Go and do likewise

While many people are becoming more comfortable with single payer healthcare–thanks to Bernie Sanders–many of my Christian compatriots live in a socially conservative milieu that has so totally embraced the myth of the bootstraps that it has turned the call for personal responsibility (an inarguable good) into an excuse to escape caring for other people when we have the means.

This was made clear to me when I shared Jessica Kantrowitz‘s post on twitter:

Understandably, some people objected.  For example, my mother, a careful reader of scripture, commented: “???? Never read that.”  In the discussion that followed, she said Christians are to be personally involved, “A real neighbor sees a need and gets personally involved.

And I totally agree with that.

However, it ends up being an excuse not to use taxes for social welfare since there is no “personal involvement.” But, the story of the Good Samaritan does not say the only way we are to help others is through personal involvement.

So, let me return to the original statement that provoked this discussion. It is a hyperbolic statement.  Jesus did not literally say “Pay for other people’s healthcare.”

But it would be a valid conclusion to draw from the story of the Good Samaritan.

Jesus was asked “who is my neighbor?” by a man trying to make sure he met all the legal requirements the command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” He was trying to make sure he would merit eternal life.

In response, Jesus told a story that ended with a Samaritan paying for the care of the man he rescued (after two other “holy” men before him had passed by) and then promising to pay for any further costs when he was able to return.  After this story, Jesus asked, in the Socratic style of teaching, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

So, yes, Jesus didn’t say “Pay for other people’s health care” but he also did not say “Go be personally involved.” In fact, the story clearly shows the opposite: the Samaritan was personally involved, but when he couldn’t stay and personally take care of the man, he left him with someone else and left money to care for him.

And in the end, Jesus didn’t give the man asking him for spiritual advice an easy answer. He didn’t give any explicit direction. He said “Go and do likewise.” What that is in any situation differs.

Sure, like the Good Samaritan, Christians are called to get dirty helping others.

But, also like the Good Samaritan, we have to continue with our own business.

This doesn’t excuse us from caring for others when we cannot be personally involved. When we have other pressing matters we can give others the resources to care in our place, just as the Good Samaritan left the man with Innkeeper.

(Photograph by jean-louis Zimmermann from Moulins, FRANCE [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.)

Yet another take on the 2016 election

A friend of mine who is an ordained minister, someone I first met in real life, is now primarily a Facebook friend and has posted a link to If You Don’t Like Either Candidate, Then Vote for Trump’s Policies.

As you can probably predict, it caused some discussion, but just as I was getting ready to comment, it looks like he took it down.  That’s fine.  This works as a blog post and I’ve been meaning to write one.

Last week my friend posted a link to A Wretched Choice. I said then that the anti-Clinton prejudice was palatable. I’m struck, again, by the built in prejudice against Hillary. She has her faults but so much of what is said assumes you agree that she is satan incarnate.

In making the argument for voting for Trump’s policies, Wayne Grudem seems eager to take Trump at his word but ready to doubt Clinton no matter what she says. I think he’s forgotten Jesus admonition to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

In the meantime, he is ignoring Trump’s words — he contradicted his wife and said he didn’t apologize to her for his comments in the 2005 tape — and hearing only what he wants to hear. If you look at Trump looking for contrition and humility, you’re looking in the wrong place.

Mr. Grudem points to the Republican and Democrat’s respective platforms which he says guide the actions of elected officials. I would point out that Trump has shown a profound antipathy towards the Republican leaders. Why would you expect that he wouldn’t show that same antipathy towards the “shackles” of the Republican platform?

Look, I think it is fine to say “both candidates are awful and I just feel better about Trump”. At least, then, you’re honest about your prejudice. But if you want to present a rigorous case for Trump and against Hillary don’t assume that I agree with all your preconceived notions about Hillary.

For example, give me a reason to think that Trump’s past support for abortion is past, or, better yet, convince me that he has real compassion for those who are less fortunate for him. I’ve at least seen hints of that from Clinton.

Finally, I’ll quote Jesus again: “You will know them by their fruit.” The best example of fruit that I see are their eponymous foundations. Both have had problems, but, from what I can see, the Clinton Foundation is focused on spending money on what the Clinton’s see as real problems, while the Trump Foundation seems to have more room for self-dealing and bribes.

Image from Wikimedia Commons by DonkeyHotey (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Let Obamacare fail on its own Merits.

Heal the sickAs October 1st and the possibility to sign up for Obamacare gets closer, the world has had the dubious pleasure of watching American politicians fight over the best way to care for the those who can’t afford medical care.

The great thing about America is our federal system: As a federal program, Obamacare depends heavily on each state’s implementation of it. States whose legislatures and governors are politically sympathetic to the program (i.e. mostly Democrats) are doing everything they can to help it succeed. They’ve accepted increased Medicaid funding, set up state-run exchanges, and hired navigators to get things done.

But legislatures and governors who aren’t so politically sympathetic to Obamacare (i.e. mostly Republicans) aren’t content to let the program fail on its own — though many are convinced that it would. Instead, they are trying to block implementation at every step.

They often use the argument that the federal government can’t do anything right, but then, when Obamacare offers states the more Medicaid funding and the chance to run their own insurance exchange — after all, something run by the states is better than if it is run by the feds — they balk and leave their citizens to rely on the Federal implementation.

Obamacare recognizes that people will need help figuring out the new system, so part of it is the implementation of navigators in each state. In Florida, though, the state has passed legislation saying that navigators do not have access to their county health facilities.

I understand that some people don’t want Obamacare to succeed. Heck, they don’t even want people to get any benefit, because “when people get an entitlement, they never give it up, so let it burn.” I get that.

But trying to create failure by blocking access to Obamacare creates “bad optics” at the very least. Thankfully, some counties in Florida have found a way around the state’s ban on helping people enroll in Obamacare, but this only adds to the drama. It may even, indirectly, make the point that those closer to the individual are better able to serve than “those bureaucrats in Tallahassee”.

(Photo credit: Tabitha Kaylee Hawk)

Objective Data isn’t enough

[photocommons file=”Bill_Clinton_visit_to_Los_Alamos.jpg” width=180]From perusing Reddit this morning, I learned that President Clinton gave a substantive speech last night during the Democratic convention. I didn’t see it, but from the comments, it looks like it was an objective refutation of some of the compelling speeches last week (like Paul Ryan’s) during the Republican convention.

That alone would be enough for many Redditors. But Clinton is known for being compelling and persuasive and, from the comments, it looks like he managed to sway some voters, too.

After I read some of the comments there, I caught up on some of my RSS feeds and came across this gem by Oliver: “Emotive Data and Baby Teeth”.

I’ll quote a bit that makes the point that I’m trying to — facts are great, but facts don’t persuade people to do anything — and shows why Clinton’s speech was (evidently) so great. But you should go read the whole post.

A good example of this is found in the campaign for nuclear disarmament and reduction in the United States. During the 1950s it became clear, academically, that the testing of nuclear weapons was causing problems…but nobody really talked about it, because academic data wasn’t something that led people in the know to emote, and it wasn’t sexy enough for the media to pick it up and carry it to people not in the know.

What changed that was Eric and Louise Reiss’s Baby Tooth Survey. Tens of thousands of baby teeth from various time periods were taken and tested for radioactive isotopes – fallout from nuclear testing. The results, published first in 1961 and then more conclusively in 1963, showed that Strontium-90 levels in baby teeth had gone up by over 5000 percent since the start of nuclear weapons testing. It was this study that finally pushed JFK over the edge to sign the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the first nuclear weapons treaty.

It didn’t succeed at this because the data was new. The idea that nuclear weapons testing might have an impact on health was already known. It succeeded because it was emotional – it was dealing with childrens’ teeth. Every parent who ran into it could suddenly imagine those teeth belonging to their child.

Care about Freedom? Tell pollsters you’re voting for Gary Johnson!

[photocommons file=”Carter Reagan Debate 10-28-80.png” width=”158″]This morning, my mother told me she had gotten a call from a pollster asking “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”

That this question can be used to predict (or so I hear) presidential elections seems like such a selfish way to look at things, but I do understand that is how we are motivated.

Still, I am more concerned about the things the president actually does like killing or imprisoning U.S. citizen’s without a trial.

Evidently many pople see that and think “Well, that doesn’t affect me, I have bills to pay” and vote accordingly.

Neither of the major party candidates is going to be any better on these issues.  And, since Ross Perot, they’ve made it very hard for third party candidates to get on presidential debates, so issues aren’t even discussed.

Ross Perot’s candidacy and appearance in debates made a dramatic difference in Clinton’s presidency.  Because a kooky third party candidate was able to talk directly to the mainstream candidates in a televised debate, the president who ended up getting elected had to act differently.

The Libertarian Party has what sounds like a reasonable way to get the bigger issues like civil liberties discussed without sacrificing your vote.  They’ve got their candidate on the ballot in all 50 states and if he can reach 15% in certain polls, he’ll be on the televised debates.

So, next time a pollster asks you who you are voting for, say “Gary Johnson”.  When your time in the polling booth comes, no one is going to force you to vote for him, so if he gets in a presidential debate and you think he is completely unrealistic, you can change your mind.  But lets get him on the stage.

If you don’t work…

Today, someone quoted Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians in which he says “if any would not work, neither should he eat.

This quote (or at least, this sentiment) is used a lot to support welfare reform in the United States, so I was amused when I found that the Wikipedia article “He who does not work, neither shall he eat” was part of the Socialism Portal and included quotes from the Soviet Constitution:

In the USSR work is a duty and a matter of honor for every able-bodied citizen, in accordance with the principle: “He who does not work, neither shall he eat.”

In this presidential political season, the term “Socialist” has been bandied about a bit too easily by the president’s critics. My wife pointed out, though, that it is a good thing Jesus didn’t read Paul’s admonition before feeding the multitude of irresponsible adults with food from a (relatively) responsible child’s knapsack.

Another hit for North Korean junkies

Nothing to Envy book coverI am somewhat ashamed to admit it, but I’m a junkie for anything about one of the last great communist countries: North Korea.

The shame comes because this curiosity is at the expense of people suffering (still) because food is so scarce. I’m fascinated that the father and son have held on to power so tightly for so long and control so much of the information in and out of the country. While walls crumble, and others march backwards, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) still manages to keep its people at home and dependent upon their government for, well, everything.

Two recent books have provided a veritable bonanza of information for people curious about the country. The first, Nothing to Envy is the result of Barbara Demick‘s interviews and meetings with North Korean refugees. She turns their memories of life in the hermit kingdom and the accounts of their escape into a compelling narrative. It was the first time I’ve read anything from the point of view of someone who actually lived in the country and I’m glad I found it.

The second book, Pyongyang is a graphic novel written by a cartoonist who actually worked in the country. Before my kids checked this book out (I was ignorant of it till then), I wasn’t even aware that the country was trying to selling its people’s labor to foreign companies. The idea that they would do that seems to undermine the purity of their Juche ideal. Not that I really expect intellectual purity from them or anyone else.

Still, I just looked at the “Business in DPRK” page and their presentation seems straight out of 1984. Especially this part:

As opposed to other Asian countries, worker’s will not abandon their positions for higher salaries once they are trained.

Right. Because they are no higher salaries.

Occupy Wall Street

[photocommons file=”Day 12 Occupy Wall Street September 28 2011 Shankbone 11.JPG” width=”300″] My mother sent me a copy of a column printed in USA Today yesterday: “In 1920, U.S. saw the carnage of class warfare” Given the title (Ooh! Class Warfare!) the comparison of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) to early 20th century violence isn’t surprising. The columnist tries to shock us by comparing OWS to the forgotten bombing of Morgan Stanley on September 17, 1920:

At noon the previous day, a horse-drawn wagon carrying hundreds of pounds of explosives and deadly shrapnel exploded in front of the headquarters of J.P. Morgan at 23 Wall St., the heart of America’s financial district. The final death toll was 38, with more than 400 injured.

Great, now people who think there is a problem with extreme wealth inequality are just about to bomb us! The editorial goes on to say:

The suspects were surprisingly similar to the spectrum of leftist protestors who are occupying Wall Street right now. They ranged from radical progressives to socialists to communists to anarchists, from homegrown Bolsheviks to Italian Galleanists to Communist Party USA.

I haven’t seen any Galleanists, Bolsheviks or violent anarchists, but then, I haven’t been following it very closely.
Still, that list of ideologies reminded me of Chris Hedges “Death of the Liberal Class” (Interview with Chris Hedges). Chris Hedges book starts around the turn of the century and moves through the violence of the 20s, the Great Depression and beyond.
An interesting counter-point to this columnist is Robert Reich’s take. As he points out there is something happening today with the OWS:

Even more startling is the change in public opinion. Not since the 1930s has a majority of Americans called for redistribution of income or wealth. But according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, an astounding 66 percent of Americans said the nation’s wealth should be more evenly distributed.
A similar majority believes the rich should pay more in taxes. According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, even a majority of people who describe themselves as Republicans believe taxes should be increased on the rich.

Even more interesting is the comparison that many people (even Republican politicians) see between OWS and the Tea Party movement.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner said:

I understand people’s frustrations. The economy is not producing jobs like they want and there’s lot of erosion of confidence in our government and frankly, under the First Amendment, people have the right to speak out.

There is something going on the people on the right throw tea parties and people on the left start occupying everything. Something is deeply wrong and change is coming. Hopefully there won’t be any crazies with bombs.

The New Imperialism in Africa

[photocommons file=”Hands ondiamonds 350.jpg” width=”300″] Last night, dvfmama and I got to talking.  In her macroeconomics class, she asked a question about slaves.  Does economics consider slaves “labor” or “land”?  (For those too lazy to click the links, economics defines land as a resource used to produce a good, while labor is the human efforts that are used to produce a good.)

Despite the eye-rolls from her classmates, she was specifically thinking of the brick-making slaves (including children) that were discovered in some Chinese factories recently.  Economic powerhouses, she pointed out to me, seem dependent on cheap labor to reach the powerhouse status.

Anyway, this conversation got me thinking about the Chinese workers that I met while I was in Uganda rafting the Nile.  They were helping to build out the cellular infrastructure, using money the Chinese government had loaned to Uganda.

At the time, I was confused by this.  China has a lot of its own people it could be helping: why this apparent philanthropy towards Africa?

Poking around last night I came across a story by Peter Hitchens about his experience in Congo: How China has created a new slave empire in Africa.

Congo, for the geographically-illiterate among us (including me, usually), is on the western border of Uganda.

China is poised to become the next economic powerhouse.  It looks like imperialism is an almost inevitable step on the path to becoming a major world power.  The UK did it, the US is doing it, and now China wants in on the game.