Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

Forward: Other Winners in the U.S. 2012 Elections

So, you may have heard that Pres. Barack Obama (D) and VP Joe Biden (D) were re-elected to a 2nd term Tues. night, November 6th, 2012.  But you may have missed the many OTHER victories for social justice in the USA. There were also some losses, as Pres. Obama himself has emphasized, progress comes in fits and starts and zig-zags rather than a straightline.  This post is a summary of as many of the victories and losses as I can find so that we get some idea of the current “lay of the land” as we prepare for the next struggles.  I list these in no order of priority, just as I remember them and find links:

  1. Women’s Rights won big.  The new Congress in 2013 will have a record TWENTY (20) female U.S. Senators, up from 17 this time. On the one hand, this is pitiful. 1/5 of the U.S. Senate will be female when when women are 51% of the nation? When women have had the right to vote since 1920? Clearly, sexism is still alive and well in the USA.  BUT, it is improvement: Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) mentions that when he was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) was just elected as the first Democratic woman elected to the Senate in her own right. (Before then, widows of deceased Senators were appointed to serve out the remainders of their husbands’ terms–something that still happens.) Only 39 women have EVER served in the U.S. Senate since the body was created in 1789! The new Senate in 2013 will have 16 Democratic women [Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Patty Murray (D-WA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and the newly elected Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), & Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)]and 4 Republican women [Susan Collins  (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) will be joined by Deb Fischer (R-NE), an ultra-conservative. Two other GOP women senators: Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX), retired this year.]  All 8 of the men running for House and Senate who opposed abortion even in cases of rape were DEFEATED.  Women’s health, including the funding of Planned Parenthood, and coverage for contraception, were reaffirmed.  Most of the men who ran and won as Democrats were also strongly committed to women’s rights.  New Hampshire became the first state to have all female leaders: Electing Maggie Hassan as Governor (D-NH), and replacing two GOP men with Democratic women: Rep.-elect Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH-01)–reclaiming a seat she lost in 2010–and Rep.-elect Anne McKlane Kuster (D-NH-02). NH already had 2 female Senators: Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), neither of whom were up for reelection this year. For the first time, every state legislative body had at least one female member.  After the 2010 mid-terms, Republicans launched a nationwide war on women’s rights, especially reproductive rights, with huge state legislative restrictions on abortion and attempts at restriction on contraception. However, equal pay for equal work, and other women’s rights were also under assault. The victories of Tues. did not completely reverse or end these assaults, but they did constitute a major rejection of this agenda. Women were key to the reelection of the president: with an 18% gender gap between the 2 candidates.
  2. LGBTQ Rights won several victories.  The reelection of Pres. Obama means that the GOP threat to reintroduce “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” into the military was rejected.  In addition, marriage equality was legalized by ballot measure in Maine, Maryland, and Washington State, the first time marriage equality was implemented by popular vote. Further, Minnesota, though not yet affirming marriage equality, strongly defeated a state constitutional amendment to define marriage as “between one man and one woman,” again, the first time such a ballot measure in the U.S. was defeated at the ballot box rather than in the courts.  In Iowa, an attempt to unseat one of the state’s Supreme Court judges who had ruled in favor of marriage equality in 2009 was defeated.  In NY, Rep.-elect Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY-18) became the first openly gay man who is MARRIED with adopted children elected to Congress and the first openly gay Rep. from NY.  Likewise, Sen.-elect Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) will be the first openly lesbian U.S. Senator. The re-election of President Obama also was the first time an incumbent president (and VP!) endorsed marriage equality, wrote marriage equality into the party platform, and campaigned on marriage equality–and WON re-election! That and several legislative victories at the state level means that more progress for LGBTQ folk is surely on the way because of Tuesday’s elections:  Several more states will either enact marriage equality or civil union laws (usually an interim step toward full equality as voters see that the sky does not fall, but also that civil unions are still a form of 2nd class citizenship) between now and 2014. At the federal level, I expect a full court press to enact the Employee Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), preventing workplace discrimination against LGBTQ folk and either Congressional repeal or Supreme Court rejection of the ’90s-era “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) which prevents same-sex married couples from receiving the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples.  The next 4 years could even see the first U.S. Supreme Court Justice who is openly a member of the LGBTQ community.  Clearly, LGBTQ rights are on the march–a stunning turnaround from 2004, just 8 short years ago, when attacks on LGBTQ folk, and especially on marriage equality, was a winning strategy around the nation.
  3. Economic Justice. The gains here are more modest, but real. The reelection of Pres. Obama and an enlarged Democratic Senate means that Obamacare will be fully implemented, not repealed or watered down further, that GOP plans to voucherize Medicare, eliminate Medicaid, and privatize Social Security are off the table, as are deep cuts to social programs and education across the board.  Michigan voters repealed their state’s “emergency manager” law which had allowed for corporate dictators to usurp the elected government of any city that faced fiscal difficulties (like something out of the “Robocop” movies–set in Detroit!). Voters in CA rejected an attempt to end all union participation in the political process (while allowing corporations to continue unabated).  CA also voted to raise taxes on the rich and to a temporary sales tax increase, to fund education instead of facing more layoffs.  As well, CA achieved a Democratic 2/3 supermajority in both chambers of the legislature, enabling it to overcome the infamous Prop. 13 , enacted in 1978, which reduced property taxes to pre-1975 levels and then required 2/3 of each House of the legislature to raise them for any reason–leading to CA’s epic budget woes.  The new CA legislature will be able to forge a workable budget AND end Prop. 13 forever–a law which had allowed a tiny, tax-hating GOP minority, to rule the majority for decades.  In San Antonio, voters approved a tiny sales tax increase to fund quality Pre-K education.  Even in Texas, conventional wisdom to the contrary, Democrats CAN campaign and win on tax increases IF the public knows that they will fund worthwhile things.  Voters in a few cities around the country also approved small increases in the minimum wage.
  4. Civil Liberties.  Voters in FL killed an attempt to amend the state constitution to allow taxpayer support for religious institutions and activities (in clear violation of the U.S. Constitution’s 1st Amendment).  They also blocked attempts to ban use of public funds for abortions and contraception and blocked an attempt to block implementation of Obamacare in the state.  They rejected legislature control over judges.  Voters in Colorado and Washington State legalized cannabis and in MA authorized medical cannabis.  Although it sets up potential conflict with federal law, it shows the end is in sight for the failed “war on drugs” and that a new, sane drug policy will emerge. Prohibition fails and regulation works.
  5. Diversity and inclusion.  With the election of Sen.-elect Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Hawai’i sends the first Buddhist to the U.S. Senate. And with the election of Rep.-elect Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) to Hirono’s old House seat, Hawai’i also sends Congress its first Hindu member–who plans to be sworn in on the Bhagavad-Gita. They join 2 Muslim members of Congress.  Native Americans were key to the election of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) in North Dakota.  Hispanic/Latino voters were a decisive factor in the reelection of Pres. Obama and several other races. Asian-Americans also made gains in representation. The days when old white men ruled everything are ending, something that fills many with fear. But those of us who have embraced inclusion and diversity since the Civil Rights movement welcome the coming rainbow society with open arms.

Losses on election day include: Cannabis legalization in Oregon and medical cannabis legalization in Arkansas.   Michigan voters failed to guarantee the right to collective bargaining in the state constitution, although that right is still part of MI law. CA tried and failed to abolish the death penalty by ballot measure–with only 48% of the public approving.  Death penalty abolition is making gains, but they are not uniform by any means.

There is clearly much work left to be done. But there is no denying that Tuesday night was a good night for social justice in the USA.

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November 8, 2012 Posted by | civil rights, economic justice, GLBT issues, human rights, justice, labor, religious liberty, sexual orientation, U.S. politics, women | Leave a comment

My Liberal/Progressive Agenda II: FDR’s “Second Bill of Rights’

The cause of FDR’s presidential career was economic justice.  FDR himself was born to wealth, but his experience with polio sensitized him to the suffering of others, especially the poor.  Eleanor pushed Franklin on racial justice via strengthening civil rights protections, but FDR was cautious because he needed to keep Southern segregationists firmly in the New Deal Democratic coalition in order to have the large Congressional majorities that made the New Deal reforms possible. He was also semi-tone deaf to struggles for equality of the sexes despite his partnership with Eleanor–an equality in a White House couple not seen again until Jimmy & Rosealynn Carter and not surpassed until Bill and Hillary Clinton–and despite appointing the first female cabinet head.  But on economic justice FDR was such a champion that other wealthy people called him “a traitor to his class.”  In his last State of the Union, in 1944, Roosevelt was already dying and had to address Congress via radio from his bed rather than in person.  In this speech, FDR outlined an agenda for a series of Constitutional Amendments that would form a “Second Bill of Rights” for American citizens. But Roosevelt died in office and, although Truman defended and attempted to expand the New Deal with the Square Deal, Republicans made comebacks and, after Truman desegregated the military, they cooperated with conservative Southern Democrats to make certain that no part of the “Second Bill of Rights” ever got a floor vote in either chamber of Congress.  Meanwhile, much of that vision was incorporated into new constitutions in Europe and Japan–with input from Roosevelt appointees throughout the post-war world.  This is one reason–before Cold War fever painted any effort at economic justice as a form of the dreaded COMMUNISM–that many other nations have leaped ahead of the U.S. in terms of economic justice.

As with FDR’s pre-war Four Freedoms, I believe that his 1944 “Second Bill of Rights” should inform any contemporary progressive/liberal agenda.  It certainly informs my own vision.  Below I excerpt that 1944 State of the Union speech with commentary on its applicability for today.  Bold Face and Italics are my emphases.  Notes in brackets [ ] are my commentary.

11 January 1944, State of the Union, Franklin Delano Roosevelt:

To the Congress:

This Nation in the past two years has become an active partner in the world’s greatest war against human slavery.

We have joined with like-minded people in order to defend ourselves in a world that has been gravely threatened with gangster rule.

But I do not think that any of us Americans can be content with mere survival. Sacrifices that we and our allies are making impose upon us all a sacred obligation to see to it that out of this war we and our children will gain something better than mere survival.

We are united in determination that this war shall not be followed by another interim which leads to new disaster- that we shall not repeat the tragic errors of ostrich isolationism—that we shall not repeat the excesses of the wild twenties when this Nation went for a joy ride on a roller coaster which ended in a tragic crash.

When Mr. Hull [Cordell Hull, a former Congressman and Senator from TN, FDR’s Secretary of State, who later won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the creation of the United Nations] went to Moscow in October, and when I went to Cairo and Teheran in November, we knew that we were in agreement with our allies in our common determination to fight and win this war. But there were many vital questions concerning the future peace, and they were discussed in an atmosphere of complete candor and harmony.

In the last war such discussions, such meetings, did not even begin until the shooting had stopped and the delegates began to assemble at the peace table. There had been no previous opportunities for man-to-man discussions which lead to meetings of minds. The result was a peace which was not a peace. That was a mistake which we are not repeating in this war.

[snip]

The one supreme objective for the future, which we discussed for each Nation individually, and for all the United Nations, can be summed up in one word: Security.

And that means not only physical security which provides safety from attacks by aggressors. It means also economic security, social security, moral security—in a family of Nations.  [FDR is planting the seeds of U.S. acceptance of a future United Nations. U.S. refusal to join the old Leagure of Nations was a major factor in its failure and U.S. isolationism was a major factor in the rise of fascism leading to WWII.]

In the plain down-to-earth talks that I had with the Generalissimo and Marshal Stalin and Prime Minister Churchill, it was abundantly clear that they are all most deeply interested in the resumption of peaceful progress by their own peoples—progress toward a better life. All our allies want freedom to develop their lands and resources, to build up industry, to increase education and individual opportunity, and to raise standards of living.

All our allies have learned by bitter experience that real development will not be possible if they are to be diverted from their purpose by repeated wars—or even threats of war.

China and Russia are truly united with Britain and America in recognition of this essential fact:

The best interests of each Nation, large and small, demand that all freedom-loving Nations shall join together in a just and durable system of peace. In the present world situation, evidenced by the actions of Germany, Italy, and Japan, unquestioned military control over disturbers of the peace is as necessary among Nations as it is among citizens in a community. And an equally basic essential to peace is a decent standard of living for all individual men and women and children in all Nations. Freedom from fear is eternally linked with freedom from want.  [No external national security strategies which ignore economic justice at home or abroad is possible. Economic injustice is a major seed of instability and war.  In our own day, poverty makes it easier for terrorists to recruit followers.]

There are people who burrow through our Nation like unseeing moles, and attempt to spread the suspicion that if other Nations are encouraged to raise their standards of living, our own American standard of living must of necessity be depressed.

The fact is the very contrary. It has been shown time and again that if the standard of living of any country goes up, so does its purchasing power- and that such a rise encourages a better standard of living in neighboring countries with whom it trades.

[Snip. FDR outlines the sacrifices needed to win the war and calls for unity and shared sacrifice.]

Therefore, in order to concentrate all our energies and resources on winning the war, and to maintain a fair and stable economy at home, I recommend that the Congress adopt:

(1) A realistic tax law—which will tax all unreasonable profits, both individual and corporate, and reduce the ultimate cost of the war to our sons and daughters. The tax bill now under consideration by the Congress does not begin to meet this test.  [What a contrast to the gross irresponsibility of the Bush admin. which claimed that invading Iraq would “pay for itself” and which continued to cut taxes, especially on the wealthy, during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars–with costs now somewhere between $3 trillion and $4 trillion and Republicans STILL unwilling for the wealthy to pay their fair share! ]

(2) A continuation of the law for the renegotiation of war contracts—which will prevent exorbitant profits and assure fair prices to the Government. For two long years I have pleaded with the Congress to take undue profits out of war. [Whereas the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were viewed as opportunities for the Bush and Cheney families and their friends and allies to increase their wealth through sweetheart deals with corporations such as Haliburton and KBR in which they had huge interests!]

(3) A cost of food law—which will enable the Government (a) to place a reasonable floor under the prices the farmer may expect for his production; and (b) to place a ceiling on the prices a consumer will have to pay for the food he buys. This should apply to necessities only; and will require public funds to carry out. It will cost in appropriations about one percent of the present annual cost of the war.

(4) Early reenactment of. the stabilization statute of October, 1942. This expires June 30, 1944, and if it is not extended well in advance, the country might just as well expect price chaos by summer.

We cannot have stabilization by wishful thinking. We must take positive action to maintain the integrity of the American dollar.

(5) A national service law- which, for the duration of the war, will prevent strikes, and, with certain appropriate exceptions, will make available for war production or for any other essential services every able-bodied adult in this Nation.

These five measures together form a just and equitable whole. I would not recommend a national service law unless the other laws were passed to keep down the cost of living, to share equitably the burdens of taxation, to hold the stabilization line, and to prevent undue profits.

[snip  FDR calls for national service whereas Bush told everyone following 9/11 that they should just go shopping.  He then urged Congress to make it easier for military personnel to cast votes in U.S. elections even while deployed in war zones. ]

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth- is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our Nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation [The right to employment commits the nation to a full-employment policy.  Usually this is primarily done through private enterprise, but in recessions or depressions, government should be willing to hire the unemployed directly for meaningful national service–as in the New Deal programs of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) which created much infrastructure, the Rural Electrification Project, and the Civilian Conservation Corps (the CCC) in which camps of young men planted trees, dug irrigation ditches, prevented run-off and soil erosion, etc. for stipends which often meant the difference between life and death for entire families.  Contemporary adaptations might include federal and state governments hiring youth for summer work in cities painting roofs white to lower lower heat indices and save electricity.]
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation [Beyond minimum wages to a living wage, i.e., a salary that allows a family to live above poverty levels.]
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living [In FDR’s day this was a call for price supports. It was a reminder that farmers entered depression in the 1920s, years before the 1929 Stock Market crash.  In our day, I would think that this commits us to work for family farmers against agribusiness and for local, healthy food, over mass-produced with genetically modified seeds and hormone-injected cattle and the prison conditions of much livestock in factory farms. This hurts not only small farmers, but the health of the nation, and the ecology of the planet.]
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad.  [We have far too many monopolies and semi-monopolies today. Even the founding philosopher of capitalism, Adam Smith, said that monopolies made free markets impossible.]
  • The right of every family to a decent home.
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.  [Healthcare must be viewed as a human right, not as a commodity sold to the highest bidder.]
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment. [This vision commits us to building a strong “social safety net” that includes adequate pensions for retirees, universal healthcare, and unemployment insurance, with job re-training and, where necessary, direct employment by the government.]
  • The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.

One of the great American industrialists of our day—a man who has rendered yeoman service to his country in this crisis-recently emphasized the grave dangers of “rightist reaction” in this Nation. All clear-thinking businessmen share his concern. Indeed, if such reaction should develop—if history were to repeat itself and we were to return to the so-called “normalcy” of the 1920’s—then it is certain that even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of Fascism here at home.

[Snip remaining.]

The remaining paragraphs show that FDR did not envision each of these economic security rights as becoming Constitutional Amendments, although he did think they needed legislation enacted by Congress.  But I think many of them should be enshrined in the Constitution itself:

  • The right to employment.  As a Constitutional right, this would force economic policies that care more about full employment than Wall St. profits.
  • The right to a living wage.  We would not have the huge income inequality of the 1% vs. the 99% today if we had living wage laws indexed to the cost of living. We would need to define a living wage as a wage or salary sufficient to keep a family above the poverty line.
  • The right of farmers to adequate remuneration. I am uncertain whether this could be a Constitutional guarantee, but it should be part of the platform for any progressive political party and should lead to legislation and policies which prioritize family farmers above agribusiness.
  • The right of businesses, large and small, to fair competition instead of facing monopolies.  Again, I think what needs to be a Constitutional Amendment (especially in light of the stupidity of the Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. United States) is the clear statement that Corporations are not people and have only the rights guaranteed by their charters.  But we need updated and strengthened anti-trust laws that break up monopolies from all these huge mega-mergers that drown out competition and produce “too big to fail” companies that either require taxpayer bailouts or whose fall harms large sections of the economy. “Too big to fail” must equal “too big to exist.”
  • Housing as a Constitutional Right.  This would require adequate amounts of low-income housing–and decent standards for that housing.  Between the end of the Great Depression and the beginning of the Reagan-era, homelessness was rare in this country. When I was a teen in the 1970s, the “housing problem” was the problem of inadequate housing, of slums and shacks. Then came “Reaganomics” and an explosion of homelessness that grows worse each year. We must end the blight of homelessness in this country.
  • Healthcare as a Constitutional Right.  This would not demand a particular form of universal healthcare, but would remove it as a “for profit” enterprise.
  • A strong social safety net need not be a Constitutional Amendment (although a Constitutional guarantee of adequate retirement pension would finally stop all efforts to privatize or poorly fund Social Security), but we must have strong laws for old age pensions, unemployment insurance, disability insurance, and the like.
  • Education as a Constitutional Right.  This would not rule out private schools or homeschooling (although all parents who choose to home school should have to pass the same teacher certification requirements as public school teachers), but it would mandate a STRONG, FULLY FINANCED public education system, for primary and secondary education.  All who have the mental ability and desire to pursue college/secondary education should not be prevented by financial barriers.  Education should be free and compulsory for primary and secondary levels and as close to free as possible for the college/university level.

February 26, 2012 Posted by | blog series, civil rights, economic justice, human rights, justice, political philosophy, U.S. politics | 4 Comments

My Progressive/Liberal Agenda, I: FDR’s Four Freedoms

As the U.S. hurtled down the path leading to its joining World WarII, Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt (D) outlined his goals for a post-war world order in a State of the Union speech to Congress  called “The Four Freedoms.” Because FDR died before the war was over, this agenda was not implemented fully here in the U.S. Ironically, people from FDR’s administration wrote parts of many of the new constitutions in post-war Europe and Japan, so that Roosevelt’s vision was adopted (and sometimes improved) far more fully outside the U.S. than inside.  I still find his vision compelling–an agenda that should form at least the core of any progressive/liberal platform.

Let me be clear:  I am a Christian pacifist. I do not accept FDR’s assessment of the righteousness of America’s wars or their “necessity.”  What I find compelling is vision of a post-war world order.  I believe I can disagree with FDR on war, even war as a means to peace and security, and still agree with his vision.

I reproduce relevant excerpts of  FDR’s Four Freedoms speech below and use bold face and italics to highlight the key dimensions of a progressive/liberal political platform.  Delivered on 06 January 1941 to the Congress of the United States as the State of the Union.

[Snip]

The nation takes great satisfaction and much strength from the things which have been done to make its people conscious of their individual stake in the preservation of democratic life in America.  Those things have toughened the fiber of our people, have renewed their faith and strengthened their devotion to the institutions we make ready to protect.

Certainly this is no time for any of us to stop thinking about the social and economic problems which are the root cause of the social revolution which is today a supreme factor in the world. For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy.

The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:

Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.

Jobs for those who can work.

Security for those who need it.

The ending of special privilege for the few.

The preservation of civil liberties for all.

The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.

These are the simple, the basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.

Many subjects connected with our social economy call for immediate improvement. As examples:

We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-age pensions and unemployment insurance.

We should widen the opportunities for adequate medical care.

We should plan a better system by which persons deserving or needing gainful employment may obtain it.

[Snip–FDR calls for personal sacrifice in the time of war, including paying higher taxes with the rich paying more than the poor. He also warns against war profiteering–and promises government crackdown on those who try it–completely the opposite of the way the Iraq War was made into get rich quick schemes for members of the Bush Administration and their allies.]

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

  1. The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.
  2. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.
  3. The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world.  [i.e., Freedom from Want is embodied in a just economic order in which all have enough and the gap between the rich and the poor is relatively small and it is fairly easy to move from one social class to another.]
  4. The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called “new order” of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

To that new order we oppose the greater conception — the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.

Since the beginning of our American history we have been engaged in change, in a perpetual, peaceful revolution, a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly, adjusting itself to changing conditions without the concentration camp or the quicklime in the ditch. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society.

This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women, and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights and keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.

To that high concept there can be no end save victory.

_____

Freedom of speech and expression.

Freedom of religious belief and practice.

Freedom from want (i.e., the presence of economic justice).

Freedom from fear (i.e., massive global arms reductions so that it is difficult if not impossible for any nation to invade another).

I don’t think that these goals, by themselves, constitute an adequate progressive/liberal political philosophy for the 21st C.  But they are a good beginning and I would find any political vision or philosophy that did NOT include these four freedoms to be woefully inadequate.

In my next installment in this series, I will also draw from FDR–this time from his proposed “Second Bill of Rights.”

February 25, 2012 Posted by | blog series, civil rights, economic justice, human rights, justice, political philosophy, politics, religious liberty, U.S. politics | Leave a comment

Pentecost Sunday: Come Holy Spirit!

1On the day of Pentecost [a] all the Lord’s followers were together in one place.   2Suddenly there was a noise from heaven like the sound of a mighty wind! It filled the house where they were meeting.   3Then they saw what looked like fiery tongues moving in all directions, and a tongue came and settled on each person there.   4The Holy Spirit took control of everyone, and they began speaking whatever languages the Spirit let them speak.   5Many religious Jews from every country in the world were living in Jerusalem.   6And when they heard this noise, a crowd gathered. But they were surprised, because they were hearing everything in their own languages.   7They were excited and amazed, and said:

Don’t all these who are speaking come from Galilee?   8Then why do we hear them speaking our very own languages?   9Some of us are from Parthia, Media, and Elam. Others are from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia,   10Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, parts of Libya near Cyrene, Rome,   11Crete, and Arabia. Some of us were born Jews, and others of us have chosen to be Jews. Yet we all hear them using our own languages to tell the wonderful things God has done.

12Everyone was excited and confused. Some of them even kept asking each other, “What does all this mean?”

13Others made fun of the Lord’s followers and said, “They are drunk.”

14Peter stood with the eleven apostles and spoke in a loud and clear voice to the crowd:

Friends and everyone else living in Jerusalem, listen carefully to what I have to say!   15You are wrong to think that these people are drunk. After all, it is only nine o’clock in the morning.   16But this is what God had the prophet Joel say,

17“When the last days come,

I will give my Spirit

to everyone.

Your sons and daughters

will prophesy.

Your young men

will see visions,

and your old men

will have dreams.

18In those days I will give

my Spirit to my servants,

both men and women,

and they will prophesy.

19I will work miracles

in the sky above

and wonders

on the earth below.

There will be blood and fire

and clouds of smoke.

20The sun will turn dark,

and the moon

will be as red as blood

before the great

and wonderful day

of the Lord appears.

21Then the Lord

will save everyone

who asks for his help.”

22Now, listen to what I have to say about Jesus from Nazareth. God proved that he sent Jesus to you by having him work miracles, wonders, and signs. All of you know this.   23God had already planned and decided that Jesus would be handed over to you. So you took him and had evil men put him to death on a cross.   24But God set him free from death and raised him to life. Death could not hold him in its power.   25What David said are really the words of Jesus,

“I always see the Lord

near me,

and I will not be afraid

with him at my right side.

26Because of this,

my heart will be glad,

my words will be joyful,

and I will live in hope.

27The Lord won’t leave me

in the grave.

I am his holy one,

and he won’t let

my body decay.

28He has shown me

the path to life,

and he makes me glad

by being near me.”

29My friends, it is right for me to speak to you about our ancestor David. He died and was buried, and his tomb is still here.   30But David was a prophet, and he knew that God had made a promise he would not break. He had told David that someone from his own family would someday be king.

31David knew this would happen, and so he told us that Christ would be raised to life. He said that God would not leave him in the grave or let his body decay.   32All of us can tell you that God has raised Jesus to life!

33Jesus was taken up to sit at the right side [b] of God, and he was given the Holy Spirit, just as the Father had promised. Jesus is also the one who has given the Spirit to us, and that is what you are now seeing and hearing.   34David didn’t go up to heaven. So he wasn’t talking about himself when he said, “The Lord told my Lord to sit at his right side,   35until he made my Lord’s enemies into a footstool for him.”   36Everyone in Israel should then know for certain that God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ, even though you put him to death on a cross.

37When the people heard this, they were very upset. They asked Peter and the other apostles, “Friends, what shall we do?”

38Peter said, “Turn back to God! Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins will be forgiven. Then you will be given the Holy Spirit.   39This promise is for you and your children. It is for everyone our Lord God will choose, no matter where they live.”

40Peter told them many other things as well. Then he said, “I beg you to save yourselves from what will happen to all these evil people.”   41On that day about three thousand believed his message and were baptized.   42They spent their time learning from the apostles, and they were like family to each other. They also broke bread [c]and prayed together.

43Everyone was amazed by the many miracles and wonders that the apostles worked.   44All the Lord’s followers often met together, and they shared everything they had.   45They would sell their property and possessions and give the money to whoever needed it.   46Day after day they met together in the temple. They broke bread [d] together in different homes and shared their food happily and freely,   47while praising God. Everyone liked them, and each day the Lord added to their group others who were being saved.

Acts 2  Contemporary English Version.  I’ll reserve commentary for a post tomorrow. Today, let the Word speak.

June 12, 2011 Posted by | Church, diversity, economic justice, Holy Spirit, mission, nonviolence, peace, Pentecost, Pentecostals, race, sexual orientation | Leave a comment

The American Public: Calls Itself “Conservative” But Favors FDR-Style Liberalism

The data I’m using comes from a recent poll conducted by NBC and the Wall Street Journal.  You can read the entire poll here.

  • True or False: Most Americans agree with Congressional Republicans and Beltway pundits that wealthy Americans should not have their taxes raised. FALSE.  81% of Americans believe that the rich pay too little in taxes and should have their taxes raised.  55% are really in favor of this and an additional 26% find this “mostly acceptable.”
  • True or False: Most Americans love Big Oil and favor keeping their tax subsidies so that they continue to provide good jobs and cheap energy to American homes and cars.  FALSE.  74% of Americans want the tax subsidides (giveaways) to the oil industry eliminated. (Yet House Republicans, supposed deficit hawks, just voted unanimously to keep giving this corporate welfare to the most profitable industry in human history–companies whose quarterly profits are larger than the Gross Domestic Product of many nations!)
  • True or False:  Despite the Obama-GOP compromise of the lame duck Congress of November-December 2010, most Americans want to eliminate the Bush tax cuts to families making more than $250,000 per year.  True.  67% of Americans favor ending those tax cuts.  Americans are smart about this, because the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy did more to balloon the federal defict than any other factor, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Great Recession of ’08-’10, the TARP banking bailout, the bailout of GM & Chrysler, or the economic stimulus/recovery act.  In fact, the Bush tax cuts, the wars, and the recession account for more than 90% of the deficit–not the recovery measures.
  • True or False: Most Americans would support eliminating Medicare and turning it into a system of coupons or vouchers for seniors to purchase private health insurance.  (This plan is actually proposed by House Budget chair Paul Ryan (R-WI), who gave the GOP response to Pres. Obama’s State of the Union address and recently this plan has seemed to get support from Speaker of the House Boehner (R-OH). ) FALSE. 51% of Americans find this plan completely unacceptable.
  • True or False: Americans generally support public employees having a union with collective bargaining rights.  True. According to the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll 52% of Americans found stripping such rights unacceptable.  A USA Today/Gallup poll found 61% of Americans opposing a move to strip collective bargaining from public sector workers in their state.  And a CBS/New York Times poll found 62% of the public supporting collective bargaining rights for public employees.

These are generally positions which have been considered politically “liberal.”  These are more liberal views than anything coming out of either party in Washington, D.C. right now.  It is far more liberal than what the Beltway pundits spew.  Specifically, this is “economic populism,” the kind of political liberalism of the FDR-era New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society–policies that help the poor and middle class more than the wealthy.  The pundits like to call such sentiments “class warfare,” but, if so, it appears that most Americans think such class warfare is a good idea.  Maybe they realize that for 30 years class warfare has been waged by the wealthy against the rest of us (leading to an ever widening gap between the superrich and everyone else) and that the term “class warfare” is only used if the poor and working class fight back.  That gap is huge:  The top 1% of Americans captured 50% half of all the economic growth from 1993-2007!  Income inequality is higher in the United States than in Mubarak’s Egypt!

So, Americans are just as liberal, just as economically populist, as they have ever been, if not more so.  But they don’t identify with the term “liberal,” which has been systematically demonized ever since the Reagan years. Only 24% of Americans call themselves “liberal” politically.  By contrast, 36% call themselves “conservative” and another 38% call themselves “moderate.”

So, when pundits claim that America is a “conservative” or “center-right” nation, they are asking about labels.  But when you ask about policies–Americans are center-left. They are liberal or progressive.  What is strange–other than the disconnect in terminology– is that this economically populist, liberal to progressive sentiment has not been able to be translated into a political force that can achieve policy objectives.  But the attacks on union workers by Republican governors may have just provided the spark to set that dry tinder ablaze.

March 4, 2011 Posted by | economic justice, labor | 6 Comments

An Economic Bill of Rights

On January 11, 1944, Franklin D. Roosevelt gave his next to last State of the Union Message to the United States Congress.  In that Message, FDR proposed a Second American Bill of Rights

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth- is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill housed, and insecure.
This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.
As our Nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:
The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.
America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.

FDR faced a World War.  The year was 1944.  Hitler was still in power in Germany.  The Allies had yet to invade Normandy.  Japan still controlled the Pacific.  But, Franklin Roosevelt was secure enough to speak of a Second American Bill of Rights.

The Rights of Every American to a good education, the right to adequate protection from economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment, the right to adequate medical care and good health, the right of every family to a decent home, the right of businessmen to be free from unfair competition, the right to useful remunerative compensation for workers and farmers.

Last night, Rachel Maddow presented a recent poll (NBC/Wall Street Journal–taken between Feb. 24-28) showing what Americans support:  81% support higher taxes on millionaires; 74% support reducing tax incentives to oil and gas companies.  Why not provide an option for Americans?

March 3, 2011 Posted by | economic justice | Leave a comment

Inhabiting the World House: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Vision in Today’s World

Saturday, 15 January, was the anniversary of  of the birth of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of my personal heroes and one of the largest influences on my theological ethics. (Indeed, one-third of my Ph.D. dissertation dealt with King’s life and work and I have written several articles on King. Moreover, even when not cited, King’s life and work is often in the background of my writing and my preaching.  I say this not in an uncritical fashion:  I find some influences on King (Wieman, Tillich) to be unhelpful; I find King–like his mentors in American theological liberalism–to be too dismissive of influences which would have greatly aided his work, like that of Karl Barth and the Biblical Theology Movement; And I find some aspects of King’s moral practices, especially his serial adulteries, to undermine his witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  All our heroes have feet of clay and we should not hide their frailties, shortcomings, misdirections, or even sins. )

Since today in the United States is the national holiday in King’s honor, many are writing reflections on his life and work.  Many of these are terribly wrongheaded, such as the claim by a Pentagon lawyer that King would support the current U.S. military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan!  (For an excellent rebuttal to this absurdity, see Cynthia Nielsen’s reflections on King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech at Riverside Church in NYC one year to the day before his death.) The infamous American short-term memory and lack of historical consciousness, combined with a deliberate tendency to “tame” King and others who challenge the status quo, have led to a reduction in which King’s Dream is viewed only as ending racial segregation, so that the election of Barack Obama to the presidency is the fulfillment of King’s Dream or even that King, a self-declared democratic socialist who died marching with and for garbage collectors, should be an icon for Glenn Beck and the rightwing, libertarian “Tea Party” movement!

Every year at this time we distort King and twist his legacy in the name of celebrating it.  Mostly, we do it by showing carefully edited snippets of the 1963 “I Have a Dream” Speech and presenting King as the “great Dreamer” of racial harmony without ever carefully examinging his thought–leaving out completely his solidarity with the poor and strong critique of U.S. capitalism (his demand for a Living Wage for all citizens, his admiration for the democratic socialism of Norway, his acceptance of Marx’s critique of capitalism even as he rejected Marxist materialism and historical determinism, and, most of all, his attempt to forge a multi-racial, multi-cultural “Poor People’s Movement” which would radically reshape U.S. society), along with his commitment to gospel nonviolence and his absolute opposition to imperialist militarism, not least the imperialist militarism of the United States.  Most of those born since King’s death in 1968 have no idea that he referred to the U.S. government as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world,” something I fully believe he would find equally true today.  For these reasons, I am among those who would like to see a 5 year halt in talking about the “I Have a Dream” speech– and to reorient our reflections on King to his later, more radical, speeches and writings.  (In this, I recommend especially a pamphlet put out by the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and written by former Executive Director, Gary Percesepe, Seeing Beyond the Dream Speech. )

In 1967, King published Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, his last book before his death. (His final book, also very germane to our times, The Trumpet of Conscience, was published posthumously.)  I think Where Do We Go From Here? is among the least read of King’s writings, some of the most radical of his reflections, and the most useful for our own context in the early 21st C.–since we have not faced squarely the problems King was dealing with, even since.  I take one section from that wonderful book for these reflections:  The concept of the “World House,” a term less familiar to us than King’s characterization of the Kingdom of God (being born into the world) as “the Beloved Community.”

King tells a parable that he read somewhere:  A divided and long-separated family find that the head of this clan has died and they have all inherited a mansion.  The catch: They cannot sell it, but must live in the house, putting away their differences and learning to live together.  King turns this story into an allegory:  All humanity is the separated and estranged (even warring) family.  God, though far from dead, is the Parent who had given humanity a House.  The World, the planet Earth, is the House and humanity must learn to live in it together, sharing its resources, working for its upkeep (rather than ecologically destroying it), and learning to live together as one family.  We want to divide into warring nations or tribes.  We want to be concerned only for our own racial or ethnic or language group or only for our own religious group.  (Expanding beyond King’s view in 1967, we want to be concerned only for those of our own sex, our own sexual orientation, or our own gender identity, too.) We want to be concerned only for those of our own economic class (or, to claim that there are no classes, that anyone can become wealthy, that the wealthy have earned their riches and should not be asked to share them–even if the rest of us have to bail them out from their own foolishness–or to claim that the interests of the wealthy naturally “trickle down” to help the rest of us–NONE of which is supported by a shred of evidence) and let those who are weaker or more vulnerable fall by the wayside.

In all these ways and more, we deny that we are one family.  King insists (with his own/my own Biblical tradition) that this is false. We are all children of God.  The World House is ALL our home–and we have NO CHOICE but to learn to live in it together–or we destroy both ourselves and the World House.

I suggest that this vision of King’s in 1967 is more relevant than ever, today.  Our refusal to care for God’s beloved earth ecologically is leading to greater species extinction than at any time since the end of the Age of Dinosaurs some 65 million years ago.  Even as it may be too late to save the polar ice caps, nations and oil companies are foolishly racing to drill for oil in the Arctic circle (because nothing could possibly go wrong in THAT scenario!).  Water is used profligately in Europe and North America while it becomes increasingly scarce for the poor of the Two Thirds World.  Americans are increasingly obese while Hunger and Poverty stalk the globe.  People kill in the name of religion or politics or ideology or land.  We enact policies to make the top 1% ever more obscenely wealthy while poor multiply and Middle Classes vanish.  We treat healthcare as a commodity to be bought and sold rather than a human right and when a law is passed that mildly reforms this obscenity (still largely trusting the great god Free Market, the largest idol of the West), we call it government tyrrany.  We have billions for the War Machine, but schools go starving for funds and when teachers and parents complain, the reply is that “education cannot be solved by throwing money at the problem” (something we never say about either the Military Industrial Complex or Money Powers of Wall Street).  The views of teachers are dismissed as “bleatings of a teacher’s union” and parents’ pleas are dismissed with the claim that the parents–often working 2-3 jobs to make ends meet–should educate their children themselves–either privately or by homeschooling (regardless of means or whether said parent has enough education to make that feasible).  In a reverse Robin Hood society, we constantly steal from the poor to give ever more to the obscenely wealthy–who then claim they are “overtaxed” when paying a smaller percentage than at any time in the last 50 years!

Against this whole mess, Dr. King presents the vision of the World House.  We are not primarily Black or White or Brown, we are family.  We are not primarily rich or poor, but family. We are not first Americans or Vietnamese (or Iraqis or Afghans), but one family. We are not first Muslims or Buddhists or Jews or Christians (Catholic or Protestant or Orthodox, Liberal or Evangelical), but a family sharing a World House.  If we see ourselves in that light–as one family sharing one World House–then both our personal actions, the actions of our organizations (churches, synagogues, mosques, temples; businesses and corporations; political parties), and the public policies of our various nations and governments, must CHANGE to reflect that reality.  In place of fearful militarism, we must enact Common Security.  In place of hoarding, the equitable distribution of resources–so that all are fed and have shelter and adequate medical care.  In place of the exploitation of the earth and our family members, we must live sustainably.

It’s not an easy vision to enact.  To live this way will be a huge struggle.  Perhaps this is why this World House has been so ignored.  But if this World House allegory correctly displays our real context as humans on this third rock from the sun–as I believe it does–then we MUST struggle to live accordingly.  If, in our individual, corporate, and political lives we struggle to live out this vision–then we will truly be honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.–and, beyond him, honoring the God he strove to follow.

January 17, 2011 Posted by | Baptists, economic justice, environmental ethics, heroes, human rights, justice, nonviolence, peace | Leave a comment

Quotes on the Dignity of Labor

Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”  Abraham Lincoln

“Take not from the mouth of labor, the bread that it has earned.” Thomas Jefferson (who apparently never thought to apply this principle to his slaves!).

“Although it is true that only about 20 percent of American workers are in unions, that 20 percent sets the standards across the board in salaries, benefits and working conditions. If you are making a decent salary in a non-union company, you owe that to the unions.  One thing that corporations do not do is give out money out of the goodness of their hearts.”   Molly Ivins (The % has now declined to 7% union households–and the middle class has shrunk with the decreased purchasing power of non-elite salaries accordingly).

“Every advance in this half-century:  Social Security, civil rights, Medicare, aid to education…  one after another- came with the support and leadership of American Labor.”  Jimmy Carter

History is a great teacher. Now everyone knows that the labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed of levels of production. Those who attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them.”  Maratin Luther King, Jr.

“Only a fool would try to deprive working men and working women of their right to join a union of their choice.” Dwight David Eisenhower (last liberal Republican president).

“All that serves labor serves the nation. All that harms is treason. If a man tells you he trusts America, yet fears labor, he is a fool. There is no America without labor, and to fleece the one is to rob the other.”  Abraham Lincoln

“Labor is the great producer of wealth; it moves all other causes.” Daniel Webster

“If I were a worker in a factory, the first thing I would do would be to join a union.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt

“It is time that Americans realize that the place of labor is side by side with the businessman and the farmer–and not one degree lower.”  Harry S. Truman

“We insist that labor is entitled to as much respect as property. But our workers with hand and brain deserve more than respect for their labor. They deserve practical protection in the opportunity to use their labor at a return adequate to support them at a decent and constantly rising standard of living, and to accumulate a margin of security against the inevitable vicissitudes of life.”  Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Let your watchword be union and progress–and, until then, no surrender.” Samuel Gompers

“Effective labor unions are still by far the most powerful force in society for the protection of the laborer’s rights and the improvement of his or her condition. No amount of employer benevolence, no diffusion of a sympathetic attitude on the part of the public, no increase of beneficial legislation, can adequately supply for the lack of organization among the workers themselves.” Monsignor John A. Ryan

“In light of this fundamental structure of all work… in light of the fact that, labor and capital are indispensable in any social system … it is clear that even if it is because of production in any social system … it is clear that even if it is because of their work needs that people unite to secure their rights, their union remains a constructive factor of social order and solidarity, and it is impossible to ignore it.” Pope John Paul II

“Those who would destroy or further limit the rights of organized labor-those who cripple collective bargaining or prevent organization of the unorganized-do a disservice to the cause of democracy.” John F. Kennedy


 

September 6, 2010 Posted by | economic justice, labor | Leave a comment