Tag Archives: capitalism

America is sick with greed, and I’m just plain sick of it

America’s Sick Culture of Greed – the 7 Warning Signs

by Rev. Paul J. Bern

wealth_or_democracy

The apostle Paul, in his first letter to his deacon Timothy, admonished him to be wary of the pursuit of money and material wealth. About 1,950 years ago, Paul wrote, “But Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1st Timothy chapter six, verses 6-10, NIV) The love of money for money’s sake, as in the days of the early Church, remains the social and societal disease of our time. We see it all around us; in the celebration of ill-gotten financial gain, public admiration for the heads of criminal banks, the lyrics to some popular songs, and in the commercialization of charity and spirituality. This adoration of wealth isn’t a new thing, of course. Back in elementary school I remember being sent to the principal’s office for being moody, unfocused and temperamental – in other words, for being either a rebellious revolutionary, a writer in the making, or a trouble-maker. I still remember my report cards from elementary school that said I “failed to concentrate on the task at hand”, and that I had “too casual an attitude”. In other words, I was a misfit deemed to be a failure in life. That, of course, depends on how one defines the words ‘misfit’ and ‘failure’.

In defense of my childhood self, the Beatles were famous for their Rolls-Royce’s at that time and the Beatles seemed happy. A group called the “Dave Clark Five” went out and bought five matching Jaguar XKE convertibles (anybody else remember that?). Like any good consumer in the making, I had internalized these images of wealth and had come to equate them with happiness. The United States of the 1960s was a nation filled with optimism. For many (though definitely not all) Americans, it was a time of unparalleled opportunity. Education was affordable, families could live comfortably on a single adult income, and the country seem to be on an endless upward trajectory of prosperity. We were expanding in every way, so rapidly that only the depths of space seemed able to contain the people we were about to become. The fantasy of wealth seemed somehow different in that context. Today, we’re a nation being preached to by “bipartisan” corporate politicians who lecture us on the impossibility of expecting a livable Social Security income in our old age. Or a living wage in our working years. Or an affordable education, so our children can live a better life economically than we did. Yet we’re more infatuated with the fruits of unproductive greed today, it seems, then we were back then. Here are seven signs that American culture is sick with greed.

1.) There’s still no public shame in profiting off Wall Street fraud.

Wall Street has been celebrating the investment opportunities created by the wave of criminality and fraud which has overtaken JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and others. JP Morgan Chase’s epidemic of internal fraud has led to tens of billions in fines during the tenure of CEO Jamie Dimon. The investigation’s report goes on to describe how JP Morgan’s stock has risen despite the record fraud settlements against the bank and multiple ongoing civil and criminal investigations. What the report is saying is that banks are essential to the functioning of society, like a public utility. But unlike traditional public utilities, they’re entrusted to profit-driven executives with a long history of documented criminality. And yet there have been no indictments of senior Wall Street executives to date because senior government officials have made it clear they don’t want to endanger the banks by enforcing the law. Legal and political implications aside, what’s astonishing to me is the complete lack of shame associated with being a bank executive whose organization has committed so many crimes — or an investment analyst to openly celebrate those crimes as an opportunity to make money at society’s expense.

Even as the world was still learning of Wall Street’s extensive criminality, Dimon was the subject of a fawning profile several years ago in the New York Times Sunday magazine, which detailed at length Dimon’s hurt feelings and irritation toward those audacious enough to criticize him. Andrew Ross Sorkin did the same thing for the same newspaper three years later, dismissing as “blood lust” calls for Dimon’s resignation in the wake of yet more billion-dollar fraud revelations about his bank. Even now, after all the revelations of crimes which include investor fraud, shareholder fraud, perjury, forgery, violation of international sanctions laws and laws designed to protect members of the US Armed Forces — even now it’s possible to treat bank CEOs as victims in the pages of our country’s newspaper of record. Condemning that record isn’t blood lust. It’s morality.

2.) Greedy CEOs still have credibility in the media.

It’s not just Jamie Dimon, of course. Having shattered the middle class through their accumulation of wealth, the devastation they inflicted on the global economy, and their mistreatment of employee pension funds, Wall Street CEO’s apparently still have enough credibility in some quarters to be treated as experts in fiscal responsibility. They’re using that credibility to suggest that America’s middle-class accept cuts to Social Security and Medicare, two of the few programs left to protect them from the effects of runaway corporate greed. American news outlets accord these CEOs an extraordinary and unearned measure of respectability and authority. Very few articles about ‘Fix the Debt’ mention the massive fraud settlements and fines levied against these CEO’s institutions. Although CEO’s aren’t greedy by definition, most of the ones on ‘Fix the Debt’s’ list fit that description. Most of the ones who aren’t running Wall Street banks lead defense contracting firms that earn excessive profits from the US taxpayer, while lecturing those same taxpayers on the need for the middle class to cut back on its expectations of financial security when it reaches retirement age. ‘Fix the Debt’ is one of a number of interlocking organizations which are largely financed by right-wing billionaire Pete Peterson, who made his money in the hedge fund business and yet is treated by many journalists as if he were Mother Teresa.

3.) Corporate executives are now trained to rip people off.

This writer spent a number of years in the business world during the 1990s, as the owner of a small technology-based retail storefront operation. During this time, corporate America was transforming itself from a customer-driven set of industries to a greed-driven and conscience-less wealth extraction machine for the investor class. Let me use the Gillette Company as an example. As most bearded men know, the Gillette business model is a sneaky one. The company ropes customers in with low-cost razors and then charges an outrageous amount for replacement blades. This is obviously a deceptive business model. Another example from the 1990’s and (to a lesser degree) 2000’s is that of the pay phone industry, which wanted to increase turnover in the use of its phones. The allegedly ‘brilliant’ thinking of a junior executive taken directly from the minutes of board meetings (I will decline to name the company) proposed that bricks be put in the handsets of all their phones. In the same “brainstorming” session, which sometimes are innocuously called “meetings”, another executive suggested making the surfaces underneath the phones slanted, so that people couldn’t leave their things there while they spoke on the phone. The net result was that people paid a quarter to use a pay phone, but then grew uncomfortable and were unable to complete their calls. The beauty of it – from the company’s point of view – was that they didn’t even know why they were hanging up. They merely had an unsatisfying customer experience, while the phone company got to turn over customers more quickly and collect more quarters. Again, nobody back then objected that this was poor customer service, and an underhanded way to deal with customers. If you multiply those experiences ten thousandfold, you have an idea of the culture of corruption which is taking place every day in companies all across the country. That’s not to say there aren’t companies that still believe in customer service; there are, and I’m grateful every time I encounter one. But the corporate culture of America has become a culture of cheating, manipulation and greed. (The pay phone industry in this country is dead, by the way. Karma, as they say, is a bitch.)

4.) And then there’s the music recording industry.

Our idealization of greed isn’t confined to the business section of our newspapers. While white liberals decry the idealization of wealth, that’s not a new phenomenon either. In fact, it can be found in both lifestyles and the recordings of their own childhood musical heroes. “Money can’t buy everything it’s true, but what it can’t buy I can’t use…” There has always been a tension in popular music between the comfortable idealism of those who come from wealthy backgrounds and the aspiring materialism of pop musicians who were raised in poverty and/or financial insecurity. That latter list includes Elvis Presley, the Beatles, James Brown, and many of today’s hip-hop artists. As the seminal R&B producer, songwriter and performer Swamp Dogg put it in the 1970’s: “I’m not selling out, I’m buying in.” The best of those artists — the Beatles, Brown, and more recently Kanye West — have struggled to reconcile the drive which helped them escape poverty with the idealism that made them gifted artists. Kanye ran into some controversy with his track “New Slaves.” Many people were offended that he equated his own wealth with slavery and Jim Crow laws. It’s Kanye’s charm, as well as his curse, to speak everything that comes into his mind. But I think he was onto something with his line about “throwing back the Maybach keys” and his lyrics about the expectation that African-American celebrities will be excessive spenders.

Self-made celebrities often act as ritualized consumers on behalf of the general public. Their job is to swallow up the most excessive luxuries the wealthy lifestyle has to offer. They inadvertently use their power and influence to reinforce the corporate-driven, consumerist tropes that keep us enslaved to our own material desires. By naming the phenomenon and ritually “throwing the keys,” Kanye West is trying to break a pattern that has stretched from Tupelo in Mississippi to Compton in California, from Liverpool in England to Bed-Sty and Brownsville in New York.

5.) Insight and spirituality are being commercialized.

One of the most notorious examples of the commercialization of faith and spirituality is the “prosperity gospel”, which is being propagated primarily in Protestant, catholic, and non- or- interdenominational churches here in the US. As the late and well-known televangelist pioneer Oral Roberts once said, “If you have a need, you must plant a seed”. In order to obtain, we must first give, or so they say. But when we examine the Scriptures, we find this is quite the reverse of what Christ taught us in the Sermon on the Mount: “So do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’, or ‘What shall we drink?’, or ‘What shall we wear’? For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6: 31-33, NIV) So, instead of “planting a seed” to get our needs met, if we have a need we should be on our knees in prayer, not giving some crooked televangelist all your grocery money. Even Eastern spiritual traditions like Buddhism are being co-mingled with idealized visions of what it means to be a billionaire. From TED talks to mindfulness conferences like the Wisdom 2.0 conference, the search for individual and collective insight is becoming increasingly identified with the desire to accumulate wealth. “You can have it all,” these events seem to say. “You can gain peace of mind, unlock the mysteries of human existence, and become a billionaire, all at the same time.” Some of these events even seem to argue that they are one and the same journey, which is a complete fallacy. It’s heaven and Nirvana, all in one ‘special’ package — with corporate sponsorship.

6.) Kindness and thoughtfulness toward our fellow human beings has become a commodity.

The Clinton Global Initiative has continued to promote misleading deficit-reduction materials in partnership with the hedge fund billionaires. It featured a leader from Morgan Stanley — one of the institutions which was instrumental in causing the 2008 financial crisis — talking about how to recover from the financial crisis. It’s not just Bill and Hillary. In the midst of negotiating yet another multi-billion dollar fraud settlement, JP Morgan Chase was given the honor (and the public relations coup) of sponsoring the fund raising concert for victims of Hurricane Sandy headlined by the Rolling Stones. But then, the Stones have a relationship with big banks that goes back to their sponsorship deal with AmeriQuest, the mortgage company which was slammed for deceitful practices and discriminatory lending toward minorities. That’s not to say corporate charity, or for that matter the charity of billionaires, is a bad thing. Everyone should incorporate charity into their way of life, and those who are most fortunate should give the most in return. Nobody argues with that. The sickness comes when we allow certain types of charity to glorify the giver, or when it’s considered impolite to mention any relationship between, say, the excessive wealth accumulation of the givers and the need for charity in the first place.

7.) America’s Soul Sickness

Today there are countless signs that our culture is sick with greed. You don’t need to be told that. Just look around. I never was able to afford the Rolls-Royce’s and Jaguar roadsters of my childhood fantasies. But then, those things were only an expression of pain. They reflected a deep yearning to be somewhere else, to be someone else, to escape the daily trials of everyday existence and replace them with a fantasy bubble that kept me at a glittering distance from the sufferings of the real world. Today’s national culture of greed is also an expression of pain and fear. It’s more terrifying than ever to try to survive on a middle-class income. Most people live one or two paychecks away from utter disaster. Very few of us feel that we have any real control over our own fate. The lives of reality show stars, the Hollywood tabloids and dangerous drugs like ‘meth’ and ‘spice’ are some of the most obvious of our escapist fantasies. But as long as we live in a fantasy world, we won’t be working to change the real one. True happiness is found in a life lived with meaning. It’s not just that I can’t afford that car. We can’t afford it. We can’t afford to live in a world where our only aspiration is to accumulate wealth, regardless of how it’s accumulated – while ignoring the flourishing of the human spirit in its artistic, idealistic and intellectual aspects. The love of possessions is a sickness. People are losing their lives in the pursuit of wealth and possessions. They’re dying from gunshot wounds and heart attacks, in gang battles and in solitary hospital beds. And it’s getting worse. The symptoms are appearing, not just in ourselves, but in the planet we call home. If we don’t cure it soon, it could prove fatal for all of us.

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Been ‘feeling the Bern’ lately?

Have you been feeling the Bern (Bernie Sanders, that is)? Tired of feeling “burned” by the government? Get the book that started the Democratic Socialist movement back in 2011! The Middle and Working Class Manifestoby Rev. Paul J. Bern. Before the Sanders presidential campaign, before there was Occupy Wall St., before “the 99%” and Anonymous, before Ferguson, Mo. and Freddy Gray, before Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, before the ‘Arab Spring’, Syria and Palestine, there was this book, the book that helped start it all! Available in paperback on Amazon for $18.95, or get a leftover 1st edition for $9.95 with free shipping at www.pcmatl.org/books-and-donations Or, buy the E-book (350 pages) on Smashwords.com, Goodreads.com, Kindle or Nook for $3.00, or on Pay Hip at https://payhip.com/b/Tpw5 To watch the video before you buy, visit http://youtu.be/VZguRDJmCqc

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Endless War in an Allegedly Christian Nation — How Much Longer Do We Tolerate This?

The Hypocrisy Of War In A Nation That Professes Christianity

by Rev. Paul J. Bern

Donald Trump took my lunch money for his presidential campaign. My dad is gonna be pissed!!

Donald Trump took my lunch money for his presidential campaign. My dad is gonna be pissed!!

Being the proactive Christian and Jesus follower that I am, I make it my business to follow current events, particularly anything having to do with Israel and the Middle East (since the majority of Bible prophecy has to do with both). It’s in our best interest to do so due to America’s very serious financial situation, not to mention the dangerously overextended US military which has bases in over 100 countries while fighting two wars. Rev. Billy Graham has prophesied that these multiple wars, clandestine activities and other occupations “will end in disaster”. This brings me to the point I wish to comment on today, and that is the hypocrisy of war in a nation that calls itself Christian and proclaims its devotion to Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. You can’t profess to worship Christ as a nation while waging war, they are diametrically opposed to one another. We can’t bemoan all the wars overseas and all the over-the-top violence going on in America’s streets while continuing to be the world’s largest arms manufacturer and exporter. We Americans are going to have to make up our minds what we want, because we can’t have it both ways as a nation. Either wage war or wage peace. As for me, I choose peace. Killing only begets more killing.

The latest chapter in Washington’s plan for global domination is the threat of war with Iran. The US incursions into Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya were really bad ideas no matter how you look at it. What is America doing over there? First, the 2nd war in Iraq was based on a series of lies about weapons of mass destruction. Second, we already got Osama Bin Laden, so why are we still in Afghanistan? Why is the US still conducting drone strikes inside Iraq and Syria? As for Libya, Italy and France were perfectly capable of managing the Libyan crisis from just across the Mediterranean Sea, they didn’t need the US to come all the way across the Atlantic to help them out. These two regional powers don’t need or want our help. Yet the US military continues to stick its nose into every situation it can find globally as if America is the world’s policeman. America can’t afford to continue to spend more money on military hardware than all the other countries of the world combined. This is clearly unsustainable. Our country’s aggressive actions are also infuriating a large number of people worldwide, and I believe it is the primary cause of much of the world’s terrorist activity.

What would Jesus say about this if he were here right now? God bless America? I think not! The US military entered and occupied Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the air war in Libya and the drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, without getting a formal declaration of war from Congress, a requirement of the US Constitution. Of course, the American public is being told that there are no US troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria, but US Special Forces and the CIA have been ‘in country’ right up to this very day. Not to mention the fact that the US military is lately beginning to set its digitized sights on China. Our country’s “leaders” have forgotten that Hitler lost the Second World War when he opened up three battle fronts against the USA, Great Britain and Russia within a year. Although they held their own at first after scoring significant battlefield victories, the Nazis ultimately found themselves overwhelmed. What do you think will happen if the US opens up just as many battle fronts at once? Apparently our nation’s “leaders” haven’t learned one stinking thing from history. America has charted a course towards disaster!

We are going to have to face up to the fact that we live in a very violent society, and that perpetual war for profit – not for victory, but for humongous amounts of money – is only a superficial symptom of a much more deep-seated problem. Violence surrounds us. Like it or not, it is ingrained into and embraced by U.S. Society. We are bombarded with violent imagery on a daily basis if we watch much TV or rent a lot of movies. The nightly news is full of it, and the followers of Christ are sick and tired of all of it. Come to think of it, so is nearly everybody else.

More than 50 years ago, President Dwight Eisenhower warned of the growth of the “military-industrial complex”. He cautioned us about the need to guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, “whether sought or unsought,” by this military industrial complex. “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist,” he said. George Orwell once wrote of “perpetual war,” a situation in which war operates as a means of controlling the population by constantly rallying them against a common enemy. This is exactly the situation we are faced with in America today, with its military/industrial/incarceration complex running in overdrive. At the same time, the American people have figured out that if all the money spent on wars was spent on its people instead, we could give every American free health care, free higher education or free vocational retraining for life, with a minimum wage that is double its current rate. There are many people constantly, loudly lamenting their shortage of money. They fail to realize that vast portions of their incomes are being drained off by their country for war, death and destruction.

Obama administration officials said the United States decided to wage war on Libya because of the threat Moammar Qaddafi was to his own people. Why not attack Bahrain or Yemen? Tyrants in those countries are committing similarly repugnant acts against their citizens. Why not attack Syria since atrocities are being committed against the people there? I am very excited that ordinary people are rising up across the Middle East to cast off autocrats, tyrants, kings and dictators, not to mention the secret police who harass the citizenry daily. People want peace and justice, not war and violence. And they want it here in America too. That is why we will see very soon here in the US a similar political movement that we have seen previously in the Middle East. The Arab Spring of 2011 has evolved into the ‘Occupy’ and the ‘we are the 99%’ Movements here at home and other capitalist countries, and they are just the beginning of what is to come.

Given the near silence of our nation’s pulpits in the face of the violence and war that surrounds us, the exertions of our theologians in justifying war, and the propensity of religious people to condemn abortion while proudly sending their sons and daughters off to fight and kill “the enemy”, it is certain that future historians will view organized religion as a slave to the vast war machine that engulfs us. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. prophesied, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” Will we rise up against the madness of violence or are we dead already? What’s it going to be, people?

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An Economic Crash Is Coming, and It Will Be the Government’s Fault When It Happens

If Capitalism (and Deficits) Were Replaced With A Bible Based Monetary System, Could That System Be Made Workable?

By Rev. Paul J. Bern

wealth_or_democracy

Just last week, Congress passed yet another legislative patch for our country’s broken-down patchwork monetary system so the US government won’t run out of money. But it has been my observation that America’s capitalist economic system, together with the US dollar it is represented by, has a very big problem. It’s like the old ‘elephant in the room’ truism, and in this case the elephant in the room is debt – unbelievable, nearly incomprehensible, colossal debt! The global capitalist economic system rooted in Wall Street and big banking, administered in New York and presided over in Washington, is based on greed and materialism in a debt-based economy where money is created from nothing. Debt-based economies are nothing new, they have been around for at least 3,500 years (see Nehemiah chapter 5, verses1-14). The pursuit of profit reigns supreme over all other pursuits in modern America, trampling humanity underfoot in the pursuit of that power over others that provides the top 1% with the illusion of human supremacy. Designer clothes, 400+ horsepower cars and trucks, million dollar bank accounts and 30,000 square feet houses are the norm in today’s world. Capitalism would have us believe that the pursuit of more and more material wealth is what everyone wants to achieve. But is that necessarily so, and is it a healthy pursuit in life?

All we have to do is to look around us. Massive deficit spending that funds multiple wars and over 700 military bases overseas (not counting the mainland US) threatens to bankrupt our country. Bankruptcies and foreclosures remain near an all-time high, and there will be a second wave of foreclosures starting in 2016 that will include commercial and industrial real estate. The interest on the federal budget deficit will exceed 70% of US gross national product by 2025 (at the rate we are going and if something isn’t done quickly). Millions can’t find a job because all the good jobs have been exported overseas. I know this to be true from my own previous experience with long-term unemployment which ultimately ended my 20-year computer/IT career. There are more homeless people in America today than at any time since the Great Depression. On any given night in New York City it has been estimated that there are from 10,000 to as many as 30,000 homeless people. Here in Atlanta where I live, the homeless problem is no better, and that includes appalling numbers of homeless children. It appears that our entire capitalist economic system is on the verge of collapse. China will have the world’s biggest economy by the middle of 2016, and that will dethrone the US as the world’s leading economic power permanently when it does occur – and rest assured it will! That will mean the US dollar will no longer be the world’s reserve currency, resulting in a crash of undetermined magnitude for the dollar, the equivalent of a financial earthquake. Communism in Soviet Russia fell in 1989, and it may well be that the American economic system is going to be the next to go. What will we all do when this finally does occur?

To find the answers, we need to go to the book of Acts in the New Testament. I am going to use two separate quotes from the Book of Acts, starting with Acts chapter 2, verses 44 to 47. “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to everyone that had need. Every day they continued to meet in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” The closest thing the US has had to this ancient tradition was the hippie movement of the 1960’s, where communal living was widely experimented with. How many people today would, after becoming Christian, immediately sell nearly everything they had just so they could share it with others? How many would give up owning property and join together with others of like intent and noble purpose for the sole expressed purpose of combining their resources so that all could have more? Very few, I would guess. Everybody today is trying to get a better job, house, car, investment portfolio and whatever else it takes to get over. Nearly everyone is out only for themselves at the exclusion of everyone else. They are afraid to share because they are convinced that if they do, there will not be enough for themselves. I’m going to say this as gently as I can, but people like this need to learn to let go of their fear and apprehension and stop thinking about all that could go wrong. Instead, try replacing that with new solutions concerning managing things, people and situations so that they come out in your favor. The early Church had a good handle on what it takes to have this kind of genuine success in this life. I have another quote about this two chapters later in the book of Acts:

All the believers were of one heart and mind. No one claimed any of his possessions as his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles feet, and it was distributed to everyone as they had need. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles feet. (Acts 4, verses 32-37, NIV) How many people today are doing this? Who would sell their house, land, car, truck, boat and whatever else they have and then turn around and give all the proceeds away? I would be very surprised if anyone sent me a check for such an amount since I rely on small donations almost exclusively. Many other churches and charities do the same. If anybody sold their house today and then gave the money away, people would assume they were crazy. And yet this is exactly how the early church operated. Maybe what we need to do now that we know this is to relearn what has been lost. Could it be that, due to a greatly reduced standard of living due to the dollar’s inevitable devaluation, people with no money, home or job will have to pool their resources to survive? What if that turned out to be a blessing in disguise?

We have lost our way, entangled in a web of material goods and services, opulence and luxury, and all at the expense of everything and everybody else. We have forgotten the most important things, like how to take care of each other, how to show love and be merciful towards one another. Some of us have simply forgotten how to make friends, or even recoil at the thought of doing so. Solving this social problem can only be accomplished by a change in priorities. Maybe we should all be giving some of our excess wealth away to those less fortunate. What have I done for somebody else lately? How do I treat people, really? What matters most in life to me, and to those around me? What can I do to make a positive contribution to those whose lives I touch? What kind of legacy do I want to leave behind when I am dead and gone? Let us begin to ask ourselves some other basic questions. Such as, why do I need 400 horsepower under my hood? Come to think of it, why buy a new car when I can get a used one much cheaper? Do I really need a bigger house, or more new clothes? What’s wrong with the house or the clothes I have now? The truth of the matter is that it’s time to get back to the basics of life – God, family, friendship, a home and a livelihood.

Let us make sure and remember the lesson learned from the two Bible quotes listed above. There are certain advantages to living our lives as the early Christians did. “No one claimed anything as his own, but they shared everything they had”. I admit that this seems to be a bit idealistic at the moment, but a life such as this is the logical outcome in the event of the collapse of capitalism. Our country’s debt, which is growing exponentially as everybody knows, is clearly unsustainable. This huge debt load will be on the backs of our children, grandchildren, and our great-grandchildren, and that is a social injustice that must be protested and demonstrated against until something is done about it! Even if it means shutting down entire cities, it is up to us, the American people, to put a stop to this once and for all. I think it’s high time we “occupied” social and economic injustice.

If this money was spent on taking care of the American people instead of waging war, what a difference it would make in the lives of every one of us! What if we outgrew our need to own things and to accumulate frivolous material goods? If we set our priorities this way, it would line up with the priorities and values of the early Christians. I am prophesying to you all that the death of capitalism – or at least as we have known it – will happen within the next year or two, and maybe even sooner. But when it occurs, something wonderful will happen. We will all become equals and peers in a land where service to others rather than ownership of property and consumer merchandise will not only become the law of the land, but the new standard for personal success. What a wonderful world we could create if only we set our minds to doing this very thing! We will have become an egalitarian society, and I see a lot more that’s right about that than what’s wrong. We can accomplish this by living as the Bible commands us to do in the book of Acts. By doing so together we can get our priorities straight once and for all. And in the process we can create a new economic system completely from scratch to effectively replace the old one. It would be a brave new world, that’s for sure. I exhort and encourage each one who reads this to make a real effort at beginning to live your life this way. God has given each of us this ability. It is up to us to learn to plug into this new power source so we can use it for the good of others. And we do this knowing that the more good we perform for others, the more it will ultimately benefit ourselves.

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The GOP debates, Jesus, and inequality

Poverty and Inequality Are Everybody’s Problem

by Rev. Paul J. Bern

Donald Trump took my lunch money for his presidential campaign. My dad is gonna be pissed!!

Donald Trump took my lunch money for his presidential campaign. My dad is gonna be pissed!!

As I was watching the GOP presidential debates this past week, I was struck by the fact that several key issues were completely ignored. One was the urgent need for development of clean energy and a green economy. Another big one that got brushed aside was climate change and what we can do about it, not to mention what I view as the urgency of that situation. But the biggest issue by far that got ignored was economic inequality, the fact that 99% of America’s wealth is in the hands of 1% of the population. This situation is much the same throughout the world. It is not something that is peculiar to America at all – far from it! My further observation of both of the presidential debates was that most, if not all, of the candidates running for the top office in the land are these same 1%-‘ers who crave the Oval Office and the power that accompanies it. It seems that the same people who are part of the problem are putting themselves forth as being the engineers of the solution. Donald Trump is, without question, the best example of this so far. The fact that he’s another billionaire from New York underscores the rampant and often extreme economic inequality that exists in America today.

According to statistics published by the Economic Policy Institute, and backed up by US government data, one in every seven persons currently living in the USA lives at or below the poverty line. One in seven sometimes goes hungry, especially children. For over one forth of America’s school children, lunch at school is their only meal of the day. One in seven pregnant women don’t get enough food for themselves and their unborn child. One person in every seven lives in a household with a gross income of under $14,000.00 per year for a single person, allowing only slightly more for children. Poverty devalues the individual in such a way that it can damage the mind or crush the spirit of anyone in its path. The hunger pangs are only what’s on the surface. Poverty is everyone’s problem because when one person is marginalized, then society as a whole becomes marginalized, and this is compounded the more that person becomes devalued. I submit to you that we are all made in the image and likeness of the same Almighty God who made us all (see Genesis chapter 1).

It is our capitalist economic system that is broken, and we are all feeling the effects of it. More and more people are being thrown out of work, often losing their homes, their transportation and their dignity as corporate America continues to re-size downward. The more that American business downsizes, the more people will be affected. Life can sometimes be like a game of musical chairs, and people are starting to notice that the music has stopped playing and there are no chairs left. For one thing, jobs are disappearing. Many of these jobs were out-sourced overseas, and many more that still remain will be replaced with robots and artificial intelligence within 10 or 15 more years. The US economy, plus the job market or what’s left of it, is in much worse shape than we’re being told (surprise, surprise). People are banding together by family or by neighborhood to ensure one another’s well-being. In Detroit, in particular, people are beginning to say the only way to survive is by taking care of one another, by recreating our relationships to one another, that we have created a society, over the last period, in particular, where each of us is pursuing self-interest. We have devolved as human beings.

We have been focused on taking care of ourselves for so long that we have forgotten how to take care of each other. Now that hard economic times have hit us right between the eyes, we need to do more to take care of each other. Get plugged into a volunteer program in your community. That would be one good place to start. Do this knowing that by helping to pick others up, you ultimately pick yourself up with it. And do it all knowing that God is watching over you as you go about your business. So, do not put God out of your life but rather keep Him within your heart and allow Him to dwell there. That is when you will know for sure that you are on the right track. Jesus summed this up perfectly when He defined the two greatest commandments, “…Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22, verses 37-40, NIV) The apostle James similarly wrote, “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James chapter 1, verses 26-27, NIV)

That’s not all the apostle James had to say about the loving the world as opposed to loving God. He connected it with the same mass inequality that we see today when he wrote, “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men who were not opposing you.” (James chapter 5, verses 1-6 NIV) Your wealth has lost its value!! Your investments have divested themselves of their own worth!! Not just their net worth either. Not only have you lost all your interest, you have lost the principal as well! Your entire portfolio is forfeit! Total disaster will overtake all of you who put yourselves into your careers and climb the corporate ladder to the exclusion of everything and everyone else! In so doing, you have fallen into idolatry!! Idolatry, you ask? But how? By prioritizing your careers over your worship, and by valuing your material goods over the supreme sacrifice Christ made for you on the cross. Make no mistake about it, the shed blood of Jesus Christ is more valuable than anything else on the planet – period! The biggest mansion, the most expensive yacht, the fastest car or truck and the trendiest clothes and night clubs are rubbish when compared to the purity of Christ. Besides Him stands no other! Jesus stands alone, heads above the rest!

Speaking of Jesus, He had lots to say about rich people. But, one of His most famous comments comes from the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew chapter 6, verses 19-21 NIV) The more attached we become to our material stuff, the farther away we get from God. But it’s more than just stuff. We can become more attached to our spouse or significant other, to our children, to our careers, and even to recreational activities like water skiing, snow boarding, our boats and motorcycles, or fitness training. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of the above. But we must always put our personal relationship with Christ first because it’s invariably the most important! I cannot overemphasize this one main point!

In closing, the fact that Donald Trump is still considered the GOP front-runner in the early part of the presidential race to the White House says a lot about the state of our country. The most eligible candidate, if the Republicans get their way, is the Donald, the one with the most money. The most eligible Democratic candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has reported earnings together with former president Clinton at $140 million over the last seven years. That’s a cool 20 mill per year, there are a lot of professional sports players who don’t make that much. So, the bottom line here is that the two front runners in the 2016 election are both 1%-ers who profess to have the solutions to the plight of the remaining 99% of us, when it’s already an established fact that no matter who wins, the winner is beholden to the mega rich who bought the election in the first place. Capitalism – and the materialistic consumer lifestyle that goes along with it – has conquered the world without firing a single shot. In so doing, the top 1% are in charge of, and in many cases own, just about everything, right down to the land every building is built upon. But when Jesus returns, all power and authority will be given to Him on earth as it is in heaven, and the rich will be destitute.

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Capitalism will ultimately fail, and greed is the reason

Seven Reasons Why Capitalism Has Run Its Course

by Rev. Paul J. Bern

greed sucks

greed sucks

As world trade continues its anemic 1.2% average annual growth rate, politicians in most industrial countries, and particularly in the US, have an incentive to make exaggerated claims about the alleged ongoing economic recovery. The government wants us to think the Great Recession is over, and that we’re on “the road to recovery,” while the American people and other nations look on skeptically. The ungly truth is that more and more people have lost confidence in – and consequently no longer trust – the federal government. To make matters worse, 2014 turned out to be the year when the American public lost confidence and trust in law enforcement. The street protests in New York, Chicago, L.A., Atlanta and elsewhere attest to the factuality of that mistrust. Below are seven important social phenomena that point to a more realistic economic and political outlook for 2015. Let’s start where it matters most by beginning with the economy.

1) The central banks are clueless. The usual tricks that U.S. and European central banks such as the Federal Reserve use to avoid recessions are long-exhausted. Interest rates cannot get any lower, and they’ve stayed that way for the last several years. And because cheap money wasn’t working, the printing press was turned up a notch or two, into what the U.S. federal reserve euphemistically calls quantitative easing – flooding hundreds of billions of dollars into the world economy, escalating an emerging currency war between the US, the EU and the UK on one side, against China, Russia and the BRICS countries on the other.

2) Trade war. For the global economy to grow, global cooperation is needed. But there are too many countries engaging in a bitter struggle to dominate foreign markets so that their own corporations can export. These markets are won by devaluing currencies (accomplished in the U.S. by quantitative easing), installing protectionist measures (so that a nation’s corporations have monopoly dominance over the nation’s consumers), or by war (a very risky but highly effective form of market domination).

3) Military occupation and conquest. This is the part where I can’t help but question some people’s faith in God, or sometimes the lack thereof. If we are going to continue to call ourselves a Christian nation, then our nation’s leaders – the ones who have been elected to take charge of the course of America – are going to have to find a better way of dealing with America’s global problems and adversaries than by arbitrarily killing people by the hundreds of thousands. Besides, don’t they comprehend that endless foreign wars are a telling symptom of economic decay? And then there are the economic wars, starting with the domination of markets – every inch of them – which has lately become an issue of life and death importance. “Containing” economies like China and “opening” economies like Iran and North Korea become more urgent during a major recession, requiring brute force and creating further global instability in all realms of social life. There’s got to be a better way of doing this! The problem here is that America is not relying on God!!

4) U.S. economic strength overstated. The most important consumer market in the world, the U.S., is a nation of nearly bankrupt consumers. After enduring prolonged periods of unemployment following the 2008 economic crash, the greater majority of America’s middle class fell into poverty, with a good number still there today. Nearly thirty million Americans are unemployed or underemployed, while further job losses are certain, due to nearly every state’s budget deficit (unless it’s minimum wage jobs – there are plenty of those to go around). As if that weren’t enough, the student loan bubble currently stands at $1 trillion dollars ‘plus’, proving that America’s educational system is broken. States are now bracing for more painful cuts, more layoffs, more tax increases, more battles with public employee unions, and more requests to bail out cities. And in the long term, as cities and states try to keep up on their debts, the very nature of government could change as they have less money left over to pay for the services they have long provided. Capitalism’s infrastructure is falling apart, and no one is doing anything about it. There’s no money to fix it.

5) Bailout Capitalism. First it was the banks and other corporations that needed bailing out, and now it’s whole nations like Greece and Spain. Western nations bailed out their banks by falling into the massive debt that they are now drowning in. Greece and Ireland have been bailed out once, Greece just got a second one just a month or two ago, and Portugal, Spain, and Italy are all works in progress. The entire European Union is being called into question as the Euro takes a beating in the bailout spree. If the EU is dismantled, the shock waves will quickly reach other economies.

6) Bailout repercussions. All western nations – including the U.S. and England – are grappling with their national debts. Rich bond investors are demanding that these countries drastically reduce their deficits, while also demanding that the deficits be reduced on the backs of working families, instead of rich investors. This is tearing the social fabric apart, as working and poor people see their social programs under attack. In Europe mass movements are erupting in France, Spain, Portugal, England, Greece, Ireland, Italy, etc. Social stability is a prerequisite for a recovered economy, but corporate politicians everywhere are asking much more than working people are willing to give. People everywhere are sick and tired of being broke.

7) The emergence of the ‘radical right’. To deal with working people more ruthlessly, the radical right is being unleashed. In normal times these bigots yell furiously but no one listens. But in times of economic crisis like we’re living in they’re given endless airtime on all major media outlets. The message of the far right promotes all the rottenness not yet eradicated by education: racism, xenophobia, religious intolerance, violence, and a backward nationalism that fears all things “foreign.” These core beliefs effectively divide working people so that a concerted campaign against the corporate elite is harder to wage. Meanwhile, labor unions, progressives, and other working class organizations are instead targeted.

The various reasons for capitalism’s impending failure I have just elaborated on do not happen in a normal economic cycle of boom and bust. These symptoms point to a larger disease in the capitalist economic system, a disease that cannot be cured by politicians who swear allegiance to this deteriorating system and to the wealthy elite who benefit from it. To ensure that the economic system is changed so that working people benefit, the ones who do the real work every day to keep things moving, large-scale collective action is necessary based on demands that unite the majority of working people. What America needs is a massive job-creation program at the expense of Wall Street, no cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and a moratorium on home foreclosures. If the Christian community worked cooperatively with the unions in promoting these demands, working people could put up a real fight. After all, the Bible says, “The workman is worth his/her wages”.

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The capitalist orgy of consumer spending otherwise known as Christmas

The Holidays In America: Blind Consumerism

by Rev. Paul J. Bern

already_deadThe psychopathology of consumerism and the subtle brain washing of mind control: We have become programmed like robots to spend more than we can afford on things we don’t really need. Like sheep headed to the trimmers, we dutifully spend our meager incomes at the bidding of a myriad of shop-till-you-drop gimmicks while our highly vaunted capitalist economic system fleeces us all. The worst part is that the useless junk we buy doesn’t benefit the US economy, it benefits mainly Red China’s. Those who control America’s shadow government – the real movers and shakers from behind the scenes, not their puppets in Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court – have sold out our country to the opposing side and have thus committed treason. The reason most people don’t care about or won’t even consider this glaring reality is because they can “live so much cheaper” buying the very inexpensively made garbage that China has been dumping on America’s shores since the 1980’s. Cheaper at first, yes, but due to shoddy manufacturing and poor quality, Chinese products are notoriously short-lived and invariably cheap imitations of much better quality merchandise that used to be made here in the US. But that, of course, was before corporate America and Wall Street shipped all those middle class American jobs overseas for pennies on the dollar. And so we fight and claw for the thriftiest deal at the various suburban big box stores, purchasing with our meager earnings from our multiple part time jobs (because there are no other jobs available), shopping at other chain stores who offer pathetically and similarly low wages and zero benefits to their staff. Just like your employer.

So, how much can we save on all these wonderful items (LOL)? That depends on whether one can afford to pay cash while doing their shopping or not. If one uses plastic instead of paper, that person always ends up paying far more in interest, fees and hidden charges than they would have had they bought a similar higher quality item at the finest store in town and paid cash. How much could we save now? Let’s ask some more pertinent questions and explore some far more evident realities about this issue. For example, what about the Chinese workers slaving in dangerous non union factories for 1-2 dollars a day? What does the company make off the deal? Who is actually winning? Is it really the mesmerized consumer, all teary-eyed with joy while giggling gleefully at 30, 40, and 50% off deals? Or could it be that the whole stinking thing is rigged from beginning to end? Of course it is! Just look at what is being sold and calculate how much it costs to make it. If I look at a can of pork and beans on the grocery shelf and it’s priced at 75 cents, it doesn’t take a marketing genius to figure out that 75 cents is an outrageous markup. The cans are made by the millions, so they cost just a couple of pennies each to manufacture. The contents of the can usually cost even less, and ditto for the label. So we’re looking at 2 cents for the can, 1-2 cents more for the contents, and maybe an extra penny or two for the label. Add another penny or two as margin for error and we have 7 cents. Seven cents, and the retail price is 75 cents? So the gross profit is more than ten times the cost, or a markup in excess of 1,000%. Or consider a far more expensive item such as the latest I-phone. They sell for about $300-400 dollars and up plus tax, but there was a posting on the Internet just recently to the effect that it only costs Apple, Inc. about $120.00 to manufacture I-phones because they were being made in China, resulting in a 150-300% markup. So much for “God bless America”.

“Oh,” the politicians and talking heads say to us on TV, “it’s the American workers. They don’t want to work menial jobs like canning pork and beans. And we can’t assemble I-phones in America because its workers aren’t qualified.” Never mind that there are many thousands of recent college graduates who are living with their parents because they are unable to support themselves. There simply are no jobs for these poor young adults, and yet they are expected to repay predatory and exorbitant student loans. The careers for which they have been training have already been out-sourced to the third world during the last 4+ years that these hapless individuals have spent earning their degrees. They have all been robbed of their educations, which have been rendered worthless by the multinational corporations and the US military-industrial complex who are running the whole show.

Yet we are expected to perform our patriotic duty as well as appropriately celebrate the “feast of capitalism” as we shop till we drop looking for that most fantastic deal. We are in the process of being programmed to slave at multiple part time jobs working for starvation wages and with no health benefits while being expected to buy $300,000.00 houses, $70,000.00 cars and trucks plus big screen TV’s and I-phones. While all this is occurring, certain employees of multiple multinational corporations are being well paid to line the pockets of senators, congressmen and supreme-court justices in Washington D.C., while sitting on presidential cabinets making decisions regarding our planet’s future, our future, and our children’s future. Is it any wonder that the entire world seems to be coming unglued?

Meanwhile our consumerism is devouring the planet into what might soon become more lifeless than the moon or a Wall Street tycoon’s conscience. Yet, mesmerized by commercials with intelligence levels less than a jackass after having a brain amputation, we roll blindly into the gates of the shopping centers turned shopping malls turned humongous big box stores. To share with you what brought out this little speech, consider the following 2011 release from the Associated Press.

“A shopper in Los Angeles pepper-sprayed her competition for an X-box and scuffles broke out elsewhere around the United States as bargain-hunters crowded malls and big-box stores in an earlier-than-usual start to the greed-fueled madness known as Black Friday. For the first time, chains such as Target, Best Buy and Kohl’s opened their doors before midnight on the most anticipated shopping day of the year. Toys R Us opened for the second straight year on Thanksgiving itself. And some shoppers arrived with sharp elbows. On Thanksgiving night, a Walmart in Los Angeles brought out a crate of discounted X-boxes, and as a crowd waited for the video game players to be unwrapped, a woman fired pepper spray at the other shoppers ‘in order to get an advantage,’ police said. Ten people suffered cuts and bruises in the chaos, and 10 others had minor injuries from the spray, authorities said. The woman got away in the confusion, and it was not immediately clear whether she got an X-box. On Friday morning, police said, two women were injured and a man was charged after a fight broke out at an upstate New York Walmart. And a man was arrested in a scuffle at a jewelry counter at a Walmart in Kissimmee, Fla. In the U.S., Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer, has taken steps in recent years to control its Black Friday crowds following the 2008 death of one of its workers in a stampede of shoppers. This year, it staggered its door-buster deals instead of offering them all at once.”

— The Associated Press, Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 26, 2011

Lennon and McCartney of the Beatles wrote in the song “Revolution”, “you say you want a revolution, well you know, we’d all love to change your head.” Yes, it is more than changing Wall Street or who resides in the White House. It is, ultimately, about changing ourselves. If we all really want some serious change, then change must start from within. Speak from your heart to your kids about consumerism, greed and how they are affecting the planet as well as our behavior. Help them to understand that it’s not about how much we have, but rather how much we contribute. Life is not about how much we own or the value of our possessions, life is all about making a stand for good things like faith, mercy, kindness, and above all, love. Instead of buying your wife a new car and maybe going into debt, take her up on the highest place around where you live, or to some favorite romantic spot, and renew your vows to her. Instead of buying your husband a new bag of golf clubs, give him a night he will never forget. Enjoy each other and be loving to each other. To enjoy is to enjoin, to enjoin is to unite.

Consumerism, capitalism and the vain pursuit of worldly goods keeps us isolated by gimmicks of sensationalist advertising of strikingly beautiful women, absolutely perfect children and gorgeous, flaming hunks of men that are created off the corporate mold. To put it simply, the corporate mold is a load of BS. And who is being molded in all these advertising gimmicks? You are! For what purpose? To make others rich at your expense. The blue chip corporations have a very good reason for doing all this. As long as they can keep us isolated, we can never be united. Don’t go there. Keep your money. Find richness in your heart, your spirit and your character and share that this year instead.

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Ending poverty is much simpler than many people think

Ending Poverty: How We Can Make God, and Each Other, Happy

by Rev. Paul J. Bern

capitalismWith about 99% of the wealth in America in the hands of a little over 1% of the population, the US has a bigger and wider gap between the richest 5% 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 is no longer just an economic problem, it has – here in the early 21st century – become a civil rights issue. 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 even literally. I am vigorously maintaining that every human being has the basic, God-given right to a livelihood and to a living wage. Anything less becomes a civil rights violation and therefore that jobless person(s) are victims of systemic discrimination. And so I state unreservedly that restarting the civil rights era protests, demonstrations, sit-ins and the occupation of whole buildings or 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 Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner. But these protesters are behind the curve. Because before them there was Occupy Wall St., “we are the 99%” and Anonymous. And before them there was the Arab Spring in Egypt, the summer of 2011 in Great Britain and Greece in Europe, and Libya, Syria and Gaza in the Middle East. So from a political standpoint, the current crop of protesters here in the US had some catching up to do. But that was before the rest of the world got on board protesting globally for the three murdered Americans in Florida, Missouri and New York. 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. 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 just because someone can. I think what we really need to do is find a way to end poverty. I can sum up the answer in one word: 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 show 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. 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 govenment 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 and the bailout of the banks? 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.

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Announcing: The perfect stocking stuffer for avid readers, political left wing nuts, pundits and patriots

The Middle and Working Class ManifestoDCIM100MEDIA Before there was Occupy Wall St., before “the 99%” and Anonymous, before Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, before the ‘Arab Spring’, Syria and Palestine, there was this book, the book that inspired it all. $9.95, free shipping, tax deductible. http://www.pcmga.org/books_and_donations

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Is The Revolution Really Beginning? If So, It’s About Time!

The Coming Revolution May Not Be Televised

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

I cant breathe

Thanks to the injustices against Trayvon Williams in Florida and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri earlier this year, and more recently Eric Garner in New York City, it is abundantly clear to “we the people” that war has been declared on us by our government, with the police looking like poorly paid wannabe mercenaries. I write today about these repeated clashes that have grown into a kind of cultural resistance not seen since the civil rights protests and anti-war demonstrations of the 1950’s, ’60’s and the early ’70’s. This culture of resistance, which has been building up gradually ever since that time up until now is beginning to have a noticeable effect as it continues to grow slowly but steadily. There are cracks in the pillars of power, and they’re starting to get a little bigger. It’s up to us to shine the light on the lies, the spins and the ‘black ops’ and shadow government that has been operating smoothly behind the scenes ever since they killed President John Kennedy to seize power. It is up to us – ‘we the people’ – to uncover the systemic open corruption that has been stealing America’s future. I look back over the events of the past two years and feel cautiously optimistic, because I have seen this movement that is continuously building momentum.

Here in Atlanta’s inner city where I live and work as a freelance writer, Web pastor and itinerant missionary, I have perceived what I would describe as a strong sense of suspense in the air. Some people say that they weren’t feeling enough pain to warrant being angry about the Ferguson and New York decisions, and that we hadn’t reached the tipping point as of yet. They’re only interested in taking the safe way out. I have had still others tell me that, as a Christian minister, it’s my duty to follow the laws without question and pay my taxes unfailingly. They have told me that it is not right for a Web pastor to take sides in favor of the protesters, much less write and blog about it. But to them I quote the Book of James, where it is written about those in charge who abuse their authority: “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay your workman who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.” (James chapter 5, verses 1-6 NIV) There are others, however, who are ready to strike, such as what just happened with the fast food and convenience store workers this past week all over the country. The folks who barricade themselves in their homes and apartments are gradually becoming outnumbered by those who insist on staying out in the streets and making their extreme displeasure known to those who still presume to be in charge. They have staked out a place in the heart of the monster and held it. Excitement and wonder are seemingly everywhere.

Could ‘we the people’ really take on Wall Street and the lobbyists on Capitol Hill? Obviously Wall Street and the offices on K Street in Washington, DC thought so because they ordered excessive and constant police protection. They must have seen something brewing because Wall Street firms had donated unprecedented millions to the NYPD over the previous year. It was police aggression towards peaceful protesters that grabbed public attention and sympathy. For example, a few weeks after the start of Occupy Wall Street in September of 2011, an amazing 43 percent of Americans supported Occupy, a figure that remains largely undiminished to this day.

Three years later, the physical encampments are gone, but the Occupy Movement remains, along with its cousins, the ‘99%’ and Anonymous Movements, worldwide. Occupying public space was a tactic, not an end in itself. It was a way to make the issues visible, a place for people to gather, a model for a new way of doing things based on respect, mutual aid and democracy and a demand to reclaim what has been ruthlessly taken. When the financial crisis hit in 2008, there was an expectation that the government would respond appropriately to stabilize the economy and that we simply had to weather the storm. What we saw instead were massive bailouts of the industry that caused the crash and greatly inadequate steps to secure jobs, housing and health care. This turned some already catastrophic financial crises caused by runaway private speculation into an immense source of private gain for the same very financiers responsible for the catastrophe to begin with. Even worse, it made those catastrophes so much more catastrophic than they really needed to be in the first place. And all this happened prior to the current epidemic of violence in America’s streets and the apparently casual shootings by police officers of unarmed men (in one of the worst cases, a 12-year-old boy was shot to death by the police in Cleveland, Ohio because he held a toy gun).

As a result of all this mess, we’re not heading toward greater income equality. We’re not opposing social and economic injustice like ‘the 1%’ do, but we’re not building up the middle class or supporting unionization either. We’re not eradicating poverty and hunger, they are getting worse. We’re not expanding educational opportunity, fewer and fewer people can afford it. We’re not rebuilding infrastructure, and it’s falling apart. We most certainly aren’t doing anywhere nearly enough to improve race relations. Nothing we’re doing looks anything like the society we built from the New Deal through the 1970s. We’re not doing any of the things that would lead to a more stable and just economy. In fact, we’re doing just the opposite, which means the billionaire bailout society will become even more firmly entrenched. This means that if left unchecked, the trends towards greater inequality and suffering will not only continue, it will accelerate as well. But the billionaire bailout society may have went too far in their exuberance for still more wealth. According to a Stanford study, “animosity toward the financial sector reached its highest level in 40 years in 2012” which undoubtedly fueled the Occupy and 99% Movements, and anger remains high (or higher, take your pick) to this very day. A majority of Americans believe that not nearly enough was done to prosecute the bankers.

When drowning in so many crises it is sometimes hard to see above the surface of the water, but the anti-globalization movement and its offspring, the Occupy and “the 99%” Movements, are having an effect. Since 2000, the World Trade Organization has been unable to advance its agenda and 14 free trade agreements have been stopped by public pressure. Like low-wage workers in the fast food and retail industries, workers must join together to let Congress know that the WTO is not the right path for the U.S.” Another broad coalition of groups has come together to stop the TPP. If they are successful, this will be a huge victory against transnational corporate power. And JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon admitted that the bank broke the law. Another important win that is inspiring many in the US took place in Colombia, where farmers went on a prolonged strike to win back the right to use their own seeds. The anti-Monsanto and anti-GMO movement is strong here. Thousands of people marched there this week for a law to protect themselves from pesticides. And, despite an outpouring of money, a vote to label GMO products in Washington State is still holding strong. In still another anti-1% effort by ‘we the people’, stopping the imminent attack on Syria earlier this year was a win for people everywhere and a loss for the military industrial complex. Raytheon and Lockheed Martin in particular were set to make hundreds of millions from it. We must be vigilant, though, because the current diplomatic path could be used to justify an attack in the future in either Syria or Iran.

It is important to recognize these victories and to build from them. It is also important to remember that we never know how close we are to achieving significant change. The Occupy movement spawned the “Idle No More”, “Workers’ Rights” and ‘Climate Change’ movements. Our eyes are open and we can’t ignore what we now see; we know that it is the plutocratic system, not individual inadequacy, that is causing poverty in America. We know that the $1 trillion given by the Federal Reserve to private banks could have created 20 million desperately-needed jobs. We know that the 400 richest people in the US have more wealth than the GDP of entire countries – like Canada and Mexico, for instance! And we know the names of those who control the wealth and exploit people and the planet for it. We no longer expect “leaders” to create the change we need. We are all leaders and change depends on our actions and ours alone. Since the system is too dysfunctional to attempt to repair it, the most logical and practical thing to do is replace it. Humankind already has a tool available off the shelf as a basis for launching such a project, and it’s called ‘the Internet’. The government of the future will be small, efficient and nearly paperless.

The culture of resistance necessary to create the kind of world we want to live in is already here. Actions are taking place daily in the US and around the world. You won’t hear about most of them in the mass media. This week alone, more than one hundred women, most of them undocumented, were arrested in Washington, DC to protest the ways that immigration policies harm their families. Dairy workers in New York protested their abusive working conditions. Protesters in Vermont, ages 65 to 94, chained themselves to the entrance of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power plant to demand its immediate closure and Marylanders protested outside an ‘arms bazaar.’ The Cascadia Forest Defenders scaled the capitol building in Oregon to drop a huge banner to protest clear-cutting.

Resistance is not all protesting, it also includes building alternative systems to meet our basic needs. Many who are active in OWS, ‘the 99%’ and Anonymous have been hard at work at this since the physical occupation was shut down. This week the Occupy Money Cooperative announced its launch with a fund raising campaign. They will provide low-cost financial services to the millions of Americans who are unbanked and under-banked and who are preyed upon by banks, check cashing services and payday lenders. It will be an opportunity for all to opt-out of big finance. Just as OWS created the infrastructure that was used to organize Occupy Sandy, and continued for months afterward to provide services to those affected by Superstorm Sandy, occupiers in Colorado responded to the needs of people in the Boulder area who were hit by massive flooding.

Hard work is being done every day to take on entrenched corporate power and create a new world based on principles such as mutual aid, community, equity, solidarity and democracy. Although we face an uncertain future, we embrace the chaos that defines our times. There is no alternative but to challenge the status quo of ever-increasing debt, shrinking job opportunities and disappearing civil rights. We can’t say what the outcome will be or whether we will live to see the world we hope to create. Can there even be an endpoint? Perhaps the most important piece of social transformation is not a goal but rather is the process of living in a way that is consistent with our values. We live in the culture of resistance which requires constant nurturing to bend the arc of time towards justice.

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