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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Bailout 10: Make Banks Accountable

Today's news reports that the Governor of Illinois has threatened to suspend state business with Bank of America. B of A is the bank which cut off credit to a window and door factory that has announced it will close, leading workers to sit in at the factory to demand the company pay them for accrued time.

Now the Governor of Illinois may in part be trying to distract attention from his other problems, such as being arrested on corruption charges today. However, it is about time leaders make this kind of decision to stand up to the banks which have become beneficiaries of one of the greatest wealth redistributions ever known. Public servants need to serve the public interest. Tax dollars are for the public interest. When tax dollars are provided to a private corporation in order to further the public interest in stabilizing the economy, then those private corporations must be held accountable.

That is why I wrote to my Representative, David Price, today to ask for increased oversight over banks and financial institutions who received "bailout" funds from the Department of the Treasury. The accountability was left too vague, and executives are retaining their expense accounts and euphemistically renamed "bonuses" while autoworkers are being demonized as overpaid for getting middle-class salaries, health care benefits, and retirement. I asked him to demand repayment from banks that refuse to make these funds available to support industry and jobs in the economy. If dramatic change can be demanded of GM, and I am all for that, then it can be demanded of Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Goldmon Sachs, J. P. Morgan Chase, Citigroup, and others.

Get rid of the $10 million Wells Fargo (see Bailout 9 post) severance package for one Wachovia executive and you can pay annual salary and benefits for over 100 of the better paid GM autoworkers who have mortgages to pay and families to support. Okay, let the Wachovia guy have the same amount as an autoworker. Bank of America's bailout money would be much better used if provided directly to struggling industrial producers.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Praying Before Eating, Praying Before Consuming

Our mealtime prayers precede a kind of consuming. But that word consuming has a more complex meaning related to a form of economic activity central to our culture and society. Rachel Anderson wrote an intriguing reflection on the practice of praying before consuming, tying it to this seasonal feast of shopping.

We pray in gratitude at mealtime. Are we also grateful in our other consumer activity?

We pray in humility because we are not able on our own to assure the supply of food. Are we humble in our other consumer activity?

We pray in compassion for those who made it possible for us to eat and for those who may not share our abundance. Are we compassionate toward the makers, the workers, the less prosperous, in our buying?

We pray in hope for many more good meals shared with our loved ones. Are our acts of consumption acts of hope for shared prosperity?

The idea grabs hold of me as I think back on the past few weeks of shopping for a car and shopping for gifts. Here is a portion of Anderson's essay from God's Politics.

A gratitude economy involves, I think, a more spiritually conscious consumerism. It is no better to wallow in guilt about our need to buy things than to flaunt our ability to buy while considering ourselves specially blessed. It will not advance global justice to focus simply on what not to buy; rather we also have the responsibility to buy the right things –- for ourselves and for our brothers and sisters worldwide.

As we go about our shopping or no-shopping in the next days, why not say a prayer dedicating the buying and giving and receiving and yes -– our stuff — to God?

May the food we eat feed those who farmed it. May the things we buy support those who fashioned and shipped and sold them. For everything we enjoy from your good earth, God, thank you.

And if the purchase doesn’t sit right with the prayer –- well, maybe that’s a sign to put it back on the shelf.

This is a good place to link a video I saw recently from a group called the advent conspiracy. Take a look at it. It is not a new idea, but a good presentation of ideas long promoted by people like Alternatives for Simple Living and BPFNA.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Buy Nothing Day Report

We had a good Buy Nothing Day in the cold gray weather. We had coffee, ate leftovers (including pie), ran into friends, slept late, did some organizing, walked around in downtown Asheville and made a visit to the grocery store, where we did buy something (we're not legalists).

A few friends in Philadelphia got together to announce the good news of being together and caring for one another. Here is a video they posted. Enjoy it.

Bailout 9: Will Obama's Advisers Learn from Their Own Mistakes?

The New York Times printed a good editorial expressing the reservations I share with many people about the President-Elect's chosen economic advisers. Larry Summers helped to craft the deregulation of derivatives. Timothy Geithner played a role in scheming the strange and problematic bailouts of financial institutions in the past couple of months. Neither one of them gave early warning of the housing bubble that has caused our current crisis. Will they do better next time? We must make sure our representatives know we are concerned, and let Mr. Obama know that he needs to be listening to more than the same people who were architects of a building in ruins.

Obama's critics jumped all over a phrase he used in a conversation with a plumber's assistant in Ohio. He remarked that everyone in financial difficulty, from top to bottom, would benefit together if we "spread the wealth around." Dean Baker points out that Secretary Paulson, Chairman Bernanke, and the Bailout planners are busy with their own plans to "spread the wealth around." Who is using government to transfer wealth from some citizens to others? Wells Fargo, a beneficiary of the bailout (announced that ten top executives of Wachovia) the bank they were able to buy because of the bailout, would be eligible to receive an average of $10 million each for severance. That money is coming from somewhere. I thought the banks were out of funds. Oh, yeah--taxpayers have to pay it. Talk to your representatives.
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