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September 26, 2013


As noted by the Bard of the North, “There are strange things done in the midnight sun, and the trail has its own stern code.” This insight from Yukon poetry occurred to me while considering the lately Pulitzer-style journalism of the Wall Street Journal and an announcement from Beijing that that (at least officially) communist state is establishing a “free trade zone” in Shanghai.

So what does a quote from Arctic poetry and good journalism and free trade have in common? All are “strange;” all are deviations from what we would expect based upon the history of their respective actors, and one must wonder what ”stern” codes their respective “trails” will lead to. (There are other “strange” things on the horizon these days as well, e.g., Iran is talking peace, tea party people tell us we will have better government by shutting government down, reducing the money in buyers’ pockets and giving it to the rich and corporate class will increase demand in the marketplace – the ultimate in trickle down propaganda illogic – two and two are five – the pope is considering sainthood for a recent convert named Gingrich etc.). The list is endless.

Who would have dreamed, for instance, that the number one cheerleader for Wall Street greed porkers, the aptly-named Wall Street Journal, would permit liberal journalists to publish anti-Wall Street antics in its pages? I am still in shock (but it’s a good shock when seeing Pulitzer style responsible journalism at play and Chinese communists busily concocting a free trade zone in Shanghai). Could there be hope?

Take, for instance, some of the language of Simon Constable (one of its columnists) in last Sunday’s WSJ (in quoting a consumer expert for a private-equity firm) to the effect that J.C.  Penney is headed south as a viable enterprise. The reason?  It’s because “The chain that has traditionally served the once-vibrant middle class is struggling. Sales of the retailer slumped 14% in the first half of the year versus the same period a year ago as increasingly stretched consumers switched to less expensive stores.” The lessons? No or dwindling middle class, no J.C. Penney. The culprit? Inequality. The victims? All of us, even those who are currently parceling out our economy’s productive gains, the rich and corporate class, who are about to discover how King Midas impoverished himself. Ultimately, ALL OF US are victims of inequality.

The quoted consumer expert goes further by noting that “Things are so bad that many families are doing even their grocery shopping at super-discount “dollar stores.” It’s because they can’t afford to go to Wal-Mart.” As the country sinks further into poverty due to deepening inequality, and since there is nothing beyond “dollar stores” in the retail marketplace, I suppose we will have to resort to hunting and gathering (as our predecessors did) after dollar store prices become too expensive for an impoverished population of a failing Third World state to afford. Welcome to Third World economics and politics.

Stranger still than Yukon poetry, free trade among communists and journalistic improvement from a right wing to a more centrist perspective, is why the people in this country are sitting idly by, watching their own economic bones picked clean by the rich and corporate class – and doing nothing about it. It is not for lack of evidence: The Dow is at historic highs; corporate cash is at historic highs; 95% of new wealth produced by our economy goes to the 1 percent of us. What does it take to wake us up, an atomic bomb? We are in sight of a tipping point, and we will know when Wal-Mart goes the way of J.C. Penney that total corporate control has won out and our democracy is an artifact. Wake up!  GERALD  E

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  1. Again, I’m “awake,” but what can a person realistically do to change this systemic poison you aptly describe? I have experienced, both at the personal level and in my work, the 30 plus years or erosion in the economy. Naturally, I never thought I would be middle class in church work, but I never dreamed we would be on SNAP, shopping at goodwill, or working at Wall Mart ($7/hr with a graduate degree) over the years either! The same is true with the congregants I have been honored to be with. Especially the last 10 years as our denomination has lost over a million members and the multitudes of closures increase, symptomatic of the larger economic digression. Since 1990, I have been witness to the devastating effects of predatory Capitalism as practiced in the trickle down program. For years, long before 2007/8, I have seen people and families become victims of Reaganomics through no fault of their own (although, most people blame themselves and fall into a long term depression over their perceived failures). Easy credit (debt) was THE key to families buying homes, keeping up with inflation, etc, over the so-called “good years” of the 80’s and 90’s, borrowing, ironically, from the very corporate and banking thieves who took from their capital labor!!! I personally know older people who worked years at Penny’s who, in the last years, were given less hours, less pay, benefits taken away… well… you get the picture… a scenario that has been repeated ad nauseam over the last 3 decades or so. These experiences of financial troubles create a domino effect as these same older workers who come to retirement age lose their homes, cannot pay medical bills, turn to loan sharks with 400% interest, etc, etc, etc. it is sickening to walk with people who go through these experiences, REAL experiences…not numbers and statistics in a book or article. I have no doubts that compassion fatigue has shadowed me through the years in these experiences combined with an overwhelming sense of powerlessness to effect change for these individuals and families, but can only offer words of encouragement and hope, but to what end? Talk is cheap. It changes nothing. Not to demean a caring soul, but in the final outcome, a home lost is still lost, a livable wage job lost is still a job lost. In the end, this is where I, personally, see the ineffectiveness of religion. Unlike our namesake Jesus who reportedly changed the systemic conditions of people lives, the church is capable of band aids at best. For small churches like ourselves, even bandaids are hard to come up with! Bandaids cannot heal ruptured arteries of the economy and its victims. I digress.

    • I think religion was not designed to handle economic issues per se. Jesus said his kingdom is not of this world, and Wall Street greedhogs are certainly of this world. There is an interesting chapter on religion in . IJared Diamond’s latest book (The Day Before Yesterday). I will send you the book for your perusal but I want it back, so will pay for its transmission both ways. I am guessing without knowing that Diamond is an atheist, or if not, a God-believer only and having nothing to do with God’s prophets as claimed by man. I think you will find his essay on religion interesting, as is the rest of the book. This guy spent parts of 40 years in New Guinea (I was there on a different mission before he ever set foot on that island) studying birds and wound up an on-the-scene anthropologist who later wrote of cultural differences within band, tribe, chiefdom and (finally) state societies. He is brilliant (McArthur, Pulitzer etc.), but cultural studies prove little other than what varying cultures did or didn’t do when compared with other cultures. I think we need modern cultural anthropology studies of whatever happened to altruism (which Diamond treats in another one of his books), a series of studies which would necessarily look into the mindset of greedhogs on Wall Street and the timidity of the rest of us in asserting our rights. Ah, but I wander. First time, too! Let’s not give up. We got ourselves into this mess, and we can get ourselves out with a bit of intestinal fortitude and PR from old bloggers like me. (I hesitate to say from the pulpit because of good people in the audience who don’t quite understand what is at stake, or if they do, like the present economic configuration.)Sudden thought – if the kingdom of Jesus is not of this world, then just what world is it the kingdom of? If God made the world and all that is in it, how can any sub-world not be a part of or ancillary to this world? Ah, but I wander – again. Jerry

      On Thu, Sep 26, 2013 at 12:32 PM, elderblogger

  2. A common misunderstanding of Jesus’ retort to Pilate regarding his/our world. What he is really saying is the Kingdom of God does not operate like the kingdoms of this world (who like to lord it over the weak). The Kingdoms of this world rule by violence and take from the most vulnerable. God’s Kingdom does not. The differences are nicely laid out in Matthew 5-7. Nonetheless, God’s Kingdom, according to Jesus, is already here. It’s a matter of whether people want to participate in it, or would rather default to the kingdoms of this world, the domination systems. The Lord’s Prayer specifically states for God’s Kingdom to be fully present here, “on earth, as it is (already) in heaven.” In other words, to quote John Dominic Crosson, heaven is just fine, it does not need our help, but Jesus invites followers to participate in the Great Cleanup of This World: God’s Kingdom. I follow the historical Jesus who died at the hands of the kingdoms of this world. The Jesus of “faith,” of the “other world,” the Jesus some think we need to “believe” in (for eternal fire insurance) does not interest me one bit. I think Jesus was most certainly (and, again, died because of his ACTIONS) doing things to help create a new way of living as a human community. It is, as you may have already deduced, a radical social revolution. I don’t believe God is compartmentalized in any way. And I certainly don’t think God is available (or the social gospel) through any one form. Every human being has the capability of doing what is right. Organized religion has nothing to do with it.

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