Sunday, September 30, 2018
Here In America, Justice and Mercy
Seem to Be In Short Supply
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
To view this on my website, click here :-)
I did not bother watching the farce on TV this past week having to do with the US Judiciary Committee hearings on president Trump's nominee for the US Supreme Court. As my regular readers already know, I don't even subscribe to cable TV, nor do I have a satellite dish. I catch a little news, mostly local, on my old box TV that I'm still using. I guess I'll continue to use it until it dies of old age, which could be anytime now even though it still plays very well. The state of our federal government today is a lot like my old 20 inch Sony “Trinitron”. It still works okay, and from time to time it actually works quite well. But on stormy days, or if there are any low-flying aircraft close by, it interferes with my incoming signal. So it is with our current federal government, and our state governments are no better. During times like these, when the future of our country is at stake, interference with it in all the wrong forms is getting all the wrong results.
Don't get me wrong. Dr. Ford's testimony during the Judiciary Committee's hearings this week was compelling by all accounts. I don't care to get into the he-said-she-said debate regarding the allegations of sexual assault. As I wrote last week, all of these allegations past and present prove that the United States is a really corrupt and immoral country (thank you all for all those responses!). For anyone interested, you can find last week's message right here. But that's just what's on the surface. What lies underneath is pride, avarice, pole-vaulting ambition fueled by desires for revenge for past offenses – whether real or imagined – and what I would describe as a visceral and primal mind-set of competitiveness. Judge Kavenaugh was attacked mercilessly by his critics, together with their own agendas. But then again, so was Dr. Ford for much the same reasons. So what does all this prove? If nothing else, it proves we have become a country full of sex maniacs and alcoholics!
What was completely lacking throughout this past week's hearings was a sense of fairness, justice, and especially mercy. Everyone was in full attack mode from the time they all walked in the door and took their seats, like a predator stalks its prey. Yet if you asked any one of them whether they believed in Jesus or not, the overwhelming majority of them would say they did. OK, then here's a few quotes from our Lord and Savior regarding this week's happenings in Washington from Matthew chapter 5: “ 6) Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7) Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Again in verses 9 - 10 he said, “ 9) Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10) Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Based on what I've heard and read about this past week's confirmation hearings, there is little righteousness to be found these days in Washington, DC. Instead, we evidently have an entire city of people who are constantly jockeying for position inside the Beltway, the majority of whom are apparently engaged in all kinds of deviant sexual behavior. Instead of governing as they were elected to do, most (but not all) of these people are engaging in a bed-hopping contest with one another. Hearing and reading about all this fills me with dismay. Writing about it makes me ashamed of my country, and that's an uncomfortable place to be. As for myself, I long for the day when I am finished being filled with righteousness by the Lord as it says in verses 6 – 7. That righteousness that Jesus spoke of does not come by man's or women's efforts, no matter how great. It comes from a willingness to step aside, from within ourselves, and swallow our pride as we abdicate control over our destinies and surrender them to Jesus Christ. Jesus is the very personification of the righteousness we all seek.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” When women are sexually assaulted, it is done without mercy. When women and children are abused by the head of that household, it is similarly done without mercy, otherwise it can no longer be called abuse or assault. When the Constitutional rights of the American electorate are rapidly being evaporated, as it is currently happening throughout the land, it too is being done without mercy. But we as a faith-based Christian people (never mind denominational differences, or even whether you attend church or not) are charged with the responsibility of showing mercy, kindness, gentleness and sober judgment in order to set a good example for everyone else, especially the children. We are responsible for doing everything Jesus said to do, to the very best of our abilities, so help us God! Show mercy to your fellow man/woman during your lifetime here, and God will reward you. Show your fellow man/woman no mercy during this life, and when it is over, God won't show you any mercy, either!
“9) Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10) Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Do you want to spend your life fighting all the time? Or if you're like a few people, are you the type of person who becomes a cop or a soldier so they can legally shoot people? Don't they really enjoy putting those 'bad people' back in their place? Those are NOT peacemakers, people, they are predators! But if you promote yourselves as peaceful (excluding matters of self defense), loving, tender, compassionate, gentle and teachable, this is all we have to do to make our world a much better place. And, if you've ever been unfairly targeted for your Christianity, or for other matters that are spiritually important, or for taking a stand for something good or against something evil, rejoice and be glad, Jesus said. The prophets of old who came before you experienced the same kinds of persecution and rejection, so you're right in their league.
Allow me to serve up one more good quote about justice and mercy, this time from the prophet Zechariah. “ 8) And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: 9) “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10) Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’ 11) But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. 12) They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord Almighty was very angry.” (Zech. 7: 8-12) We as a nation are, by and large, completely ignoring verses 9-10. My country that I've always loved and always will has nonetheless become a country devoid of any trace of justice, mercy and compassion, and the fault lies squarely with America's leadership.
Anytime we devolve into a bunch of high-rolling wannabe aristocrats that verbally abuses one another just because they get to be on TV, I would say we as an American people have sunk to a new low. Yes, I stand against those who sexually assault or otherwise abuse innocent people, but I'm also absolutely against one nation waging warfare against another. Most of all as far as this week's message is concerned, I'm also against those who lie under oath on international television, as well as those congressional representatives sitting on the Judiciary Committee in Washington who abuse their authority for profit. I vehemently stand against men who abuse women, as well as the other way around.
But there are plenty of good things that we can all stand for. Justice, mercy, fairness, the absence of bias in our decision making, and the possession of much empathy and compassion towards others regardless of who they are, where they come from or what color their skin is – it is these things that are required of us by our Maker. Because, you see, that's precisely what He put us here for. It is our purpose for living. The very reason for our existence is to take care of one another, just as God is taking good care of each and every one of us as I write these words. God has made us wonderfully and with utmost perfection! He puts the breath in our lungs, he has put the blood in our veins, and he causes the heart to pump all 5 quarts of it with the greatest of vigor. That way we will never lack the energy or ability to care for one another. That's what Jesus meant when he said, “A new commandment I now give you: Love one another.” (John 13: 34)
“Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor....” See that, all you “patriots” and “conservatives”? Don't pick on widows, orphans, foreigners or the poor! God is serious about this – leave 'em alone!! Suppose the United States sustained a nuclear attack – who would do this is a matter of mere speculation, but what if we had to leave the country to save our own lives and that of our families? Wouldn't we expect a little justice, fairness and (above all) mercy instead of being greeted as unwelcome guests if we were to become refugees in, say, Canada or Mexico? Of course we would! And being treated with hatred and contempt wouldn't make any of us feel very good, now would it? “Love thy neighbor as thyself”, that's what Jesus taught, isn't it? OK, so all you immigrant haters and so-called “patriots” or “white nationalists”, what do you think God will say to you when it comes your time to stand before him? Think about that for a minute. You'd better!!
“ 11) But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. 12) They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord Almighty was very angry.” If God was so angry back in Zechariah's time because the people lacked compassion and simply did whatever they wanted, what do you think God would say to America's leaders, and those who voted them into office, today? I'll tell you what I know for sure, it won't sound pretty.
Monday, September 24, 2018
Coming this November from faith-based nonfiction author Rev. Paul J. Bern: "The Middle and Working Class Manifesto Fourth Edition"
Just in time for the November elections, this is the book that makes Bernie Sanders look like child's play.This is sure to fan the flames of discontent that are roaring across America's political landscape. (first edition cover shown, there will be a new cover for this latest edition)
Fall of An Empire Part One: The American Police State
Having spent the first three chapters of this book laying out in complete detail how the US middle class is gradually being liquidated by the rich, the powerful and the politically well-connected, I will use the next three chapters to describe how the obliteration of the American middle and working classes are being enforced, why this pattern of the criminal abuse of power and authority is unsustainable, and what the end result will be if working Americans from all professions do not unite, organize and challenge this abusive ownership and authority. Although much has already been written about these topics by the 'fake news' media, an equal amount has been disseminated by alternative news sources regarding the gradual erosion of the Constitutional rights of every citizen that was carefully spelled out by the founding fathers of our great country during the founding of the United States of America during the latter part of the eighteenth century.
There can be no doubt that the Constitutional rights of every citizen have been and continue to be compromised by the passage of laws such as the Patriot Act and others like it, as well as other proposed unconstitutional actions such as certain proposed gun control legislation. After all, a disarmed US public is a powerless citizenry that would be in the rifle sights of every abusive authoritarian in (and out of) American government including elements of law enforcement, the military and national guard, and countless civilian “contractors”. I will begin by citing examples gleaned from the Internet of just how out of control law enforcement has become in this country, having been given powers of arrest, search and seizure formerly restricted to a military occupation during a declaration of martial law.
For example, on Friday April 25th, 2008, three New York City police officers were cleared by a New York court after admittedly gunning down an unarmed man and his relative, killing one and wounding another. Allow me to quote from a recently-posted news article:
"NEW YORK (Reuters) - Three New York City police officers were found not guilty of all charges on Friday in the shooting death of an unarmed black man killed in a hail of 50 bullets on his wedding day. A New York state judge cleared two officers of manslaughter and other charges and a third of 2nd degree murder after they shot the unarmed victim, along with two friends, after a bachelor party at a strip club in November 2006. After the verdict, loud sobs were heard in the courtroom. Outside, about 200 demonstrators angrily yelled at television cameras. 'They're murderers, criminals, and they are going to rot in hell where they belong,' one man shouted." The article goes on to bear witness to the outrage of the local community and to quote the judge as brushing off responsibility for this social injustice.
"The case has generated outrage in New York's black community, and police prepared for potential unrest with the announcement of the verdict. However, officials said they did not expect violence because numerous demonstrations against the perceived police brutality had remained peaceful. The detectives, Mike Oliver, Marc Cooper and Gescard Isnora, waived their right to a jury trial and decided to have the judge decide guilt or innocence. The defense lawyers said jurors in the borough of Queens were likely to be biased against the policemen due to the intense media coverage the case has generated. State Supreme Court Judge Arthur Cooperman said the charges could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. 'Questions of carelessness and incompetence must be left to other forums,' Cooperman said." The article then concludes by exposing the doubtful verdict as one that puts up a wall between those who are sworn to the public safety profession and those whom the system is supposed to be protecting.”
This was a couple years, more in some cases, than what occurred with Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and the police lawlessness in Ferguson, Mo several years after that. Since then things have gotten progressively worse, and law-abiding citizens don't know who to me more afraid of – the crooks or the police! It looks like we had all better be on the lookout against this sort of thing, or other unarmed Americans might be the next innocents to be slaughtered. Those who are sworn to protect and to serve have instead become those who are sworn to harass and to intimidate. Can a police state be far behind if this kind of behavior by law enforcement officers is allowed to continue? In another related article having to do with collisions between civilians and police, it would appear that the Constitutionally guaranteed right to protection from unreasonable search and seizure is being ignored and unenforced in certain incidents such as the one I am about to describe.
Supreme Court says police may search even if arrest invalid
By PETE YOST, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - "The Supreme Court affirmed (back in 2009 – PB) that police have the power to conduct searches and seize evidence, even when done during an arrest that turns out to have violated state law. The unanimous decision comes in a case from Portsmouth, Va., where city detectives seized crack cocaine from a motorist after arresting him for a traffic ticket offense. David Lee Moore was pulled over for driving on a suspended license. The violation is a minor crime in Virginia and calls for police to issue a court summons and let the driver go. Instead, city detectives arrested Moore and prosecutors say that drugs taken from him in a subsequent search can be used against him as evidence."
“The article goes on to describe the specifics of the Supreme Court decision, with the deciding opinion written by judge Antonin Scalia, and then concludes by reporting that Moore was convicted on a drug charge and sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison. The Virginia Supreme Court ruled that police should have released Moore and could not lawfully conduct a search. State law, said the Virginia Supreme Court, restricted officers to issuing a ticket in exchange for a promise to appear later in court. Virginia courts dismissed the indictment against Moore. Moore argued that the Fourth Amendment permits a search only following a lawful state arrest."
Here are a few more recent victims of our militarized police departments:
- Cheryl Lynn Noel, a mom who was shot by police for picking up her legally registered handgun. She went for her gun to defend herself after a SWAT team in the middle of the night, broke into her Baltimore, MD home. Police stormed her house that night because they claim to have found marijuana seeds in the family's trashcan.
- Rev. Acelyne Williams, 75 of Boston, died of a heart attack as a SWAT team broke into his home. Police actually had the wrong address.
- 92 year old
Kathryn Johnston who was so fearful that she never left her home and
would only open her door after friends who placed her groceries on
the front porch had left, was killed by an Atlanta SWAT team last
year. An erroneous tip from an informant was enough for the Atlanta
Police Department to invade her home. Police have since admitted to
lying to obtain a search warrant and to planting drugs in her home
after killing her...
SWAT teams were designed to deal with very violent individuals who represent a clear and present threat to the public. However, they are now being used to execute warrants on non-violent offenders and even those who have no prior criminal history at all. Turning our neighborhood cops into shock troops will do nothing but erode public confidence in the police and endanger the lives of innocent Americans. Recently, Boston´s police commissioner William Fitchet announced that the department´s Street Crimes Unit will begin wearing military-style black uniforms, to instill a sense of "fear." At last week´s city council meeting, police Sgt. John Delaney told council members that the black uniforms would send the message that officers were serious. Did someone declare martial law?
You have just read the first few pages of chapter 4 of my upcoming release, now just weeks away. This latest edition will be available in hard or soft cover, and as digital or audio editions. Visit my new author landing page at https://www.authorrevpauljbern.com
Sunday, September 23, 2018
The Epidemic of Sexual Immorality and Assault:
the Symptoms of a Sick Society
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
This past week I have found myself being bombarded by the media with stories of women being sexually assaulted by men, and many of these men have been prominent individuals. The hearings in Washington, DC for judge Brent Kavenaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court is only the tip of this sordid and distasteful iceberg. Whether you believe the lady professor making the charges or not, there are plenty of other allegations against a lot of other people that have already been made. It's looking to me like women everywhere have gotten to the point where they are simply done and over with being victimized by men again and again. Moreover, let's be honest and truthful about sexual assault – this is nothing new or recent at all. Men forcing themselves on women (and visa versa), or intimidating them into compliance to their demands for sex, has been going on for as far back as we can remember, and likely further back than that.
What does the Bible have to say about sexually immoral people? Not only does the Bible have much to say about this topic, I will also give some modern-day examples to tie all this together. The first quote that seems most relevant to me comes from 1st Corinthians chapter 6, verse 18: “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.” Not to mention that it can also get you into legal trouble, and legal problems have this annoying habit of being very, very expensive. Just ask Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstien, or former New York congressman Anthony Wiener, to name just three out of many more.
Further along in that same book of the Bible, it says in chapter 10 verse 8, “We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did — and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died.” This is a reference to a time when a portion of the recently-freed Israelite's, who had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years, were slain for having a grossly immoral pagan sexual ritual festival while still wandering in the desert. In one day God struck down 23,000 of them in a single day (see Exodus chapter 32 for the full context of that story). Now you know how strongly God feels about sexual sin. Hopefully it will make you think twice before doing that again. But hold that thought, because I'll have still more reasons that I will reveal after I give you all another Bible quote or two.
The apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the 1st century Ephesian church, “3) But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4) Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5) For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person — such a person is an idolater — has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6) Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7) Therefore do not be partners with them.” (Ephesians 5, verses 3-7) Based on these words, I would say the majority of men and women who are currently elected to office, as well as those who are appointed such as judges and cabinet members, would have to resign, up to and including President Trump.
The thing is, it doesn't stop with President Trump, either. To me at least, judge Cavenaugh is not the problem, but he is a glaring symptom of a much wider problem. For example, according to an older survey done around the early 2,000's or so by Dr. James Dobson's Focus on the Family, 45% of Christian men and about 30% of Christian women were addicted to pornography. Here in 2018, over 60% of men and 50% of Christian women are addicted to porn. So what is the percentage of non-Christian, atheist or agnostic men and women who are addicted to porn? Surprisingly – at least to me – it's very much the same, with almost no difference at all in the percentage rate between the two groups. Based on this information, I would say Christianity as a whole has some serious soul-searching to do, and that's actually an understatement of the problem.
But now, allow me to present some more recent statistics, this time from none other than the Centers for Disease Control, which is only 10 miles or so from where I live. When it comes to the personal ads and online dating sites that are pervasive on the Web and in social media, 4 out of every 10 people with personal ads on dating sites or social media has a sexually transmittable disease. That's frighteningly close to half, which is why I stay off the dating sites! I'm in my 60's and single myself, having tried marriage twice before with awful results that I do not care to repeat. But here's where these stats get a bit crazy. Out of the group of 40% on the dating sites and hook-up apps who have STD's, fully 80% – eight out of ten – don't bother to tell their new partners. To make matters worse, they are having unprotected sex, like playing Russian roulette with your body! If this looks to you like some evil people are willfully spreading STD's, you are absolutely right. So, sexual promiscuity and bad behavior are not limited to those at the pinnacles of power and influence. In short, everybody's doing it. Moreover, anyone who thinks that sexual assaults don't take place on dating apps is either astonishingly naive or incredibly stupid.
The United States of America is infested with rampant sexual immorality! Make no mistake about it, God is not impressed in the slightest by America's wild behavior. It's up to us to turn this big problem around, and to deal with it appropriately with even-handed justice to those who have committed acts subject to criminal prosecution. The harshest prosecution should be reserved for those who kill or do bodily harm, who engage in forcible sex, and for those who engage in sex with underage girls and boys. After all, if God can kill 23,000 Israelite's all in one day, or if he can destroy Sodom and Gomorrah in a matter of minutes together with all their inhabitants for their rampant immorality, how much more quickly can God destroy an individual who sins continuously today? He can do it at the speed of a bolt of lightening, and Jesus said as much himself during his ministry here on Earth. Protect yourselves from a lot of anguish and aggravation. Stay single until you're ready to marry. Why worry about whether you'll be lonesome or not when you have Jesus already there with you? When Jesus is all you have, he's all you will ever need.
Thursday, September 20, 2018
Sunday, September 16, 2018
The Disastrous Consequences of
a U.S. Military Attack on Syria
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
Lately I have been seeing or hearing the Trump administration telling the world that the use of chemical weapons in Syria by the Assad government must be answered by other worse weapons, even though the results of satellite surveillance has not proven this allegation – just as the Bush administration refused to wait for the 2013 UN report by the inspectors who had been looking for WMD in Iraq. Secretary of State John Kerry claimed back in 2013 that the UN inspectors “can’t tell us anything that we don’t already know.” President Trump has said that any U.S. attack on the Assad government will be as punishment, not regime change. The strike will be “limited” — but tell that to the civilians who will inevitably die when military attacks take place. President Bush and his advisers either didn’t know or didn’t care about the probable consequences of their decision to invade and occupy Iraq in March of 2003:
- Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and over 4,000 Americans dead;
- Millions of Iraqis and Americans wounded physically and psychologically;
- Legions of young men of the region now experienced in warfare and for hire moving from Iraq to Libya to Syria;
- And, the Iraqi “democratic” government unable to control the whirlwind of sectarian violence that now is killing hundreds each week.
- Although the U.S. invaded and occupied Afghanistan under a different rationale, I also want to acknowledge and empathize with the Afghan citizens who have been killed or wounded in the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
President Trump has not spelled out the possible consequences of a military attack on Syria, but U.S. military leaders are warning about the risks. In a letter to the Senate Armed Services committee, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey wrote last month said, “As we weigh our options, we should be able to conclude with some confidence that use of force will move us toward the intended outcome. Once we take action, we should be prepared for what comes next. Deeper involvement is hard to avoid.”
General James Mattis, who is the retired head of the U.S. Central Command and Trump's Secretary of State, said last month at a security conference that the United States has “no moral obligation to do the impossible” in Syria. “If Americans take ownership of this, this is going to be a full-throated, very, very serious war.” As U.S. warships gather off the shores of Lebanon to launch Tomahawk Cruise missiles at targets in Syria, we can make some educated guesses of what the “unintended consequences” could be:
- Syrian anti-aircraft batteries will fire their rockets at incoming U.S. missiles.
- Many Syrians on the ground will die and both the U.S. and Syrian governments will say the deaths are the fault of the other.
- The U.S. Embassy in Damascus will be attacked and burned, as may other U.S. Embassies and businesses in the Middle East.
- Syria might also launch rockets toward the U.S. ally in the region —Israel.
- Israel would launch bombing missions on Syria as it has three times in the past two years and perhaps take the opportunity to launch an attack on Syria’s strongest ally in the region, Iran.
- Iran, a country with a population of 80 million, has the largest military in the region untouched by war in the past 25 years. Iran might retaliate with missiles aimed toward Israel and toward nearby U.S. military bases in Afghanistan, Turkey, Bahrain and Qatar.
- Iran could block the Straits of Hormuz and impede the transport of oil out of the Persian Gulf.
- At this time of crisis, it is worth remembering another time, 35 years ago in October, 1983 when U.S. warships bombarded Lebanon, the country located next to Syria. Within weeks, the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut was blown up by a massive truck bomb that killed 241 American servicemen: 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers. The truck driver- suicide bomber was an Iranian national named Ismail Ascari, whose truck contained explosives that were the equivalent of 21,000 pounds of TNT. Two minutes later a second suicide bomber drove a truck filled with explosives into the French military compound in Beirut killing 58 French paratroopers.
The U.S. and French military were in Lebanon as a part of a Multi-National force after the PLO left Lebanon following the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, ostensibly to create a 40 km buffer zone between the PLO and Syrian forces in Lebanon and Israel. The Israeli invasion was tacitly approved by the U.S., and the U.S. provided overt military support to Israel in the form of arms and material.
Colonel Timothy J. Geraghty, the commander of the U.S. 24th Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU) deployed as peacekeepers in Beirut, said that the American and the French headquarters were targeted primarily because of "who we were and what we represented…” American support removed any lingering doubts of our neutrality, and I stated to my staff at the time that we were going to pay in blood for this decision.”
Some of the circumstances around the incidents in Lebanon in 1983 and now 35 years later in Syria are familiar. U.S. intelligence agencies were aware of potential trouble but did not report the problems in sufficient time for actions to be taken. Former President Obama said at the time that the U.S. had intercepted signals indicating the Syrian government was moving equipment into place for an attack, but the U.S. did not warn the Syrian government that the U.S. knew what was happening and did not bother warning civilians that a chemical attack was imminent.
On August 31, 2013, 13 former officials of the U.S. government, including Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Dan Ellsberg, retired CIA analyst Ray McGovern, retired US Army Colonel Larry Wilkerson and former Chief of Staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, wrote an open letter to General Martin Dempsey, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, asking him to resign rather than follow an illegal order to attack Syria. “We refer to your acknowledgment.... that a decision to use force is not one that any of us takes lightly. It is no less than an act of war.... It appears that the President may order such an act of war without proper Congressional authorization. Seasoned veteran intelligence and military professionals solemnly sworn to support and defend the Constitution of the United States have long been aware that it is one’s duty to never obey an illegal order. If such were given, the honorable thing would be to resign, rather than be complicit.”
Those words were written five years ago, and the situation in Syria continues to escalate. As I write this, the Syrian government under Bashar Al-Assad has largely prevailed against the various parties of militants, some of whom are backed by the US. and still others by Iran. Syria and Iran are allied with Russia, with the ever-present potential for a clash between Russian and American military forces. A disquieting thought, to say the least. But it was Jesus himself who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the 'sons of God'.” The flip side of that coin is that those who wage war are cursed. Meaning, if America doesn't cease and desist from her warlike ways, a military disaster will surely befall her. America's violence, killing and destruction overseas will come home to roost. Just let that sink in for a minute, and I'll see you all next week.
Sunday, September 9, 2018
A Few Comments on Inequality and Its Consequences
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
If you want to solve a problem, start from the top down. We have been stuck in what are now antiquated concepts of representative democracy for 230 years. These days, we can go to Washington, DC via computer – the need to send other parties has become obsolete. Same goes for shareholder ownership of businesses as opposed to worker-owned or co-operative enterprises. Many people seem to believe that progress is getting other people to do more things for them, when quite the reverse is true. And I think that we’ve reached the point now where we’re stuck with a whole lot of unworkable concepts, so that when Michael Moore speaks about the number of people who make all this money and other people who don’t, it sounds as if we’re struggling for equality with them. Who wants to be equal to these guys? I think we have to be thinking much more profoundly, such as being on a higher plane of existence.
And I think that, talking about recovery, talking about democracy, we too easily get sucked into old notions of what we want. So we’re expecting protest. I don’t mind protests, and I encourage them at times. But what happened in 2001 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, or in Fergusom, Mo. In 2012 – when people gathered to say another world is necessary, another world is possible, and another world is happening, I think that that’s what’s happening. I was there in October 2011 for the commencement of “Occupy DC” in Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC, and I felt honored and humbled to have been privileged to be a part of that historical event. It inspired me to write my second self-published book, “Occupy America: We Shall Overcome” that winter and spring. It is imperative that we take matters into our own hands. Don't trust your government, they have already been lying to all of us for decades. Take the initiative! Take a look over your shoulder and you will notice that there is no one standing behind you to do anything or to take care of any business for you. It's all on you, and it's all on all of us.
People are beginning to say the only way to survive the early 21st century is to batten down the hatches. So they are building underground bunkers and stocking them with non-perishable foods, water, firearms and ammunition. In so doing they have voluntarily devolved as human beings. Don't forget what Christ said about that, “He who lives by the sword will die by the sword”. Otherwise all our time will be wasted by a mad scramble of those who compete with others instead of co-operating with them. All our efforts must instead be devoted to taking care of one another by recreating our relationships to one another. Let me point out a few examples.
In the first place, the US is still the only developed country in the world that has no comprehensive national health insurance (forget Obama-care, it's actually a new tax in disguise) and no family leave for workers. That's right, nobody but us. The very people who call these two basic human rights “socialism” are the ones who are profiting off the existing system the most. Thomas Jefferson once said, “The first and foremost duty of any government is to see to the needs of its people.” I think that sums it up perfectly.
The second example are wages, which are downright pathetic. Having been an IT professional for over 20 years, I clearly remember how wages began falling around 2000-2001 around the time of the dot-com crash. By the time I had left the business in 2012, the bottom had fallen out as far as wages were concerned. Jobs that paid $20-25.00 an hour were going for $12.00, and older workers like myself found ourselves shut out of the tech job market for good. Today as I write this, the minimum wage remains at a paltry $7.25 cents per hour here in Atlanta where I live. And what are these pitifully poor people supposed to do with $7.25 an hour? Buy lollipops? The minimum wage works out to a take-home pay of about $845.00 per month after taxes and Social Security, not counting state taxes. Go try to live on that for a month or even a week!
Many thousands of American families are being forced into into the streets due to circumstances beyond their control. In short, we are exactly where the government wants us: powerless! Take away every available resource we have and we're helpless. The solution is a realistic minimum wage that will also serve to jump-start America's economy again. Based on the cost of living for a family of four, which would include housing, utilities, internet access, transportation, clothing and medical care, that would work out to about $14.00 an hour for bare essentials. This should be something people are out protesting in the streets about. We want a living wage, now!!
As you can see, our problems can be fixed without having to re-invent the wheel. You don't have to be an economic genius – if indeed there is really such a thing – to figure out some basic, common sense solutions to get America's middle class back to work. Otherwise I fear that too many more formerly middle class Americans like so many of us will fall into the cracks in the sidewalk and disappear.
Tuesday, September 4, 2018
Sunday, September 2, 2018
How We Can Make God, and Each Other,
Happy by Ending Poverty
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
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Today in the early 21st century, and with 99% of the wealth in America in the hands of 1% of the population, the US has a bigger and wider gap between the richest 1% 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 (including those who have given up and dropped out of the job market) is no longer just an economic problem. It has become a civil rights issue of the highest priority. 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 literally. I am vigorously maintaining that every human being has the basic, God-given right to a livelihood and to a living wage. There is no such thing under God's laws that say any given person should be unable to support themselves and their families! Anything less becomes a gross civil rights violation. Based on that, I would say those jobless individuals are victims of systemic economic discrimination. And so I further state unreservedly that restarting the civil rights era protests, demonstrations, sit-ins and the occupation of government buildings, or whole 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 so many unarmed Black men being killed by police officers. But these protesters are actually somewhat behind the curve. Because, before them there was Occupy Wall St., “we are the 99%” and Anonymous. And before those there was the Arab Spring in Egypt, the summer of 2011 in Great Britain and Greece, plus Libya, Syria and Gaza in the Middle East. So from a political standpoint, the current crop of protesters here in the US have some catching up to do. And yet, that was before the rest of the world got on board protesting globally for the many murdered Americans in Florida, Missouri, New York and elsewhere. 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. “You will always have the poor”, Jesus said, “but you will not always have me” (This was prior to his being crucified). Deuteronomy chapter 15, verses 7-8 state, “If there is a poor man among your brothers.... do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your brother. Rather be open handed and freely lend him whatever he needs.” 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 in order to remind certain people of their alleged inferiority. I think what we really need to do is find a way to end poverty. I can sum up the answer in two words: Free 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 showed 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. Data released on December 15th, 2017 by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) shows that nearly fifty million Brazilians, or just over 20 percent of the population, live below the poverty line, and have family incomes of R$387.07 per month – approximately $5.50 a day USD. 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 government 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, the bailout of the banks and the phony economic “recovery”? 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. Not only that, the Bible condemns those who refuse to help the poor, as it is written in the Book of Proverbs: “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their maker” (chapter 14: 31), and again it is written, “Rich and poor have this in common: The same Almighty God has made them both.” (chapter 22: 2).