Archive for August, 2007

Social Justice III: The Libertarian Criticism of Social Justice

August 27, 2007

It is a bit misleading to describe this post as “The Libertarian Criticism of Social Justice,” as the libertarian argument itself actually makes no case for or against social justice per se, only the use of governmental power to promote social justice. The libertarian criticism posits that individual freedom is the highest priority in this as well as all other social issues, and that government activity in social justice amounts to coercion regarding the individual’s private property. As a matter of public ideology, it ignores virtually all other moral concerns.

Frankly, the argument is compelling. Much of the animus behind the Revolutionary War was the desire among the revolutionaries for the freedom to make economic and moral decisions. That urge for freedom has remained a huge part of the national character. Moreover, the most fundamental principle of the Gospel is similarly that of free will (2 Nephi 2:27). It is that free will (or “free agency” in the parlance of Mormon culture) for which we battled in Heaven, according to LDS theology, and which we expect from our governments (D&C 134:1-5).

But the libertarian argument is not the sole word on governance. There are other concerns to balance. While we respect the freedom of individuals regarding their private property, we also recognize that we have entered into a social contract in choosing to unite as a nation, a compact in which we have surrendered some of that freedom for the greater good. We all provide from our private property for the defense of the entire nation, whether or not our individual communities or homes may or may not threatened. We provide for public infrastructure at all levels of government, regardless of whether we ourselves will personally be accessing those particular roads, rails, public transit, water systems, trash collection, etc, because it benefits the community and nation as a whole. We provide for emergency services whether or not we ourselves expect to need them. Again and again, we seem to have found it acceptable to surrender a portion of our private property for, as referred to in the Preamble and Section 8 of Article 1 of the Constitution, the “general welfare.”

Does social justice promote the general welfare? History shows that disease ferments within the homeless and impoverished community, eventually breaking out to ravage the mainstream society. The greater the disparity of wealth within a society, the more likely crime and civil unrest will rise. The general welfare is threatened when large segments of the population are underserved. Not only do we have a moral imperative to promote social compassion, but it is just as much a part of the public interest and within the scope of government, at whatever level, to promote social justice as it is to promote the defense or functional infrastructure.

The libertarian perspective insists that private efforts are inherently more efficient and effective than government efforts in virtually all areas. For them, social justice is no exception—indeed, for them it may be the most brazen example of this maxim. One acquaintance of mine once suggested, in denouncing the principle of government social spending, that the people instead needed to again stretch their charity muscles if they want to help the poor, because government shouldn’t be involved and couldn’t perform as well as we as private citizens could, were we to again take up the cause.

Theoretically, it may be so. But I prefer to look at practical reality than the theory. And in reality, there is no evidence that “the people” the U.S. have never advanced social justice as well as the government welfare system which had its birth in the New Deal and was further developed during the liberal programs in following decades. I do not suggest that there was no charitable work prior to the liberal welfare programs of the prior century. At the turn of the last century and in the years leading up to and opening the Great Depression, there were various religious charities, mutual aid societies, and individuals attempting to alleviate the problems of rampant poverty. Those efforts were valiant and noble. But for every person they fed, many hundreds went hungry. For every one educated or housed, scores were left illiterate and homeless. People by the thousands died of disease brought on by their living conditions in the slums, even disease treatable by the medicinal practices of the day, despite the best efforts of conscientious doctors and organizations striving to provide care for those who could not pay.

Government welfare programs have hardly been perfect either. There are far too many who slip through the cracks. But government welfare has provided for the basic necessities to a far greater proportion of the population than the combined efforts, however heroic, of the various private entities ever did. Even the LDS church welfare program, as vast and impressive as it is, could not step into the breach were government social programs to be eradicated.

Opponents of social programs, including several people commenting on this blog, have accused liberals of shifting their responsibility for personal action in social justice causes onto government essentially shirking their obligations. Of course, they have no evidence for this specious charge. Liberals across the country are contributing time and money to help solve the social ills that plague our nation. We believe strongly in grassroots mobilization and personal participation. To claim that liberals do not engage in charitable activities is as ignorant and disingenuous as for us to claim that conservatives do not participate in charitable work. We simply recognize that government action is also valid and apparently crucial (judging from historical observation) to maintaining a minimum standard of social justice when government works alongside private social efforts.

Though their argument itself has merit, I am troubled by the fact that the public ideology of those who uphold the libertarian position is so limited in scope. ideology is more than just politics; it is how a person views life. While their stand on government social justice actions is ethical, their public ideology ignores the needs of social justice. For example, I respect many of the positions of libertarian Ron Paul, and while I certainly do not agree with all of them, I do believe he is a highly principled man and politician—something of which neither major party has enough. I greatly admire that in his private profession, he has been willing to make a number of sacrifices to help serve the less fortunate. But his private deeds are not enough; the advocacy of public figures among the libertarian cause is necessary for their public ideology to be complete. Those who object to government solutions must then advocate private actions, or their ideology is hollow. To my knowledge, neither he nor other libertarian enthusiasts like the late Harry Browne, nor the Cato institute, nor the Libertarian party, nor the Republican “small government” pretender, nor any other prominent libertarian voice makes private mobilization against social ills a primary part of their ideological agenda. I do not see them imploring their listeners to make social compassion and charity a high priority in life. I hear none among those who use the libertarian criticism of (government) social justice saying “Government is not the best solution for lifting up the downtrodden. How sad that we failed to address those concerns through private action, so that those concerned about the poor felt they had no recourse but to seek government action to solve the problem! We can do better. Here is a plan by which we can through private means better provide adequate health-care / housing / education / nutrition /etc. If we all work together, if everyone sacrifices and makes this a priority, we will be able to see the blight of poverty reduced further than ever before, and no longer need those government efforts! ”

No, at best I hear those bearing the libertarian criticism mention as a footnote to their denunciations of government that we should be charitable as individuals (important but insufficient); and at worst, they display an idolatry of the market, promoting the free-market fundamentalist falsehood that an unhindered market will somehow magically eradicate poverty.

Because I recognize the inherent logic and virtue of the libertarian criticism, I agree with the need to try minimize the involvement of government as much as possible while ensuring social justice is sufficiently addressed. And, as I have said before, I acknowledge the need to minimize the abuse of the programs—while insisting that if we should err, we must err on the side of mercy. I will avidly lend my personal effort to helping the poor and promote private efforts to attack the causes and results of poverty. I don’t believe many liberals would disagree with those propositions. But until the naysayers provide practical solutions by which the private sector can better tend to any given social justice issue than the government, I will stridently defend government redress of social justice.



Back in Town

August 24, 2007

My my, I leave for a few days, and I get all sorts of comment activity on my blog. I’m glad you’ve been able to keep yourselves entertained 😉

I’m almost finished with the third in my trilogy. In the meantime, check out the witty and peircing observations of Candorville, which has published a series of strips on the recent infrastructure issues and government spending, and of Doonesbury in a series on the absurd administration argument that “if we don’t fight the terrorists in Iraq, we’ll have to fight them here.”

PCE Push Polling

August 17, 2007

After reading the SL Trib’s report on the PCE’s push polling today, I was all afire to write up a quick piece on the moral bankruptcy of the organization and the ideology which spawned it.

But then I saw that others in the Utah blogosphere had already adequately covered the topic. Now that the most recent events which have been chapping my hide are out of the way, I can get back to work on the social justice series.

From 3rd Ave:

That is not a “opinion poll,” Julia Lyon, it is a push poll. They are smearing the other side assuming that Utah’s homophobia will overwhelm its desire for good public schools.

Jeremy’s Jeremiad:

Voucher proponents have already begun digging into their bag of dirty tricks and its only August. Pathetic? Yes. Surprising? No.

It will be interesting to see how low the pro-voucher movement will go in pushing this lost cause on Utah’s voters. I’m betting they’ll go much lower than this latest push poll as the election gets closer.

And for the most shrewd observation, The World According to Me:

…PCE is calling people to “ask” them if their minds would be changed on the voucher issue if they knew that the same orginization opposing vouchers favored same-sex marriage.

Which, to begin with, is false.

It’s also a practice known as “push polling,” where the results of the poll aren’t important, it’s the impression you leave in people’s minds&hellips;

…This is unfair and dirty. And, if PCE has to resort to dirty tricks to win, what does that say of the validity of their position? [emphasis added]

‘Nuff said.

Robert Murray: Exhibit “A” in the Case Against Deregulation

August 17, 2007

How do the conservatives defend their position in the face of the Crandall Canyon Mine fiasco?

The modern conventional conservative loves big business. They emphatically agree with Calvin Coolidge: “The chief business of the American people is business.” When business is unfettered by government influence and regulation, it will make the U.S. prosper. Everyone comes out ahead.

Tell that to the families who must now be struggling to maintain hope that their husbands and fathers are still alive somewhere under the mountain. Continue to justify that line in light of Robert Murray and his company’s flagrant abuse.

Accidents happen. Perhaps the mine collapse was an entirely random fluke, one of those twists of fate that can befall any of us at any time.

But Robert Murray’s mines have a history of safety violations and risky methods. In his lust for profit, Murray has flouted regulations (aided until recently by conservative congress where prefers to cut funding for federal regulatory agencies in the name of curbing “big government,” and by a conservative administration less than interested in enforcing those regulations). He has bullied regulators, miners, and law enforcement. And ultimately, he has been willing to conduct his business in ways that gambled for increased profit with human lives. It looks now like he lost that wager, and the lives not his own are paying the price.

How ignoble an economic system in which those who put up the greatest cost for decisions are not those who reap the greatest rewards should those decisions pan out.

Proponents of the free market insist that the market, unimpeded by government interference, is the best method by which to protect the interests of all members of that market. Producers have a vested interest in competing to provide the safe products, safe working conditions, etc, in order to ensure the greatest possible share of the market. Let them compete unencumbered, and they will arrive at the cheapest, most efficient, and safest possible solution.

Indeed? I challenge those proponents: What reason do we have to believe that removing those regulations entirely would have encouraged Murray to have used safer mining tactics and better protected the safety of his workers? Is there any reason to believe that he and other mine operators would not be even less careful with their miners, as were the industrial leaders of the virtually unregulated Gilded Age?

It is not enough to assure us that such crimes would be punished by the public as we “vote with our dollars.” If we are as a society believe in the “sanctity of life,” then we have a right to demand that there be a system in place to prevent such abuses from occurring in the first place, not just punish those who so abuse. We have a right to demand that the interests of the worker contributing to society and the family which the worker supports be held above the corporate hunger for lucre.

Until they can identify some private means by which the despicable actions of corrupt people like Murray can be restrained, I can never embrace the laissez-faire agenda of modern conservatism.

See also:

Lets Make Some Technical Changes in Our Presidential Elections

August 16, 2007

No I’m not going to talk about finance reform (another day). I’m talking about more technical changes, ones which would improve our election process in an entirely non-partisan way.

The recent game of leap-frog among the states in scheduling their state caucuses is ridiculous. What we need is a national primary day. This tradition of individual dates gives far too much influence to a few states with the early vote (New Hampshire, Ohio, S. Carolina). It discourages voting in the late states. And the continued effort by the individual states to maintain their primacy is going to eventually cause primaries to move into the prior year (2007 for this election). We should end this silliness by having all voters enter their selection on the same day. In addition to leveling the playing field among both states and candidates, it will provide the pleasant benefit of shortening the interminable season of primary campaigning.

While we’re talking about pie-in-the-sky reforms, lets talk about the electoral college. It never ceases to astound me that amendments completely incompatible with our national and religious principles (the Marriage Amendment, Orrin Hatch’s pet Flag Burning Amendment) repeatedly get enough traction to be proposed and debated on the national scene. But a common-sense, nuts-and-bolts amendment such as an amendment to abolish the use of electors and make the presidential election a truly democratically-elected position rarely makes any headway.

The electoral college is a historical antiquity. It is the primarily the result of four conditions: Revolutionary-era communication and travel challenges, emphasis on the states over the general public by Revolutionary leaders, a skepticism of the competence of the masses to make informed decisions among the political class of the time, and slavery. None still apply to us today.

At the time the Constitution was written, travel was slow and vulnerable to the weather. It could easily take days or even weeks to travel to their state capitols, let alone a national capitol. People at the time might well have found it unreasonable to expect to wait for weeks on end for the results of an election. With modern transportation and communications technologies, this issue is now irrelevant.

Communications also played a role in the second issue. There was perhaps some cause for incredulity among the political class about the awareness of the masses. No doubt prejudice and pride both played a role among many of the optimates. But the limited reach and scope of contemporary media, as well as the illiteracy (far more pervasive than today), did indeed mean that the average citizen had fewer opportunities to become informed about the issues and candidates of the day. But the theory that the average citizen does not have the right nor capacity to have a voice in governance is widely rejected in modern U.S. political thought, and the vast majority of the public now has access to information with which to guide that voice. We don’t need intermediaries to make that choice for us.

For many of the men involved (though certainly not all) in the Constitutional debates, the issue had little to do with “the people.” In their consideration, the issue was an agreement between the states, political entities sovereign themselves. Representation of the will of the state was what mattered. The people as individuals mattered only indirectly. For this purpose, they forced a compromise onto the Constitution which required equal representation for the states in the Senate, and election of those Senators by the state legislatures. And for that purpose, they also denied direct election of the President. They preferred a system by which electors made the selection—electors typically chosen in the nation’s early years by state leaders or state legislatures, and in numbers which gave influence to small states disproportionate to their populations. Few anymore see the nation as a compact between states, but rather as an agreement between the individuals which comprise the citizenry. We are “Americans” first, Utahns (or Virginians, or Hawaiians, etc) second. Why then should we maintain a vestige of this elitism and exclusion?

The last cause for the use of electors is the least discussed, and the most insidious. During the gestation of the new nation, the political class in the South viewed any talk of a national government with a wary eye. It was no secret that slavery was increasingly viewed as a moral outrage in the North. They saw that most of the activists were not satisfied to abolish the practice in their own communities and states. And so the advocates of slavery in the South exacted some consequential compromises for their continued participation and endorsement of the Constitution. The Three-Fifths Compromise is notorious among these for counting part of each slave for the purpose of congressional representation purposes; the slave states would have legislative power disproportionate to their voting population. With this added power, the slave states were better able to defend their “peculiar institution.”

What is often overlooked is that this gave them an even more disproportionate voice in the election of the President as well, and thus the ability to better assure themselves a Champion in the executive branch as well. It is hardly coincidental that five of the first seven presidents were slaveowners and defenders of the status quo at the federal level. It was only the rapid population growth among the North which slowly eroded the dominance of the South in national politics.

None of the original grounds for the electors and indirect election of the President have any real validity in our nation today (and one is both entirely superfluous and patently offensive). Regardless of our political ideology, we overwhelmingly value the principles of a liberal democracy. We believe in universal suffrage and proportional enfranchisement (“one person, one vote”). To continue to rely on a system which grants unequal clout to votes depending on one’s state is absurd. Likewise a system which renders the minority’s vote impotent, as is the case in the “winner-takes-all” elector apportionment used in most states.

The Constitutional Convention created provisions for amendment for a purpose: so that future generations could see what was ineffective, what was no longer relevant to their times, and could modify, replace, or eliminate those aspects. Surely the indirect election of the President has outlived what legitimate purposes it once maintained. It serves no more purpose than one’s appendix—and has the potential to cause not much less grief to the body politic. Best we amputate now and adopt a system of presidential election more compatible with the democratic principles we hold dear.

Jim Wallis Tangles with Socialized Medicine

August 13, 2007

If you listen to the right-wing pundits, you might think that socialized health care, such as found in Canada, Britain, and lets see…virtually the entire developed world, is nothing more than dark concrete dungeons, months of waiting for either the simplest or most urgent procedures; rusting, antiquated tools; and unresponsive, indifferent staff.

Doubtlessly every one of those nationalized health-care systems have their share of problems. But I’ve little reason to believe any of these foreboding scenarios are remotely accurate. After all, notwithstanding Walter Reed, evidence suggests that the VA provides a higher quality health care than the civilian, private health care (and it is worth considering that the problems at Walter Reed might well be attributed to the extended and apparently unforeseen foreign occupation which our military is performing, for which this sort of planning and preparation was botched).

Despite the dire warnings of the conservative talking heads, I hear plenty of positive remarks from those who use the socialized health care of other nations—and no more complaints than I hear about our system.

Jim Wallis himself recently had the opportunity to avail himself of the British health-care system.

“What do you need from me?” I asked hesitantly. “Just your name and address,” she replied with another smile. “Oh…OK.” She told me it would be about 10 minutes to see the nurse. “Yeah right,” I thought to myself…

…It was five minutes before the nurse called me in to a little office adjacent to the waiting area, which seemed to be an intake room. She was pleasant and professional as she asked me what was wrong, and how long I had felt the soreness. She gently examined my foot and then told me I would be called in to see a doctor in about 10 minutes. “Sure thing,” I thought. So I went back out to the waiting room and settled in again to read my novel.

It was five minutes before a young woman appeared and called my name, “Mr. Wallis?” She was a young Asian doctor named Dr. Gillian Kyei. She was also very pleasant and professional, taking time to ask me lots of questions about how I might have hurt my foot, etc. She examined the injured foot carefully, told me that it didn’t necessarily look broken, but that we should get an X-ray to make sure. I waited in her examining room for a couple of minutes while she called down to the X-ray department to say that I was on the way. Then she came back and escorted me herself.

When I got to X-Ray, I checked in by just saying my name and took a seat in the waiting area. Finally, I was going to get to read my book! But five minutes later, the technician came out to bring me in. She took her time with me, taking several different angles of my foot. When I was done, she sent me back to my young doctor, with another smile.

This time the wait was a full ten minutes because, I later learned, Dr. Kyei was reading the results of my X-ray, which had already been sent to her computer. She showed me what looked to her like a fracture of my fourth metatarsal bone, but said she wanted to consult with the orthopedic specialist. I waited about ten minutes more while she did that and so got a few more pages read.

Dr. Kyei then came back with the definitive diagnosis—my fourth metatarsal bone was indeed fractured. She went over their preferred treatments and my options with me…I chose the boot and she told me she would be back in a minute.

It was actually about two minutes before she got back, and I was getting nowhere with this novel!

…“How can I call a cab?” I asked. “Oh, I’ll do that for you,” she said. “Just take a seat over their and the cab will be here in about 10 minutes.” As I sat there, I realized something. Nobody had ever asked me to pay. Everything was FREE, including my nice new boot. How about that? They think health care is a right for all citizens, and even foreign visitors like me. Amazing (“My Encounter with [Insert Scary Music]…Socialized Medicine!”).

It may not be perfect, but it just may be that socialized health care isn’t the nightmare conservatives would have us believe.

Pessimism and Liberalism

August 12, 2007

In a recent comment here on my blog, a reader insisted that he found at least some of my posts downright depressing, and more, that liberalism is essentially pessimistic.

I decline to try to refute his claim about myself; I leave that for others to judge. However, I reject his assertion regarding the core of liberalism.

The very thing that appeals to me about liberalism is that it is so optimistic. Liberals are optimistic that humanity doesn’t have to be as ugly as it is. We don’t have to tolerate war (with the atrocities which are virtually inevitable on all sides), violence, deprivation, squalor, intolerance, or oppression as acceptable and unavoidable conditions of society. We believe that through concerted effort—as individuals and as communities; through means secular and ecclesiastical; by efforts private and public—humanity can rise above its base nature and become truly magnificent. I find that liberalism appeals to the best in people.

But to do so, we cannot so casually accept things as they are. Conservatism all too often seems to accept and even embrace that natural man. Greed is good; war is necessary; crimes such as terrorism, assassination, and torture are legitimate—at least when we do them; poverty and deprivation are tough breaks—or the just desserts of a sinful nature. People are too evil to make proper sexual and religious choices on their own, so we must force them through governmental coercion, and we must harshly punish people who are “bad,” even unto death, to keep them from sinning again.

It sounds so base to me. And progress can never happen if we accept what is base and vulgar. For decades in the youth of our nation, the Southern planters insisted that slavery would dwindle out if left alone. Instead it continued to grow. It was only by direct challenge that the institution ended in the U.S. For decades following that, the white majority was all too willing to turn a blind eye to institutionalized racism. When organizers and reformers worked to rouse the public for change, they were told by many that they shouldn’t rock the boat so, that racial reform would come gradually if they just let the matter be. But reform didn’t come until increasing numbers of agitators raised the issue and forced America to confront its crimes. Whether you’re talking about women’s suffrage, the environmental movement, or even rights and liberty envisioned by Thomas Paine, John Adams, Jefferson, Madison, et al; its all the same. Change doesn’t come until people stand up for change, make their voices heard, pointing out flaws and injustices of the situation until enough people rally around to make the change happen.

The same pattern occurs within the Gospel. Many might call Isaiah despairing. Ezekial might well be considered depressing. And President Kimball, in his 1976 address “The False Gods We Worship,” might well be thought pessimistic about the U.S. A more mature perspective instead that he recognized frailties, shortcomings, and misperceptions that needed to addressed so that they could be corrected.

Maybe I’m too much an idealist (another accusation frequently hurled at the liberal). So be it. I find the Gospel to be idealistic. If we aren’t striving for more as individuals and as a community, continually acknowledging and improving upon our faults, we’ll never accomplish anything meaningful. But if we’re willing to change our perceptions and challenge conventional wisdom about what is possible, miracles may blossom around us.

More on the anniversary week of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

August 11, 2007

There have been many religious voices over the years who have looked back at the tragedy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and called for us to reexamine our relationship with those events specifically, as well as WMDs, even war in general. This week is a good time to recall those voices.

in a 1987 memorial for the bombings, Ginny Earnest gave a powerful speech imploring us to stop abstracting the events, but to rather understand their impact in human terms.

But we know that what happened on this day, 41 years ago, was so much more than an abstract symbol of a strategic choice. We must attempt to understand the meaning of the events of those days from a different vantage point—up close and through the eyes of compassion, where it will affect us…

…As John Hershey first wrote in 1946, the use of the atomic bomb was first of all an intimate, personal, and highly individual experience. It is from this perspective, this vantage point—the suffering of real people—that it is the most difficult. It is also the only way to compassion and real understanding. It is perhaps the only way to honestly remember.

For each person, the bomb fell at a particular moment in their personal history. It was this intimate reality much more than an event in the history of the struggle between nations. We have heard the account of the survivors—the testimony of the witnesses—and are led to see what it must have been like. We have a picture of life the moment before the flash.

There is a man riding a streetcar on his way to work. He has said good-bye to his wife and children for another day.

There is a woman walking up the street on her way to the market.

There is a school-aged child—among the thousands of school children—talking with a friend, working at a desk, playing in the school yard.

There is a clerk in a department store.

There is a doctor making rounds in a hospital.

There is an old man sitting on a front porch.

Each survivor remembers exactly what they were doing at the moment of the flash. I would imagine that many people thought immediately of a person they loved and wondered where they were and if they were safe…

…The people who died there were not all good people. Neither were they the heartless enemies of all war-time propaganda.

They were simply—and very much to the point—just like us.

Those who died immediately—some 190,000—died person by person, one by one. Each story constitutes an individual tragedy. The chronicles of those who lived for a time and then died are difficult to listen to. We cannot look at the films and photographs for very long. For those who survived and carry the memory with them, nothing has been the same since then. All of life changed in an instant…

…We must remember and witness, my friends, because the unthinkable has happened, and since that time, our government has based our national security on the assurance that we are prepared to do it again (“There Will be a Man in a Streetcar”).

George Zabelka, a Catholic chaplain with the U.S. Army air force, served as priest and pastor for the airmen who dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Over the years, he came to understand the horror of those strikes, and was personally convicted regarding his complicity, ignorant though it was. He became a passionate advocate of nonviolence. In 1980 he conducted an interview with Charles McCarthy, founder of the Center for the Study of Nonviolence at the University of Notre Dame.

As a chaplain I often had to enter the world of the boys who were losing their minds because of something they did in war. I remember one young man who was engaged in the bombings of the cities of Japan. He was in the hospital on Tinian Island on the verge of a complete mental collapse.

He told me that he had been on a low-level bombing mission, flying right down one of the main streets of the city, when straight ahead of him appeared a little boy, in the middle of the street, looking up at the plane in childlike wonder. The man knew that in a few seconds this child would be burned to death by napalm which had already been released.…

…The whole structure of the secular, religious, and military society told me clearly that it was all right to “let the Japs have it.” God was on the side of my country. The Japanese were the enemy, and I was absolutely certain of my country’s and Church’s teaching about enemies; no erudite theological text was necessary to tell me. The day-in-day-out operation of the state and the Church between 1940 and 1945 spoke more clearly about Christian attitudes toward enemies and war than St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas ever could.

I was certain that this mass destruction was right, certain to the point that the question of its morality never seriously entered my mind. I was “brainwashed” not by force or torture but by my Church’s silence and whole-hearted cooperation in thousands of little ways with the country’s war machinehellip;

…To fail to speak to the utter moral corruption of the mass destruction of civilians was to fail as a Christian and a priest as I see it. Hiroshima and Nagasaki happened in and to a world and a Christian church that had asked for it—that had prepared the moral consciousness of humanity to do and to justify the unthinkable…

…Christians the world over should be taught that Christ’s teaching to love their enemies is not optional. I’ve been in many parishes in my life, and I have found none where the congregation explicitly is called upon regularly to pray for its enemies. I think this is essential.

Powerful perspectives worth considering.

Shouldn’t the Farm Bill Help Farms?

August 10, 2007

Just over a week ago, the House of Representatives passed the new Farm Bill. Instituted during the New Deal to protect the public interest by helping to ensure that the vast population of small farmers could maintain their livelihood and provide the nation with a quality food supply.

three-quarters of a century later, the Farm Bill has become twisted. Billions of dollars flow into the coffers of corporate agribusiness, which then turns those subsidies into processed, chemically fertilized, protected, and “enhanced” processed foodstuffs. The small family farmer is often left on the short end of the stick, unable to sustain themselves on their vocation. We spent the last weekend at my in-laws’ rural home, and my wife and mother-in-law mourned the fact that so many of the farms were hanging up their plows and milkers. Farmers are being forced to sell their family plots, some having been passed down for generations, to developers who immediately begin laying down sprawling subdivisions and golf courses (four in one development!) on the good farmland.

Not only is this corporate welfare bad economic and social policy, it is bad health policy. I have a hunch that the nature and artificially low cost of the predominant (malnutritious) foodstuffs in our nation contributes to the declining national health.

While it would be ideal if no government support was necessary for any part of the agricultural sector of our economy. But the reality is that in our current economy, traditional farming is simply not viable. So it is imperative that we provide help. Wouldn’t a better, moral Farm Bill help protect the viability of the small farmer; the yeoman who was the backbone of Jefferson’s vision of America? To support the diversified, organic production of natural whole foods which will promote better health and reduce the demand on our health-care system rather than the corporate monoculture commodity farming?

This latest Farm Bill takes some small steps in the right direction. But the emphasis on corporate welfare remains.

In “The Farm Bill and the Common Good,” Adam Taylor of Sojourners has taken the Democratic congress to task for failing to stand up to corporate agribusiness, and makes the moral case for revitalizing the Farm Bill so that it can fulfill its original mandate.

This outcome in the House illustrates the brokenness of a political process in which corporate interests too often drown out the voices of faith-based and civic advocates. It also demonstrates the urgent need to reclaim our democracy on behalf of the common good.

Prophets such as Amos, Isaiah, and Ezekiel didn’t mince words or withhold prophetic judgment when leaders advanced the interests of the strong over the welfare of the weak. With our pastoral side we can sympathize with elected officials who are trying to do the right thing—balancing the interests of multiple stakeholders while facing real and perceived constraints around what’s politically possible. However, our prophetic vocation calls us to hold elected officials to a higher standard and change the very parameters within which these policy decisions are made, one that privileges and protects the interests of the weak and dispossessed—in this case, small farmers at home and abroad.

If we can create a culture in which the small farmer can flourish and in which all people have greater access to wisely grown foods, we will all benefit.

See also:

  • Clever curmudgeon Jim Hightower takes his stand on the Farm Bill in “A Farm Bill in the Public Interest.”

    …this massive subsidy program has become a total perversion of what it was meant to be – and should become again. The New Deal concept (still valid today) was to support the public interest in having an abundance of good food produced by healthy small farms that, in turn, strengthen rural communities…the central focus of the program should shift to helping small farmers make the transition to organic and sustainable production, sell directly to local markets, form marketing co-ops, convert to energy and water-efficient systems, conserve land and natural habitats, and develop locally-owned processing businesses.

  • Morning EditionFarm Bill: Beauty for Biz, Beast for Environment?
  • Talk of the NationHow the Farm Bill Affects What We Eat.” A great panel discussion on all the ramifications of the farm bill.

Utah Politicians on Health Care

August 10, 2007

(I posted this last year on, on which I was active at the time. It was a follow-up to my post “The Value of the Working Poor,” which had I cross-posted there. At the time I chose not to cross-post this one here, but have now reconsidered.)

I received several comments to my previous post on the working poor. Emily Hollingshead shared a recent experience she had at a meeting which was attended by many Utah politicians. One line in particular caught my attention. I hope Emily does not mind if I quote her.

I was shocked to hear some of our legislators talk about the “lazy people” who use medicare, and who “abuse the system” and who “make lifestyle choices” that put them in the hospital in the first place. The most shocking comment came from a gentleman running for the county commission who said the people who use medicare or medicade “use it all the time” because it is available to them and they have unending access to it. (Paraphrasing).

Interesting. I am not familiar with the situations about which this potential county commissioner is speaking. But it seems an odd perspective on health care.

Please correct me if I’m wrong; but isn’t a quality health care system one in which the patrons are able to make frequent and regular use of the system? Where frequent check-ups are the norm, so that potential health issues can be detected and prevented before they become catastrophes or expensive emergencies? “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” I’d been led to believe. Is that only true for those wealthy enough to afford health care?

Are we supposed to turn away those whose lifestyle choices lead to health problems? How charitable.

I shudder to think what that would mean for the increasingly sedentary population, whose diet consists of increasing amounts of sugars, salt, and fats. The LDS community may not drink or smoke, but they are certainly vulnerable to a number of lifestyle choices which can put them in the hospital.

There may be more effective ways to accomodate their health-care needs, but the objections of these Utah politicians are completely off-base.