Overview – Government

 Governance

The Repub­li­cans have changed Amer­i­can pol­i­tics…the Repub­li­can Party may no longer be a nor­mal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a fac­tion that is more of a psy­cho­log­i­cal protest than a prac­ti­cal, gov­ern­ing alter­na­tive…The mem­bers of this move­ment do not accept the logic of com­pro­mise, no mat­ter how sweet the terms. The mem­bers of this move­ment do not accept the legit­i­macy of schol­ars and intel­lec­tual author­i­ties…The mem­bers of this move­ment have no sense of moral decency…if respon­si­ble Repub­li­cans don’t take con­trol, inde­pen­dents will con­clude that Repub­li­can fanati­cism caused this default. They will con­clude that Repub­li­cans are not fit to gov­ern.  And they will be right.   The Mother of All No-Brainers by David Brooks

Think of it as a two-part strategy. First, obstruct any and all efforts to strengthen the economy, then exploit the economy’s weakness for political gain. If this strategy sounds cynical, that’s because it is… do Republicans really believe that government spending is bad for the economy? No.… why is Mr. Romney denouncing these [defense] cuts? Because, he says, they would cost jobs! This is classic “weaponized Keynesianism” — the claim that government spending can’t create jobs unless the money goes to defense contractors, in which case it’s the lifeblood of the economy. And no, it doesn’t make any sense…As anyone who was paying attention knows, the period during which Democrats controlled both houses of Congress was marked by unprecedented obstructionism in the Senate…  this obstructionism is real, and arguably is the biggest single reaon for our ongo­ing economic weakness. And what happens if the strategy of obstruct-and-exploit succeeds? Is this the shape of politics to come? If so, America will have gone a long way toward becoming an ungovernable banana republic. Obstruct and Exploit by Paul Krugman, New York Times, September 9, 2012

Our political problem, in a nutshell: The party of government is afraid to defend government. Nothing will really change until that changes.  The Greatest Story Never Told by Michael Tomasky

…Any society that allows the market to constitute the axis and framing mechanisms for all social interactions has not just lost its sense of morality and responsibility; it is given up its claim on any vestige of a democratic future. Market fundamentalism along with its structure of extreme inequality and machinery of cruelty has proven to be a death sentence on democracy. The time has come…to rethink what a real democracy might look like and to consider what it will take to actually organize collectively to make it happen. Trickle-Down Cruelty and the Politics of Austerity by Henry A. Giroux

…the fundamental debate we should be having is not the size of government but what the goal of government should be…for both policy and political reasons, the Democrats need to firmly pick the side of middle class and low income Americans, and not worry so much about preserving and protecting the establishment. The Mission of Government by Mike Lux

Washington Has Been Stopped in Its Tracks by Republican Tea Party Types, and It’s Destroying the Country

Why America Can’t Pass Gun Control

Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein

Millionaires Are Now the Majority in Congress: The 1% Literally Rule Us

Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann Explain Why Congress is Failing Us,

Government – moral authority

…All politics is moral… But progressives and radical conservatives have very different ideas of right and wrong. The basic idea is this: Democracy is based on empathy, that is, on citizens caring about each other and acting on that care, taking responsibility not just for themselves but for their families, communities, and their nation. The role of government is to carry out this principle in two ways: protection and empowerment.  Obama Returns to His Moral Vision: Democrats Read Carefully! by George Lakoff

.…Whether government is serving its biblical purpose of protecting from evil and promoting good, is more important than ideological debates about its size. How can we move from an ethic of endless growth to an ethic of sustainability, from short-term profits to longer term human flourishing, from the use and consumption of the earth to stewardship and creation care? Protect­ing “life” can no longer be restricted to a few issues, but must be consistently applied to wherever human life and dignity are threatened… The prerequisite for solving the deepest prob­lems this country and the world now face is a commitment to a very ancient idea whose time has urgently come: the common good.… The Prerequisite of the Common Good by Jim Wallis

…Our current discussion of what constitutes “freedom” is shaped far too much by a deeply flawed right-wing notion that every action by government is a threat to personal liberty and that the one and only priority of those who care about keeping people free is for government to do less than it does. This perspective ignores the many ways over the course of our history in which government has expanded the autonomy of our citizens. Consider how much less freedom so many of us would have without civil rights or voting rights laws, without government student loans, without labor laws, without public schools and without Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. (And we don’t take seriously enough the implications of a most basic fact of our national story: that it took big government in Washington to outlaw slavery.)…we need to think more about “positive liberty,” the ability to realize certain goals in our lives. Democratic government can create the framework in which we have more power to reach those ends… Family values hypocrisy By E.J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post, December 15, 2014

Anti-government

Teaching the middle class to hate their government was an essential part of the [conservative] plan… A middle class cannot exist without a strong government. This is because only a government has the power to stand up to the giant corporations of today’s world …Thirty years ago at the onset of the Reagan Revolution, the middle class basically appreciated and respected their government…the basic message of Reagan and the conservatives was that everyone would be better off if the federal government just disappeared. They were smart enough not to say this directly, however. Instead, they just landed one body blow after another without openly expressing their desire to destroy the government…. Teaching People to Hate Their Own Govt. Is at the Core of the Project to Destroy the Middle Class By Dennis Marker

Government and corporations

They want to control and privatize government resources. Capitalism is exhausted here. It needs more public money. It’s always needed public money, it needs more now. When you look at the growth of capitalism in America from railroads all the way to the computer, it’s publicly funded…So the reinvention of capitalism is the issue, and the reinvention of government is what is happening. So capitalism is directly claiming public investment now…That’s the system they are steadily building — prisons, schools, public parks, there’s a conversion of the whole system into an investment of capital which is a major extension of what’s always been true. … The Big Picture: A 40-Year Scan of the Right-Wing Corporate Takeover of America 

The Biggest Engine of Economic Growth? 8 Ways Taxpayers and the Government Are Necessary to Capitalism 

Privatization

Five Ways privatization degrades America

The Campaign to Privatize the World 

Military-industrial complex

War Profiteers Make Millions At the Expense of the Public

Corporations Profit From Permanent War 

US Government Pays Contractors Twice as Much as Civil Servants for the Same Work


The Bible Paradox

by Big Think Editors, October 20, 2013

Excerpt

Nearly 80 percent of all Americans think the Bible is either literally true or is the inspired word of God. And yet, most Americans have no idea what is actually in the Bible…so we have the paradoxical situation in which we as a culture “have invested the words of this book with amazing authority even when we don’t know what these words are and what they mean.”

So says Joel Baden, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Yale Divinity School…“The Bible has effectively ceased to become a text,” Baden argues, but instead has become a symbol of power and authority “that is undergirded by the relatively uninformed faith commitments of the majority of the American public. To speak in the name of the Bible is to claim a piece of that authority.” And this is a power that can be abused, and often is…Our religious traditions have taught us to read the Bible this way. Since we are conditioned to search the Bible for one meaning, we have lost the ability to be careful readers…if we are to continue to invest as much authority in the Bible as we do, Baden says, we – as serious readers of the text – cannot pretend that the Bible is a single, clear statement of belief. Rather, “it is a jumble of beliefs…This text that our culture holds most sacred is a living reminder that human interaction is founded on dialogue and not monologue – the inclusion of differences, not their exclusion.

Full text

Nearly 80 percent of all Americans think the Bible is either literally true or is the inspired word of God. And yet, most Americans have no idea what is actually in the Bible, as Stephen Prothero notably demonstrated in his book Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know – and Doesn’t.

(To test your religious literacy, take Prothero’s quiz here.)

And so we have the paradoxical situation in which we as a culture “have invested the words of this book with amazing authority even when we don’t know what these words are and what they mean.”

So says Joel Baden, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Yale Divinity School. Baden gave a recent talk called “What Use is the Bible?” (see video below) at The Nantucket Project, a festival of ideas on Nantucket, MA.

“The Bible has effectively ceased to become a text,” Baden argues, but instead has become a symbol of power and authority “that is undergirded by the relatively uninformed faith commitments of the majority of the American public. To speak in the name of the Bible is to claim a piece of that authority.”

And this is a power that can be abused, and often is. When people invoke the Bible, they are often seeking to invoke a deeper Biblical truth, one that represents a singularity of message and meaning. In other words, in order for the Bible to work as a prop, it needs to function like a sledgehammer. ”Nobody wants a wishy-washy authority,” Baden says.

Our religious traditions have taught us to read the Bible this way. Since we are conditioned to search the Bible for one meaning, we have lost the ability to be careful readers.

In the video below, Baden does something radically different. He walks us through the two contradictory creation accounts in Genesis. On what day did God create the plants and the birds and land and sea and Adam and Eve? If you read Genesis I and II back-to-back you are bound to be thoroughly confused. So why couldn’t the authors of the Bible get their stories straight?

“Whoever put these stories together effectively privileged form over content,” Baden says. The Bible’s author “was willing to sacrifice easy meaning and singularity of perspective for the presence in scripture of multiple perspectives.” The author was “happier with an incomprehensible plot – an impossible story – than to have to give up one of these two viewpoints.”

And so if we are to continue to invest as much authority in the Bible as we do, Baden says, we – as serious readers of the text – cannot pretend that the Bible is a single, clear statement of belief. Rather, “it is a jumble of beliefs,” Baden says, “a combination of voices…embedded in the text right from the word ‘Go.’”

So of what use is the Bible? This book is both the ultimate source of authority and completely indecisive. But that does not mean we should throw it away, Baden says. “This text that our culture holds most sacred is a living reminder that human interaction is founded on dialogue and not monologue – the inclusion of differences, not their exclusion.

http://bigthink.com/big-think-tv/the-bible-paradox

Why the Government Shutdown Is Unbiblical

by Jim Wallis, Sojourners, posted on Huffingtonpost.com, Oct 3, 2013

Excerpt

…the people who will lose the most during a government shutdown…are those who live day-to-day on their wages, those at the lower end of the nation’s economy, and the poorest and most vulnerable who are always hurt the most in a crisis like this. And what happens to those people is the focus of the faith community; that is our job in politics — to talk about what happens to them…The government shutdown seems to have gotten the attention of the nation…The only positive I see in this crisis is that the right issues — the moral issues — might finally get our attention...The issues here are deeper than politics now; they are moral, and, I would argue, theological….The Bible speaks clearly about the role of government, and that is what really is being challenged here…pressuring the nation to shut down the government, instead of keeping debate within the political process, is contrary not only to our best political traditions, but also to what our Scriptures say. And underlying this current crisis, there is a clear hostility to government itself, government per se, from a group of political extremists that I believe is unbiblical. It is a minority of our elected officials who are demonstrating their anti-government ideology. But that extreme minority has captured their party and the political process, and has driven the nation into dangerous crisis based upon fear...The biblical purpose of government is to protect from evil and to promote the good — protect and promote. Government is meant to protect its people’s safety, security, and peace, and promote the common good of a society — and even collect taxes for those purposes. Read Romans 13 by the apostle Paul and other similar texts…Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah, the Psalms, and even the book of Kings to see that God will judge kings and rulers (governments) for how they treat the poor.…There is a powerful vision for promoting the common good here, a vision of prosperity for all the people, with special attention to the poor and to “deliverance” for the most vulnerable and needy. That vision of “common good” is what we have lost, and there is nothing more important in our public life than to find it again…To be opposed to government per se, especially when that opposition serves the ultimate power of other wealthy and powerful interests, is simply not a biblical position. Transparency, accountability, and service are the ethics of good government. “Of the people, by the people, and for the people” is still a good measure and goal of civil authority…

Full text

One of the most depressing things I heard on the first day of the government shutdown was that it was a record fundraising day for both parties. Washington, D.C., is no longer about governing; it is just about winning and losing. But the people who will lose the most during a government shutdown — and then an impending United States government default on paying its debts — are those who live day-to-day on their wages, those at the lower end of the nation’s economy, and the poorest and most vulnerable who are always hurt the most in a crisis like this. And what happens to those people is the focus of the faith community; that is our job in politics — to talk about what happens to them. Faith leaders have been meeting to discuss what we must do in response to this political crisis brought on by absolute political dysfunction.

The government shutdown seems to have gotten the attention of the nation. And if this ends in a default on our debt, the potentially catastrophic crashing of the economy will certainly wake us up. The only positive I see in this crisis is that the right issues — the moral issues — might finally get our attention.

Let me make myself clear on the politics here: Debates over fiscal matters — budgets, taxes, and spending — are supposed to take place within the political process, in negotiations, compromises, conferences between the Senate, House, and White House, and settled by elections. We can’t use government shutdowns and debt repayments as bargaining chips in these debates. Most political leaders I know, both Republicans and Democrats, believe in government and governing. They may differ over how big or small or limited, but they are not hostile to government itself.

The issues here are deeper than politics now; they are moral, and, I would argue, theological. Too often our political affiliation drives our theological worldview instead of our theology driving our politics. The Bible speaks clearly about the role of government, and that is what really is being challenged here. It’s time for those people of faith who want to shut down the government to read their Bibles. Because pressuring the nation to shut down the government, instead of keeping debate within the political process, is contrary not only to our best political traditions, but also to what our Scriptures say. And underlying this current crisis, there is a clear hostility to government itself, government per se, from a group of political extremists that I believe is unbiblical. It is a minority of our elected officials who are demonstrating their anti-government ideology. But that extreme minority has captured their party and the political process, and has driven the nation into dangerous crisis based upon fear.

This kind of crisis should cause people of faith to fast and pray and read their Bibles. And whether or not you are a person of faith, you might find it interesting to see what the Bible says about the mess we are now in.

The biblical purpose of government is to protect from evil and to promote the good – protect and promote. Government is meant to protect its people’s safety, security, and peace, and promote the common good of a societyand even collect taxes for those purposes. Read Romans 13 by the apostle Paul and other similar texts. The Scriptures also make it clear that governmental authority is responsible for fairness and justice and particularly responsible to protect the poor and vulnerable. Read Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah, the Psalms, and even the book of Kings to see that God will judge kings and rulers (governments) for how they treat the poor. And it wasn’t just the kings of Israel who were held accountable for the poor, but also the kings of neighboring countries — all governments. That’s what the Bible says; so let me be as clear as I can be.

There are two ways the political extremists are being unbiblical. First, to be hostile to the role of government is unbiblical according to the Scriptures. Second, because of their hostility to government, many of those who are promoting this crisis are also hostile to the poor, who are supposed to be protected by the government. They blame the poor for their poverty instead of asking how government can protect the most vulnerable and even help lift them out of poverty.

The facts and the faces of those who suffer first and worst from these crises must be lifted up — and that is the role of the faith community. Already, thousands of children are losing their Head Start programs, mothers with children are losing WIC (Women, Infants, and Children program), and many of those most dependent on their paychecks are now losing them.

Jeremiah, speaking of King Josiah, said, “He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well.” The subsequent line is very revealing: “‘Is that not what it means to know me?’ declares the Lord” (Jer. 22:16). Of Solomon, the Scriptures say, through the words of the queen of Sheba, “Because the Lord loved Israel forever, he has made you king to execute justice and righteousness” (1 Kings 10:9). Psalm 72 begins with a prayer for kings or political leaders: “Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. … May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor” (Ps. 72:1-4).

There is a powerful vision for promoting the common good here, a vision of prosperity for all the people, with special attention to the poor and to “deliverance” for the most vulnerable and needy.

That vision of “common good” is what we have lost, and there is nothing more important in our public life than to find it again.

For people of faith, government is never ultimate but needs to play the important and modest role of servant. The criteria for evaluation and judgment of civil authority is whether it is serving the people, whether it is guarding their security, whether it is maintaining a positive and peaceful social order, whether it is helping to make the lives of its citizens better, and, in particular, whether it is protecting the poor. To be opposed to government per se, especially when that opposition serves the ultimate power of other wealthy and powerful interests, is simply not a biblical position. Transparency, accountability, and service are the ethics of good government. “Of the people, by the people, and for the people” is still a good measure and goal of civil authority.

But people of faith will ascribe ultimate authority only to God, to whom civil authority will always be accountable.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good, is now available. Watch the Story of the Common Good HERE. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-wallis/why-the-government-shut

Moral authority

Our Inconsistent Ethical Instincts by Matthew Hutson, New York Times, March 30, 2013 – MORAL quandaries often pit concerns about principles against concerns about practical consequences…We like to believe that the principled side of the equation is rooted in deep, reasoned conviction. But a growing wealth of research shows that those values often prove to be finicky, inconsistent intuitions, swayed by ethically irrelevant factors… Even the way a scenario is worded can influence our judgments, as lawyers and politicians well know….knowing that our instincts are so sensitive to outside factors can prevent us from settling on our first response. Objective moral truth doesn’t exist, and these studies show that even if it did, our grasp of it would be tenuous. But we can encourage consistency in moral reasoning by viewing issues from many angles, discussing them with other people and monitoring our emotions closely…

Why Few Americans View Climate Change as a Moral Problem by Ezra Markowitz, BigThink.com, June 15, 2012. – The moral judgment system—the set of cognitive, emotional, social and motivational mechanisms responsible for producing our perceptions of right and wrong—has been receiving a lot of attention recently, only some of it good. A slew of best-selling books, dozens of exciting new research findings, and a host of current events have converged to produce a rapidly growing interest in the role that moral judgment and intuition play in shaping everything from the effects of “green” products on ethical decision-making to growing political polarization…If climate advocates and communicators want people to perceive climate change as a moral imperative—and they should given that our moral intuitions are powerful motivators of action—then they’ll need to develop creative, evidence-based ways of confronting the challenges discussed above.…

What Does the Morality of Americans Have to Do With Immigration in America? by Katherine Fennelly, Huffington Post, July 9, 2010 … The third, and highest level of ‘post-conventional’ moral reasoning has two stages: first, an understanding of social mutuality and concern for the welfare of others, and secondly, adherence to individual conscience and respect for a universal principle of justice. Kohlberg noted that this third level of reasoning is not achieved by a majority of adults.