IMAGINING EVIL

By Jim Jordal

 And the word of the LORD came unto Zechariah, saying, Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, Execute true judgment, and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother: And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart. Zechariah 7:8-10 KJV

Are there really people who “imagine evil” against their brothers? Do some people actually lie awake at night planning who they might cause to fail or fall? God says there are, no matter how such knowledge might upset our Pollyanna-like beliefs about the essential goodness of all people.

The prophet Micah put it this way: “ Woe to those who devise iniquity and work evil on their beds! When the morning is light, they practice it, because it is in the power of their hand (Micah 2:1 WEB). In other words, they lie awake devising evil schemes until morning when they put them into effect. Why? Because they can, and because their very nature demands that they do evil. It’s like Jeremiah said, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then may you also do good, who are accustomed to do evil” (Jer. 13:23).

It’s relatively easy to believe in personal, individual forms of evil since we are surrounded by them every day. It’s more difficult to comprehend the more insidious types of national evil since they are often far away, or are shielded from exposure by compliant politicians and the corporately-owned media. But if you “read between the lines” a bit you’ll begin to perceive the depth of God’s concern with those who deliberately plan evil against the indigent and vulnerable, and now more recently against the soon-to-disappear middle class.

We seem deluded by magnanimous acts of charity by those having far more than enough wealth. You may remember the infamous “robber barons” of the Gilded Age from about 1870 through 1914. Names like John D. Rockefeller (oil), Andrew Carnegie (steel), Commodore Vanderbilt (railroads),  J. P. Morgan (banking), and others who built the American industrial colossus, but also used their skill and power to profit immensely from their positions at the top of the food chain. Using figures corrected for inflation, Rockefeller had a net worth of $340 billion, with Carnegie not far behind at $317 billion.

According to the Wikipedia People’s Encyclopedia, these giants of wealth and power amassed their monstrous fortunes through exploitative practices like “asserting control over natural resources, accruing high levels of government influence, paying extremely low wages, squashing competition by acquiring competitors in order to create monopolist and eventually raise prices,” and selling what was then known as “watered” or essentially worthless stock to unsuspecting investors.

But they weren’t all bad because they also generously returned a portion of their questionable assets to the poor, like Andrew Carnegie and his funding of public libraries, supposedly to give the poor an opportunity to learn their way to success.

Carnegie wrote a book entitled “The Gospel of Wealth” in which he defended his economic and political behavior as necessary to prosperity and economic growth, left-handedly blamed the poor for their lack of success, and surprisingly argued in favor of inheritance taxes and higher income taxes for the rich.

So the public becomes deluded as it hears of their generous gifts to charity and soon comes to venerate the same people who robbed them of their God-given rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” 

Did these giants of business and industry really lie awake at night planning schemes to rob the public? I don’t know, but I think it very likely that they did lots of such scheming in the corporate boardrooms of their various businesses. And it is still going on today as unscrupulous bankers, traders, and shady manipulators continue their “practices to deceive.”

Think on it!

“SQUEEZING OUT” PROFITS

By Jim Jordal

You’ve all heard it, and maybe you’ve even said it: “We’ve got to squeeze more profits out of this operation.” That’s the value that drives most business decisions and much of our economy today. But seldom do we look at the final costs of such thinking in terms of what really matters---human quality of life.

Squeezing out profits means reducing as much as possible the costs of factors of production: resources, labor, capital, and enterprise or entrepreneurship. These factors are the inputs necessary to transform raw resources into desired output. Since labor is the factor least able to fight back--- now that unions have been squashed--- it’s easiest to cut. So wages get pushed down to the poverty level while returns to management and owners of capital skyrocket.

But captains of industry don’t seem to understand that if wages are low enough to flat-line consumer demand, how will they sell their goods? Almost daily the financial news reports “Big Box” retailers closing or selling their stores because their market share is down. Their answer is of course to create new consumers through advertising and the opening of new markets.

Squeezing out profits also means sacrificing the environment. Economists use the term “externalities” to describe how big business uses our air, water, and land as virtually free dumping grounds for their waste products. The external part of this means that they don’t pay the costs of their disposals---we do. And “climate deniers” refuse to accept any truth in global warming, mostly because if they did they might be taxed on their air and water-borne carbon deposits.

 Squeezing out profits also means “devising evil by law” as the Psalmist says. The newest entry in the race to devise evil by law is the up-to-now fairly secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This potentially damaging new trade association consists of 12 Pacific rim nations gathered by the Obama administration and big global corporations into a new NAFTA-like organization aimed at enhancing trans-Pacific trade. You probably haven’t yet heard of this because of the secrecy imposed by its proponents as they attempt to gain permission to “Fast-Track” it through Congress, meaning with little discussion and no amendments before it takes effect. Its most objectionable provisions in essence give large corporations more power than sovereign governments because they could bring suit against governments for taking any action---consumer protection, child labor, environmental regulations---or anything else that might threaten corporate profits. No wonder it’s been kept so secret!

Squeezing out profits also means squeezing out justice, or true judgment. In God’s eyes, justice simply means each person’s right to be treated fairly and equitably, not only in courts of law, but in economic markets and in daily life.

And finally, squeezing out profits means we have largely squeezed God’s law from our national thinking. We have declared unreasonable and obsolete the teachings of Jesus that “A man’s life consists not in the abundance of things he possesses,” and “what shall a man be profited if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”

And who gets blamed for the chaos and destruction now creating massive poverty, the virtual destruction of the middle class, and the literal rape of the earth? Not the individuals sitting atop the power and wealth pyramid who make the decisions, but the insatiable demands of the all-mighty, absolutely impersonal “market.” The market has no conscience or moral code. It operates based upon the principle of “what is, not what ought to be.” So it can blithely crush labor, pollute the environment, devise continuous evil, squeeze out justice, and destroy as unimportant “the bodies and souls of men” as Revelation charges.

The many crises we face are God’s wake-up call, but we don’t seem willing to awaken. That’s where the religious establishment comes in. Rather than condoning the destruction of individuals and families, why don’t we make even a small attempt to speak truth to power? It might do some good!

HOW TO LOSE BY WINNING

By Jim Jordal

"Winning is the name of the game," at least according to many top financiers, corporate CEOs, sports figures, and politicos. It certainly was the operative principle of the financiers who bragged about selling their toxic mortgage packages to elderly widows and others not knowledgeable enough to resist their embellishments. It certainly was the ethic of sports figures that took performance-enhancing drugs for years while all the time proclaiming their virginal purity. It certainly motivates CEOs who lay off millions of workers while lining their own pockets with hundreds of millions in bonuses and "golden parachute" retirement packages. And it also drives politicians who sell out to special interest groups in order to retain their seats in Congress.

But are we really "winning" when we win in these ways? What is the price of winning at all costs to public integrity and institutional honesty? Congress, which supposedly reflects the will of the people balanced against the desires of the titans of power, now has a public trust rating of around 10 percent. The gun lobby claims they must arm themselves against others who have long ago lost the public decency that was supposed to hold our people together. And government must use massive surveillance programs and drones to protect us against terrorists, when the very efforts we use for protection often result in the recruitment of more terrorists. Corporations must lie to the public about the environmental effects of their activities and about the safety of their products. And sports teams have been known to employ illegal plays to deliberately cripple stellar performers on opposing teams. All this in the name of winning!

If this is necessary to win, then perhaps we need to redefine the game before the very act of winning destroys us. First of all, we need to see it for what it is. It’s not a game, but a very serious perversion of the values we claim to hold dear---loyalty, honesty, compassion, and love. Real winners accept truth and modify their behavior accordingly. The other "winners" cheat, lie, manipulate, complain, and use every tactic available to them to excuse and even justify their behavior. Think Wall Street and you’ll see what I mean.

It’s human nature to want to succeed; to gain some of the pleasures of life and even to save enough to have something to pass on to posterity. It’s a heady feeling to get ahead of others and to assume a position of respect among them. But some of the winners we’re talking about here carry these relatively normal behaviors far beyond what most of us can even imagine. Most Americans don’t begrudge the millions or even billion earned by people who create something valuable to society, or innovate new ways of making more with less, and even get rich by simple luck. What causes the angst now is that many of the top tiers of wealth produce nothing, are not notably innovative or productive, and resist strenuously any attempt to rein in their money-grabbing activities. They are the manipulators of money who profit from complex transactions few people can understand, jealously hoard their ill-gotten gains, and buy-off any public efforts to change the system that’s making them rich.

This unfortunate situation didn’t just happen; it resulted from government selling out its regulatory function to big money. When possessing great fortunes becomes the yardstick for measuring the success of any person or family the balances then become skewed in favor of trickery, lies, and manipulation. Public interest becomes secondary to personal wealth building with society becoming the loser. Government assumes the position—not of arbiter or mediator of justice—but of skewing the economic playing field in favor of big business and great wealth.

And we all lose. The "social contract" coined by French political philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau in 1762, under which sovereign people surrendered certain powers to government in return for protection and the administration of justice now lies in tatters as government increasingly becomes the servant of the rich against the common people.

It’s time to wake up and pray!

PRIVATIZATION: FRIEND OR FOE?

By Jim Jordal

 But they will sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; And no one will make them afraid:

Micah 4:4a WEB

 Remember, Yahweh, what has come on us: Look, and see our reproach Our inheritance is turned to strangers, Our houses to aliens. We are orphans and fatherless; Our mothers are as widows. We have drunken our water for money; Our wood is sold to us. Our pursuers are on our necks: We are weary, and have no rest.

Lamentations 5:1-5 WEB

Privatization seems to be the Holy Grail of conservative economic policy these days. "Turn a failed government over to private enterprise because it can no longer afford public services needed by the people," runs the cry. Private ownership of practically all former government facilities and programs is promised as a way to balance the budget, lower taxes, and gain the advantages accruing to more responsive and efficient private entrepreneurs.

In the U.S. advocates of privatization attempt to sell public infrastructure to wealthy private equity and venture funds. This trend is motivated by continuing government difficulties in building and maintaining needed highways, bridges, sanitation facilities, schools, prisons, emergency responders, and even the military. It seems there is never enough money to do the job properly. So the answer is to turn the task over to private enterprise with its seemingly unlimited funds and better management skills. Of course these unlimited funds are the product of lax government policies, cooperative legislative bodies, and low taxes on the wealthy.

We are all familiar with privately owned freeways, bridges, and historic places charging admission or tolls for public use. But do we know that increasing numbers of prisons are privately owned and that one of the conditions found in some corporate corrections contracts with government is that government must keep the number of prisoners at a certain level in order to fulfill cheap labor agreements?

And are we aware of the increasing drive to sell public sanitation and water systems to private corporations, often for one-time payments by the corporation to alleviate some government shortage? And what happens to water rates once corporate control is established? Yes, up go the rates, sometimes by several hundred percent.

Maybe that’s what happened to the prophet Jeremiah’s suffering people in the throes of Babylonian captivity chronicled by the Lamentations of Jeremiah? Their cry as recorded above was that they had to pay for the water they drank and the wood they needed for cooking and heat. They became slaves of the system ruling them.

Is privatization good for anyone? It’s wonderful for hedge funds and private equity firms able to amass large sums of capital to take advantage of needy units of government willing to sell the people’s rights for one-time infusions of money. It appears to be good for states or cities pining to unload costly public systems onto private companies willing to run them for profit. In some cases public infrastructure like water and sewer systems have been allowed by penny-pinching bureaucrats to degenerate for up to a century and can now be sold as a way of avoiding massive public expenditures. But the gains are elusive at best because the private firms now in possession of public facilities can and often do raise prices to obscene levels.

In poor developing nations privatization is the destroyer of families and cultures. At the behest of creditors like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) these debtor countries are required as a condition of loan forgiveness or modification (structural adjustments) to either sell off public facilities or to raise prices for water, cooking oil, gasoline and other commodities vital to human existence. The result is further impoverishing of the already poor.

Motivation for privatization goes beyond the mere saving of money into traditional conservative antipathy for government and bureaucracy. It is assumed that private enterprise can always do better than government at almost any task. But it also falsely assumes that private enterprise will honor human rights in the process of making profits. That is a very shaky assumption, as current events reveal.

Privatization could be good if managers of money were as interested in the public welfare as they are in lining their own pockets, but that’s wishful thinking because, as they readily admit, the main business of business is making money. And privatizing would be unnecessary if government performed its duty of doing what the public cannot do for itself in an efficient and reasonable manner.

"THERE’S NEVER ENOUGH!"

by Jim Jordal

 Those who trust in their wealth, And boast in the multitude of their riches---Their inward thought is that their houses will endure forever, And their dwelling places to all generations….They name their lands after themselves. But man, despite his riches, doesn't endure. He is like the animals that perish. This is the destiny of those who are foolish, And of those who approve their sayings.…Don't be afraid when a man is made rich, When the glory of his house is increased. For when he dies he shall carry nothing away. His glory shall not descend after him. Though while he lived he blessed his soul--And men praise you when you do well for yourself--He shall go to the generation of his fathers….A man who has riches without understanding, Is like the animals that perish.

Selected from Psalm 49 WEB

 Woe to those who join house to house, Who lay field to field, until there is no room, And you are made to dwell alone in the midst of the land!

Isaiah 5:8 WEB

"I’m surprised at you, Art. Don’t you know there’s never enough?" That’s what former San Francisco mayor Art Agnos (1988-1992) heard from a representative of Big Oil at a meeting over the furor caused when a small local gas station was scheduled to be torn down in favor of a "pumper" designed to sell nothing but massive amounts of gas. Mayor Agnos had only asked a simple question of the assembled big wigs: "How much is enough?"

That’s also the reply of predatory capitalists when questioned concerning their exorbitant profits and massive market control. Their answer to recent perversions---especially in financial markets---is that the problems arose, not because of insufficient regulation, but because of too much. So the public is supposed to believe that if we leave them alone they will naturally operate in our best interests.

One problem is that people think there’s no alternative to predatory corporate capitalism other than socialism, communism or fascism. But that’s only the lie that purveyors of economic power want you to believe. They want you to believe that naked capitalism is the best economic system available because it generates the most wealth, is the most efficient, and the most beneficial to the public because of free markets that supposedly allocate scarce goods and services equitably to the highest number of people.

But there are viable alternatives to predatory corporate capitalism. One would be truly democratic capitalism under which corporations are encouraged to prosper, although limited by strict regulations in the public interest. This would take only one basic change in values: a widespread acceptance that people are more important than profits. Government officials elected in contests free of control by Big Money would then carry this principle into operation.

But the alternative toward which we are being driven by events is biblical jubilee, the principles of which are found in Leviticus 25, Deuteronomy 15, the prophetic books, and the teachings of Christ. The principles of jubilee if heeded would create needed balance between owners and operators, workers and management, profits and people, production and destruction, work and rest. They would end the perpetual struggle between money and people by distributing the earth’s resources and wealth equitably (not equally).

Jubilee is not socialism, as some people claim. It is common sense applied to the financial/productive world. It ought to be increasingly obvious that we cannot continue under present world policies and behavior aimed at treating the earth like our own special cookie jar, and the rivers and air of the earth as our private garbage dump. We cannot continue allowing about half the world’s population to struggle in privation and desperation. And we cannot perpetuate the warped value that ownership entails the right to do as we please with what God has given us.

The earth has enough resources for all—if greed and ignorance were eliminated. Be part of the answer---not part of the problem.