Tag Archives: politics

Why I’m not voting for Haley

Gov. Nikki Haley Puts Down Arts Funding at Opening of Arts Festival | George Patrick McLeer Jr.

I’m tired of Nikki Haley’s war in South Carolina against the arts (see the link for an example ^), against mental health services, against public services in general in SC, against infrastructure.

If this is the Republican utopia of pseudo libertarianism where everybody who already has enough money can continue enjoying their lives while those in need are ignored because the scale of poverty is too big for individuals to overcome on their own …. well, I guess I need to go vote for Shaheen.

I missed the 2010 gubernatorial election in SC because I was so pissed at politics in general. I’m still pissed (and apathetic, somehow at the same time).  But this year I will make sure I vote.

I have no confidence that it’ll matter, but at least I’ll be able to complain with a clear conscience if Haley is re-elected.

Thinking about economics, politics, and law

I’ve never thought about it this way, but an article by David Brooks in the New York Times yesterday titled “The Republic of Fear” jolted me into an idea I’ve never considered before.

We tend to think of economic solutions to poverty, whether in America or the developing world. Education, political stability, and cultural factors may make it onto the radar, but we assume the real solutions to the problem will lie in economic policy or habits.

Brooks makes an excellent case that actually, our American minds are so deeply colored by the safety and stability of our political and legal processes, we don’t see these factors when working in the developing world:

We in the affluent world live on one side of a great global threshold. Our fundamental security was established by our ancestors. We tend to assume that the primary problems of politics are economic and that the injustices of the world can be addressed with economic levers. When empires like the Soviet Union collapse, we send in economists with privatization plans instead of cops to help create rule of law. When thuggish autocracies invade their neighbors we impose economic sanctions.

But people without our inherited institutions live on the other side of the threshold and have a different reality. They live within a contagion of chaos. They live where the primary realities include violence, theft and radical uncertainty. Their world is governed less by long-term economic incentives and more by raw fear. In a world without functioning institutions, predatory behavior and the passions of domination and submission blot out economic logic.

The primary problem of politics is not creating growth. It’s creating order. Until that is largely achieved, life can be nasty, brutish and short.

via The Republic of Fear – NYTimes.com.

I highly recommend the entire piece, and I’d love to know who’s writing articles/books/blogs from this perspective.

Good Read: Universal Access to Food [A bitter satire]

The whole question of health care in America dizzies my brain. I’ve been reading articles on health care reform for my entire adult life and I don’t know what we ought to be doing as a country.

I do feel pretty strongly that the massive economic disparity in health care coverage and accessibility is a top-priority problem, as is tort reform (to drop the cost of malpractice insurance). I wonder whether any reform will come of all this fighting — the corporate interests are so big; our political will to make hard choices is so weak.

This post from the blog YourBrainOnEcon gave me a lot to think about.  Take time to read the entire analogy and the closing comments.

Universal Access to Food [A bitter satire].

(More) On Poverty

Darrell is a nice conservative guy who got tired of the anger and hate surrounding the 2012 election, the fury of rhetoric from both sides. He decided to do what few of us are willing to do: walk a year in the mindset of his opponents. So he’s blogging “My Obama Year” and his attempt to understand the progressive point of view.

But none of that is germane to this post, really.

Darrell reviews the book: Nickel And Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America by Barbara Ehrenreich. You can find his entire review on his blog. I’d like to use some of his points as a jumping-off platform.

In fact, take 5 minutes and go read his review right now…. it’s succinct and clear and crisp writing, and it won’t take you more than 5-10 minutes.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

….

Done? Good.

So, Darrell makes three major points based on Ehrenreich’s attempt to step into the shoes of the working poor and understand just how hard it is to “make it” in America these days.  She worked a series of minimum wage jobs and survived to write a book about it.

His observations afterward are simple:

1) the upper classes don’t understand the poor. 
The people making the laws literally cannot understand the mindset of someone who has no social capital, no solid education, no mentors for career advancement, no aspirations to become anything better. To be poor is to live in a world the not-poor cannot understand. The book’s author didn’t. And so she tended to blame the poor for their failures, when her own successes and abilities are built on the shoulders of factors beyond her control — social status, family wealth, parental involvement, access to education, etc.

2) being poor is expensive. 
Ever try to dig yourself out of a financial hole? It’s tough. Unless you’re making enough money to save a chunk each month, you can NEVER ever get ahead.  As Darrell writes, the startup costs of being poor are very high.

3) being poor in America still sucks.
We collectively love the mythology of the American Dream — if we simply work hard enough, we can achieve success. People who are poor are being catered to by the government. They have no excuse, the story goes, for failure.

[points come from Darrell’s post; examples partially mine]

Truth is …. poverty strips people of their humanity.  It robs whole families and ensuing generations of the ability to launch themselves or their kids into a more stable position.

I didn’t really understand this until recently. I think the American Dream mythology is so strong in our rhetoric, especially during election years, that any of us who made it into college or into a stable job feel pretty good about our success … and assume that everyone else has the same chances.

But many people are beginning to recognize this isn’t the case.

Now the crux of the argument is this: what are we supposed to DO about poverty? More on that when I have something to say. 🙂

——–

Great stuff to read:

A better definition of poverty from the Chalmers’ Center at Covenant College, dedicated to “helping without hurting” (development for poor communities in the US and abroad, rather than simply relief)

Don’t say there’s nothing we can do to make a difference. The Church is vast, and our Gospel mission extends to making the structures and systems of this world better for the people around us.

In fact, the Bible has a lot to say about the poor, and how working for more just and humane systems/institutions is absolutely a biblical theme. [This site comes from a definitely point of view rather than an objective list, but the verses can speak for themselves.]

It’s not just about personal work ethic, though making good decisions and working hard IS the major avenue to a stable situation. But the system itself is broken. People who WANT jobs can’t get one….. and our economic system struggles to match workers to open jobs.

———-

This discussion is just so huge.  As I do my own chewing, I will keep writing. Living a Gospel life *must* mean something in the lives of people I contact, and that will always include the poor.

food table in the Dominican Republic
A table to beautiful students I met in 2008 in the Dominican Republic, where the average annual income is barely $2000/yr

Why I can’t buy into Ayn Rand (Part 1)

Is it just me, or is everyone I know reading Ayn Rand and nodding soberly, picking up pearls of wisdom to weave into a conservative economics of wealth production?

I first heard of Rand many years ago when I ran across her commencement speech “Who Needs Philosophy?”  which is actually a really good piece. She expounds a solid reason for studying philosophy as part of any course of study because philosophical thinking matters.  Cool.  I dig that.
Otherwise, my brushes with Ayn Rand consisted of staring at the huge copies of Atlas Shrugged on people’s bookshelves or in the bookstore and wondering if those thousand pages were worth my time.  I’ve decided they aren’t.
So I trotted off to learn something about her philosophical system, Objectivism. If you need a refresher, here is a boiled-down version from Wikipedia‘s article on Ayn Rand:
  • Objectivism’s central tenets are that reality exists independent of consciousness,
  • that human beings have direct contact with reality through sense perception,
  • that one can attain objective knowledge from perception through the process ofconcept formation and inductive logic,
  • that the proper moral purpose of one’s life is the pursuit of one’s own happiness (orrational self-interest),
  • that the only social system consistent with this morality is full respect for individual rights embodied in laissez-faire capitalism,
  • and that the role of art in human life is to transform humans’ metaphysical ideas by selective reproduction of reality into a physical form—a work of art—that one can comprehend and to which one can respond emotionally.
Rand herself denies that you can take her economics apart from her philosophy:
 I am confident enough to think that if you accept the importance of philosophy and the task of examining it critically, it is my philosophy that you will come to accept. Formally, I call it Objectivism, but informally I call it a philosophy for living on earth. You will find an explicit presentation of it in my books, particularly in Atlas Shrugged. (from the latter half of “Philosophy: Who Needs It?”)
I have a meaningful memory of politics since the time of Reagan. It seems that Rand’s cheerleading for individualism and no-restrictions-capitalism has colored Republican politics more and more over the past three decades. (Maybe it was a strong theme in the 60s and 70s too; I don’t know.)
*****
I don’t usually watch the Colbert Report, but a friend of mine commented that Wednesday’s show was very good so I caught it on Hulu.  Colbert dug into the topic of Rand’s influence on the Republican party. Yes, I know Colbert is a comedian not a political analyst (though I think his analyses are often very perceptive) and obviously he is partisan.
But still — take a look (links to video since I can’t embed from Colbert’s site):
After beating on Paul Ryan for a bit, Colbert turned to a Stanford University professor who’s recently written a book about Rand’s influence on the neo-conservative movement. Again, watch:
The Colbert Report
*****
Tomorrow:  I’d like to dig into why Rand’s ideas bug me so much.

Theology & Mercy: Separate yet inseparable

Last week I had the incredible opportunity to participate in a “culture panel” hosted by my friend Rebecca who teaches foreign engineers & businesspeople upper-level conversational English. For example, all of the 7 students in the class speak German & work for BMW.  Coart & I joined to help answer questions (and pontificate) about American culture in general, including “taboo” topics like religion and politics. Our discussion ranged from international affairs to the health care debate and American church/social history.

The experience was stimulating, refreshing … yet humbling. Question #2 from the students came from a lady who asked why America, being a Christian nation, seemed to have little problem with war. The issue of how much our popular media loves violence came up repeatedly. (One dear soul confessed that, thanks to her view of America’s love for its guns, if she were ever stranded somewhere and approached a nearby house for help, she’d get shot! We quickly assured her that’s not usually how we roll!)

A bit later, someone asked why America, being a Christian nation, cares so little for its poor. We tried to explain that Americans value having the opportunity to be charitable with our own money, rather than hand it over to the government to distribute.

In the second hour, one man (wisely) commented that Americans confuse nudity with sexuality. The Germans can’t comprehend why we care so little for human life and so much about body parts.

All but one of them are non-Christians. Many might be non-theist. Yet they attribute many aspects of American culture to Christian culture, and sharply note the discrepancies when they see them.

Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have understood these issues the same way. It’s taken the loving rebuke of Christian scholars and careful reading of the Word to change my myopic view of the Gospel. I read a Psalm a day to my homeroom class (this year, I have 7th graders) and daily the psalmists smack me in the face with the obvious connection between claiming to serve a God Who is Just and the necessity to see His justice expressed in human institutions. It’s an imperfect, difficult, frustrating, and sometimes impossible work (perhaps in my lifetime, anyway) but I cannot escape it.

Whether we Christians want it or not, the mantle of responsibility for the religious welfare of America’s citizens falls about our shoulders. The Gospel cannot be a merely individual proposition. Even the most hearty dispensationalist cannot scrub away the descriptions time and again in Acts: “And so ______ was saved, and his {her] household.” The Psalms (especially those of David in the first half) set up a vision of a Good King for the land of Israel:  a man who fears the Lord, who speaks up for the weak who are easy targets for oppression; who makes sure the poor in his kingdom are cared for.

America is the richest nation ever to exist in the history of the world. We celebrate our extreme good fortune by sipping $4 lattes and complaining when gasoline for our inefficient cars rises above $3/gallon.  Our population, 5% of the world as a whole, consumes 25% of the world’s resources. 

We revel in “the good life”:
Our cars are big.
Our houses are huge (by even European standards).
Our food is rich and fatty and caloric when 1 billion of the world’s population faces malnourishment this year due to the rapid rise in food prices the world over.
To Americans, our democratic political system is messy and inefficient; to the rest of the world, our openness, freedoms, and lack of corruption in government processes (comparatively) provoke green streaks of envy.
We hoard our riches, close our borders, and pretend none of us had to get off the boat in the loins of our grandfathers who fled the sickness of Europe (or Asia) for a better life.  Or maybe our ancestors were dragged here in chains. Either way, we’re faring better than the descendents of the native Americans we found here.

Last Monday’s German class humbled me.  It called me back to a “cruciform life” … no corner of my life can be left unturned by the Gospel.  When America speaks, thanks to the millions of Christians residing here in peace and prosperity, it speaks (and acts) with the stamp of the Church’s approval.  In a rare fit of agreement with Doug Wilson, I say our first duty must be to repent for not doing a very good job sometimes.