Thursday, September 17, 2015

Greed is not good

In the 1987 movie “Wall Street” Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas, says in a speech, “The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed -- for lack of a better word -- is good.” He goes on to say how greed is a key motivator in business and in life.

Sorry Gordon, greed is not good. The word “greed” implies excessive desire for money, and often the motivation to accumulate wealth by less than honest means. It implies you gain at the expense of others.

Greed has been with us since the beginning of time. When it’s mentioned in the Bible, it is usually among a list of sinful behaviors. For example, Jesus says in Mark 7:21-23:
“For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’” (NIV)

Jesus suggests we get our priorities straight in Luke 12:15:
Then [Jesus] said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (NIV)

We are seeing greed today with the increasing gap between the income of management and the income of the workers. The workers are facing increasing costs of benefits (if they even get any) with minimal (if any) increases in their income. Meanwhile, CEOs and other top management get huge bonuses (in addition to obscene salaries and perks) for saving the company money. Such a growing disparity between “rich and poor” is dangerous, meaning it could result in social unrest. Just as bad treatment of the workers led to the union movement over a century ago, there could be some sort of movement resulting from today’s situation.

I just read an article that stated that companies aren’t doing all they could to prevent data from being stolen by hackers. Why? It costs companies less to clean up after a hack than to invest in better systems and encryption. They don’t care that the costs to the public – economic and emotional – is large and somewhat preventable. Companies are too focused on the bottom line and not being responsible citizens.

Another big area where greed is at work is in the pharmaceutical industry. Recently the drug companies have been raising prices on many medicines, including ones that have been around for a while, with no apparent justification. Even the generic drug manufacturers are raising their prices. These are no small increases, but very large ones.

Cost of manufacturing hasn’t grown, so why are these companies raising prices? What is motivating them is nothing more than greed as far as I can tell. What’s infuriating is that these huge increases impact the elderly and those with chronic conditions, the most vulnerable in society. So what happens to these people as a result of the pharmaceutical industry’s greed? They do without drugs they need, the skip doses, they don’t have a good quality of life because they can’t afford decent food, housing, or entertainment.

What’s going to happen as a result of these price increases? Eventually people are going to rebel and Congress will have to act. The result might be price controls or some other government plan to bring prices more in line with reality. I would hate to see this happen, because government interference could stifle research. But what’s the alternative?

If the pharmaceutical executives are smart (which is questionable), they’ll roll back prices to more reasonable levels before the government makes them do it. These ridiculously high prices, even by generic manufacturers, are immoral, unethical, and socially unacceptable. Things must change to make them accountable for their pricing and less greedy.

This goes for other industries, governmental agencies, and quasi-governmental agencies. I’m thinking of the MTA and the Port Authority of NY & NJ (which controls the bridges and tunnels in NYC) I’m thinking of colleges and universities, whose cost increases are beyond obscene. If we want to avoid a marketplace that is loaded with governmental controls, industries had better reduce prices and look out for the benefit of their employees and their customers.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Trump’s Appeal

With 16 reasonably qualified candidates vying for the Republican nomination, why is Donald Trump leading in the polls? What is his appeal? What’s going on here?

I think that the American public is absolutely positively fed up with the politicians in Washington. They have accomplished very little and are more interested in partisan politics than conducting the people’s business. The political system is broken and needs to be fixed. Trump, with all his rhetoric and bluster, claims he’s going to fix the mess. Will he?

Some of what he’s been saying resonates with people. However, demagogues like Trump can be dangerous. Germany was in bad shape in the 1920s and early 1930s. There was hyperinflation and all kinds of other problems. The Nazi party promised better times ahead if they were elected. In desperation, the electorate gave the Nazi party enough seats in Parliament so that Hitler was made Chancellor.

We all know what happened, and I don’t think anything like that would happen here – but you never know! We don’t want to elect someone who’s all bluster and no action. On the other hand, we don’t want the same old, tired, and ineffective politicians. Something has to be done to fix our political system, but I don’t think Trump is the answer. So what is the answer?

I think the answer is, throw the bums out! Why reward is ineffective politicians with two or six more years in power? It’s like rewarding bad behavior with a child. If we turn over Congress enough times hopefully they’ll get the message. We are critical time in our history, with multiple threats from within and without. We need strong leadership bipartisan cooperation, or we might end up going the way of the Roman Empire. The barbarians are the door!

Donald Trump will end up being a sideshow in this election and will eventually fade away. As it gets closer to the primaries and eventually the election in next November, people will get serious about whom they vote for. I pray we get true leadership, both with the new president and a mostly new Congress.

I also suggest that we all pray for our country, especially its leaders at all levels of government. Prayer is especially important as we drift away from our Judeo Christian tradition and our culture becomes more and more trashy.

God bless America!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Where We Fall Short

There are a number of areas where the US falls short. I want to focus on two areas which we as a country aren’t doing very well, with the result of higher crime and lower quality of life. Those two areas are, care for the mentally ill and not getting career criminals off the streets for good.

Lack of Care for the Mentally Ill

Some years ago, I believe in the 1960s, someone decided that the mentally ill have certain “rights,” and they should be allowed to make choices and shouldn’t be put into mental hospitals. As a result, the mental hospitals were emptied, and these people were let loose, often to fend for themselves. Many ended up homeless, some commit crimes like pushing people off subway platforms or stabbing someone randomly, and some end up in group homes. Sadly, some get themselves a gun and shoot up a school, movie theater, church, or synagogue.

While the mentally ill should not be mistreated, the question becomes what “rights” should they have. Many of the mentally ill are incapable for making rational decisions, so it is not appropriate to give them certain decision-making rights. I don’t think they should have the right to refuse to take the medications prescribed for them if that medication calms them down or relieves their symptoms, or makes them less prone to violence. I believe they should have a right to proper care and treatment, which means bringing back the mental hospitals, but with proper oversight so abuse does not occur. A compassionate society not only takes care of its mentally ill but protects its citizens from violent acts by the deranged.

There should be a national database of mentally ill people made available to gun shops so they won’t sell a gun to someone who is mentally unstable. Some may say this is an invasion of privacy and a violation of HIPAA, yet we need to protect our citizens from acts of violence done by deranged people. Unfortunately some mentally ill people manage to get a gun from a careless gun owner, like a father who doesn’t secure his guns properly. Or a mother who goes to the firing range with her mentally ill son and teaches him how to shoot.

Career Criminals Roaming the Streets

We have revolving door justice system in which repeat offenders get arrested, cop a plea, do some jail time, and are released back to the streets where they will commit more crimes. Eventually some of them kill someone or cause serious bodily harm. I see on the news a report of a serious crime, and it’s reported that the perpetrator has a long “rap sheet.” What’s he still doing on the streets? Don’t law-abiding citizens have a right to be safe and not put in danger by career criminals?

It’s obvious that these career criminals aren’t going to change their ways. Their times in jail haven’t rehabilitated them, and they are a menace to society. They should be locked up for an extended period of time because I believe our citizens have a right to be safe from criminals wandering the streets looking for their next victim.

This may necessitate the building of more prisons, which is costly, yet the cost to society of the crimes these guys commit is even higher. It would be nice if the states would teach these inmates a skill, and perhaps they could then receive an early release if they show a willingness to go straight and get a job. Again, there would be a cost to train these inmates, but the benefits far outweigh the cost. How about some restorative justice for those who show a willingness to turn their lives around?

Monday, June 22, 2015

Thoughts After the Shooting in Charleston

After the shooting in Charleston, some are saying we haven’t made much progress in the area of race relations. Have we made progress? Let’s take a look at some facts and see where they lead us. Let’s also look are areas where we could be doing better.

I believe we have made significant progress in the area of race relations since the 1960s. There are many more opportunities open to minorities than back in the 1960s. Also the younger generations mix white and black in their circle of friends and think nothing of it.

If there are so many opportunities, why is the unemployment rate so high for young black males?

The unemployment rate is so high because some black males drop out of school, some don’t receive training for marketable skills. What education they do get is often inferior. Some opt to make a living selling drugs, and some are drug users and aren’t interested in getting a job.

What can the black community do?

The black community must do a better job bringing up its children. Children need an involved father, involved uncles, etc. Moreover attitudes must change. Successful blacks are sometimes referred to derisively as an Oreo (black on the outside, white on the inside). No more Oreos! Success should be rewarded by the community, not put down. Children should be told to look up to and emulate the successful college graduate, the black lawyer or doctor, and not to look up to the drug pusher or gang chief.

What can the rest of us do?

States must help their struggling cities to revitalize. This involves investing in a quality education for inner city kids, including everything from trade schools to AP courses in high school. As the cities begin to cultivate a quality workforce, government at all levels should give incentives to attract businesses to the cities. As employment opportunities grow in number, tax revenues increase and pretty soon the cities are prosperous once again.

Let’s bring back our jobs from China and give them to our people!

One thing that must also be done to revitalize the inner cities is to take a hard line against crime. If the place is a war zone, you’re not going to attract industry no matter what incentives you provide. The better educated and skilled workers will leave, seeking employment elsewhere, where it is safer.

There are entirely too many gang members controlling the streets of our cities. There are too many stray bullets hitting children and bystanders. Career criminals (those with a long “rap sheet”) are not being rehabilitated by their frequent visits to prison. They should be put away either for life or for a very long time. I suspect they commit most of the crimes, they aren’t repentant, and they shouldn’t be out in the streets. Yet revolving door courts do just that: put them back out after a slap on the wrist.

To summarize, to improve the lot of minorities, especially blacks, their own communities can do some things, especially in the area of child rearing. Local and state governments can work to revitalize our cities, which can include rebuilding our aging infrastructure (thus creating jobs). Improving education is a key component. Federal, state, and local governments can offer incentives (as well as a well-trained and skilled workforce) for companies to bring their businesses to your cities. The cities and the black community must be united in their resolve to rid the cities of crime. Many more black men are killed by black men than by the police or white people. If crime isn’t brought down, none of these other steps will do much good, our cities will continue to be urban jungles, and black unemployment will remain high.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Deja Vue

I feel like I’ve entered a time warp, and we aren’t in 2015 anymore but back in the 1960s. We’ve had riots in the streets (in Ferguson and Baltimore). We’ve had a racially-motivated killing of 9 people in a church in Charleston, reminding us of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963. It’s enough to make you think we’ve made very little progress in this country in the area of race relations. Hearing of this senseless shooting and mass murder, our emotions ran from outrage to frustration to despair – how can this be happening 50 years later?

Race relations is a complex and emotionally-charged subject, and goes well beyond the scope of this blog. Nevertheless I’d like to share a few thoughts that you may, or may not, agree with, but at least I’m giving you something to think about.

Isolated Incident

Like many of the school shootings we’ve experienced over the past 15years or so, this church mass murder in Charleston was the work of a single deranged person. The shooter doesn’t represent a broad consensus, so I don’t believe we can interpret this shooting as something that has been widely supported. We are always going to have mentally disturbed people with guns out there, and we are always going to have extreme bigots. So mass murders will continue to happen, hopefully with much less frequency.

While race was certainly a factor in this terrible crime, that doesn’t mean there are many others just waiting to shoot or otherwise harm minorities. Despite a person’s dislike for a particular group, most are not going to engage in mass killings.

Was this shooting a Hate Crime?

I’m not familiar with the provisions of the Hate Crime laws, but the message the shooter gave to the woman he spared leaves no doubt that he wanted to kill black people because of what he perceives they are doing to this country.

As far as I’m concerned, I really don’t care whether it’s a “hate crime” or not. He murdered 9 people in cold blood, and that’s enough for me. He should receive the death penalty.

Violent Society

Why do we have all these school and other shootings in the US, but such violence is rare in other industrialized countries?

Sadly we are a violent society. We have gang wars, armed robberies, muggings, violence against women, and a host of other violent acts with much greater frequency than other industrialized nation.

Our country was formed out of the violence of the Revolutionary War, the Union was preserved by the violence of the Civil War, and we settled the West using the violence of fighting the Indians. Our mentality is often “might makes right” and we may turn to violent acts to get our way or make a statement. For example, anti-war or calls for justice demonstrations can turn violent. You can’t legitimately call for peace and justice while you are burning and looting.

As our society continues to deteriorate and drifts further away from the Judeo-Christian ethic, there will be less respect for people, more prejudice, and probably more violence. If the people don’t have a moral compass, there’s anarchy. We need to change hearts.

How do you change people’s hearts?

I believe there is only one way that is most effective, and that is to have a personal relationship with God, and learn the Bible so you understand biblical principles (many of which tell us how to behave). Becoming a Christian or getting in touch with your Jewish roots point you in the right direction concerning how you view others (made in God’s image), ourselves, and God.

Political correctness won’t do it. Only God can change your heart. We become transformed people when we follow Christ. The sooner this country turns back to the faith of our fathers, the sooner society will improve and the violence is diminished.

Lastly, is the wide availability of guns responsible for this carnage?

When President Obama made a televised statement on the shooting in Charleston, he let an opportunity go by to say something meaningful. Instead, he dredged up gun control as the best way to reduce the killings. Certainly gun control has its place, and closing the loopholes in the current laws will go far in keeping guns out of the hands of deranged individuals.

However, if a person is determined to commit murder, there are knives and other means of killing. So gun control goes only so far. What his country needs is a change of heart and better care and monitoring of the mentally ill.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Spiritual Warfare Part 2

In an earlier post I wrote about Spiritual Warfare. Historically we have seen struggles which were clearly seen to be good versus evil. I believe there was a spiritual component to them.

(1) Wars, WWII

While nobody likes war, sometimes it becomes necessary for a nation to defend itself from aggressors. Typically the aggressors are considered evil because they are attacking innocent people, trying to grab more territory, destroying cities and villages, and are generally up to no good. Probably the best examples of evil aggressors were the Nazis and Japanese in World War II. They made their leaders into gods, rather than worship the true God. So I believe WWII was definitely a battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil.

(2) Idol worship

Another struggle is against the “gods” of this world, such as materialism, accumulation of wealth, career, success, etc. There’s nothing wrong with any of these until we make them into idols. When these things dominate our lives and are more important than God, then they become idols. That’s the constant spiritual struggle we face.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Spiritual Warfare Part 1

Occasionally you might hear a Christian you know use the term “spiritual warfare.” In Christianity there’s the concept of “spiritual warfare” which refers generally to the struggle between good and evil. Those with a biblical worldview see personal as well as global events through the lens of the Bible. I’d like to explain “spiritual warfare” so you understand where your Christian friend or co-worker is coming from when he or she uses that term. The Apostle Paul describes the struggle we all face in Ephesians 6:10-12 in the New Testament:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (NRSV)

We see God involved in our struggles in many places in the Bible.

In 1 Samuel 17:46 David said the following to Goliath:
“…for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.” (NRSV)

In 2 Chronicles 20:15 God says the battle is his:
Thus says the Lord to you: “Do not fear or be dismayed at this great multitude; for the battle is not yours but God’s”. (NRSV)

Part of our spiritual battle has to do with temptation. Speaking about temptation, 1 Peter 5:8 warns:
Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. (NRSV)

Christians believe that many of the struggles in this world have a spiritual component. Let’s look at an external struggle and an internal one to get an understanding of the spiritual aspect of each.

(1) Extremism and terrorism

Whether we like it or not, I believe the struggle against Islamic extremism has a spiritual component. What makes it a spiritual battle is the fact that these radicals are evil by any religion’s definition. Secondly, they are killing people under the banner of their religion. While most Muslims are content to live their lives in peace, aggressors like ISIS kill even their fellow Muslims.

Thirdly the battle against radicals, extremists, and terrorists is a spiritual battle because of their desire to wipe other religions off the face of the earth. If they had their way, there would be forced conversions, mass executions for those who refuse, and everybody would be subject to harsh Sharia law.

By the way, calling these radicals “fundamentalists” is wrong and misleading. The term originated in Christianity to identify those who rejected liberal theology and wanted a return to the “fundamentals” of Christianity. These Islamic radicals aren’t concerned about the purity of their beliefs. Moreover, they don’t even obey their religion’s scriptures, which forbid killing of civilians and harsh treatment of “People of the Book” (Sura 2:62; 5:69). They want an Islamic society but don’t seem to want to follow the teachings of their holy scriptures.

(2) Temptation to sin

Interestingly, Islam recognizes the struggle that takes place within a person. One meaning of the word jihad is the struggle within the believer between good vs. evil. Christians also understand that life is constant battle against temptation and the lure of the things of this world which can separate us from God. That is the heart of spiritual warfare.

Now when you hear somebody talk about “spiritual warfare” you’ll know where the person is coming from.