If We Don’t Invest in Education, We Pay for Prisons

by David T. Bruce

Image courtesy of the NAACP; please click on the image to sign the NAACP petition to restore education funding
Image courtesy of the NAACP; please click on the image to sign the NAACP petition to restore education funding

Rick Santorum, as have many (if not most or all) Republican presidential candidates and elected officials, has strong opinions regarding the benefits of public education and higher education and the role of the federal government in the preservation and support of these institutions.  In particular, Santorum’s 2005 critique of the public schools in America continues to illustrate how the most economically and politically affluent citizens of this country are grossly ignorant of what it means to be a member of the lower- and middle-class in the United States.

Home schooling may certainly have benefits over a public school education, but a majority of Americans do not have the resources to effectively implement a home-school curriculum.  Public education services the majority, and indeed, public education needs an overhaul.  This does not mean, however, that our federal government should wash its hands of public education, leaving states to their own devices as they would like to do with medical programs.  If our states are truly united, then our education system should be united, a program implemented that provides uniform education to all students, not merely to those who live with families who can afford the very best education.

Santorum argues that the environment in which a uniform education is afforded provides an unrealistic image of “what life is like.”  I am unsure of what frame of reference Mr. Santorum has in regards to public education and “what life is like” for the majority of Americans, but many public schools are those in which various socioeconomic groups are represented, and few of them will ever realize “what life is like” for Santorum.

Over 1.2 million students drop out of school every year, according to research data provided by The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.  Of those students, approximately half of them are African-American and Latino students.  This report illustrates what life is like for the 90% of American children who rely on public education, while their government leaders suggest that less intervention by the federal government is mandated.

Mr. Santorum speaks as poorly of higher education in America, citing the perceived rejection of religious faith by students who go into college.  Santorum and all of our state and federal representatives should be more concerned about the growing lack of faith in our leaders, our government, and in the promise that our nation will provide for the general welfare of its citizens.  Our federal government rarely wants to provide for anything or involve themselves in any program that involves spending money on its citizens, and our elected representatives endeavor to convince us that fending for ourselves is for our own good.

Our government seeks to cut federal spending on education, again placing the fiscal burden on individual states and citizens who are already strapped for cash.  The burden to our country can also be measured in collective dollars and cents, as research shows that among other detriments to society, “dropouts from the class of 2007 will cost our nations more than $300 billion dollars in lost wages, lost taxes and lost productivity.”  Money not spent on public schools and education will ultimately be spent on prisons and incarceration.

Our government can find certainly find the money (in excess of $700 billion) to bail out the banking and automobile industries for fear of how the foundation of our country and our economy would be affected by the collapse of those industries, but our government cannot find the money to bail out an industry that is shown to directly impact the success or failure of our nation today and for years to come?

Money does talk, and the actions (or inactions) or our government have demonstrated where our elected officials place their priorities.

The Real State of the Union

by David T. Bruce

income_inequality_chart_erAs the presidential election year looms over the political horizon, President Obama finally has something to say during the most recent State of the Union Address about income disparity in our country, as if the debate about the income gap and tax liability were new.  Most of us have devastatingly realized that the thirty-year economic experiment in this country has proven that Reaganomics works only for those citizens and companies that enjoy wealth and the power to augment that wealth.  No one in this country who has lost a job, lost a home, and struggled to get by during this perpetual recession is oblivious to the fact that it takes money to make money, and for those who do not have money, striving to break even is a way of life.  This is the reality of the American Dream, and this reality is unlikely to change any time soon.  During the battle to remain in power or obtain power, our elected officials choose now to acknowledge a problem that has been inherent in our capitalist society for many decades.

Republicans and Democrats posture and politic as they draw lines in the sand and point fingers across the aisle, each blaming the other for dividing the country and building a national debt in excess of $15 trillion.  These are the same leaders who enjoy a lifestyle at the expense of their constituents, a truth made painfully clear to American citizens now aware of Mr. Romney’s wealth and associated tax burden.  This not only highlights the disparity in income and tax liability between “the haves” and “the have-nots” in this country, but it also highlights how brutally out of touch our elected leaders are with the majority of the American public.  How can leaders argue on the behalf of a demographic of which they have no understanding?  How can we believe that our leaders will lobby to balance the country’s tax burden in favor of the lower- and middle-class when doing so would obviously raise their tax burden?

Burden: “something that is carried, something oppressive or worrisome.”

We are told by President Obama that the country is on the mend; we are told that the economy is bouncing back.  Please do not insult our intelligence.  According to GasBuddy, the median price for gas in 2012 is forecast to reach $3.95.  The USDA has projected that food prices will increase overall 2.5% to 3.5%.  An “alternative economic forecast” released by researchers in the White House suggest “an unemployment rate of 9% in 2012. These are not realities that suggest the country is mending or is bouncing back.  Those that live and thrive on Capitol Hill, those that are voted into office by their constituents do not want for food, healthcare, education, or a future.  Those that live and thrive on Capitol Hill have no idea what “burden” is.  They have created an economic disparity by their ignorance, their indifference, and their arrogance.

This is indeed class warfare, a battle that has been waged for centuries between “the haves” and “the have-nots.”  The malicious intent of the 1% – the “Mitt Romney’s” and the corporate “Goliath’s” of America – , however, is to convince those who have a bit more than “the have-nots” that those who have the least in the United States are trying to take away what they have earned.  In truth, the argument is that the tax system is structured as such that the “Mitt Romney’s” can conceivably pay less tax by percentage than those that earn minimum wage.  Major industries can relocate to foreign lands to avoid paying United States taxes.  The wealthiest citizens and companies of the United States need to pay their fair share.  This has nothing to do with Republican, Democrat, or American values.  This has everything to do with human values, and the majority of our elected officials value the citizens of the United States as humans only once every two or four years.  Beyond that, we are as insignificant as the pointless posturing and “policy prescriptions” presented as a way to placate a populace that is sick to death of the endless pandering by leaders who could not care less about our burden.

SOPA – Drafted and Encouraged by the TRUE Pirates

by David T. Bruce

stopsopaeu-800pxFrom the federal establishment that preaches the necessity of less government intervention (or interference, depending on your point of view), American citizens are being asked to support legislation that is said to minimize online piracy.  Provisions are embedded within the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), however, that potentially infringe upon First Amendment rights and shift the responsibility for online piracy from the perpetrators onto Internet administrators.

While Internet Service Providers and web site administrators should (and do) discourage online piracy, holding providers to 100% compliance with anti-piracy laws is unrealistic.  As well, shutting down entire Internet sites in the effort to purge pirated material from specific web pages is akin to penalizing car manufacturers or dealers for allowing an unlicensed driver to operate a vehicle.  We do not need more legislation to combat an issue that can be minimized with the tools and laws already at our disposal.  SOPA, masked as an effort to eliminate online piracy, is one that panders more to the entertainment industry than an altruistic sense of justice.

Both the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) flaunt their lofty objective of protecting the First Amendment rights of artists and distributors, this from an organization that offers up a mere 13% of music sales to the recording artist, allowing the record label to keep 63% of the earnings.  The income for actors in general is not stellar either.  Both organizations, however, are headquartered in Washington D.C., spending time and money to gather support for SOPA and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) from the Obama and Bush administrations to the tune of over $400,000 this past year and $2 million in 2007, respectively, seeking additional revenue lost perhaps as a result of the shrinking economy and lackluster entertainment products.  As pointed out by Professors Kal Raustiala and Chris Sprigman, the measure of the loss to the entertainment industry is unsubstantiated.

Piracy will not vanish as a result of tight-fisted legislation that punishes honest Internet users.  Those people inclined to provide and obtain copyrighted materials illegally will continue to do so, driving the industry further underground.  Those of us who oppose SOPA do not support online piracy or copyright theft.  We can, however, oppose legislation that does not directly target the issue at hand, but instead uses a single issue (albeit an important one) as a façade to introduce additional insidious government oversights that bring us ever closer to a future envisioned by George Orwell.  Online pirates will continue to plunder the Internet, while the majority of us find ourselves victims of a government that takes its cues (and money) from the entertainment industry and other large business conglomerates.

From the federal establishment that preaches the necessity of less government intervention (or interference, depending on your point of view), American citizens are being asked to support legislation that is said to minimize online piracy.  Provisions are embedded within the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), however, that potentially infringe upon First Amendment rights and shift the responsibility for online piracy from the perpetrators onto Internet administrators.

While Internet Service Providers and web site administrators should (and do) discourage online piracy, holding providers to 100% compliance with anti-piracy laws is unrealistic.  As well, shutting down entire Internet sites in the effort to purge pirated material from specific web pages is akin to penalizing car manufacturers or dealers for allowing an unlicensed driver to operate a vehicle.  We do not need more legislation to combat an issue that can be minimized with the tools and laws already at our disposal.  SOPA, masked as an effort to eliminate online piracy, is one that panders more to the entertainment industry than an altruistic sense of justice.

Both the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) flaunt their lofty objective of protecting the First Amendment rights of artists and distributors, this from an organization that offers up a mere 13% of music sales to the recording artist, allowing the record label to keep 63% of the earnings.  The income for actors in general is not stellar either.  Both organizations, however, are headquartered in Washington D.C., spending time and money to gather support for SOPA and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) from the Obama and Bush administrations to the tune of over $400,000 this past year and $2 million in 2007, respectively, seeking additional revenue lost perhaps as a result of the shrinking economy and lackluster entertainment products.  As pointed out by Professors Kal Raustiala and Chris Sprigman, the measure of the loss to the entertainment industry is unsubstantiated.

Piracy will not vanish as a result of tight-fisted legislation that punishes honest Internet users. Those people inclined to provide and obtain copyrighted materials illegally will continue to do so, driving the industry further underground.  Those of us who oppose SOPA do not support online piracy or copyright theft.  We can, however, oppose legislation that does not directly target the issue at hand, but instead uses a single issue (albeit an important one) as a façade to introduce additional insidious government oversights that bring us ever closer to a future envisioned by George Orwell.  Online pirates will continue to plunder the Internet, while the majority of us find ourselves victims of a government that takes its cues (and money) from the entertainment industry and other large business conglomerates.

Unemployment in America Is a CAPITOL Offense

by David T. Bruce

gechartThe same General Electric that is able to navigate enough tax loop holes to enjoy a zero dollar tax burden has also recently awarded American jobs to residents of Beijing, as the American Job Czar/GE CEO, Jeff Immelt, has opted to move the company’s X-ray technology headquarters to China.  The national unemployment rate remains at 9.1% (20 states have an unemployment rate of 9.0% or more), with over 44% of the unemployed measured as those who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more. While companies nationwide continue to layoff employees, major businesses such as GE look out for their own bottom line by sifting through tax code to avoid paying taxes and sending jobs overseas in the effort to save even more money.

In the effort to create jobs at home, the President has presented yet another jobs bill. A Wall Street Journal report compares two opposing scenarios regarding the possible result of spending $447 billion on this bill, suggesting that President Obama’s job bill will at best create 1.2 millions at the cost of $100,000, at worst $350,000. Of no surprise to anyone, the majority of Senate Democrats favored the bill, while enough Senate Republicans and a couple of Senate Democrats more concerned about their own jobs than the jobs of American citizens blocked the vote on this proposal.

Even as 63% of Americans are said to be in support of the American Jobs Act, Senators and Republicans continue to bicker over whether or not the bill should be passed, and if so, what parts of the bill should be passed and what parts of the bill should be eliminated.  The stalemate continues on Capitol Hill, with American citizens falling victim to the pathetic squabbling of pubescent bureaucrats in three-piece suits.  Democrats blame Republicans.  Republicans blame Obama.  In 2012, Senators and Representatives from across the aisle will blame a newly-elected president.  The rhetoric is the same.  The snowball affect, however, of a government waylaid by posturing and terminal campaigning is a constituency fed up with rising unemployment in tandem with rising food, energy, and health costs.

Admittedly, I do not know the inner-workings of Capitol Hill and the effort required to draft and promote a bill.  I suspect that our elected representatives make this process far more difficult than it needs to be, and I also suspect that they have their own selfish interests (and that of wealthy corporate donors) at heart.  When a bill is drafted to promote jobs, we would hope that this job targets promoting the growth of jobs, without various other frills, wants, or needs tagged onto the bill.  This is what happens, however.

Enough garbage is added to a bill that gives virtually every member of Congress a way to put a wedge into the promotion or passing of the bill. Congress: will you please adopt a “Schoolhouse Rock” method of passing a bill?  Pick a goal, write a plan, and get the job done.  The United States is not your personal Monopoly board, and American citizens are not a stack of Chance or Community Chest cards.  We have as much of a chance of winning at your game as we do of winning the grand prize playing McDonald’s Monopoly.  Americans are obviously losing, and many of us are tired of playing by your rules.

There’s a huge outcry in America about bringing in foreign workers to fill American jobs, but where’s the outcry for companies who outsource jobs to other countries? Corporations who outsource jobs should be heavily penalized for doing so, making the cost benefit of sending jobs overseas an expensive consideration.

Occupy Wall Street – Reclaim Our Independence

Only in America Can 1% Be The Majority

by David T. Bruce

occupytogether_poster07A small group of students are responsible for launching a campaign against the practices of Wall Street and the United States government, the fiscally brutal corporate tag-team that has launched their own campaign against the poorest Americans. In an Associated Press article, the events of the past two weeks surrounding the Wall Street Protests have been summarized, giving voice to the hundreds of citizens who are taking the time to exercise their power of speech during a time when millions of Americans feel powerless to do anything else. While the Republicans and Democrats continue pointing fingers at each other and the President (regardless of who holds the office), our federal government as a whole is demonstrating to an increasing number of American citizens that their health and welfare, their life and liberty, and their happiness mean nothing.

While 14 percent of Americans are relying on the food stamp program to feed themselves, the Republican Party is proposing for the 2012 budget plan that this program should be curtailed and restructured much in the same was as they are proposing to restructure the Medicaid program. Subsidies would be eliminated, replaced by federal grants. Capitol Hill has been relentless in their less-than-bipartisan efforts to shave billions of dollars from the deficit by cutting back on “entitlement” programs from the Americans who need assistance the most.

I am not writing of the small group of Americans who indeed enjoy taking something for nothing. I am writing of the Americans who have worked hard to build a life and raise a family and now find themselves without a job, without a home, and without money for food and healthcare – primarily because of a system that favored corporate greed and Wall Street corruption that led to a broken economy.  It is appalling that the government is cutting back on programs that these people paid taxes to help support while continuing to support tax breaks and loopholes for corporations and big oil.  I am writing of the Americans that are trying to get ahead and improve their lives but are trapped in a system that almost forces people to make less or go hungry, as food prices continue to rise.

While the Associated Press suggests that a clear objective is not apparent, the rallying cry is clear enough: “Occupy Wall Street is [a] leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that we are the 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.”

This objective seems clear enough.

It is blatantly clear that the 1% does not get it – or does not want to. The objective does not need to be detailed or obtuse. The plan does not need to have a laundry list of stake holders and varied implementation strategies. The United States Constitution is the governing plan for this country, and our current government officials have spent at least the past few decades manipulating and twisting the words of the Constitution to satisfy their (im)moral, corporate, and personal agendas.

We have a right to speak out against such corruption, and the protestors on Wall Street are doing just that. We must speak out with words, with votes, and with dollars that work in support of Americans, not for a political party.

We may not be at Liberty Square with the protestors right now, but we stand firmly with them in every way, as members of the 99% who will no longer tolerate the disintegration of America over the greed, hypocrisy, and the corruption of Wall Street, Congress, and corporations.

Every year, our government asks that we donate $3 to the Presidential election campaign.  The instructions for the 1040 form specifically state that “the fund reduces candidates’ dependence on large contributions from individuals and groups.”

Please.

Candidates do not just depend on these contributions. They thrive on them, and the companies and groups that make these large contributions thrive on the support that their candidate gives to their cause.

Our federal government, led by either party, has done little or nothing for us over the past few decades – and little or nothing to change what is broken within the system. What little they have done has been to further their own interests and that of the major companies that have been filling and continue to fill the coffers of our elected representatives.

If any taxpayer is at all compelled to check the box that allows candidates to have any more money, please give the money to Occupy Wall Street or similar movements. Give $3 to a homeless person. Help feed a neighbor. Those people are the Americans that are fighting for the rights of all Americans, and they do so without massive contributions or media attention.

Take heed, Wall Street. Someday – perhaps soon – American citizens will have nothing left to lose and will gleefully sit by and watch while your economic empire crumbles.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. – Declaration of Independence

You Don’t Have to be Rich or Blind to be a Patriot but It Sure Helps

by David T. Bruce

As a fan of the rock band KISS and as one who respects what Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley represent in terms of the American dream and the power of the individual to succeed, I have to rebut Mr. Simmons’ recent essay published in August 17, 2011 edition of The Washington Times.

Mr. Simmons tells us that being patriotic has become politically incorrect, referring to the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the national anthem.  On the contrary, being one who is often politically incorrect, to be so risks being branded as unpatriotic.  To raise a voice against any of the military choices of the past several years (wholly unrelated to the attacks of 9/11) and to suggest that maybe some of the billions of dollars spent on the military in support of not-less-than three conflicts opens the person behind such remarks to verbal assault and public scorn.

I am genuinely pleased that other immigrants have found success in America, as have many citizens of this country.  However, the achievements made and enjoyed by Mr. Simmons in particular are without argument the exception and not the rule.  According to statistics compiled by Jim Hanas, a person’s chances of becoming remotely famous are 1 in 62,986.  In comparison, the chances of lightning striking a person are found to be 1 in 83,930, and your chances of being legally executed are 1 in 58, 618.

Undoubtedly, the odds of a person achieving the level of notoriety that Mr. Simmons has is statistically far more remote.  Yes, he has worked hard for what he has earned.  At the same time, we have to admit to ourselves that luck plays a part in success.  As well, once a person has money, it becomes easier to make more money.

Very little effort is required to find valid, irrefutable statistics that support that the minority of Americans make the majority of the money in this country.  My regards go to those that have found the right combination of ancestry, education, skill, and luck to bring them to the top of the financial heap.  I do not think many of us desire to strip success away from anyone or show disregard or disrespect for those that work hard for their triumphs.  At the same time, I take great exception to being told how I should feel when the America Mr. Simmons describes is indeed a dream when compared with the America that most citizens are familiar with.

Many of us are born into a country in which you must have a diploma to prove that you are competent in a given field.  Having paid for this document, you may or may not find employment.  Such is the America many people live in now.  If a person happens to be elderly or disabled, you may or may not qualify for adequate medical care.  You may or may not enjoy healthy food in an America where it costs less to eat fast food and junk food than it does to eat fruits and vegetables.  This is the reality of the twenty-first-century America.

Mr. Simmons, I respect you and your accomplishments in many ways.  At the same time, you represent a part of America that is either blind or refuses to see beyond money.  Money does not represent the foundation of America; people do.  Those people are forgotten or ignored unless money is somehow involved.  I am proud of my country, for what it is supposed to stand for.  I am forever proud of our soldiers, those that do sacrifice their time, their families, and their lives for the American dream.  I am as equally ashamed of our government, and of those representatives who care for no one or no thing unless they see dollar signs.  They have not sacrificed a damned thing.

All of Our Elected Officials Need a Time Out

by David T. Bruce

politics_1_tnbWith the recall elections in Wisconsin complete, the Associated Press reports that the “Democrats managed to seize two Republican state Senate seats [. . .], but fell short of the three or more they needed to take control of that legislative chamber.”  The article cites that both sides claimed victory, yet some would continue to pursue recall elections in the coming year.  This redundant, reprehensible rhetoric is representative of how our elected representatives conduct themselves, and this demonstrates the political mentality of our elected officials, not only in the state of Wisconsin, but in every state in the nation as well as on Capital Hill.

Kiplinger forecasts that our nation is potentially on the verge of another recession, and while business spending is up, retail sales are not half of what companies are spending.  Companies may be enjoying some breathing room as the government raises the debt ceiling, continues subsidizing oil companies, and focuses on the upcoming election year.  The millions of Americans who remain unemployed and the millions more Americans who are on a fixed income enjoy no such relief, as we verge on a double-dip recession.

The United States downgrading by Standard & Poor’s rating agency is yet another graphic reminder that our government is living and spending beyond its means.  The knee-jerk reaction from our representatives is to eliminate what they refer to as “entitlements.”

How perverse and insulting to attach a negative connotation to a word that is supposed to reflect what citizens have earned over the years.

After many years of representing the backbone of what has kept the United States a viable global entity, you are damned right that most Americans trapped at the lowest economic level of the United States economic echelons are entitled to at least basic medical care, a safe home, and food!

Millions of dollars were spent on campaigning in the recent Wisconsin recall elections.  What would have been a better use for those monies?  Yet these elected officials care little or nothing for the neediest of their constituents unless they are able or willing to vote in their favor.

The behavior exhibited by those politicians closely involved with the recall elections in Wisconsin illustrates how very little they care for the people that are responsible for employing them and for the potentially disastrous fiscal crisis we border on in the coming months.  As soon as they are elected, they look to the coming election or to unseating their opponents.

How pathetic.

Children behave better than those who bicker and argue over the simplest of agenda items.  Were we to survey members of White House Nannies, I would suspect many might suggest (off the record, of course) that little difference exists between the behavior of some of our elected officials and that of young children.  As citizens, we have the right – we are entitled – to expect better behavior from those that we charge with representing our interests.  Both Democrats and Republicans may claim victory in the latest playground brawl, but all of us are the losers.  All they care about is taking control.

We need to remind them that the control is ours.

In Order to Form a More Perfect Union

by David T. Bruce

independencedayOur family enjoyed watching the local fireworks display this Independence Day, and I enjoyed watching my children’s faces as the colors from the bursts reflected in their smiles.  At the same time we celebrated the day, I questioned the reality of what we were supposedly celebrating.

As a good parent, I share with my children the significance of Independence Day, and I try to instill a measure of patriotism within them.  As a citizen, I wrestle with how we tend to define patriotism following the terrorist attacks of September 2001.  If a person speaks out against a policy that is in any way tied to our military or military support, that person is considered to be unpatriotic.  If a person finds a measure of government support beneficial, that person is considered to be socialist.  Corporate bail-outs are acceptable, however.

For the right to have super department stores, credit cards, MP3 devices, and cell phones, we have pawned our right to speak freely against a government that repeatedly reveals itself to be as corrupt as that government we declared independence from over 230 years ago.  In 1776, we invoked the people’s right of revolution against a corrupt government, for “it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it.”  The Declaration of Independence provides for this right, yet like so many of our rights, we do not exercise the right to vote or speak out against possible and obvious government corruption.  What I find most chilling is that the choice to speak out is often discouraged by our peers and to some degree, depending on what community a person lives in, by local governments.

When we celebrate Independence Day, we celebrate a moment in time that was profound and inspirational.  We also celebrate a continued freedom.  I wonder, however, if we are examining closely the price of freedom, not in lives sacrificed in conflicts, but in rights sacrificed on the home front.  How ironic that for the sake of freedom, we tend to look the other way from government corruption related to business and religious conviction, thereby forsaking our rights.

I am proud of where America comes from and what America stands for in that context.  I am pleased that I have the opportunity to share these words today with an audience that may or may not be forgiving of my criticism.  I am guarded and fearful, however, of a government that is systematically forging a regime that forsakes the individual, giving allegiance only to collectives with the heaviest coffers.   Instead of resting on our laurels, perhaps we should look to the future, observing Independence Day as an affirmation of what the day is intended to signify and as a reminder of the work we, the People, still have to do.

Coexistence Requires a Leap of Faith

by David T. Bruce

btn_peace_relig_symbls_275Recently, my wife’s sister decided to compel her school-age children to regularly attend church, and she wrote about this new practice and the motivation for doing so on the blog they host together. It was a bit of a revelation in itself; neither my wife nor her sister ever attended church as children. When I first read this article, I brought my own bias that renounces organized religions and the implication that if a person or a culture does not subscribe to the idea of a singular faith, then that person is of questionable character. After reading this article to its conclusion, I found my bias to be unfounded.

Faith by definition suggests that we believe in something without substantial proof that it is real. Spirituality asks us to submit to the possibility that what defines mankind is not necessarily of a physical nature. These two concepts are frequently used in tandem to imply that the only way to understand their meaning is by being of a particular faith or being spiritual; in other words, a person must be religious and go to church to understand.

Exploring faith and spirituality is laudable, and the journey is always a personal one. Society in general, however, places emphasis on organized religion. If a person does not go to church, that person is typically considered godless and immoral. As Tiana discusses in her article, we do need to give direction to and instill faith in our children. This does not necessarily have to happen under a steeple. If this works for the individual or the family unit, no one has the right to speak against them. Of course, being a part of the majority, the choice of the individual to attend a church typically goes uncontested. Those that opt to worship in their own way or choose not to worship at all are sometimes silently and often publicly condemned by society – sometimes by those same people who claim the cloak of faith and spirituality.

None of us are immune to religious prejudice. We may giggle in regards to a particular idiosyncrasy of a given faith we find absurd. Many of us, me included, did more than raise an eyebrow in respect to the recent announcement of the end of the world. If we take a critical look at ourselves, however, it’s easy to see that our approach to the fringe sector of society that embraces Rapture is no more productive than when the majority of society perceives atheists as sacrilegious. What harm would come to pass if each of us let one another live by the principles of their faiths, stipulating that we do not go out of our way to injure one another?

Above all else, I have faith in the belief that all of us as individuals inherently love our families and neighbors. I have faith that we emotionally and physically cringe when others are hurt. Reflexively, we want to help when people are suffering due to acts of violence or as a result of a natural disaster. The awareness of the difference between good and evil is intrinsic among all cultures.

This faith in the good of man is what we should bring to our children and those around us. This faith is what we must foster. Whether we choose to adopt a religious practice or frequent a church to foster this inherent sense of compassion is, as I say, a personal choice. In the end, how we choose to communicate this sense of compassion does not matter, as all religious faiths ultimately seek and speak to this common moral value.

Whether a person is an atheist, agnostic, or of a Jewish, Christian, Hindu, or Muslim faith (or a denominational fragment thereof) is, on a global scale, insignificant. What our hearts and minds commit to in terms of our inherent love for one another is what binds us together culturally and spiritually. We can affirm this faith by attending church if we choose, but a daily belief in and understanding of other forms of belief and other ways of exploring spirituality is paramount in realizing what it truly means to coexist.

We must all explore our faiths in the way that each of us finds most agreeable, while letting others do the same – even, and perhaps especially, when their ways differ radically from ours.

We can instill this same sense of compassion and understanding in our children, and this is a journey we can all embark on and benefit from. We do not need to force our religious principles upon others, for we are all on the same journey. Not one of us is spiritually better than another, and if there is an end, we will all meet whatever, wherever and whenever that end may be.

Big Oil Subsidies Squeeze the Middle Class

by David T. Bruce

oil_earthIn a recent Congressional debate, the majority of Republicans argued that the five largest oil companies were entitled to a $2 billion annual subsidy to offset the $35 billion they earned (?) in the first quarter of 2011.  One particular senator sarcastically stated that making money in America must now be unacceptable, specifically targeting the Democrats’ proposal to eliminate these subsidies.

According to a recent article in The Washington Times, wages in America are up 1.7%, whereas the rate of inflation is up 2%.  Statistically, households with the lowest income in the United States spend approximately twice as much on food, relatively speaking, as households with the highest income.  Obviously, the dramatic increase in the cost of fuel limits the spending power of the average American.  It is estimated that the tax cuts recently approved by Congress will be absorbed by the increased cost of gasoline.  Yes, apparently making money in America is indeed no longer acceptable . . . unless you live and work on Capitol Hill or unless you are a CEO or COO of the aforementioned oil companies.

Recent polls show that public opinion in favor of Congress is significantly low.  According to recent Gallup polls, Congress has achieved an approval rating as low as 13% over the past year.  If this is indeed the case, then perhaps as a society, we should consider placing more emphasis on the state representatives we elect and less emphasis on the executive office that is often provided with speed bumps and road blocks by the opposing party anyway.  We must give careful consideration and close scrutiny to those people we elect at the state level, who are charged to represent the interest of their constituents.  Right now, many representatives seem to represent only the interests of the oil companies (and other major industries) and by extension their own individual interests, forsaking the interests of those that elected them to office. For example: the only three Democrats to side with the Republicans in the Oil Subsidy vote were from Louisiana, Nebraska, and Alaska, all big oil states.

The greater majority of the voting public has not made a substantial living in years.  While our government bails out the banking industry and subsidizes the oil industry, that which is left of the middle class struggles daily to raise a family and support their communities, as they slowly merge with the lower class.  How can the majority of Republicans dare to compare the plight of the average American with that of the incomparable benefits that the corporate giants enjoy with the blessings of Congress?

In fairness to Congress, we as a society share a measure of responsibility in creating this dependence on fuel.  Many Americans insist on the value of SUVs, 4X4 pickup trucks, and similar gas-guzzling automotive apparatuses.  We are not sending the message that we care about fuel consumption, fuel waste, or the environment.  We continue to put money into the coffers of the oil industry instead of alternative energy sources.  We continue to pursue off-shore drilling instead of cultivating wind farms or solar power.  We can respond to the oil companies by supporting alternate energy options, and we can respond to our representatives by sending them home.  Maybe then they will understand what it really means to not make money in America.