Economy

When a City Can't Afford an Election

If the GOP presidential primaries have been any indication, voter turnout for November's election could be fairly dismal. Between the uber-polarization of the parties and nationwide trend toward the middle at a voter level, many may opt to stay at home.

The lack of enthusiasm is especially evident in the youngest voting bloc, age 18-24. According to the latest from Public Religion Research and Georgetown University's Berkley Center, young adults are not exactly excited about their prospects of either political persuasion. Further, while one in six of them are registered to vote, only 46 percent plan to cast theirs in November.

But apart from the state of public discourse and apathy concerns of the weary voter, another issue is creeping up that could pose a problem for potential turnout—money. 

According to The Atlantic Cities, some cities simply don't have the money—and have to cut elsewhere—to host an election. 

"… municipalities are scrambling to pay the costs associated with manning polling places. Some have said they'll put off road repairs while transit crews work on Election Day. Others may borrow workers from other departments to help count votes. In practice, this will likely mean fewer voting precincts, shorter hours and longer lines."

In a culture that is not known for its patience or attention span, how will this trend affect the public's motivation, or lack thereof, to hit the polls in November?

Survey Shows Obama Lead Narrowing as Voters Focus on Economy

A new survey released today shows that President Barack Obama holds a narrow lead over Gov. Mitt Romney in economic issues among voters—a topic that eight in 10 voters believe to be very important.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reports that on economic issues, 49 percent of voters favor Obama while 45 percent favor Romney. In these statistics, Romney holds a 53-point lead among white evangelicals and a 20-point lead among white Catholics, while Obama garners strong support from black Protestants and the religiously unaffiliated.

As voters head to the polls in November, numbers show that for many voters, issues of employment and the economy will take priority over social issues like gay marriage and abortion.

Report Says Church Giving on the Rebound

Giving basket, Suzanne Tucker, Shutterstock.com

Giving basket, Suzanne Tucker, Shutterstock.com

The recession and a sluggish recovery have made for a lighter collection plate in recent years, but a new study shows that giving to U.S. congregations bounced back in 2011 as the economy improved.

According to the fourth annual "State of the Plate" survey released on Tuesday, 51 percent of churches last year saw an increase in giving, up from 43 percent in 2010 and 36 percent in 2009.

The national survey, sponsored by MAXIMUM Generosity, Christianity Today and the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), asked more than 1,360 congregations of different sizes to report on their donations and budgets.

Book Review: Fixing the Moral Deficit

Fixing the Moral Deficit, YouTube.com screenshot, InterVarsity Press

Fixing the Moral Deficit, YouTube.com screenshot, InterVarsity Press

Rep. Paul Ryan’s (Chairman of House Budget Committee) FY2012 plan, A Roadmap for America’s Future, garnered princely praise in early April 2011, but it was quickly trailed by intense scrutiny when Ryan’s botched math and skewed priorities became apparent upon his budget’s review. Hailed as visionary and courageous upon submission, Ryan’s budget plan ultimately revealed his ideologically entrenched disregard for the poor.

A few weeks ago President Barack Obama announced his FY2013 Budget. Within a few weeks, Ryan will submit his FY2013 budget plan for review. Dr. Ronald J. Sider’s new book, Fixing the Moral Deficit (February 2012), comes just in time!

Sider has offered practical, balanced, and highly informed guidance for Christian engagement in the public sphere since publication of his first and seminal book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (1977). Sider draws from his Just Generosity: A New Vision for Overcoming Poverty in America (Sider, 1999) to lay the philosophical foundation for this latest analysis in Fixing the Moral Deficit.

Sider starts with a simple premise: We have a deficit crisis. We also have a poverty crisis. Together these crises are producing a moral crisis in America.

BOOM: David Brooks, Charles Murray, and the Reign of Mammon

Der Mammon und sein Sklave. Holzstich.via Wiki Commons, http://bit.ly/zom5Df.

Der Mammon und sein Sklave. Holzstich, 1896 via Wiki Commons, http://bit.ly/zom5Df.

Tuesday's New York Times carried a thought-provoking op-ed by David Brooks called "The Materialist Fallacy." I recommend that you read it: it's only 764 words long. Brooks argues that "in the half-century between 1962 and the present, America has become more prosperous, peaceful and fair, but the social fabric has deteriorated." This is not just because of job loss (the liberal explanation) or government intrusiveness (the libertarian explanation) or "the abandonment of traditional bourgeois norms" (the neo-conservative explanation).

It has more to do with declining social context and social capital, says Brooks, who never met a financial capitalist he didn't like. He really likes Charles Murray's new book, however: Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. (If you're not up for the 416-page book, you might want to read Brooks's January 30 column in praise of it.) Both authors worry about nefarious social forces that are driving a wedge between rich and poor, productive and non-productive, law-abiding and outlaws.

Brooks is partly right, and so are his critics. Yes, there's a rip in our social fabric. Yes, it is caused or made worse by job loss, ill-advised government programs, and shifting (or abandoned) values. Yes, it diminishes social capital and impoverishes social context. But also, Mr Brooks, and perhaps fundamentally, our decaying social fabric is the direct result of our enthusiastic worship of Mammon--the love of money that is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10).

I don't need to remind anybody about rapacious financiers, bloated CEOs, unscrupulous lobbyists, and corrupt politicians. But there were plenty of those in the 1890s and the 1920s, and, as Brooks points out, the social fabric still stayed more or less intact back then. Even two World Wars and a Great Depression didn't unravel it. People still finished school, still got jobs, and still got married before having children, if not always before getting pregnant. Why did things start to break down in the 60s?

What Next for the Occupiers?

There are many things they seemed to hold in common, not least an instinctive nonviolence, contrasting so sharply with the police, who so often let the logic of force drive their actions (they found out, as often in history, that the logic that works with criminals doesn’t really apply to idealists).

Bill McKibben, a Sojourners contributing editor, is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College in Vermont and founder of 350.org.

Why Every American Benefits from Food Stamps

Newt Gingrich now regularly refers to President Obama as the “Food Stamp President.” Why?

Since late 2007, caseloads for the program formerly known as Food Stamps (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- SNAP) have risen sharply.

These numbers are significant; about 14.2 million more people have started receiving benefits under President Obama. Still, this is just behind the record number of 14.7 million additional recipients added under President George W. Bush.

So, what’s the significance? President Obama has had a lot shorter time in office than President Bush did, should we be worried?

When I look at the numbers, I’m not concerned about the growth of SNAP under President Obama, I’m surprised at it’s growth under President Bush.

GOP Primaries and Old Country Buffet

Tim King is Sojourners' Communcations Director

Tim King is Sojourners' Communcations Director

If the GOP primaries were like Old Country Buffet, I’d be happy.

Think about it. There wouldn’t be so much money involved and we could pick only the stuff we liked and ignore  the rest.

And of course, everyone knows the basic rules of smorgasbord grazing, such as you can’t get decent sushi in the Midwest or proper social conservatives from Massachusetts.

Mitt Romney, Luxembourg, and America the Beautiful

At a town hall meeting in New Hampshire, at least two members of the audience challenged Mitt Romney on the morality of America’s economic system and of the trickle-down theory of economics. Romney defended the concept that corporations are people and asked which country in the world has higher incomes than the United States.
   
Luxembourg.
   
And depending upon what measure one uses and which web site on consults, that list also includes the territory of Bermuda, the dependency of Jersey, Equatorial Guinea, United Arab Emirates, Norway and Switzerland.
   
It is true that the United States has the most powerful economy measured by Gross Domestic Product — nearly $15 trillion. China is number two with $10 trillion. But if we measure per capita income, the United States falls to number three behind Norway and Switzerland. (Norway: $43,400 Switzerland: $40, 680 U.S. $37,870)
   
According to the web site WiseGeek, Luxembourg has the highest income per capita in the world.

Wes Granberg-Michaelson Answers, "What is an Evangelical?"

Wes Granberg-Michaelson. Photo courtesy of the author.

Wes Granberg-Michaelson. Photo courtesy of the author.

“Evangelical voters” have now been sized and squeezed into a homogeneous political block. These folks have views on the political right wing, trust in robust American military might, believe that wealth is a blessing to be protected by tax policy, want society to be inhospitable toward gays, oppose any form of abortion, feel that “big” government is always malevolent, and assert that American individualism is the divinely sanctioned cornerstone of the Republic. Apply the label “evangelical” to a voter and you can expect these political responses.

The problem is that it’s simply inaccurate. One size doesn’t fit all when in come to evangelicals. It distorts reality. But that’s just too inconvenient for pundits intent on predicting how various blocks will vote.

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