Thursday, September 06, 2018

We Are Not Being Represented

     We are not being represented. Oh sure, we vote now and then for people who are supposed to represent us, but they are not doing it. I have believed this for quite some time, and several recent studies have confirmed it. In 2014, Martin Gilens, a Professor of Politics at Princeton University, and Benjamin I. Page, Gordon S. Fulcher Professor of Decision Making at Northwestern University examined 1,779 polls in which Americans were asked to say whether they favored or opposed a particular policy. They also studied news accounts, government data, Congressional Quarterly publications, and academic papers to determine whether those policies were actually implemented within four years of the relevant poll. They then compared actual policy outcomes with the wishes of four different groups. In order of most correlation to least correlation, the groups are: economic elites, business interest groups, mass-based interest groups, and average citizens. With a correlation of zero being no correlation, and a correlation of 1 being 100 percent correlation, economic elites were found to have a “quite substantial, highly significant” impact on policy, with a correlation between their wishes and actual policy outcomes at 0.78. The correlation between the wishes of business interest groups and actual policy outcomes was 0.43, while the correlation between the wishes of mass interest groups and actual policy outcomes was 0.24. The correlation between the wishes of average citizens and actual policy outcomes was 0.05. In the words of the researchers, “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” The opinions of the bottom 90% of income earners in America has essentially no impact at all on public policy. As I said to begin with, we are not being represented. The only time that average Americans get the public policies they want is when their desires happen to coincide with the desires of the economic elites and the business interests.

     It would be nice if we could put all the blame for this lack of representation on the Republicans, but Democrats are also responsible. Several studies have shown that the typical Democratic elected official or party officer is far to the right of the average Democrat. I will give you one example: A recent Reuters poll found that 70 percent of Americans support a single payer, Medicare For All health care plan. This includes 52 percent of Republicans, and 85 percent of Democrats. So, we would expect that if 85 percent of Democrats support Medicare For All, then at least 85 percent of our Representatives and Senators would support Medicare For All, right? Bills that would implement a Medicare For All plan have been introduced in both the House and the Senate, but have our Democratic Representatives and Senators signed on to them? Of the 193 Democrats in the House, 123 of them (65 percent) have cosponsored H.R.676, the Expanded and Improved Medicare For All Act. Of the 47 Democrats in the Senate, only 16 (34 percent) have cosponsored Bernie Sanders' S.1804 Medicare for All Act. We are not being represented.

In spite of the fact that our so-called “representatives” aren’t actually representing us, for some reason, we keep reelecting them. In 2012, Congress’s approval rating was 10 percent, yet 91 percent of Congress was reelected. In 2014, Congress’s approval rating was 14 percent, yet 96 percent of them were reelected. In 2016 the Congressional approval rate averaged around 16 percent, 97 percent were reelected. In several recent election cycles, more congressional representatives died in office than lost a reelection bid. Why is this?

     One of the biggest reasons is that large percentages of Americans have no idea who their representatives are, or how they vote on the issues. One recent survey found that barely a third of Americans can recall the name of their U.S. congressional representative, and even fewer can remember anything he or she has done for the district. Only about one in ten people can remember how their representative voted on a particular bill. According to a Zogby International poll, only 27 percent of Americans can name both of their U.S. senators. Three quarters of Americans can correctly identify two of Snow White's seven dwarfs while only a quarter can name two Supreme Court Justices. Only 42 percent of those surveyed could list the three branches of our government, but seventy-five percent could name the Three Stooges.

     We have a big job ahead of us. Somehow, we have to educate our fellow Americans on who is supposed to be representing them, and let them know that their alleged representatives are not doing their job. We need to stop voting for politicians and party officers who do not represent us, and we need to convince our fellow Americans to stop voting for them. We need to let our supposed representatives and party officers know that we will not vote for them if they don’t represent us, and we need to show them that we mean it by voting large numbers of them out of office and replacing them with people who will do the job they were elected to do. That’s what it will take to truly be represented in government. Who’s with me?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Nuclear Hypocrisy

North Korea recently conducted an underground test of a nuclear explosive device. According to an Associated Press news article, nations throughout the world are condemning the test. Here are some quotes from the article, along with the number of nuclear weapons each condemning nation possesses:

The U.N. Security Council was meeting later Monday in New York to discuss what President Barack Obama called Pyongyang's "blatant defiance" of resolutions banning the regime from developing weapons of mass destruction.

The U.S. possesses ten thousand nuclear weapons.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown condemned the test as a "danger to the world."

The UK possesses 200 nuclear weapons.

Russia's Foreign Ministry called it "a serious blow to international efforts" to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

Russia possesses 8600 nuclear weapons.

French officials said they would push for new sanctions.

France possesses 350 nuclear weapons.

China said it was "resolutely opposed" to the test.

China possesses 400 nuclear weapons.

Nations possessing hundreds, even thousands, of nuclear weapons can hardly claim to hold the moral high ground. If these nations want to have any credibility at all in condemning North Korea's nuclear weapons program, they must first dismantle their own stockpiles of nuclear weapons. To do otherwise is the height of hypocrisy.

Pot, meet kettle.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Two Questions

While I am a Christian and believe that God created the universe and everything in it, I don't believe the Genesis six-day account of how he did it. I believe that God created it all, but I think that we have to turn to science to tell us how he did it. I have two questions for those who believe that God created the Earth in six days.

God is all powerful. What is impossible for man is not just possible for God, it's easy for him. He can do it immediately, doesn't even break a sweat. A mere thought, a blink of an eye, and it's done. Yet according to the Genesis creation story, he took six days to create the Earth. So, my first question is: What took him so long?

God is infinite, God is everlasting. He has always been, he will always be. Time has no meaning to God: a thousand years is no more than the blink of an eye. He had forever to create the Earth, yet he finished the job in just six days. Which leads to the second question: Why the big rush?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

That's what I saw

A dozen or so years ago, I wrote a song called “That's What I Saw.” The song is a series of short vignettes of incidents that I had witnessed, incidents that stuck in my mind and returned to my thoughts with some regularity. Here's the chorus of the song:

That's what I saw today;
I'm not saying it's wrong or it's right.
But that's what I saw today;
It's still on my mind tonight.

Three recent incidents stick in my mind; all three took place at the church I attend. As in the song, I'm not going to say whether what I saw is wrong or right; I'll leave that up to you. But here's what I saw; here's what's still on my mind:

About a year ago, I was talking to a man at church about Holden Village, a religious retreat village near here. He was planning on going to Holden soon, and knowing I had been there several times, wanted to know what it was like. Among other things, I told him that the people there were very open and accepting of others, and that he'd likely see openly gay people during his stay at the Village. A few months later, he came up to me after church one Sunday and told me that he'd been to the Village, and that he didn't see any gay people there - “They've really cleaned it up,” he said.

One Sunday shortly before the anniversary of the use of nuclear weapons against Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan (August 6 and 9, 1945), I took to church with me a couple dozen copies of a paper I'd written on the U.S. possession and use of nuclear weapons, intending to leave them on the literature table. (I had received permission from the pastor to do so.) A woman told me that I couldn't put my papers on the table; that some people might be offended by them.

A local trailer park was closed down recently, leaving its mostly low income residents to scramble for affordable housing. Churches and other groups agreed to each “adopt” a family from the trailer park, helping them to find affordable housing and otherwise helping however they could. My church adopted a family from the trailer park, and one recent Sunday a woman from the church asked me how the family was doing. I shared what little information I had on the family's current situation, and she told me she wished 'those people' would do more to help themselves out.

There you have it: that's what I saw, that's what's still on my mind.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Butter Battle Book and Nuclear Weapons

I have just finished reading “The Butter Battle Book” by Dr. Seuss. You may think that the book, being written by Dr. Seuss, is a children's book. It is, and it isn't.

The story is about the Yooks and the Zooks, who live on opposite sides of a great wall. But what really separates them is that the Yooks eat their bread with the butter side up, and the Zooks – horror of horrors - eat their bread with the butter side down.

In order to prevent anyone from the other side from coming over the wall, both sides post a guard along the wall. The Yook guard is armed with a Snick-Berry Switch. The Zook guard breaks the Snick-Berry Switch with a shot from his slingshot, and both sides launch into a race to produce a more powerful weapon than the other side has, producing Triple-Sling Jiggers, Jigger-Rock Snatchems, Utterly Sputters, and finally, the Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo, a weapon so powerful it can completely destroy the other side. The guard from each side goes to the wall, intending to destroy the other side once and for all with his Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo, only to find that the other side has one, too. The book doesn't really have an ending, it just leaves both guards standing on the wall with a Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo in his hand, waiting to see who will drop his first. And when one side drops his Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo, the other side will drop his too, resulting in the destruction of both the Yooks and the Zooks.

The real-life version of the book is, of course, the “Cold War Arms Race” between the United States and the Soviet Union (now Russia). Each side constructed more and bigger nuclear weapons in an effort to outdo the other side.

Like the Yooks and the Zooks in the Butter Battle Book, the real life story has, as of yet, no ending. The United States still has approximately ten thousand nuclear weapons in its arsenal, with half of those ready to launch at a moment's notice, while the Russians have approximately sixteen thousand nuclear weapons, with about five thousand of those ready for immediate launch.

I think the moral of the story is that nobody can win an arms race, whether in real life or in a Dr. Seuss book. The only possible outcome seems to be a standoff, with both sides ready and able to destroy the other, even though it will certainly mean their own destruction as well. As they discovered in the 1983 movie, War Games, “the only winning move is not to play.”

Unfortunately, we've already started playing the game, and we've been playing it for sixty years. But there's still hope: both sides could agree to stop playing the game, to dismantle their Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroos, or their nuclear weapons, as the case may be, and look for other ways to resolve their differences. That is the only way we might still win the game.

Work for nuclear disarmament. Contact your political leaders and tell them you want the United States to work with other nations to eliminate nuclear weapons from the world. Tell all your friends about the madness and futility of the possession of nuclear weapons, and ask them to work for nuclear disarmament.

And be sure to eat your bread with the butter side down.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Living the Sermon

I am currently reading "Gandhi the man: the story of his transformation" by Eknath Easwaran. In the appendix, Gandhi is quoted as saying "There is no royal road, except through living the creed in your life, which must be a living sermon." To live one's life as a "living sermon" is a high standard to be held to. While Gandhi wasn't by any means perfect, he did in many ways live the sermon he preached. He not only talked the talk, he walked the talk, he practiced what he preached, and I think that is a major reason why people are still talking about him and looking up to him to this day.

Jesus also lived the sermon he preached. He talked of loving and serving one's fellow man, of being a neighbor to all, and he lived it. He healed and fed many people, he washed the feet of his disciples. He preached nonviolence, and when one of his disciples drew his sword and cut off the ear of a man who had come to arrest him, Jesus not only told Peter to put the sword away, but healed the man's ear. As with Gandhi, I think his living the sermon he preached is a major reason people are still talking about and looking up to Jesus, two thousand years later.

I have been known to "preach a sermon" now and then, here on this blog, and elsewhere. I have been known to tell people what they are doing wrong, what they should be doing instead, how they should live their lives.

I am no Gandhi, and I am certainly no Jesus. My life is not a "living sermon." I talk the talk, but I don't always walk the talk; I don't always practice what I preach. I don't expect I will ever live the sermon I preach in the way that Gandhi and Jesus did. And I certainly don't expect that people will still be talking about me or looking up to me two thousand years, or even a hundred years, after my death. But still, I hope and believe that I have something worthwhile to say, and I hope that people will listen to what I say, and will be able to overlook the fact that I don't always live my own sermons, at least enough to consider that there might be some truths in the sermons I preach.

The same applies to all of us, I believe. You also have something to say, we all have something to say. We all see ways that the world could be a better place, we see in those around us behaviors we feel are inappropriate and would like to see changed, sometimes missing the fact that we are guilty of the same behaviors. While I think that we should all strive to live the sermons we preach, I don't think that we should let our own imperfections keep us from preaching those sermons. We will probably have our hypocrisy pointed out to us now and then, people will point out our own failures. But as long as we can preach our sermons, not with condemnation, but with love, we should preach them anyway. We should listen to other people's sermons, looking for the truths they contain. And we should listen to our own sermons, for surely we need to hear them as much as anyone does.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

God's will for me (and you)

I've had a very frightening experience lately. I've found myself praying that God would show me what his will for me is, and that he'll give me the courage to do his will.

That's a scary thing. There are a lot of things that God could ask me to do that I really don't want to do; that I just don't think I have the strength to do.

Father Roy Bourgeois has spent years of his life trying to close the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia, where the U.S. trains in torture and terror tactics. His work has landed him in prison more than once. Could I do that? I don't know.

Gary Smith spent 25 years living among and ministering to the poor, the homeless, the drunks and drug addicts, the mentally ill. I've read his book, “Radical Compassion: Finding Christ in the Heart of the Poor” and while I greatly admire Gary Smith for his work, I just don't know if I could do what he did.

I could give a lot more examples of people who live their lives ministering to the poor, working for peace, curing the sick - names you know and people you've never heard of. I suspect many of them also wondered if they were able to do what God called them to do. Mother Teresa spent years in Calcutta working with the sick, the dying, and the poorest of the poor, yet we are told there were times she had doubts about her ability to do her work.

My pastor wrote a song that includes these lyrics:

“Please don't send me to Africa,
I don't want to go. ...
Please don't make me do what I fear.”

Even Jesus, facing death on the cross, prayed: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass away from me.” We're in good company when we fear what doing God's will may mean for us.

Soren Kierkegaard writes:

“The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined.”

Kierkegaard is right; if we do as the New Testament instructs us to do, as God instructs us to do, our lives will be “ruined.” How can I have my house in the suburbs with a two car garage and a white picket fence if God calls me to spend my life working with homeless people? How can I watch my favorite shows on a big screen TV if God calls me to work with people with HIV/AIDS in Africa? What will it mean to my career if I spend my life working for nuclear disarmament?

I don't know what God's will for me is; I don't know what God is calling me to do. It's easy for me to say “Please don't send me to Africa” or “let this cup pass away from me.” But I'm trying to listen for God's voice, to hear what God wants me to do, and I know there's more to it than “being a good person and going to church on Sunday.” For me, and for all of us.

Dear Lord, it is easy for us to see the “big picture” of what you want us to do on this Earth: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.” But it's not always so easy to see the smaller details, to see where we as indivuals fit into the big picture. Let each one of us see clearly what we are called to do, and give each of us the strength to do your will. Amen.