Sunday, May 17, 2015
Income Inequality and Jesus Christ
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
I have always vigorously maintained that the gap between the rich and poor is a moral problem as well as a socioeconomic problem in desperate need of solutions. Yes, it's a religious problem too, and religious people are causing it. They come to church faithfully every Sunday, dressed like fashion models, and go through all the motions of worship and praise. Sometimes there will even be some tears or some healing that takes place. But, as the Bible says, if we do all that and even more without compassion for all humankind, none of those church services I just mentioned will mean one stinking thing. Neither will the people at church, particularly the rich or comfortably well off who do nothing to help those less fortunate than themselves. All their praising, worshiping, preaching and their exclamations of, “Thank you, Jesus!!” will be meaningless. Regarding this the apostle Paul wrote, “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1st Corinthians 13, verses 3-7, NIV)
So we can see that at least part of the reason for inequality is people who keep all they own and all they earn completely to themselves. They won't share anything – nothing! Despite near-record levels of economic inequality, many politicians and pundits still don't think this widening chasm is much of a problem in a country supposedly dedicated to egalitarian ideals. Inequality, the logic goes, is a natural result of different degrees of work and creativity. Some people strive harder and have better ideas, as well as take more risks, and giving them out-sized rewards is a good thing, since it encourages others to emulate this behavior and makes us all wealthier in the end. The only problem with this story, of course, is that it's persistently contradicted by the actual facts about inequality today. In truth, inequality in America tracks more closely with a classic Marxist analysis whereby the owners of capital exploit a surplus of labor to keep wages low and generate high profits for themselves – depriving workers of a fair share of the value they are creating for companies. Yes, there are smart entrepreneurs taking big risks in America, but the more dominant face of the economy is well-established corporations run by professional managers who keep finding new ways to drive labor costs down and profits up.
The big losers are the people who are actually creating most of the value of these companies -- i.e., the workers who make the sales, prepare the food, stock the shelves, handle the phones and so on. Many of these people are paid under $10 an hour, which is not enough to live on – and certainly not enough to save for retirement or buy health insurance, which is not offered to most low-wage workers. All of us are hurt, too, by the way that the low-wage model drags down economic growth. If you give a low-wage worker higher wages, they immediately pump that money back into the economy through more spending. But if you give a CEO another few million dollars in compensation, he'll most likely just plow that money into his stock portfolio or other savings vehicles, which doesn't do much for the economy since capital is cheap right now and customers are scarce. If we want an economy with robust consumer demand, workers need to a bigger slice of the pie. Business leaders once understood that elementary fact.
Jesus, Pope Francis, and brain scientists have asked what happens to a person who is repeatedly given a larger and larger portion of the economic pie at the expense of the workers, and the answers are clear if unnerving. Wealth and power are dangerous for your mental health, your spiritual condition, and for society in general – especially when they contribute to the neglect of the poor. Ridding the world as it exists today of poverty is currently a fantasy. Jesus spoke of this: "The poor you will always with you, but you will not always have me" (Matthew 26:11). He also said, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God" (Luke 6:20). Only a few verses before this moment in Luke, he cries (quoting Deuteronomy 6:13): "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor." (Luke 4:18). Jesus also noted, famously and controversially, that it is easier "for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 19:23-24).
Jesus discouraged the accumulation of wealth, worried about its effects on those who had it, and took special pleasure in helping the poor, dedicating His efforts to them. He must have shaken his head at the large gaps between rich and poor throughout the Middle East in the first century. Pope Francis has taken up Jesus' call on this. During his 2014 visit to South Korea, he repeated a cry that has become a central theme of his papacy, telling hundreds of thousands of listeners in Seoul that the gap between the rich and poor in Korea was a problem, and they should think back to early Christian martyrs in Korea. He said: "Their example has much to say to us who live in societies where, alongside immense wealth, dire poverty is silently growing; where the cry of the poor is seldom heeded and where Christ continues to call out to us, asking us to love and serve him by tending to our brothers and sisters in need." Now, I'm not a fan of the Catholic church, but I must admit the pope has a good point here.
Everyone knows that the wealth gap in the U.S. has increased dramatically. "The top 10 percent took more than half of the country's overall income in 2012, the highest proportion recorded in a century of government record keeping," the New York Times reported in April 2014. It's a problem that makes you dizzy, and one that will never be easily solved. Indeed, the concentration of wealth at the very top of American society recalls the early 20th century, before the income-leveling measures of the New Deal kicked in. The growing income gap is perhaps the most pressing issue before the world, not just the United States, as the level of misery rises among the world's poor. Even those formerly known as the middle class, who have struggled mightily to make ends meet for decades now, face an array of problems that create mental and physical pain on a vast scale. So let's go back to Jesus and Pope Francis and their concerns. Do people on the other end of this inequality equation really fare better? Does wealth make you happy? Jesus certainly didn't think so, and neither do I. Although I've never been really rich, there was a time in my life during the 1990's when I owned and operated a small computer repair shop. For the last 4 out of 8 years that I was in business, I earned a 6-figure income. But in the process, my life had sped up to a frenzied pace. By the time I closed that business in June 1999, I was so exhausted that I took a couple of months off to recuperate. So I know first hand that money does not necessarily solve all problems. Indeed, it can sometimes create more problems than it solves.
Three Canadian neuroscientists have suggested that being rich and powerful actually makes you less happy and, even worse, incapable of sympathizing with the poor. They find that the rich and powerful among us show less brain activity in that region of the brain where human sympathy is excited. Power diminishes all varieties of sympathy, and it drowns empathy in a sea of greed. Conversely, those who feel poor and marginalized in society show a great deal of sympathetic activity. The ability to sympathize with those around us seems crucial to our survival, and it's connected to the mirroring functions of the brain. As the research now suggests, the richer and more powerful we feel, the deader will be that area of our brain where this crucial activity, which generates empathy, occurs. In fact, power fundamentally changes the way we respond to those around us.
Is it any wonder that when a rich young man came to Jesus asking for spiritual guidance, Jesus said what he was not expecting to hear. “'All these I have kept', the young man said. 'What do I still lack'? Jesus answered, 'If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.' When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Matthew chapter 19, verses 20-22, NIV). The young man "went away sad," since he had so much materialistic stuff and didn't want to let go of any of it. But letting go is essential to our own happiness as well as the world's economic equilibrium. Jesus, Pope Francis and brain scientists would agree on this. It's a hard teaching, but it's important. We as humankind must – absolutely must – outgrow our childish need for accumulating material things. The notion that economic prosperity equals happiness borderlines on insanity because of the deliberate refusal of those who practice it to plug into reality. And so on and on it goes. The saying used to be, “On and on it goes, and where it stops, nobody knows”, remember that one? The difference between then and now is that the stopping point is finally in sight due to a series of wars and natural disasters culminating in the return of Jesus Christ. Oh, what a day that will be!
Sunday, May 10, 2015
Twenty Four Injustices That The
Mainstream Media Won't Discuss
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
During the days of Nazi Germany from the early 1930's up to the mid-'40's, there was a branch of the government called "The Ministry of Propaganda" that dished out a torrent of profane distortions about Jewish people, and later the outcome of the war itself. It was headed by a guy named Joseph Goebbels, who committed suicide at the end of the war rather than face capture, which would surely have been followed by a death sentence at the Nuremberg Trials. Today in America, we have a similar position within the White House staff that we call the Press Secretary, who can be seen regularly on the evening news. He serves the same function, he just has a far more innocuous title than "Propaganda Minister". This person's job -- and I have noticed regular personnel changes -- is to spoon-feed the media the information Du joir of the day. Everybody knows that the media is told what to say and how to say it, and yet there a few protests about it. Today's message, in light of the recent events involving police shootings of unarmed black men, is my small contribution towards demanding some truth from our news sources. No more US Government propaganda please, uncle Sam, we have all had a belly full already!
For decades, the mainstream media in the United States was accustomed to being able to tell the American people what to think and how to think it. Unfortunately for them, a whole lot of Americans are starting to break free from that paradigm and think for themselves, and the reason can be summed up in two words – information technology. A Gallup survey from 2014 found that over 60 percent of all Americans “have little or no trust” in the mainstream media. More people than ever are realizing that the mainstream media is giving them a very distorted version of the truth (“Truth? You can't handle the truth!!”), and they are increasingly seeking out alternative sources of information. In the United States today, just six giant media corporations control the mainstream media. Those giant media corporations own television networks, cable channels, movie studios, radio stations, newspapers, magazines, publishing houses, music labels and even many prominent websites. But now thanks to the Internet the mainstream media no longer has a complete monopoly on the news. In recent years the “alternative media” has exploded in popularity. People want to hear about the things that the mainstream media doesn’t really want to talk about. They want to hear news that is not filtered by corporate bosses and government censors. They are hungry and thirsty for some real truth, and they know that they are not getting it from the mainstream media. If only they knew Jesus as I do. They wouldn't be hungry and thirsty any more, but that's another sermon by itself so I will quickly move on. But this is also one of the primary reasons why people are doing away with cable TV as I have. It's not just the money saved from unsubscribing to cable TV, it's the fact that everybody knows everything they are watching is a load of B.S., and they're sick and tired of it!
We are watching a media revolution happen, and many in the mainstream media today are totally freaking out about it. In fact, some in the mainstream media have even begun publishing articles that mock the American people for not trusting them. For example, a recent CNN article entitled “Still ‘Paranoid’ After All These Years” portrayed Americans that don’t trust the media as paranoid conspiracy theorists that have left rationality behind. Ever have the feeling you’re being lied to by the news media, the authorities, and/or the corporate world? That somebody — or something — is out to get you? You’re not alone. Welcome to 21st-century America. Look around. Trust is hitting historic lows. Less than 15% of Americans have a favorable view of the federal government, a decline of 31% since 2002, according to the Pew Center for People and the Press. Gallup has Congress’ approval rating down in the low teens, after nearing single digits in the summer of 2013. And the news media aren’t much better off. “Negative opinions about the performance of news organizations now equal or surpass all-time highs on nine of 12 core measures the Pew Research Center has been tracking since 1985,” a Pew report said last summer. The article goes on to make it sound like it is very irrational not to trust the media, but in this day and age it is imperative that we all learn to think for ourselves. Blindly trusting someone else to do your thinking for you is very, very dangerous.
Anyone that does not acknowledge that the mainstream media has an agenda is either not being honest with themselves, or they are complicit with the powers that control it. The mainstream media presents a view of the world that is very favorable to their big corporate owners and the big corporations that spend billions of dollars to advertise on their networks. The mainstream media is the mouthpiece of the establishment, and the world view being pushed on the big networks is going to be consistent with the economic, financial, political and social goals of the establishment. The mainstream media loves to talk about things that fit with that agenda, and they don’t like to talk about things that suggest that there is something wrong with that agenda. And so here are 24 facts that the mainstream media doesn’t really want to talk about right now, in no particular order of importance (because they're ALL important!):
#1) The mainstream media doesn’t really want to talk about the fact that gun sales are absolutely skyrocketing all over America.
#2) They also don’t really want to talk about the fact that disarming the population has resulted in some of the most horrific massacres in human history.
- 1911 – Turkey disarmed it’s citizens, and between 1915 – 1917 they murdered 1.5 million Armenians.
- 1929 – Russia disarmed it’s citizens, and between 1929 – 1953 they murdered 20 million Russians.
- 1935 – China disarmed it’s citizens, and between 1948 – 1952 they murdered 20 million Chinese.
- 1938 – Germany disarmed it’s citizens, and between 1939 – 1945 they murdered 16 million Jews.
- 1956 – Cambodia disarmed it’s citizens, and between 1975 – 1977 they murdered 1 million Educated people.
- 1964 – Guatemala disarmed it’s citizens, and between 1964 – 1981 they murdered 100,000 Mayan Indians.
- 1970 – Uganda disarmed it’s citizens, and between 1971 – 1979 they murdered 300,000 Christians.
#3) They don’t really want to talk about the fact that a bill allowing for the “indefinite military detention of US citizens on American soil” has already been passed by the U.S. Senate and signed into law by president Obama. Never mind that it's completely unconstitutional (see the Bill of Rights 4th amendment, among other places in the US Constitution).
#4) They don’t really want to talk about the fact that volcanoes all along the Pacific ocean's Ring of Fire are roaring to life. It seems like a new eruption is being reported every few days now. In fact, a red alert has been issued for a massive volcano that sits along the border between Chile and Argentina, as well as for the super-volcano at Yellowstone National Park. An eruption there could devastate much of North America, killing millions.
#5) They don’t really want to talk about the fact that the use of genetically engineered seeds has caused on explosion of new “super weeds” that are incredibly difficult for farmers to kill.
#6) They don’t really want to talk about the fact that renowned trends forecaster Gerald Celente is predicting a “financial disaster” somewhere between September 2015 to as late as 2018, but no later and more likely sooner.
#7) They don’t really want to talk about the fact that it is easier to get into Harvard than it is to get a job as a flight attendant in America today.
#8) They don’t really want to talk about the fact that nearly 400 TSA employees have been fired for stealing from travelers since 2003. Our tax dollars hard at work. Nice.
#9) They don’t really want to talk about the fact that giant corporations such as Face-book are funneling gigantic amounts of money through offshore banking havens such as the Cayman Islands in an effort to avoid taxes.
#10) They don’t really want to talk about the fact that the U.S. dollar is in real danger of losing its status as the primary reserve currency of the world. It's no longer a question of if this might occur, but when. A financial calamity would surely follow. China and Russia are buying up all the world's gold and silver reserves. What does that tell you about their view of the US dollar?
#11) They don’t really want to talk about the fact that the mainstream media always keeps track of what the president does, when in actuality they should be doing a much better job keeping track of Wall Street speculators, their bankers, and all their filthy lucre.
#12) They don’t really want to talk about the fact that there are government websites that give immigrants instructions about how to come over to our country illegally and then apply for SNAP benefits while formerly middle class American workers and their children starve for lack of work. Yes, America has always been a nation of immigrants, but never before at the expense of any of its citizens. Something is very wrong here (BTW, I don't blame the immigrants. They are economic refugees from the third world).
#13) They don’t really want to talk about the fact that the U.S. economy is losing millions of jobs to nations where it is legal to pay workers slave labor wages. Actually, this process is already started in the US as well, due to the fact that no one can live on a minimum wage paycheck. The mainstream media is totally married to the one world economic agenda that their corporate owners make so much money from, and so they say nothing as a steady stream of businesses and jobs continue to leave our country.
#14) They don’t really want to talk about the fact that hunger and poverty are absolutely exploding in the United States at the same time that they are telling us that the economy is “recovering”.
#15) They don’t really want to talk about the fact that North Korea now has a three-stage rocket with enough range to potentially hit the western United States.
#16) They don’t really want to talk about the fact that the United States Postal Service is losing 25 million dollars a day and is on the verge of financial collapse.
#17) They don’t really want to talk about the fact that our biggest oil supplier in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, still kills people for changing religions.
#18) They don’t really want to talk about the fact that political correctness has taken over America. The truth is that the media does not see any problem with that at all.
#19) They don’t really want to talk about the fact that nearly half a million employees of the federal government are making more than $100,000 a year.
#20) They don’t really want to talk about the fact that the birth rate in the United States has fallen to an all-time low. The elite are absolutely thrilled that less babies are being born. Fewer of us means less competition for them.
#21) They don’t really want to talk about the fact that violent crime in the United States increased by 18 percent in 2014 and that many major U.S. cities are seeing violent crime totally spiral out of control.
#22) They don’t really want to talk about the fact that Barack Obama received more than 99 percent of the vote in more than 100 precincts in Ohio on election day in 2012.
#23) They don’t really want to talk about the fact that during the first four years of the Obama administration, the U.S. national debt grew by about as much as it did from the time that George Washington took office to the time that George W. Bush took office.
#24) They don’t really want to talk about the fact that the Federal Reserve created the conditions for the last financial crisis, and their mismanagement of the economy has now brought us to the verge of another horrible economic downturn. According to the mainstream media, the Federal Reserve is “above politics” and should not be criticized. Maybe the Federal Reserve should be nationalized so that printing and coining money returns to the auspices of the US Treasury like our Constitution specifies. All the US top-tier leadership needs to do is return to the original Constitution. It's the perfect way to wipe out the so-called national debt. Because America's so-called “national debt” is a boatload of financial B.S.