Nel's New Day

July 14, 2013

Fundamentalists Can’t Turn the World Backwards

It’s almost as if fundamentalist evangelical Christians are suicidal because of how much they look forward to the Rapture—the idea that Jesus will come back to Earth, leaving no one alive. Four out of ten people in the United States think that their Christ will show up here by 2050. That may be the reason that they have no interest in preserving the planet for future generations.

According to “End Times Theology,” a study by political scientists David Barker and David Bearce, “A belief in the Second Coming reduces the probability of strongly agreeing that the government should take action [in slowing climate change] by more than 12 percent.” The reason is that “end-times believers ‘know’ that life on Earth has a preordained expiration date, no matter what—and that all Christians will be raptured before the going gets too tough.” Over three-fourths of Republicans identify as end-timer believers.

Discussing the study, one woman epitomized the extremist Christian’s apathetic, fatalistic attitude toward climate change: “Of course I don’t want [polar bears] to die, but you also have to realize this is just a part of the world coming to an end like it’s supposed to. And there’s nothing really that they can do.” She continued, “That’s why we need to be educated in the Bible, so we know what signs to look for. Because you’re just wasting all that money on research when it’s, sadly, not going to help.”

End-believers plan for the future, however, by keeping bank accounts and sending their children to college. Many of these people reason that people should not do anything about the climate because “God is in control.” Maybe that’s the reason that the conservatives want to give all their money to the wealthy and the corporations and destroy the United States. But why do they bother to take Social Security and Medicare from older people and food stamps from the poor if there is nothing that can be done. They are paying their legislative representatives to do nothing.

Until the Rapture, however, fundamentalist Christians complain about giving rights to those not of their religion. Pat Robertson on Monday complained that Facebook doesn’t have a “vomit” option for photographs of same-sex couples. He followed that statement three days later by saying, “We are not anti-gay.” Robertson thinks that gay people are just confused straight people “because they have forsaken God, it’s not something that is natural and when people reunite with the Lord, the Lord will get their priorities the way it is supposed to be.”

The televangelist gives reasons for this LGBT confusion, one being child abuse: “A lot of people are into this homosexual thing because they’ve been abused….” Another reason is that some gay people “maybe got some chromosomal damage that’s different from heterosexuals.” His solution is another ex-gay ministry to emerge after the disappearance of Exodus “to help people who want out.”

In discussing LGBT people, Robertson warned that the land will “vomit you out.” He explained that Leviticus puts homosexuality on the same abomination level as incest and bestiality “and those who do that in the Old Testament were stoned to death.” Like other fundamentalists, he said, “Which is going to take precedence, the Supreme Court of the United States or the holy word of God?” Following their literal reading of the Bible, the extremist Christians may think about purchasing slaves.

Also last week, Robertson recommended following Egyptians by overthrowing President Obama because of Obamacare.  “You know, they revolted in Egypt against the oppressive actions of the Muslim Brotherhood and this example of state socialism is something that Americans should rise up against,” he said, complaining that it was a partisan initiative.

Conservatives conveniently forget that Republicans, led by the Heritage Foundation, proposed the Affordable Care Act in the 1990s. And they’re still upset because President Obama won the last democratic election, despite the massive illegal efforts to stop people voting.

The Church of England suffers from the same ambivalence toward LGBT people as Robertson. It launched an anti-homophobia school campaign at the same time that it affirmed its opposition to marriage equality. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said, “The majority of the population rightly detests homophobic behavior or anything that looks like it and sometimes they look at us and see what they don’t like.” Approximately 20 percent of UK students are taught in a Church of England school. It appears that the religious group wants people to like them more.

The former Archbishop claimed that marriage equality will destroy society, shred heterosexual marriage, and damage children. (Sounds like the U.S. fundamentalists!) The Church of England has also moaned about how legal marriage equality will force the schools to “teach” gay marriage.  Without accepting marriage equality, the Church will most likely fail in its anti-homophobic campaign.

States in the U.S. suffer the same ambivalence as the Church of England. The Supreme Court ruled that the nation recognizes marriage equality just days before Indiana made state marriage equality a felony. According to an Indiana law, same-sex couples applying for a marriage license in the state after July 1, 2014, can be punished by 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine. Anyone performing a same-sex marriage, including clergy and judges, will be guilty of a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of $1,000. Indiana has made same-sex illegal in a statute, but they plan a constitutional ban when legislators meet in the January-March 2014 session.

Pastor Kevin Swanson suffers no ambivalence on Generations Radio. The Colorado wildfires have already been blamed on abortion and LGBT people; Swanson has added a third problem—the way that people, mostly women, dress. He started out with complaints against women wearing “a male style of dress” in the 1980s followed by Sen. Carol Moseley Braun dressing in a pants suit in 1993. “Pantsuits, pantsuits everywhere,” Swanson said before he moved on to video on a 14-hour flight from Australia.

“I’ve never seen so many breasts in all of my life …. I mean every form of aberrant sexuality and women’s breasts are shown in front of me almost nonstop for fourteen hours. It’s just such an oppressive, horrible, horrible world,” Swanson declaimed before he moved on to androgyny.

“How many young boys are running out and doing the metrosexual thing with the skinny pants and the little fairy shoes. They’re working on the gender blender for themselves and they don’t want to look like a man and God is just so upset, He hates it when man are not manly in their approach. 1 Corinthians 6 speaks about homosexuality and feminine behavior and feminine dress for men. God does not want men to be androgynous and feminine like in their approach; He gave them facial hair for a reason.”

Christianity is also a good excuse to not pay taxes, according to a software entrepreneur who has failed to pay income tax for a decade. Doing so would break his “blood covenant” with God, according to Chester Evans Davis, 56, of Oregon City. He said, “My hands, my feet, my words, my ideas, my labor, my actions are all and have been given to the Lord for his glory.”

U.S. District Judge Michael Simon didn’t buy the argument and found Davis guilty of transferring money in an effort to hide it from the government, attempting to file harassing liens against federal officials, and trying to obtain arrest warrants against IRS employees. Davis now owes $7.1 million in taxes and penalties along with eight years and one month in prison. Most of the success in his company, ESA International, came from federal contracts. Davis’ friend Thomas Schultz, who called himself a “private attorney general,” said that “the labor of a human being is not a taxable commodity.”

Sadly for all these people, the world seems to be inexorably moving forward instead of returning to earlier centuries.

July 16, 2012

How Can We Fix This Mess?

This morning at breakfast while I was chatting with my partner, she asked, “What would it take to bring back the economy?” Because of my past in literature, math is not my strong suit: I find even balancing my checkbook to be a challenge. Fortunately, E.J. Dionne had an informative column this morning that addressed this issue. He wrote things that I’ve been saying for several years—ever since George W. Bush started destroying the country.

Here are some ideas from Dionne’s column, “How Do We Restore Americans’ Upward Mobility”:

According to reports from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, places like Denmark, Australia, Norway, Finland, Canada, Sweden and Germany have far greater social mobility than the United States. Conservatives would never accept their policies, however, because they consider these countries as “socialist” with their strong unions and a far better safety net than this country does. They also have health insurance for all, more affordable higher education, good job training and apprentice programs, and higher taxes.  Conservatives want no safety net and unions, expensive higher education, limited health insurance, and low taxes for the wealthy.

Dionne cites Timothy Noah’s new book, The Great Divergence, which explains the reason for rapidly increasing inequalities in wealth and income between the top one or two percent and the rest of the people in this country. These include “the increasing importance of a college degree due to the shortage of better-educated workers; trade between the United States and low-wage nations; changes in government policy in labor and finance; and the decline of the labor movement.” Another prime reason is the salary structure of U.S. CEOs that causes them to receive at least three times the salaries of those in European CEOs.

In his column, Dionne also cites a recent op-ed piece from David Brooks that solves the income inequity through adopting norms requiring marriage before child-rearing and tax increases to spend more “on the earned-income tax credit and other programs that benefit the working class.” Brooks is 50 percent right: “the working class” needs more programs to help them. But if getting married before having kids will help the economy, then the economy of the United States in the 1990s would have been in the toilet the way it is now.

The only problem with Dionne’s column is that he provides no solutions: conservative lawmakers will always refuse to solve the country’s problems if it means that they personally have to shell out one red cent more in taxes. Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) summarized the conservative philosophy: “It’s really American to avoid paying taxes, legally.” A recent report by the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) found that tax dodging, including offshore tax havens, shifts $100 billion onto taxpaying Americans. Only the wealthy can afford to have the loopholes and tax dodges.

The best example of limited government is life in this country a century ago. Almost 100 years ago, a commission discovered that the top two percent owned 60 percent of the nation’s wealth, and the bottom 60 percent owned just 5 percent of the wealth. Afraid of violent revolution from the poor, the wealthy supported doing something about the inequity. Today the top ten percent of people in this country control 70 percent of the wealth whereas the bottom 50 percent has only 2.5 percent, growing closer and closer to a century ago. And the Occupy Movement made some of the wealthy very nervous.

The major difference between then and now is the conclusion of the commission that the divide went beyond economics. This inequality in wealth, according to the commission, threatened to undermine the national ideal that hard work would bring just reward. “Effective action by Congress is required…,” the report proclaimed, “to check the growth of an hereditary aristocracy, which is foreign to every conception of American Government and menacing to the welfare of the people and the existence of the Nation as a democracy.” Instead of promoting the belief that “corporations are people,” the commission assumed that concentrations of corporate power were undemocratic, that gigantic fortunes “constitute a menace to the State,” and that it was the duty of government to restore a balance of power.

The commission offered two chief solutions. The first was an inheritance tax, aimed at the entrepreneur’s offspring who did nothing to earn the money. The second was increased support for union organizing because workers deserved to elect their own representatives on the job just as they did in the government. The inheritance tax became law almost immediately, and the union organizing rights developed through the next few decades, becoming stronger and stronger until the second half of the 20th century. Today’s conservative lawmakers are rapidly erasing both of these solutions.

Conservatives, notably Texas Gov. Rick Perry, have railed against the government-imposed income tax, but they ignore the fact that the 16th Amendment, which enshrined income tax in the Constitution, was a bipartisan effort. All three presidential candidates supported this, and the states endorsed the constitutional amendment by an overwhelming vote. President Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, said it best in a 1906 speech when he described the responsibility of wealthy people because they received “special advantages from the mere existence of government.” Texas was the first state to sign off on the amendment.

While browsing through the Internet for information about income 100 years ago, I came across this curious website showing the Gini index for every county in the United States. This index goes from 1, indicating absolute inequality in which only one household in a county has any income, to zero, indicating absolute equality in which all households have the same income. Counties with the greatest inequality are in the South; almost one-third of the countries there have indexes in the top one-fifth. The Midwest benefited from the majority of the counties being in the bottom fifth of the index. Although more populated counties had a tendency to have higher inequality, some rural areas in eastern Kentucky, the Mississippi Delta, and the Black Belt also suffer from high inequality. Check out your county!

A recent report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shows that the United States is fourth from the bottom in income inequality among 34 nations studied for the report. Only Mexico, Chile, and Turkey scored lower. According to the report, the U.S. education system is now “… less effective than those of other countries in helping children realize their potential. The United States is one of only three OECD countries that on average spend less on students from disadvantaged backgrounds than on other students.” The U.S. is falling way behind the rest of the world in terms of students in the STEM programs—science, technology, engineering, and math.

The problem of income inequality, the report concluded, can be “bad for health, education, innovation and economic well being.” Also the U.S. tax and benefits system is much less effective in reducing relative poverty than that of other countries studied in the report.

The OECD recommends that the federal government refocus its safety net programs to better address the needs of the very poor and prioritize job creation to solve the problem of unemployment that has resulted in increased poverty. While this country has a higher percentage of people in poverty than countries in Europe, there are more billionaires in the U.S. than anywhere else.

The economists also criticized the tax system in the U.S.: “Although the middle class have seen their taxes remain roughly constant, or slightly increase, average income taxes have significantly declined for the most wealthy, especially the 1% top earners.” The OECD recommended that the United States adopt policies that would make higher-income Americans pay more in taxes to help boost the U.S. economy and eliminate some tax breaks for high-income individuals on mortgage interest and health insurance. The report also proposes reducing tax breaks corporations receive when they borrow to make investments.

While the U.S. Congress has focused on passing a number of anti-abortion bills and pushed for lower taxes for corporations and the wealthy, it has voted down the OECD recommendations. Mitt Romney has rejected all these recommendations, and the Romney/Ryan budget goes in the exact opposite direction.

The only solution is to get rid of the conservative lawmakers. I loved the bumper sticker I saw this morning: “Wish for functional government.”

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