In times like these . . .

Just like many people around the nation, I am getting fed up with all the negativity, political one-up-manship, and – to use a phrase we have heard a lot this week – vitriol.  We don’t need people from the left blaming the right for the acts of a madman. We don’t need the right inflaming the left by labeling their agenda or leaders as job-killing, anti-American, or socialist.

What we need is a statesman – or several of them. It might seem odd to quote Mikhail Gorbachev in a post about what we need in the U.S. but he summed it up  quite well. He said, ” A statesman does what he believes is best for his country, a politician does what best gets him re-elected.”

We need our political leaders to view the country’s problems according to what is best for its citizens rather than what is best for their party or what is most likely to get them re-elected.  Sometimes leaders have to make unpopular, but wise, decisions that are simply the right thing to do.  Even if it hurts their friends (or contributors). Even if it gives their opponents good fodder for the next election cycle.

We’ve been talking a lot about corporate social responsibility in the last few years, and are doing a much better job of holding businesses responsible for being good citizens. Corporations are talking about being more environmentally friendly, more animal friendly, more socially conscious about the workers. We still need to do better with this, but we’ve come a long way.

Now if we could just get our politicians to do the same. Congress is talking about requiring all bills to have the constitutional reference included.  What about the socially conscious references?  What will their bill do to the health and well being of our citizens, our natural resources, our grandchildren?  And not just their friends, either. They need to be thinking about the people on “the other side of the track,” too.  What about them? Those invisible Americans that have no voice but who need one now more than ever.

Where are all the statesmen?


I attended a meeting today to get our community organized to fight the ill effects of predatory lending.  The problem has become practically epidemic in recent years.  Predatory lenders are those who prey on low income and vulnerable families.  They take many forms, from rent-to-own stores, to subprime lenders, instant refund tax preparers, to pay day loan stores.  On the one hand, I think, “How could people be so gullible?”  Then I realize that people are gullible because they so want to believe that they can have the American dream. These predators feed them a line that they probably know in their heart of hearts is too good to be true, but they believe it.  Sure, they can afford this house they want so bad.  Maybe the payments are a little steep, or the interest will change next year.  But that’s a long time off, and maybe the raise will come through, or a new, better job will come along, so it will be fine then.  But it isn’t.

They believe that by getting an instant refund on their taxes instead of waiting 3 or 4 weeks like the rest of us, they will be able to pay off some bills.  They don’t realize that paying bills a few weeks early robs them of money to pay even more bills if they could just wait. Or save for their kids’ education, or a new home, or some other dream.

They simply believe.  I think people tend to believe other people tell the truth.  When someone tells them not to worry about the fine print, or that it’s okay to sign that blank document they’ll fill in later, they believe they are honest, not trying to harm them or their families. How sad for them, and for our society, that there are so many would would prey on the poor, the elderly, the uneducated, the vulnerable.  Are the rest of us powerless to help, or are the ones who would take advantage able to do that because we don’t speak up to end this horrible industry?

A drop in the bucket

There is this new museum near to my home, I am ashamed to say, called the Creation Museum.  I haven’t been, nor will I go, but it depicts how the earth was created from the literal Biblical accounts – seven days, you know.  It tries to debunk that supposed ‘myth of evolution’ by depicting Adam and Eve hanging around with the dinosaurs.  The scientists are up in arms, as are a lot of other people. But  a lot of folks are rather impressed with the museum, support it, plan to take all their out of town guests there. To each his own . . .

But I can’t help thinking about the millions of dollars that were spent to portray one side of an old and tired debate – creationism vs. evolution. I think I remember seeing $29 million in the paper. 

And I am thinking about that phrase that was popular a while back, “What would Jesus do?”

I think Jesus would have said to stop the debate and get to work helping people.  What if that $29 mil was spent providing safe, decent, affordable housing for low income families? Think what a difference that would make for those families.  They would probably not stop and worry, “But wait, someone is not getting the message about the literal intrepretation of the Bible!” They would appreciate that their children were warmer, safer, better prepared to learn. 

What if that $29 mil went to educating families about the dangers of predatory lending, and to shutting down the lenders that are trying to take advantage of those who think they have few choices.  Or if it went toward raising the minimum wage to a living wage.  Granted, $29 million would be only a drop in that very large bucket, but it would at least be a start.

Or what would $29 million do to lower our use of fossil fuels to slow the global warming crisis? Another drop in the bucket, I’m afraid, but it is a drop we must add, and soon. Instead of fighting about whether this environment we have was created or evolved, it’s time to get together to save it instead. 

The land of plenty

I am one of the lucky ones.  I grew up in a solidly middle class family.  We had all we needed to eat, plenty of clothes to wear, transportation.  We were loved, didn’t have to worry about physical abuse save the occasional swat on the behind (the times were different then).  My parents were not drug abusers, alcoholics, or gamblers.  Our community was safe, neighbors looked out for neighbors, the schools were decent. 

While this country is experiencing the greatest economic prosperity in the history of the world, it is a sad reality that this economic prosperity is leaving a great number behind.  President Bush talks a lot about no child left behind, but what about whole families, whole neighborhoods? The gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen. There is a grand canyon of difference between these two ends of society, and the sad fact is that the vast majority of the wealthy ignores the growing number who are poor. 

Being a believer in the inherent good in people, I know that most do not ignore the poor intentionally.  It’s just that they don’t have to see them much.  Their kids go to private schools, or at least suburban ones.  Their travels don’t normally take them down the streets and through the neighborhoods where low income families live.  They don’t think about the person cleaning their hotel rooms, the washer of their dishes in the restaurant where they eat lunch.  They certainly don’t think about the factory worker in China or Indonesia who made their clothes. 

But we must think about it. And we must think about how to make it better for them.  It’s partly a matter of economics. When poor families can’t pay their bills, we all suffer with higher costs. When low income communities are plagued with crime, we all pay with higher taxes for police, jails, courts.  When families lack health insurance, our rates go up. And the list goes on.

It’s definitely our moral imperative.  As individuals, we certainly cannot solve the issues surrounding poverty and opportunity in this country.  But collectively, we can make a difference.  We can support increasing the minimum wage and stopping predatory lending practices. We can encourage our cities and towns to rehabilitate low income housing, force landlords to keep up their property, fund public transportation, lower crime through community policing efforts.

 We must not forget to think about those don’t have enough food to eat, who are plagued with health problems, whose wages don’t provide enough for the basics.  We have to do something about it, because this land of plenty should be a land of opportunity for us all, not just for those of us who are the lucky ones.