottom line is that unemployment is much, much worse than the roughly 7 percent unemployment figure pushed currently by the media and many lawmakers. Unemployment and jobs creation throughout America are national emergencies demanding focused attention with a wide-ranging and rapid response. This American jobs disaster will not vanish if neglected, but what will vanish are the hopes, dreams and financial well-being of millions of hard-working Americans. And that is why we Occupy! That's why we're part of 'the 99%', and that's also why people have been buying guns like crazy!
Where are our jobs? That's what everyone wants to know, and our current batch of “leaders” in Washington are either unwilling or incapable of coming up with an intelligent answer. They are trying to articulate what middle America already knows, which is that the jobs that couldn't be outsourced overseas to the third world were rightsized and downsized out of existence. Middle America is unemployed because that is exactly what the top 1% want. They planned on it to turn out this way all the long! And so there is nothing wrong with the system as far as the top 1% are concerned. To them, it is working just fine. The salaries formerly paid to all of us from 'the 99%' have been redirected back to the overseas bank accounts of corporate America, while all the former workers have been kicked to the curb. But the top 1% forgot about something in the course of their financial and military conquests. When they put millions of American workers out of work they forgot that consumer spending comprises over two thirds of the US economy. Since few, if any of us, have any extra money to spend these days, when US worker's incomes dry up so will much of the US economy, and the hard times that many are currently experiencing will seem like child's play in another year or two, three at the most. That means that by the latter part of this decade (if not sooner, but I hope not) we may be looking at the end of capitalism, or at least as we have known it. The warning signs are already all around us. The probable changeover of the world reserve currency from the US dollar to the Chinese Yen, or the Euro if the Europeans can get their act together, is set to occur by about 2016 or 2018 at the latest. When the US dollar ceases to be the world's reserve currency, the consequences here at home and abroad will be catastrophic. The plight of US workers will be much worse when America ceases to be a super-power. Until then, I advise you all to make preparations for hard times ahead. And I would counsel the unemployed to not get tired out and give up, but to press onward in your quest for employment. Jesus said, “Seek, and you shall find. Knock, and the door will be opened. Ask, and it will be given to you”. If you apply these methods to your job search, you'll be searching for employment Jesus' way, meaning you will succeed if you work continuously and not give up. Happy Labor Day, everyone!
Sunday, August 24, 2014
What Would Jesus Protest?
By Rev. Paul J. Bern
It started in the fall of 2011 as most age-defining movements do, with some unrest and some recognition of what is right and wrong. It started with some people willing to take a stand against rampant injustice. And then some more people join. And then some more. Next time we look it is in another city, then another country. Sweeping across the globe, the civil unrest known as Occupy Wall Street or as “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 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. They have spoon-fed us American Idol, pro wrestling and other sports, reality TV 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. 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 Occupy and 99% Movements first started it didn't register with the power elite. 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%. 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 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. 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, 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 plunder and conquest at home and abroad. They see all the homeless people on the street 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.
So what would Jesus protest? Would Jesus protest merciless treatment of the neediest people? He already has: “Then, with the crowds listening, he turned to his disciples and said, 'Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets. Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, they will be severely punished." (Luke 20: 45-47, NLT)
The Occupy and 99% Movements, and what happened in Ferguson and again the very next night in St. Louis 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).
Throughout the Bible the number one theme after Christ's salvation is taking care of the least 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. These verses deal with lazy people who simply don't want to work. The people protesting want to work and can't find jobs, 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 23-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. 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 you really and truly think that there is no injustice in our current system then you have no heart, never mind your soul. 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. There is a real world out there and it is really hurting.
The people at Ferguson, Mo. 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 assistant and a priest. 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 then. 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. 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 not looked upon the same way. 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 right look upon the OWS crowd negatively because they are not their neighbors to them. They also looked down on 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 this or that. It makes me wonder what their motivation is for saying such things. If you have the snooty opinion that the Ferguson, OWS and 99% folks are lazy, then that is not my 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? 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, August 17, 2014
God, Ferguson, Mo., 'Occupy', 'the 99%', and the Arab Spring
I have been watching the evening news on wireless TV and on the Internet from the alternative media (with just a measured amount of CNN Internet; I don't waste my time or money with cable TV) with much admiration lately as the political turmoil unfolds in Ferguson, Missouri over the death of local teenager Michael Brown. Just like the Arab Spring in 2011 in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen and Libya, with a civil war raging in Syria and with two more threatening to break out in Iraq and Ukraine, all the people are taking to the streets for justice, and for their inalienable human rights and freedoms. It stirs my heart to see all those throngs of people united in one purpose, coming up against an overwhelming established authority, and all without any weapons, excluding Syria. It also bears a strong resemblance to the Occupy and “the 99%” Movements here in America and abroad, of which I have been a part and have self-published two books about these movements. All of these ongoing revolutions were accomplished without any more than minimal bloodshed (again excluding Syria and Gaza), and were at least partly peaceful. Of course, this is excluding all the looters and vandals in Ferguson, Mo. and elsewhere, whose activities I will never endorse. It is nonetheless very good that so many people were set free by rising up against established abusive authorities and taking charge of one's own destiny. This is how real change is brought about and this is how (mostly) peaceful revolution is brought forth by those persons bold enough to step up and take the freedom that is rightfully theirs.
Watching those events unfolding on live TV caused me to compare what was happening in Ferguson and all those other places in North Africa and the Middle East beginning several years ago to what had happened during the American Revolution during the formation of the original colonies. The main difference between then and now is that modern-day Arab and American protesters didn't have guns – and didn't need them, as it turned out. This evokes the memory of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, the ultimate peaceful campaigner for civil rights. His advocacy of non-violent social change and the civil rights legacy that he left behind are irreplaceable. And I also believe that same legacy is based on that of Moses, who so famously told the Pharaoh to “let my people go”. Soon a time will be coming for the entire world, from the most developed countries on down to the poorest, when the shackles of debt will be forever broken, and when all the people of the world will be freed from the scourge of usurious interest that is charged on loans. Soon all of us will be free from a debt-based economy as capitalism dies of old age, as we begin to move toward a resource-based economy. But that is a separate topic for another time.
The same thing has since happened in America, as you all know, with the blossoming of the Occupy and 99% Movements. This loosely organized political federation is gradually congealing into something more, growing into something far more substantial. The economic state of the populations of Egypt and America are similar, with high unemployment, rampant homelessness and crime. The inordinate concentration of wealth, combined with its use as a weapon to pollute and corrupt government and politics, runs rampant in both countries. America is most certainly ripe for revolution, given the state of the middle and working classes in this country, the lack of decent jobs, the lack of affordable housing, and the rising cost of food and fuel. The Occupy and 99% Movements may well be the vehicle for this 2nd American Revolution. I also think this vehicle will be accelerated by the fact that America is rapidly headed for third world status as a country when it comes to the standard of living of the blue and white collar classes, otherwise known as “we the people” in the Preamble to the Constitution. When this is combined with the unfair, unethical concentration of wealth throughout the world then it becomes tantamount to an undeclared economic civil war. There can be no doubt that we are going to have to unite together as a people to stop this great robbery that is happening right up in our faces each and every day so we can take back our country. The longer we wait to do so, the more difficult it will become.
Actually, the far-left and the far-right have more in common then they would want to admit. Both sides are absolute in their ideology and uncompromising in their politics. This is like a poison flowing through the body politic of America and it will cripple our democracy unless each of us acts as an antidote. Otherwise this kind of childish selfishness and narrow-minded stereotyping threatens to tear the fabric of America apart.
What is particularly troubling in today's political environment – with Ferguson, Missouri being just the tip of the iceberg – is the level of anger and even outright hatred that is being displayed by all sides. I have been trying to figure out the source of this anger and hatred for some time now. Some of today's rabid emotionalism can be traced to old-fashioned racism, but I think for many people it goes much deeper than that. It would appear that this anger and hatefulness is really a response to fear. Fear is an emotion we don't like in ourselves and anger is a way of covering up our fears with an emotion that makes us feel more powerful. We live in a world where society, technology, the economy and demographics are rapidly changing and this change is deeply threatening to many people. Such people have not yet discovered the simple key to letting go of their fear, which is to believe and have faith that God is in charge of everything, combined with understanding that if we will just let go and let God, He will cause all things to work out well, as it is written, “All things work to the glory of God for those who love Him”. God is always there for you, as it is written and was uttered by Jesus himself, “Never will I leave you, and never will I forsake you.” So He isn't going to let anything happen to you, and it would be to the benefit of anyone reading these words to rest assured about this and stop worrying. (For additional perspective on what Jesus said about worrying, read Matthew chapter six.)
If we want American democracy to survive, we need to grow up and wise up. We need to stop projecting our fears onto our fellow citizens, and we need to let go of our own childhood fears and insecurities (Ferguson, Mo., are you listening?). We need to stop yelling at each other and learn to start listening to each other. We need to replace competition with cooperation, and we need to first learn self-respect as an important step toward acquiring mutual respect. Only when these things have been done can a new economic system truly be born, one based on resourcefulness and cooperation instead of outmoded concepts like competition and profit for the sake of financial gain. We need to accept the reality of change and begin working together to find productive ways of dealing with a world that is constantly changing. Besides, the fact is that America is built upon compromise. Our great experiment in democracy is founded upon the belief that each issue has many sides and that the most workable solution comes from a compromise that blends together many disparate views. Compromise is the glue that holds America together.
Change is inevitable. It's the way the universe is constructed. The fact that time exists means that change must occur. Rather than fear change, we need to make it work for our benefit. Rather than trying to go back to the past, we need to work together to create a better future. In so doing we emulate God, because He too only cares about our future, not our past. If the American experiment that has been ongoing since the 18th century is going to grow and mature, we the people will also have to grow and mature. We have to put our irrational fears behind us and start working together as mature adults in order to deal successfully with the challenges that change presents to us. Besides, change is what keeps is on our toes. God allows change to happen to us to help grow us into something more than we were before. It's time to stop the name-calling and to start having rational discussions about the issues before us. Most important of all, it's time for the police to put all their military hardware in storage and go back to being officers of the peace and detectives of various kinds. It's time to turn away from those in the media on cable TV, and on talk radio, and on the Internet who feed our fears and fuel our hatreds like pouring gasoline on a lighted backyard grill. It's time to start respecting each other as fellow Americans. Each of us must stand up for a fundamental American truth – united we stand, divided we fall.
Sunday, August 10, 2014
Is The American Dream A Christian Nightmare?
By Rev. Paul J. Bern
The American Dream has at its core an escape from the real world to build a personalized utopia, a custom-made fantasy island of sorts. When we were taught to pursue this dream when we were growing up, we were told that if we work hard and diligently enough, we'll be able to make enough money to buy a house in the right neighborhood so our kids go to the right schools, and buy enough stuff so as to please ourselves and shut out the rest of the world. But the house and our neighborhood are not the only part of our island. Our cars give us the power to choose almost everything such as where our work, houses, churches, and friends can be. Our cars allow us to escape what we don't like about the neighborhoods we must sometimes live in.
If that is not enough, our TVs and our Internet connections allow us to filter out whatever else could intrude on us. And it is not that we need help to filter out what is unpleasant. The media does that for us already – testified to by those who are from other countries such as Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Israel/Gaza. Our media protects us from the real life negative stories about what our country and corporations do to others. In lieu of the unpleasant truth, our media reports only that which does not interfere with our consumption of their sponsors' products. And out of that small selection that is left from all of this filtering, we use the remote to choose shows based on how they make us feel. What a dumb life this is!
Greater Christianity sees this isolation by its secular fellow Americans as an affirmation of his own similarly withdrawn theology. For example, I rarely see any articles or postings that calls into question the extreme immorality of waging war. Rather, their articles, Christian books and TV shows are concerned with fine theological points, evangelical efforts, how to run church services, all about miracles real or imagined or engineered, and all the while oftentimes overemphasizing fund raising. But it is not just the articles that are printed in our literature that show how we distance ourselves, but we use our gospel of individual salvation to shut out what is disturbing. We so reduce our standing before God to the current state of our inner self and beliefs that we become hyper vigilant over ourselves while ignoring the needs of others. As a result, we become agitated and even panicked when the concerns of the world ask for our time. And it isn't just the negativity of the news that disturbs us, it is its complexity. Since things are simple when we only have to care for ourselves, we prefer to pay as little attention as possible to others. The Bible says. “we have the mind of Christ”, but some Christians aren't acting like it.
And when we do see and respond to the suffering of others, it is only to a chosen few fellow Christians or to those whom we cannot avoid. But such an approach to helping others goes against what the Bible teaches. Isaiah chapters 58 to 59 and Jeremiah 22:16 (“He defended the cause of the poor and the needy, and so all went well. 'Is that not what it means to know me', says the Lord?”) closely tie helping those in need with having seen the light. Likewise, Jesus' parable of the sheep and the goats not only taught that those who helped others in need were the sheep who received eternal life, it also showed that those who neglected the needy were banished from heaven. He also demonstrated this latter principle in His parable of the rich man and Lazarus. In His parable of the rich man, who built extra barns to hold the excess of his harvest and told himself to eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow he could die – well, sure enough, he did. He begged Lazarus from the fires of hell to give him just one drop of cool water, but Lazarus could not. Last in my list is the book of Proverbs, containing such tasty nuggets of wisdom such as, “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God” (chapter 14, verse 31), and “Do not exploit the poor because they are poor, and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case and will plunder those who plunder them” (chapter 22, verses 22-23).
But perhaps the most pathetic way that Christians remove themselves from the world is by blindly submitting to authority. It is not that Christians are not called to submit to those in authority – quite the contrary! But many of today's Christians do so as a way of shielding themselves from the risks that come with confronting evil, such as intimidation due to possible bodily harm, rather than from punishment. Submission to authority, then, is sometimes practiced not in order to love God and others, but to secure for oneself the kind of world that is most comfortable, if not lovable. And so when evil prevails in either the private or public sector, this legitimate command to submit to the authorities is used to hide oneself, as Jonah tried to do, from the mandate to preach the Gospel. But not only are we negligent in our Christian duty when we fail to confront those who abuse their power, we also become complicit in their evil ways. And we do so in order to ride on the coattails of evil and power rather than risk any reprisal for challenging it.
Martin Luther King faced this very dilemma when he stood up to the legalized racism and racial hatred that was rampant in the American South. He wanted to honor and follow the commandment in Romans 13 that told him to submit to the authorities. At the same time, he knew that many authorities were enforcing unjust laws while allowing abuse and even terrorism. He could have submitted and just gone along with the status quo and he would have avoided making himself a target. But that would have been the coward's way out! For if he was quiet, then others would continue to suffer horribly. So King concluded that he could meet both responsibilities by using respectful dissent and peaceful protest. When arrested, he made no effort to resist. He did not challenge the authority of the police, but he did challenge the validity of unjust laws and the society that profited from that authority.
Finally, there is still an even greater escape from our responsibilities to the world that many Christians use and I don't mean belief in the Rapture, either. That theological withdrawal consists of relying solely on prayer to confront the sins of the status quo. It isn't that prayer should be forsaken; I firmly believe that prayer is vitally important. But prayer without actions can be dead, especially when we pass over opportunities to speak out against evil or to render aid to someone in need. People like that behave that way to cover a whole host of emotions that are based on fear and apathy. While neglecting the suffering of others, we say to them that we care but our lack of actions show otherwise. There is no excuse in God's sight to fail to defend those who are being oppressed when we are strong enough to do so. The apostle Paul wrote, “Faith without works is dead”, and it's even more true today than when those words were written 2,000 years ago. Private acts of charity must be done in conjunction with preaching the Gospel. I aspire to the same by putting up this website.
There is a Biblical reason why the American Dream is so desirable to Christians. It is because we see the American Dream as the Garden of Eden restored and thus it's our Christian duty to enjoy. In fact, some think that the purpose of God's Word is to make Paradise accessible again, not understanding that we who call upon the name of the Lord are destined for a Paradise that will put the Garden of Eden to shame. Such Christians argue that basing one's life on God's Word is like following the right blueprints when constructing a building, and they have a point. The more we follow God's Word, the more we can avoid the hazards of sin. But the big question becomes, did God give us His word to return us to the Garden or to help us through the wilderness? But before answering that question, we must understand why would Jesus commanded us to collect our treasures in heaven rather than on earth, and why the writer of the book of Hebrews tells us we are to look for a new home to come rather than a home here.
To believe that God's Word tells us how to regain Paradise is inaccurate, to put it nicely. By the same token, the real attraction to the American Dream isn't the opportunity to restore what was lost but to worship what can be found – the twin false gods of money and materialism. The American Dream is a monasticism with benefits. Its preachers assure us that we can be righteously selfish. The “prosperity gospel” is taught in churches like a canned sales pitch, and is gleefully and mistakenly received as truth by the gullible. It allows us to flee from what is unpleasant and distasteful in the world while enjoying its corruptible fruit. This makes America a trap for 21st century Christians. For when we try to take what we want instead of waiting on God, we become deaf and blind to both the world God wants us to share His love with, as well as our own depleted spiritual conditions.
My conclusion, then, is to reject materialism and the pursuit of economic gain! Jesus said, “One cannot serve two masters. He/she will either love one and despise the other, or cling to one while rejecting the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon (materialism)”. Choose today whom or what you will serve in life. You can either pursue wealth and material goods, or you can pursue a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and all that goes with it. There is so much more to choosing Christ than there is to choosing riches, which can be here one day and gone the next without warning. One cannot serve them both, since from the vantage point of the believer they are in opposite directions from each other. Our wealth and possessions die with us or are willed to others after we are gone, but Jesus Christ lives today, tomorrow, and forever! It is He and he alone that is the correct choice for us to make. Right now would be a perfectly good time to do this (for those readers who haven't already done so). Simply pray within yourself to Jesus and ask Him to take charge of your life. It doesn't matter how you surrender to him, just do it. He always does a great job anyway, so there is no point in resisting him. Ask Jesus now, he is waiting eagerly for you. And he loves you unconditionally.
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Sunday, August 3, 2014
How “Occupy” Is Evolving
(excerpt from, “Occupying America: We Shall Overcome”, by Rev. Paul J. Bern)
This weekend in Sacramento, Cal. the Occupy movement will celebrate its third anniversary from July 31st until August 3rd. At one time there were some people who said that the Occupy and “the 99%” Movements were headed for the dust bins of history. Time has proven these detractors to be completely wrong. In fact, it is an accurate statement to say they underestimated Occupy, the 99%, Anonymous and other similar movements like the world peace movement, et al. These movements of the people are continuing to grow due to a growing population of long-term unemployed workers, people working one or more part time jobs when a full time job with a middle class level of income are urgently needed, and growing numbers of people who have walked away from the traditional job market in exasperation. These college-educated vagabonds are living “off the grid” in shelters, tent cities, or squatting in abandoned, boarded-up houses in inner city neighborhoods.
There can be no doubt that working Americans from all kinds of backgrounds are becoming increasingly desperate about their economic situations and their future prospects. Is it any wonder that this is happening? Everywhere we look we see jobs disappearing by the millions, homes being stolen right out from under the owners through fraudulent loan and foreclosure practices, pension and retirement funds being wiped out by highly speculative investments of dubious origin by compulsive gamblers posing as financial advisers and stockbrokers, and the hijacking of our democracy through corporate “campaign donations” and “lobbying fees” that are little more than legalized bribery. Most alarming of all is the increasing lack of access to preventative health care and to higher education. I experienced this myself a number of years ago when I wanted to change careers, only to be told that I couldn't get a student loan because my credit score was too low. If I wanted to go back to school and learn a new trade, they said, I would have to pay the tuition out of pocket. Since I was working as a “temp” IT contractor at the time, there was no way for me to come up with the tuition to pay for my retraining, and so I remained stuck in my situation, unable to improve myself even though I very much wanted to do so. What I have since learned is that what I went through when I tried to change careers to alleviate long-term unemployment is very commonplace, especially for older workers like myself (I won't say how old). By now, multitudes of unemployed Americans who want retraining can't get it for the same reasons that held me back, and nearly everybody else has figured out that they too are stuck as far as their professional lives are concerned. Like myself, they are furious at being backed into a corner by economic inequality, and they're looking for ways to fight their way out of the corner they find themselves in.
To sum up our situation as America's work force, we're mad as hell – livid, actually – and we have collectively decided to take back from the top 1% what they took from us, since what was taken belonged to the American people to begin with. As things stand today, the elites who comprise the top 1%, and particularly the top tenth of a percent, are in very serious trouble indeed. From a political, economic or societal standpoint, I vigorously maintain that time is about to run out for the reign of the rich and powerful – especially when the US dollar is no longer the world's reserve currency. Even now the elites continue to puzzle over what people want, mainly because the majority are clueless, and the rest just don't care. Where is the list of demands? Why don't they present us with specific goals? Why can't they articulate an agenda? The goal can be articulated in one word – rebellion. These protesters have not come to work within the system. They are not pleading with Congress for electoral reform. They know electoral politics is a farce and have found another way to be heard and to exercise power. Like myself, they have no faith – nor should they – in the political system of the two major political parties. They know the press will not amplify their voices because the news and entertainment media are bought and paid for by the top 1%. So we are creating an alternative press of our own, such as Mother Jones, Alternet, OpEd News, and others. We know all too well that the economy serves the top 1% at the expense of the remaining 99%, so we are forming own communal, cooperative, nonprofit interdependent system. This movement is just one effort of many all across America to take our country back as best as it can be peacefully accomplished.
The problem is that this is a goal the power elite find to be incomprehensible. They cannot envision a day when they will not be in charge of our lives. The elites believe, and seek to make us believe, that globalization and full throttle capitalism are natural laws which are some kind of permanent and eternal states of being that can never be altered. What these delusional elites fail to realize is that our protest and rebellion (not just America's, but the entire world's) will not stop until the bonfire of the corporate state is extinguished. It will not stop until ownership of entire corporations is transferred from the stockholders and boards of directors directly to the workers where it belongs, most likely in the form of worker-owned businesses or cooperatives of all sizes. This Populist uprising will not stop until there is an end to the corporate abuse of the poor, the working classes of all colors, the elderly, the sick, children, the mentally ill, and those being slaughtered in our imperial wars overseas and tortured in the American military's so-called “black sites”. 'We The People' will not stop until foreclosures and bank repossessions stop. We will not rest until students no longer have to go into debt for life just to obtain higher education, and families no longer have to plunge into bankruptcy to pay medical bills. The rebellion will not stop until the corporate destruction of the ecosystem stops, and our relationships with each other and the planet are radically reconfigured. And that is why the elites, and the rotted and degenerate system of corporate power they sustain, are in serious trouble. That's also why the reason for the existence of the entire capitalist, debt-based economy is now falling into question. And that is why they keep asking what the demands are. They don't understand what is happening.
The occupation of Wall Street, and the Occupy encampments elsewhere such as at Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. in which I took part in October 2011, has formed an alternative community that defies the profit-driven hierarchical structures of corporate capitalism. Even though the police have shut down the encampments in New York and elsewhere, the power elite will still lose their grip on society because this vision and structure have been imprinted into the minds of millions of protesters. The greatest gift the “occupation” has given us is a blueprint for how to fight back. And this blueprint has now been transferred to cities, parks and families facing foreclosure across the country.
The tactic of physical occupation in the case of Occupy Wall Street has been enormously successful already. We have, at least for a moment, proven that we can and will bring enormous public pressure on the top 1% in the form of these movements. We are significantly better positioned than before to make bold demands, as we can now credibly claim that our values are popular – even that they are common sense – and connected to a social base. “Occupy Wall Street” is the tactic that has launched a movement for social justice and real democracy onto center stage. It has served as the initial catalyzing symbol for what undoubtedly will become a rejuvenated civil rights movement. Hopefully ten years from now, when we look back at all we’ve accomplished together, Occupy Wall Street will be considered a critical moment that helped to spark and then build a lasting movement. “We are the 99%” has become a core message of this burgeoning movement. It emerged in tandem with the deployment of the captivating tactic of occupation. The framework of the 99% accomplishes a number of important feats:
 The 99% frames the consolidation of wealth and political power in our society – the central grievance of this movement and a central crisis of our times.
 The 99% frames a class struggle in a way that puts the 1% on the defensive, whereas the common accusation of “class warfare” has somehow tended to put a lot of people in the middle on the defensive.
 The 99% casts an extraordinarily broad net for those invited to join the movement. Most everyone is encouraged to see their hopes and dreams tied to a much bigger public issue. Thus it frames a nearly limitless growth trajectory for the movement.
 The 99% even leaves room for the 1% to redeem itself. There are many striking cases of “1%'ers” speaking out as defectors – such as former or current military and law enforcement personnel – who are as vocal as anyone that the system is broken and in dire need of replacement.
The 99% meme is a grand prize winner. It points the way toward a necessary expansion that is ongoing as I write this. It encourages us to not just act on behalf of, but alongside of, the 99%; to look beyond the forces already in motion, to activate potential energy, to articulate a moral political narrative, and to build up and strengthen our culture. The Wall Street protests must grow and spread across this country because they are the only realistic hope for change remaining for the 99% of Americans falling behind in this permanently broken economy. Sad to say, but democracy in the land of the free and home of the brave simply no longer works as it is currently being administered. Big corporations and the wealthy have hijacked the political system for decades now with their hefty donations to political campaigns and other pet projects. Their contributions guarantee that bought-off politicians pass laws and tax breaks to their benefit. It is no secret, everyone is aware of how the system works, and it must be called for what it is: legalized bribery.
With traditional democratic political methods useless, what recourse do ordinary Americans have left? We are now witnessing the only real avenue left: ordinary citizens taking to the streets and demanding change to the rigged political and economic systems that leaves 99% of us behind. It is only a start, but a vital one. Every day more people are awakening to the stark realization that the political and economic system in this country is stacked against them and getting worse. During the Vietnam era, because they were directly affected, young people took to the streets to protest the war. America's young males were subject to a draft, and the prospect of being shipped off to die in a war they didn't believe in angered them a great deal. And so the war planners wised up and did away with the draft, but look at what has replaced it. America now has perpetual wars for oil, using a "volunteer" military, many of whom have enlisted due to lack of other economic opportunities. Seemingly unaffected by post-Vietnam wars, students and other young people have been politically inactive since the early 1970s.
But that has finally come to an end, and I think it's about freakin' time! Young people are finding few jobs awaiting them when they get out of college (assuming they are fortunate enough to afford the high tuition). They graduate with no income coming in, but years of student loan debt to pay back. Those without a college or high school degree are even worse off. All of them see the sad reality, that the “American Dream” is only for the privileged few. “The reason they call it the America dream”, said the late George Carlin, “is because you have to be asleep to believe it”. If these demonstrations and protests continue to grow and expand, both here and abroad, the big banks, oil companies, billionaires and politicians will have to pay attention and give some ground. Either that, or face the prospect of violent revolution. As the late President John F. Kennedy once famously said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable”.
How all this will play out is still uncertain as I write this. The road to reversing several decades of unfair and corrupt politics and excessive greed promises to be a rocky and difficult one. Things could get a lot worse before (and if) they get better. But a revolution, preferably a bloodless one such as the Civil Rights, Occupy and 99% Movements, is necessary to restore democracy and economic fairness in America and around the world. With traditional methods of political change proving useless, mass protests, strikes, 'occupations' and other public demonstrations are the only realistic strategies left. Which is why the Wall Street occupiers and their brethren across the country (and the world!) cannot quit, and why we must all continue to grow and expand to a point that the powers-that-be realize they must give the rest of their fellow Americans a seat at the decision-making table. The occupiers and protesters cannot and will not quit, of that you can be sure. If the protests wither and die, so will what is left of America's hopes and dreams, not to mention our freedoms. So we will not let this movement quietly fade away. On the contrary, we will continue to grow and consolidate in preparation for our next task, which is to take these Populist movements to the next level. As we do so, we will continue to remind one another of why we occupy, and why we're not going away. The Occupy Movement and the 99% Movement, together with a host of other related social and political movements such as Anonymous, will continue to get larger and better organized over the rest of 2014 and well into 2015, using primarily the Internet and social media to accomplish their goals since it is the most cost-effective tools at our disposal right now.
Congress, the President, the Supreme Court, corporate America with their armies of lobbyists on K Street in Washington, and the military/prison/industrial complex are justifiably afraid of this global movement and what it represents. More importantly, they all remember where this movement got its start, which was in Egypt in January 2011, followed by the riots in Tunisia, Algiers, Britain and Spain in the spring and summer of 2011, plus the ongoing civil wars in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Sudan. Now it has arrived on American shores and firmly established a beachhead from which a worldwide movement has been launched that has captured the hearts, minds and imaginations of millions of Americans. And this movement of the people is only this – that we are sick and tired of working for bare subsistence wages that amounts to economic slavery while the stockholders and the boards of directors of these giant multinational corporations, not to mention all the cash-rich privately held companies, get to control much of America's cash flow while paying themselves exorbitant bonuses. As I wrote in my previous book, “It's steak for them and beans for the rest of us”, and since then the plight of the middle class has continued to slowly get worse just as I predicted it would. All these problems and issues are indicative of a broken system that is beyond fixing. The time has come to replace it. The only remaining question is, will the American people be able to accomplish this peacefully? That depends completely on how the 1% respond to the peaceful protests, public demonstrations and wildcat strikes of the 99%. If they respond with violence, there will be another American civil war, and the USA will turn into another Syria, Libya, Gaza or Greece. Let's hope and pray that the solution will be a peaceful one.