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The Importance of Manufacturing to Texas and the United States Print E-mail
by Tom Pauken    Tue, Jan 10, 2012, 09:35 AM

In early December, Rubbermaid Home Products announced the closing of its manufacturing plant in Greenville, Texas which will take effect this June. An estimated 490 employees will lose their jobs. Several years ago, Rubbermaid closed its big molding plant in Wooster, Ohio, and moved some of its production to the Greenville plant. Now, those jobs will be lost as well.

This has become a recurrent story over the past decade. From 2001 through 2010, we lost one-third of our U.S. manufacturing base – that’s five and a half million U.S. jobs that were shipped overseas, outsourced, or simply went away. Moreover, The Wall Street Journal reported that, from 2000 to 2009, U.S.-based multinational companies (which account for 20 percent of private sector employment in the United States) eliminated 2.9 million jobs in the U.S. while creating 2.4 million jobs in other countries. As Austin businessman David Hartman has noted, the U.S. manufacturing trade deficit in goods totaled $5.4 trillion from 2000 to 2008. This past year the U.S. ran trade deficits with nearly 100 nations.

The late German economist, Dr. Kurt Richebacher, pointed out the devastating consequences of what we are doing to ourselves economically: “Essentially all (U.S.) job losses are high-wage manufacturing, and most gains are in low-wage services. In essence the U.S. economy is restructuring downward, while the Chinese economy is restructuring upward.”

Relatively speaking, Texas is doing better on the manufacturing front than the nation as a whole. More than 836,000 Texans are employed in manufacturing, the second highest number in the U.S. According to our

latest monthly employment statistics, Texas has added 25,200 manufacturing jobs over the past twelve months. Texas also exports nearly $160 billion worth of manufactured goods a year. We lead all states in that regard with our nearest competitor, California, next at less than $85 billion annually.

But, we have to do more to rebuild what once was the strongest manufacturing sector in the world. Texas may be treading water on the manufacturing front, but our nation as a whole is hemorrhaging manufacturing jobs. Our Washington policymakers had better address this manufacturing decline before it is too late.

What can we do to reverse this trend and restore our manufacturing base? One way is for Washington D.C. policymakers to reform the way we tax businesses. The U.S. has the most onerous business tax system in the world with its 35 percent income tax rate and its 7.65 percent employer portion of the payroll tax. Our business tax system rewards private equity moguls for loading up American-based companies with lots of debt (debt is deductible under our current system of business taxation) while punitively taxing employment, capital investment, and savings – the engines of job creation and economic growth. Our existing tax system effectively exports prosperity, and American jobs overseas. 

We should implement a proposal known as the Hartman Plan in which the U.S. corporate tax system would be replaced by a revenue-neutral, 8 percent business-consumption tax that would be border-adjusted. All goods and services coming into the United States would pay the 8 percent tax while all exports would receive a comparable tax credit or tax abatement as an offset to its company's business-consumption tax. This new approach to taxing business would raise just as much in revenue as, if not more than, the current system of taxation.

Another way to address the decline in manufacturing can be implemented here in Texas. We must rethink our one-size-fits-all approach to education which emphasizes preparing all high school students for a college education.

The greatest demand for jobs is in the skilled trades. Many industries, where skilled workers are essential, currently have an aging workforce that soon will have to be replaced by younger workers with a skill set that matches the needs of the industry. There should be a greater emphasis on vocational and technical education at both the secondary and post-secondary levels to prepare young people for that demand. 

I believe that it may be time for a whole new model of education. We can begin by looking at the accomplishments of the Craft Training Center in Corpus Christi where they bring in high school students from a number of local school districts and provide them with top notch training in a variety of technical trades such as welding, pipefitting, and electrical work. Those who complete the program have been very successful in landing employment in their respective fields. The skills required for these positions are impressive, and they allow young workers to make a good living and raise a family.

 

Manufacturing can have a bright future in Texas and our nation. But, it will require us to change a U.S. tax policy which exports American jobs abroad, and to implement educational reforms which will provide our young people with greater opportunities in the skilled trades.

 

Tom Pauken is Chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission and author of Bringing America Home.

 

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Obama’s in the House! Print E-mail
by James Reza    Mon, Jan 9, 2012, 09:15 AM

This past Christmas I did something I’ve never done.  I didn’t give, well, sort of, my oldest daughter, Michele, a gift.  Was I short on money, some might wonder. No folks, though I felt bad about it, I wanted to send my daughter a message of fiscal responsibility. Though my daughter is a hard worker, sometimes working 2 jobs, she has one heck of a problem — Uncontrolled Spending!  And though she lives with us, and uses free of charge our phone, TV provider, and Internet, she gives little to pay for groceries, our house taxes, and utilities.

A month or so before Christmas, Michele underwent surgery.  Unable to work for a few weeks she soon realized that all her credit card bills came due.  Sheepishly, she not only asked her mother, but me as well for a loan to cover her debts.  Feeling sorry for her and her sick condition I forked over the cash she needed, knowing full well that I would probably never see it again.  Later, and thank God, she got well and went back to work resuming her bad spending habits.

Prior to our Christmas family gathering I told Michele that I didn’t have a gift for her, but I would forget the loan I gave her.  So there you have it folks, though I didn’t give Michele a gift, I told her not to pay the loan she owed me.

Often, I’ve had serious talks with my wife about Michele’s uncontrolled spending and her inability to save money.  I remind my wife that we’re not getting any younger and once we’re gone, Michele, who has never married, is going to have one heck of a time making ends meet. Even if we was to will our house to her, which is paid for, she’d have one heck of a time paying bills, taxes and regular upkeep of our not so small house.  Besides, my wife and I have agreed on our will that all our possessions are to be evenly distributed among our 3 children.

As I’ve tried to figure out where my wife and I have gone wrong in not guiding Michele in a path to fiscal responsibility like our other two kids, I’ve come to the conclusion that its our fault.  Folks, we bought Michele an auto for graduation, never asked her, though she worked, to help us with the utility bills due that my wife and I had well paying jobs.  Thus, with no obligation to help us with our daily living expenses, Michele spent and continues to spend like there is no tomorrow.

Once, she considered renting an apartment. I told her, “go for it.”  Later, she said, “Gosh dad, they want a lot of money for the rent deposit and deposits for the utilities on top of the rent!  I just can’t afford it!”  Right then I told her, “Michele, from now on you are going to have to pay to live with us.”  When I told her how much it was going to cost her per month she didn’t like it, but she knew it was cheaper than renting her own place.

My friends, our government, particularly the Obama Administration, have the mindset of my daughter Michele. They spend foolishly as does my daughter the hard earned tax dollars American workers and businesses fork over to them on useless wasteful programs such as: bailing out auto companies, Solyndra, a government sponsored solar company that went broke, the useless Stimulus Package which didn’t produced any jobs, welfare programs that in 60 years hasn’t ended poverty and the list goes on and on.  Yet, our government, much like my daughter who asked my wife and me for money when she got sick and could work and didn’t have enough money saved to cover her bills, the Obama Administration still wants more of our tax dollars to give to those who don’t work nor produce jobs!  As the economy has worsen in three years under the Obama Administration, they now replaced President Bush with a new scapegoat — the Republicans in the Senate and the House who often block many of his demands on tax increases from us the American taxpayers and businesses.

I believe that American voters have got to send a message to our politicians, particularly the Obama Administration that they have to realize that the more they make people more dependent on the government for assistance as my daughter has been dependent on my wife and I, they eventually will hurt them instead of helping them in the long run in that they will lose sight of learning how to save and provide for themselves.  I get depressed and angry every Christmas when they show on TV the homeless and other supposed poor people being fed at restaurants; Salvation Army facilities, churches etc. and almost always all of the folks are black and grossly obese.  No one can persuade me that these people are malnourished and starving. They are obese and poor because the liberal Democrat party of our government with their welfare programs has made them that way.  Now, I’m not so heartless as not to help the maimed, mentally ill, and a few others.  But, those who are able to work and are on welfare should be drug tested and receive aid for no more than one year.  After that, they are on their own to find a job and learn to provide for themselves.   As structured today, you couldn’t give those on welfare a job if you handed to them in a sliver platter.  Stop for a moment and ask yourselves, “why should these supposed poor people go find work when the hard working American people provide for their groceries as they sit on their rear ends watching TV in their government subsidized by American workers apartments”.  Meanwhile, the rest of us are out here busting our butts trying to make ends meet as we provide to the free loaders with our government ill spent tax dollars.

Folks, I grew up poor as did many Hispanics in my barrio (neighborhood) and I can’t remember any family getting food stamps or subsidized government housing.  Yet, we ate good, paid our bills and most became productive breadwinners.  This year, I’m going to wean my daughter from being dependent on us. And, I’m doing it because I love her and want her to be self-sufficient!

 

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Oh, What A Year It Was (Part 2) Print E-mail
by John Browning    Wed, Jan 4, 2012, 04:36 PM

In my previous column, I gave you a rundown of some of the year’s most bizarre legal twists and turns.  But 2011 was so chock-full of legal oddities, there wasn’t room for them in just one column.  So, here we go with the rest of the strangest legal stories from 2011.

 

Irony Alert

 

Hypocrisy is never a pretty sight.  The Dutch copyright lobbying group BREIN (sort of a Netherlands version of the RIAA that went after music downloaders) commissioned a musician, Melchior Rietveldt, to compose a song as a theme for an anti-piracy video.  There was just one problem: BREIN had, according to Rietveldt, only licensed his work for that one single use.  The musician later discovered that the Dutch film industry has been using his music in those anti-piracy ads that run before a movie on DVD.  Rietveldt alerted his music royalty collection agency, which contends that tens of millions of Dutch DVDs are carrying Rietveldt’s composition.  Rietveldt is seeking more than 1 million euros.

 

So Much For That New Car Smell

 

Margarita Salais of New Baltimore, Michigan is suing a car dealership, Suburban Ford, over the 2006 Ford Expedition she bought from them in March 2011.  The car runs fine, but Salais noticed a smell as soon as the weather started to warm up—the smell of a dead body, she says.  Salais says she filed a claim with her insurer, State Farm, which in turn hired a biohazard cleanup company (Elite Trauma Clean-up, Inc.) to investigate the stench.  They determined that the “rotten meat” odor was of human origin.  Salais’ lawyer, Dani Liblang, theorizes that because the dealership itself bought the used car in December 2010, the same cold weather that temporarily hid the smell from her client might have kept it from being noticed by the car dealer.  It’s no fun when the “new car” scent you expect is replaced by “decomposing body.”  Salais is suing the dealer and the credit union that financed the vehicle for over $25,000.

 

Not the Best Casket-Side Manner

 

Speaking of dead bodies, I was raised to believe that one should never speak ill of the dead.  Apparently, however, in Michigan that is not just good manners, it is the law.  Under Michigan law, funeral directors can lose their license for disrespecting the dead, or “using profane, indecent, or obscene language in the presence of a dead human body, or within the immediate hearing of the family or relatives of a deceased, whose body has not yet been interred or otherwise disposed of.”  That statute has come up in a lawsuit brought by Sarah Brown-Derbah, a former employee of Westland, Michigan’s Husband Family Funeral Home.  Brown-Derbah claims that her former boss, Roger Husband, not only sexually harassed her, but that on one occasion he commented to her that a deceased client “could really show a girl a good time when he was alive with a body like this,” and that the deceased “looked like he should be a college kid, not a prison inmate.”  Brown-Derbah is seeking an unspecified amount of damages for Husband’s alleged conduct and unwelcome comments.

 

If More Jails Were Like This . . .

 

You might expect to find stripteases, booze, cash, and even sexual favors at a seedy strip club—but at downtown Miami’s maximum security Federal Detention Center?  That’s the accusation leveled by Miami media, quoting several Florida criminal defense attorneys.  The reports claim that for wealthy drug lords imprisoned in the facility, attorneys have brought in pole dancers posing as “legal assistants,” who, according to one attorney “take off their tops and let the guys touch them.”  In one incident, one woman was caught on video stripping for an inmate in the jail’s Special Housing Unit.  Attorney Hugh Rodriguez says, “Any lawyer can sign a form and designate a legal assistant.  There is no way of verifying it.  The process is being abused.”  FDC spokespersons declined to comment on the accusations.

 

What, Did Our Time Together Mean Nothing to You?

 

Finally, in a bizarre lawsuit that has drawn nationwide attention, a kidnapper is suing his former hostages for breach of contract.  Jesse Dimmick is currently serving an 11 year sentence after bursting into the Topeka, Kansas-area home of Jared and Lindsey Rowley in September 2009, and taking the couple hostage.  Dimmick’s lawsuit alleges that he told the Rowleys he was being chased by someone who wanted to kill him, and that he “asked the Rowleys to hide me because I feared for my life.  I offered the Rowleys an unspecified amount of money which they agreed upon, therefore forging a legally binding oral contract.”  A few facts might help put Dimmick’s wild claims into context.  He was being chased, but by the police.  Dimmick was wanted for questioning in the beating death of Michael Curtis (he’s since been charged with murder).  Dimmick had a knife (and possibly a gun) on him when he took the couple hostage.  Under contract law, we call that “duress.”  The Rowleys reportedly fed Dimmick snacks and watched movies with him until he fell asleep (maybe they watched “The Fugitive”?), and they were able to escape from the house unharmed.  The Rowleys themselves filed a civil suit against Dimmick for trespass and for infliction of emotional distress, seeking a minimum of $75,000.  Needless to say, the Rowleys’ attorney has filed a motion denying that there was any “contract.”

 

With stories like these crowding the court dockets in 2011, I can’t wait to see what 2012 brings.

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Hawks who learned nothing Print E-mail
by Matt Duss    Mon, Jan 2, 2012, 03:17 PM

This month, after almost nine years that left 4,484 American soldiers and well over 100,000 Iraqi civilians dead, the U.S. war in Iraq came to an end. As the troubling recent reports indicate, the new Iraq will continue to struggle with enduring political tensions and serious security challenges for years to come.

As my colleague Peter Juul and I noted in our recent report on the war’s costs, The Iraq War Ledger, the end of former Iraq President Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime represents a considerable global good, and a nascent democratic Iraqi republic partnered with the United States could potentially yield benefits in the future. But when weighing those possible benefits against the costs of the Iraq intervention, there is simply no conceivable calculus by which Operation Iraqi Freedom can be judged to have been a successful or worthwhile policy.

While these questions will doubtless continue to be debated into the future, the holiday season and the New Year are an appropriate time to move beyond the rifts that so divided our country over this war.

But before we do, let’s take a moment to remember some of the people who got the Iraq War completely wrong. This is important not only as a historical matter, but also because many of these same people are now calling for escalation against Iran, from the same perches and sinecures whence they helped get our country into Iraq. And, as former general Anthony Zinni said in regard to the consequences of a war with Iran, “If you like Iraq and Afghanistan, you’re gonna love Iran.”

It’s worth noting that a lot of people got various things wrong about Iraq at various times. This writer is no exception. But the following critics are particularly notable not only because they were completely and catastrophically wrong about the costs and benefits of the Iraq War, and more generally about the capacity of American military power to determine outcomes, but also because they tended to go about it in the most condescending way possible. They have also suffered no apparent penalty for it. Going forward, our country will be safer and more secure in inverse proportion to the amount of influence these people have.

Bill Kristol,  Editor, the Weekly Standard

It tells you a lot about the neocon Don that “Sarah Palin as John McCain’s VP” is not the dumbest thing he’s ever advocated. Kristol’s ability to be consistently wrong on the most important issues of the day is matched only by his refusal to ever cop to it (though the fact that he shut down the Project for the New American Century — the neocon letterhead most closely associated with the Iraq debacle — and rebooted it in 2009 as the Foreign Policy Initiative at least shows that he recognized that he had a branding problem).

It’s probably impossible to catalog all of Kristol’s incorrect assertions about Iraq, but surely one of the most representative is this dismissive response to war critics in 2003: “I think there’s been a certain amount of, frankly, a kind of pop sociology in America that, you know, somehow the Shia can’t get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime.”

Soon after, of course, Iraq exploded into a civil war driven by Sunni and Shia militias trying to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime.

Kristol has been calling for escalation against Iran since at least 2006. Indeed, Kristol is so hot for Iran that President Bush reportedly mockingly referred to Kristol and fellow neocon Charles Krauthammer as “the bomber boys.” When even George W. Bush considers you too trigger-happy, it’s time to take stock.

Charles Krauthammer, columnist, the Washington Post

In April 2002, Krauthammer responded to critics who noted the absence of Iraqi WMDs, “Hans Blix had five months to find weapons. He found nothing. We’ve had five weeks. Come back to me in five months. If we haven’t found any, we will have a credibility problem.” Indeed. April 22 is now observed as “Krauthammer Day,” on which Americans are encouraged to pause to consider his credibility problem.

Krauthammer responded angrily to the U.S withdrawal, declaring that “Obama lost Iraq,” a claim impressive for how effectively it mocks itself.

As for Iran, in July 2004 Krauthammer asked, “Did we invade the wrong country? One of the lessons now being drawn from the 9/11 report is that Iran was the real threat. The Iraq War critics have a new line of attack: We should have done Iran instead.” This is funny, because Iraq War critics have never actually ever said this.

Reule Marc Gerecht,  senior Fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies

Gerecht likes to joke that he talks about bombing Iran so much that “even my mother thinks I’ve gone too far,” which is funny because thousands of people will die.

Back in 2002, Gerecht dismissed as “unfounded” the idea that a war with Iraq could compromise America’s war on terrorism. “Self-interest and fear of American power, not feelings of fraternity and common purpose, are what will glue together any lasting international effort against terrorism,” Gerecht wrote. “It should be obvious that if the Bush administration now fails to go to war against Saddam Hussein, we will lose enormous face throughout the region.”

Gerecht’s understanding of the workings of power in the Middle East hasn’t gotten any more complex in the intervening years. If the Israelis “can badly damage Iran’s nuclear program, the regime will lose enormous face,” he wrote in the Weekly Standard last year. “While there is no guarantee that an Israeli raid would cause sufficient shock to produce a fatal backlash against Khamenei and the senior leadership of the Guards, there is a chance it would.” A magazine actually published this.

Gerecht has also claimed that bombing Iran could actually help Iran’s democracy movement. “If anything can jolt the pro-democracy movement forward, contrary to the now passionately accepted conventional wisdom, an Israeli strike against the nuclear sites is it.” Unmentioned by Gerecht is the reason why the conventional wisdom is so “passionately accepted”: Because Iranian pro-democracy activists have said repeatedly that an attack on Iran would devastate their movement.

Danielle Pletka, vice president, the American Enterprise Institute

An early backer of Iraqi confidence man Ahmad Chalabi — whom Pletka accused the U.S. of “betraying” when it was revealed that Chalabi had passed classified information to his friends in the Iranian government — Pletka helped make AEI into a key player behind the Iraq invasion.

When the war went bad, Pletka classily blamed … the Iraqis themselves, for not appreciating freedom enough. “Looking back, I felt secure in the knowledge that all who yearn for freedom, once free, would use it well,” Pletka wrote in 2008. “I was wrong. There is no freedom gene, no inner guide that understands the virtues of civil society, of secret ballots, of political parties.”

Pletka declared herself in agreement with recent Iranian propaganda that the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq represents a “golden victory” for Iran. In reality, of course, Iran’s “golden victory” was the U.S. invasion that removed Iran’s biggest foe, Saddam Hussein. It wasn’t the first time she’d been caught echoing Iranian talking points in an effort to build up Iran as an enemy. On a panel last February at the annual Herzliya Conference in Israel, Pletka dismissed former Israeli Mossad chief Efraim Halevi’s assertion that the U.S. and Israel were winning against Iran. “I understand the propaganda effect of saying we’re winning,” Pletka said, “but if Iran is losing, I’d like to be that kind of loser.”

“What I’m saying is not propaganda,” Halevi shot back. “The danger is in believing the propaganda of others.”

Max Boot,  Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow for national security studies, Council on Foreign Relations

“The debate about whether Saddam Hussein was implicated in the September 11 attacks misses the point,” Boot wrote — on Oct. 15, 2001. “Who cares if Saddam was involved in this particular barbarity?”

Once Saddam was  removed, Boot continued, “We can impose an American-led, international regency in Baghdad, to go along with the one in Kabul. With American seriousness and credibility thus restored, we will enjoy fruitful cooperation from the region’s many opportunists, who will show a newfound eagerness to be helpful in our larger task of rolling up the international terror network that threatens us.”

Initially a huge fan of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s “New American Way of War,” Boot scoffed at those who suggested that “the war could last months and result in thousands of casualties” or “that Rumsfeld had placed the invasion in jeopardy by not sending enough troops.”

Years later, Boot lamented the size of the force that had been sent into Iraq and Afghanistan, blaming Clinton-era defense cuts which, in his newly revised view, “practically dictat[ed] that the forces sent to Afghanistan and Iraq would be too small to pacify two countries with a combined population of nearly 60 million.”

Urging President George W. Bush not to be swayed by antiwar protests in 2003, Boot wrote, “When the demands of protesters have been met, more bloodshed has resulted; when strong leaders have resisted the lure of appeasement, peace has usually broken out.”

Similarly railing against appeasement of Iran recently, Boot deployed the most overused historical reference in foreign policy, asking, “Why did the West do so little while the Nazis gathered strength in the 1930s?” As if the adoption of some of the most stringent multilateral sanctions ever, successfully supporting the appointment of a special UN human rights monitor for Iran, and unprecedented defense cooperation with regional allies was “doing little” to confront Iran.

Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent, the Atlantic

Goldberg wins the award for the single most condescending/most incorrect claim by an Iraq War supporter. In a Slate symposium on Iraq in 2002, Goldberg dismissed opponents of the invasion by claiming, “Their lack of experience causes them to reach the naive conclusion that an invasion of Iraq will cause America to be loathed in the Middle East, rather than respected.” Well, not so much.

In regard to Iran, Goldberg has stressed that he’s “opposed to either an Israeli or an American strike against Iran, especially at this moment.” But, he continued, “I’m all for creating the impression in Iran that Israel or America is preparing to strike.” (Interestingly, former Israeli Mossad chief Meir Dagan recently warned that this is precisely the sort of thing that could convince the Iranians that they need a nuclear capability “as quickly as possible.” But perhaps Dagan is just another one of those inexperienced, naive folk.)

Harold Rhode, senior advisor to Hudson Institute

A lesser-known player in the lead-up to the Iraq war (he worked in the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment), Rhode recently authored a piece for the Hudson Institute in which he claimed that “there would be no reason for this Iranian regime not to use -– or threaten to use — [nuclear] weapons against the Sunni Muslims and their oil fields, and against Iran’s non-Muslim enemies in Europe, the US, Israel and beyond” because, according to Rhode, Iranians believe “their Imam would come and save them.”

As I’ve written elsewhere, the idea that the Iranian regime, by virtue of its Shiite ideology, is uniquely immune to the cost-benefit calculations that underpin a conventional theory of deterrence is one unsupported by evidence. But Rhode’s claim is not out of character when one considers that he was also a supporter of perhaps the single most bizarre idea about how to handle post-invasion Iraq, which is the reason why he’s included here. As George Packer reports in his book “The Assassin’s Gate,” Rhode subscribed to the idea–first promulgated in the infamous “Clean Break” memo –”of restoring the Hashemite Kingdom in Iraq, with [Jordanian] King Hussein’s brother Prince Hassan on the throne and [Ahmed] Chalabi as prime minister.”

A bit of history: the British installed the Hashemite monarchy in Iraq in 1921, during the post-World War I League of Nations mandate era. Never regarded as legitimate by Iraqis, the monarchy was overthrown in 1958, with the Ba’ath Party eventually taking power in 1968. In other words, while some Iraq war boosters may have been content to figuratively repeat the mistakes of the past, Rhode wanted to literally repeat the mistakes of the past.

In order for America not to repeat the mistakes of Iraq, it’s important to reexamine the erroneous claims that helped get us there. As a response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Iraq War was intended to show the extent of America’s power. It succeeded only in showing its limits. Those who continue to suggest that the maintenance of American “credibility” requires launching new and more expensive military adventures should be reminded of this constantly.

 

Originally appeared in Salon.com.

 

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Can the Gospel Survive the “Social Justice” Fad? Print E-mail
by Michael Giere    Mon, Jan 2, 2012, 03:08 PM

Like Crocus in the spring, “social justice” seems to be in vogue in the broader Christian community in recent years, popping up where you least expect it. Largely a conceptual assertion confined to “progressive” or politically leftist religious circles in post-war America, the renewed interest in the catch-all concept of “social justice” has jumped the tracks and landed in the wider evangelical movement.

This was recently evident in the “Occupy” protests where a surprising number of evangelicals joined leaders of the mainline churches to lend support, even if tacitly, to the “Occupy” movement. The language of “social justice” and “justice” peppered the discussions explaining the rationale for the protests, as though there was a specific Biblical warrant which called Christians to be sympathetic to the occupier’s demands. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope gave oblique endorsement to the protests based on non-defined assessments of “justice.” (All of this in spite of the virulent anti-Semitism and organizational efforts provided by various Socialist and Marxist groups – all of which was extensively documented at the events.)

In addition to the “Occupy” protests and a number of books in recent years, the apparent ground swell of interest in “social justice” as the animating feature of “real” Christianity received a big boost within evangelical ranks with Dr. Tim Keller’s book, Generous Justice published last year. Dr. Keller is the hugely successful author and nationally known pastor of the Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.

It is a surprising book following the other writings of Dr. Keller. The enormously engaging preacher has a large following among evangelicals (even though he is personally dismissive of them and does not identify himself as one) for his defense of Biblical authority and his preaching that tailors Biblical truth to the rough and tumble of modern community life. But in Generous Justice, Dr. Keller bites into the apple of politics, transporting the vagary of “social justice” to an unsuspecting, and perhaps, ill prepared audience by page 14 of his book.  

Generous Justice, some have noted, may be a reflection of the Reformed idea of a “cultural mandate” percolating to the forefront with Dr. Keller, who taught in a Reformed seminary. Indeed, he has said that, “the primary purpose of salvation is cultural renewal, to make the world a better place.” In Generous Justice,  Dr. Keller goes further, comingling the concept of unmerited salvation by Grace, with the idea that “[i]f you are not just, you’ve not truly been justified by faith.” Identifying a single trait that confirms our faith is risky business, of course, as the Book of Galatians informs us.

Dr. Keller also asserts in Generous Justice that self-indulgent materialism must be replaced by a sacrificial lifestyle of giving to those in need; in “doing justice,” and in “permanent fasting," which he explains is to “work against injustice, to share food, clothing, and home with the hungry and the homeless.” This, he say flatly, is the real proof that you are a Christian. To others it might suggest that the assurance of our salvation is an open question.

But whatever the origins or motivations for Dr. Keller’s embrace of “social justice,” the term and its working out in society has a long, ignoble history that cannot be simply ignored, as it is in Generous Justice.

The amorphous concept dates to the early nineteenth century and the Catholic reform movement. However it was quickly picked up and welded to Marxist language and idioms (and has remained a fundamental precept in the radical left for over 100 years) by the Socialist International and other radical groups, because it fit the Marxist model perfectly; it was a nebulous concept by which every perceived ill of society could be corrected; and how could anyone be against something that sounds so noble and caring?

Dr. Keller follows others that have set out to “rescue” (their words) the term from the radical left, but do no better than others in the last 100 plus years to bring definition to the concept.  

(Surprisingly, Dr. Keller accentuates this reality when he rewrites Psalm 33:5 in Generous Justice. The original text in the NIV reads; “The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.” Dr. Keller’s version reads; “The Lord loves Social Justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.” He takes a perfectly understandable sentence and renders it senseless.) 

The Catholic philosopher and writer Michael Novak captured the inherent ambiguity of “social justice” this way: “This vagueness [of the concept of “social justice”] seems indispensable. The minute one begins to define social justice, one runs into embarrassing intellectual difficulties. It becomes, most often, a term of art whose operational meaning is, ‘We need a law against that.’ In other words, it becomes an instrument of ideological intimidation, for the purpose of gaining the power of legal coercion.”

So it is for Dr. Keller. He seems to advocate both spiritual and official coercion, while employing little Biblical or real-world perspective.

It’s ironic that Generous Justice takes a subject about which there should be no argument, and turns it into an argument. How many of us - not being theologians or pastors -  didn’t realize that there was no dichotomy between being a Christ-follower and having a deep concern for the poor, the oppressed and those who struggle with real injustice? It seems perfectly obvious in Scripture that we are to be the hands and feet of our Lord, and that clarity is why so many lay believers act on those Biblical truths. It is also the reason why the charity of the believing community is unparalleled on any level.

There is also inherent in the “social justice” movement a perspective which is somewhat juvenile in outlook. For example, Dr. Keller talks about “practical” things a congregation can do; such as pressuring police to “do justice” to the poor, as they do to the rich, and to demand regulations for high cost loans in poor communities. But what does this mean? There is no actual context to the recommendations. Policing in one community with one set of values and citizen cooperation can be very different from another community. A police officer’s life can be at great risk in one, and not in another. Likewise, is a lender taking the same risk of non-repayment with one economic group than another? And if further regulation drives lenders out of a poorer community, who suffers? The very people Dr. Keller wants us to help.

Also implicit in Dr. Keller’s book is the sense that America and the American experiment as a Constitutional Republic is no more worthy than any other culture or government. Perhaps this is unintentional, but it’s such a pervasive critique of the left, that it’s hard to think it isn’t his belief.  The only problem with this thinking, of course, is that everything Dr. Keller writes about in Generous Justice is made possible in the modern world by the God-ordained concept of liberty and individual responsibility. The American economy has not only enriched the average citizen beyond any in the world, it has literally fed the world, saved the world at least three times from totalitarianism, and financed the spreading of the Gospel around the world. The world without American leadership would be a dark place; and immeasurably poorer both spiritually and financially.

Finally, and most importantly, does the new home for “social justice” in the evangelical church have room for the orthodox Gospel of Jesus Christ? While the case for good works and fundamental justice is simply a plain reading of Scripture, the call from Christ is for a personal, individual and life-changing perspective change – from us to Him; with charity of heart and a charity of acts. If the church takes its collective eye off the Risen One; if it does not hold the Cross of Christ high for all to see and proclaim the only Way, then does any amount of good works or justice matter?

If Christians are to take the throttle of political power, as seems intrinsic in what Dr. Keller and others of the “social justice” mindset propose, does that suggest a top-down, authoritarian state that defines what is best for the poor, or disadvantaged? Perhaps this explains why there is such an affinity for Socialism and Marxism in the church. What does that do to liberty, which in the end is the great gift of Grace from the Holy One? 

 

[Michael Giere lives in Northern Virginia and has been widely published on politics, public policy, and foreign affairs. He served in both the Reagan and Bush Administrations and is a member of The Falls Church (Anglican) in Falls Church, VA.]  

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