Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

I can’t breathe

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

My black brothers and sisters are being killed by police officers with impunity.

I CAN’T BREATHE

Dozens of U.S. cities prohibit people from feeding the homeless where they live.

I CAN’T BREATHE

The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and private prison operators make money out of people’s misery and use the imprisoned as slave labor.

I CAN’T BREATHE

We are one of the richest countries in the world, and yet millions of our citizens lack adequate food, housing or medical care.

I CAN’T BREATHE

We are one of only three countries in the world without paid maternity leave, and millions of poor women have their unborn babies killed because they can’t see how they can support them.

I CAN’T BREATHE

Representatives of big corporate interests are put in charge of agencies that are supposed to regulate them, resulting in serious harm to our people, our land and our environment.

I CAN’T BREATHE

Palestinians are denied basic human rights, and my country gives billions of dollars to the oppressors.

I CAN’T BREATHE

Egypt sentences hundreds of peaceful protestors to death, and my Secretary of State praises the country ’s “democracy” and we give billions of dollars to the Egyptian forces of oppression.

I CAN’T BREATHE

SOA/WHINSEC trains those from Latin America who oppress those struggling for freedom, and kill with impunity.

I CAN’T BREATHE

U.S. drones attack foreign countries, and only 1 in 28 of those killed are official targets, and many more are children and women.

I CAN’T BREATHE

Billions of our innocent fellow creatures are held in inhumane conditions, tortured and slaughtered for our palates, causing considerable human health problems and contributing greatly to global climate change.

I CAN’T BREATHE

Unfortunately, I could go on and on.

Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amos 5:23-24 (NRSV)

How long, O Lord, how long?

-Bill Samuel, December 3, 2014

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No to Irresponsible Spending Proposal

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

Below is a message I sent to my Representative and Senators:

This is to demand you oppose Obama’s “American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.” He said in his inaugural address that it is time for a “new era of responsibility.” Then he proposes the most irresponsible fiscal package in my lifetime! He was right in what he said in his speech. He is absolutely wrong for refusing to lead us into that new era, and instead going in the opposite direction. Obama proposed massive spending without saying how it would be paid for.

Public debt in this country is already 45% of GDP. We are bankrupt! And the national debt amounts to a massive income transfer program. Future generations of ordinary taxpayers will have large amounts of their income transferred to holders of the debt (currently mostly foreigners, as is the case with any bankrupt country). You may not be around then, but how can you sleep at night condemning them to misery because of the irresponsible policies approved by the U.S. Government now?

Democrats rightly criticized President Bush for being fiscally irresponsible. The answer to that is not for Democrats, when in power, to be far more irresponsible. Democrats used to look back at the Clinton years, and note that he moved the Federal budget into surplus. That was a good thing! You should imitate the fiscally responsible policies of the Clinton era instead of seeking to outdo Bush in irresponsibility.

Much of the proposed spending in the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan” is for good things. But it has to be paid for. It could be, but you would have to make hard choices which would enrage interests which give large amounts in campaign contributions. Do you have the courage to do so? Here are some areas where we might get the money to pay for selected portions of the proposed spending:

  • the bloated military budget, over half of the relatively controllable portion of the budget, and larger than that of all other countries combined. Rep. Barney Frank in October proposed a 25% cut in the military budget, which would be a good start.
  • repealing tax breaks for wealthy individuals and corporations.
  • repealing subsidies for corporate farms and animal-based agriculture (cause of 18% of global warming, according to the UN).
  • repealing subsidies for corn-based ethanol, which have caused world grain prices to skyrocket resulting in poor people dying of starvation according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, and which is environmentally irresponsible.

The only responsible choice is to refuse to vote for any massive spending plan which is not matched with means of financing it. I urge you to vote responsibly.

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Why I’m Voting for Joe

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

On November 4, we have an Election Day in the United States which will result in the choosing of the next President. Many people have explained for whom they’re voting, and I’ll join them in that. And that often includes why they’re not voting for someone else.

Very few of my friends seem to have seriously considered voting for John McCain, and I don’t think most of them would expect me to vote for him. So I won’t devote much energy to explaining why I’m not voting for him. I will reference him occasionally, but the major issue in the circles in which I move is whether to vote for Obama or for some non-duopoly candidate, so that is what I will principally address in this post.

Why I’m Not Voting for Obama

Since many people are making the assumption that if you don’t want McCain to be President, you should vote for Obama, let me address why I disagree.

I don’t believe in voting for the lesser evil. I think voting for evil is morally wrong. Of course you aren’t likely to agree with any candidate 100%, but it seems to me that you need to view them as on the whole working in the right direction to vote for them in good conscience. Since I believe that the fundamental assumptions that underlie much of the policies of the country are wrong, that means I don’t vote for candidates who basically uphold those assumptions, even if they may tweak them slightly in the right direction. Obama does not seem to reject any major assumption of our system, and has never stood for any significant change to the best of my knowledge, so he is not seriously in contention for my vote.

Let me just outline a few of the ways in which Obama represents the wrong way:

  • He has voted to spend over half of the discretionary budget on the military - current and future mass murder. And his campaign position is that we spend too little on the military, and should spend more. Furthermore, he wants to increase the size of the active duty military forces. [McCain's official position is virtually identical on all of this, although he did cite the military budget in the last debate when asked where he could cut.]
  • He favors massive escalation of the war in Afghanistan [so does McCain], and military attacks on Pakistan [McCain has criticized him for that].
  • He has said that the first thing he will do when in office is sign the “Freedom of Choice Act” which would outlaw all restrictions on abortion by the Federal, state, and local governments [McCain opposes it]. This is consistent with his record of opposing all abortion restrictions in the past. And while he says he is in favor of reduction in abortions, he refuses to support the Pregnant Women Support Act, a Democratic-sponsored measure which would provide the kind of social supports that make it easier for women to choose life.
  • He favors the death penalty, even though he admits it is ineffective, because he believes in vengeance.
  • He is a strong supporter of subsidies for corn-based ethanol [McCain opposes them]. Simply from an environmental standpoint, this is bad because producing a gallon of ethanol from corn uses most of the energy the gallon contains. But its most disastrous effect is on the poor. The diversion of corn to ethanol production is a major contributing factor to the precipitous rise in world grain prices we have seen (the International Food Policy Research Institute estimates bioenergy accounts for 30% of the increase). Skyrocketing grain prices mean poor people can not afford the food they need to survive. UN Food and Agricultural Organization Director-General Jacques-Diouf said, “The fact is that people are dying already.”
  • He favors “clean coal” [as does McCain], although experts say that there is no way to make coal production environmentally responsible.
  • He decided to attempt to buy the election with the massive sums he can raise, much of it from Wall Street and other corporatist elements, instead of accepting public funding of his campaign, even though he promised to accept public funding if his opponent did [and McCain has accepted public funding, resulting in having less than 1/6 of the funds Obama has].

Poverty and the “Matthew 25 Network”

There is a group calling itself the “Matthew 25 Network” organized by a Democratic operative which has recruited a number of pastors. Despite the name, it does not exist to encourage people to act in accordance with Matthew 25. It is rather an attempt to use Christ to support partisan political purposes, which is arguably blasphemy. Christ refused to align himself with any of the major religio-political parties of his day, and instead preached and practiced an alternative vision.

The “Matthew 25 Network” exists to support Barack Obama for President. This despite the fact that Obama’s policies are in direct contradiction to the principles Christ outlined in Matthew 25 of supporting the poor and outcast. Not only are his subsidies for corn-based ethanol production currently killing poor people, but his skewed national priorities directly result in killing the poor (most of the casualties from war) and also result in the lack of resources for programs to address social needs. As former President Dwight Eisenhower noted, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

Jesus did not say of the righteous:

For I was hungry, and you used the grain that could have fed me to produce ethanol. I was thirsty, and you used water resources to produce “clean coal” and ethanol. I was a stranger, and you bombed foreigners. I needed clothes, and the money you spent on clothes went for military uniforms. I was sick, and you devoted your resources to wars so there wasn’t enough for health care. I was in prison, and you executed me so the society could wreak vengeance.

If Not a Duopoly Candidate, then Who?

McCain and Obama aren’t the only people running for President. There are some who are on many state ballots, some on a few, and others running solely as write-in candidates. Many of these candidates represent a markedly different vision than that of McCain and Obama.

On many issues, I agree with the positions of Ralph Nader (independent) and Cynthia McKinney (Green Party). However, while these candidates stand for life in many respects, their campaign platforms do not stand up for the unborn, the veritable “least of these” (whom the “Matthew 25 Network” ignores). Nader seems preferable because he did come out in a 2004 interview for banning feticide, so seems at least open to recognizing the dignity and worth of the unborn. Nader is on 45 state ballots, more than any other alternative candidate. So if you’re going to vote for someone on the ballot, I would suggest you vote for Ralph Nader.

I intend to vote for Joe Schriner. He is a Christian who is running as a consistent life ethic candidate. He is right on all the life issues on which Obama is wrong. He is a strong environmentalist, and an advocate of simple living. He had hoped to run in the Green Party primaries, but his campaign was blocked by state Green Party leaders who objected to his being pro-life on abortion. I urge everyone to write-in Joe Schriner for President and Dale Way for Vice President. He is a registered write-in candidate in several states, including my state of Maryland.

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Reflections After a Water Emergency

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

On Sunday evening, a 48-inch water main in our area broke. Our water authority gots lots of calls from people with no water or very low water pressure, but it took several hours to find the break since it was in park land down a ravine.

They then imposed mandatory water restrictions - no outside watering, no laundry, no dish washing, etc. They also issued a boil water advisory to last at least three days. Residents were advised to boil water (or use bottled water) used for drinking, preparing or cooking food, cleaning dishes, brushing teeth, etc.

All restaurants - several hundred - in the area were ordered to close, and other businesses (groceries, convenience stores, etc.) selling prepared food were prohibited from selling food prepared after the incident. On the first day, government offices in the area closed. A number of camps and schools also closed.

By late Monday, they had isolated the pipes in the area of the break, and restored water service to the area and lifted the mandatory water restrictions. Restoration did not depend upon repairs, which will take longer. They even had to build a small road in order to get equipment down to the site.

Results from the first round of water testing became available Tuesday evening. None of the samples had any bacterial contamination. Good news, but the State requires two successive rounds of testing with no findings of contamination before a boil water advisory can be lifted. The State and County did decide to allow restaurants to re-open, but under a rather severe set of requirements with tap water, unless boiled, not usable for cooking, cleaning of table services or anything else, hand washing, etc.

On Wednesday evening, the second round of water testing confirmed the absence of bacterial contamination, and the boil water advisory was lifted. The water emergency was over.

All this was quite an inconvenience. But we ourselves never completely lost water. And we use bottled water for drinking, so that was not an issue.

This incident caused me to reflect on our privileged status. Most of the time, we have ample clean water for all purposes, right in our own home. So many do not.

Our situation at the height of our water emergency was much better than the every day situation of a substantial portion of the world’s population. They would be so grateful to be able to live under that kind of situation.

More than one billion people in the world today lack access to safe drinking water - not for a brief interlude due to a water main break but every day year round. And 2.6 billion lack access to improved sanitation. Each year, 1.8 million children die from diarrhea, mostly as a result of drinking contaminated water. Even many who do have access to reasonably safe drinking water have to haul it by hand some distance from their homes.

There is a vast difference in the lives of those of us who live in the world’s more affluent nations in reasonable comfort, and billions who live in poverty. Our status is not due to us being better or more moral than those in poverty. It is a matter of circumstance. Causes of the misery of so many include greed, wars, economic exploitation, and racism. Our profligate lifestyles definitely contribute to the problem.

What are some of the lessons I take away from this?

  1. Be thankful for my many blessings.
  2. Consider the implications of my lifestyle, and how that might change.
  3. Be in prayer for those facing extremely difficult life circumstances.
  4. Use some of my relatively abundant material resources to help those in need.
  5. Work to change national priorities away from militarism towards meeting human needs and increasing equity.

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Everything Must Change

Saturday, May 10th, 2008

Everything Must Change CoverLast year I was provided a pre-publication copy of Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope by Brian D. McLaren (Thomas Nelson, 2007, 327 pages). The goal was to read it and publish a review of it on my blog before the publication date. I knew that was ambitious, and in fact I didn’t finish it before then. All I got on my blog was a post on the amahoro story in the second chapter. I did finish the book months ago, but only now am I getting around to publishing a review of it.

This book follows on Brian’s previous book, The Secret Message of Jesus, which will give you a leg up in reading this book, but Everything Must Change can certainly be understood without having read The Secret Message first. The key point, reiterated in Chapter 1, is that Jesus’ message is not actually about escaping this troubled world for heaven’s blissful shores, as is popularly assumed, but instead is about God’s will being done on this troubled earth as it is in heaven. (p. 4) The things that churches often spend their energy talking and disputing about actually serve as weapons of mass distraction (p. 21), keeping Christians from focusing on the really important matters.

Brian seeks to answer two basic questions:

  1. What are the biggest problems in the world?
  2. What does Jesus have to say about these global problems?

Brian did extensive research to determine what the most important issues are. He found that the experts have different ways of categorizing the world’s problems, but mostly come up with similar lists. Brian grouped the issues into three deep dysfunctions that would be agreed upon by many secular experts, plus a fourth which he feels is the leverage point through which we can reverse the first three. He names them each as a crisis:

  1. Prosperity Crisis - our unsustainable global economy that fails to respect environmental limits;
  2. Equity Crisis - the growing gap between the ultra-rich and the extremely poor;
  3. Security Crisis - the danger of cataclysmic war; and
  4. Spirituality Crisis - the failure of the world’s religions to provide a framing story capable of healing or reducing the first three crises.

Brian maintains that our global systems have become a suicide machine reprogramming the systems to destroy those they should serve. He’s not maintaining that this is some sort of secret conspiracy, but rather the consequences of attitudes and decisions over the centuries.

Brian doesn’t just expect you to take his analysis on faith. He outlines the crises, and provides sources you can use to explore the issues in greater depth.

This may sound like all doom and gloom, but as a follower of Jesus, Brian is a man of hope. He is confident that Jesus has provided the pattern for a way forward, and that Christians can make a real difference if they understand the framing story Jesus tried to show us and seek to live in accordance with it. The last part of the book he calls The Revolution of Hope, and it provides starting points for a way forward.

Brian is a great writer, and the book is much easier to read than one might expect for a tome on the world’s greatest problems. He weaves in a lot of personal stories that are very illuminating. I’m not saying there aren’t parts that are heavy going, but it is written so that it can be understood by people without a lot of degrees or specialized knowledge.

As harsh as Brian’s analysis sounds, actually he deliberately tries to be gentle with people who may be exploring some of these ideas for the first time. One consequence is that he doesn’t always carry things through to their logical conclusion, because he thinks many folks aren’t quite ready for that. For those in the Peace Church tradition, this happens notably when he makes a good case for the peace position of Jesus, but then fails to follow through, and allows for both the pacifist and just war positions.

But any quibbles I have with the book are minor. I believe that Brian has correctly diagnosed the major global issues, correctly described how Jesus’ life and message speaks to them, and helpfully provided some steps on moving forward to addressing the issues. I wholeheartedly recommend that every Christian - and every other person with a deep concern for the global situation - read this book. I also encourage the formation of small groups to discuss the book together, as I feel this sort of engagement with one another is very helpful. Brian helpfully provides discussion questions after each chapter, which can be used as the basis for small group discussion.

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