While Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s speech to a committee room full of interns on March 23 focused on restoring civility to political discourse, the speech also contained a surprising twist. Ryan, who has publicly endorsed the writings of Ayn Rand, admitted, “I’m certainly not going to stand here and tell you I have always met this standard” of civility.
During a broad conversation on how to overcome poverty at Georgetown University last week, President Barack Obama made a few comments about how Fox News talks about poor people. Here’s what he said:
“ … over the last 40 years, sadly, I think there’s been an effort to either make folks mad at folks at the top, or to be mad at folks at the bottom. And I think the effort to suggest that the poor are sponges, leeches, don’t want to work, are lazy, are undeserving, got traction. … I have to say that if you watch Fox News on a regular basis, it is a constant menu — they will find folks who make me mad … They’re like, I don’t want to work, I just want a free Obama phone — or whatever. And that becomes an entire narrative … very rarely do you hear an interview of a waitress — which is much more typical — who’s raising a couple of kids and is doing everything right but still can’t pay the bills.
The United States hosts more than 23,000 payday lending stores, which outnumbers the combined total of McDonald’s, Burger King, Sears, J.C. Penney, and Target stores. These payday lenders do not make conventional loans as seen in most banks, but instead offer short-term loan amounts for short periods of time, usually until the borrower’s next paycheck, hence the name “payday loans.”
While some borrowers benefit from this otherwise unavailable source of short-term and small-amount credit, the payday lending business model fosters harmful serial borrowing and the allowable interest rates drain assets from financially pressured people. For example, in Minnesota the average payday loan size is approximately $380, and the total cost of borrowing this amount for two weeks computes to an appalling 273 percent annual percentage rate (APR). The Minnesota Commerce Department reveals that the typical payday loan borrower takes an average of 10 loans per year, and is in debt for 20 weeks or more at triple-digit APRs. As a result, for a $380 loan, that translates to $397.90 in charges, plus the amount of the principal, which is nearly $800 in total charges.
Setting an away email with no date of return was almost as odd as leaving work and not and knowing when I’d be back. This unexpected time off gave me the opportunity to do everything on my to-do list and spend ridiculous amounts of time at the dog park. Naturally, it also gave me time to catch up on reading and visiting with other furloughed friends. But this past Wednesday I was beginning to feel a bit hopeless about the whole situation.
Scrolling through Facebook I noticed Sojourners updates on its #FaithfulFilibuster and it truly made me ashamed of my hopelessness. I was ashamed because I forgot who was in charge. I was ashamed because I forgot where my hope lies. And I was ashamed because I was so wrapped up in my own struggles of furlough I forgot about the families that were already struggling and now also dealing with a loss of paychecks.
On Thursday I saw another update from Sojourners, and despite the rain, I felt compelled to go check it out. I expected to do nothing but observe and admire faith leaders stepping out to reclaim hope and speak for the millions of silenced voices in this country. However, when I arrived, something different happened. I was asked if I wanted to participate, handed a Bible, and stepped to the podium to read.
I couldn’t resist: I heard that a singer/songwriter in Atlanta was coming out with an album titled, Faith, the Poor, and Politics. Josh Schicker currently serves as Worship Leader in Mission at North Avenue Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. He’s also an accomplished musician, recording songs and performing at Eddie’s Attic most recently.
Faith, the Poor, and Politics is both catchy and contemplative. It’s spiritual but not in-your-face religious; personal, but not isolated from community. Below, you can read his thoughts on the album and other things in the realm of faith, politics, and culture.
Remember Rep. Paul Ryan’s 2011 budget, The Path to Prosperity? Well, it’s baaa-aaack — and this time the path is smoother and wider and offers a quicker trip to judgment.
Christianity and most of the world’s faith traditions explicitly demand protection for the poor and the preservation of the lives and dignity of all. Well, the Chair of the House Budget Committee, Ryan, high-tails it down his Path, budget rolled in-hand, in the exact opposite direction from those moral commitments.
Bob Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), concluded that the Ryan budget “is Robin Hood in reverse — on steroids. It would likely produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history and likely increase poverty and inequality more than any other budget in recent times (and possibly in the nation's history)."
Any responsible budget plan requires a balanced approach that would both increase revenue and reduce spending. This proposal would cut taxes, merely hope for revenue, increase military spending, and slash most everything else that isn’t protected by large corporate interests.
Hearing about the injustice and suffering in our world can be overwhelming. The problems seem so insurmountable. Is it really possible to make a difference?
Well, here's some good news. We already are making a big difference. Consider these statistics cited by Dr. Scott Todd from Live58:
"We used to say that 40,000 children die each day from preventable causes. In the 1990s, that number dropped to 33,000 per day. By 2008, it dropped again to 24,000. Now it is down to 21,000. That means that in a generation we cut that number in half. 1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty today. That's a staggering amount, but let's put those numbers in perspective: In 1981, 52 percent of the world lived in extreme poverty. Today it's 26 percent. Again, that means we have cut the number in half, and we did it in one generation."
Now, if you are anything like me then your reaction to poverty is a mixture of compassion and helplessness. If you're reading the Sojourners blog, then I assume that you already care about the least like I do, and that you know how big the problems are. I often find myself asking: What can I do? What can anyone do? We've heard the bleak statistics before. It's not news that there is a problem.
The news is that there is actually hope for real change.
“The poor will always be with you,” Jesus once said, and for centuries his followers have struggled to understand what he meant.
Or maybe not.
“The poor will always be with you” — especially if you’re not poor — seems straightforward enough: Look around, people ! The poor (and their problems) are very much with us!
Viewed through this kind of realpolitik lens, this verse (and the Bible generally) pose no real interpretive challenges to our reading or our living. The world, regrettably, is simply thus. The poor, alas, will always be with us.
Gandhi once said that "a nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable." Today, it strikes me that the "Great" in Great Britain should probably be quietly dropped, and replaced with "Abject," "Inadequate" or something equally disparaging.
For that is how the UK is currently treating its most vulnerable — the young, the elderly, the disabled — inadequately, abjectly and without compassion. For the last few weeks, a battle has been raging between the government, the legislature, the Church, organizations, and the general public over a piece of legislation called the Welfare Reform Bill.
The bill is wide ranging in its ‘reforms’, covering a myriad of social security measures – from disability benefits, to welfare offered to the unemployed and their families and children. At a time when austerity and budget cutting is front and center of the government’s agenda, ‘reform’ is a by-word for ‘cutbacks’.
The crux of the legislation is an attempt to distinguish between different categories of "the poor," to weed out the “undeserving” from the “deserving.” Sadly, as can be seen from the uproar that the Bill has caused, this attempt has failed.