Independent Christian Voice

Friday

CARTOON CONSCIENCE: Information Highway

Thursday

How Costco became the anti-Wal-Mart

A great article about how Costco is showing that a company can be generous to its customers and its employees, and how Wall Street and it's chief rival Wal-Mart/Sam's Club aren't so happy about it.
Not everyone is happy with Costco's business strategy. Some Wall Street analysts assert that Sinegal is overly generous not only to Costco's customers but to its workers as well. Costco's average pay, for example, is $17 an hour, 42 percent higher than its fiercest rival, Sam's Club. And Costco's health plan makes those at many other retailers look Scroogish. One analyst, Bill Dreher of Deutsche Bank, complained last year that at Costco "it's better to be an employee or a customer than a shareholder." Sinegal begs to differ. He rejects Wall Street's assumption that to succeed in discount retailing, companies must pay poorly and skimp on benefits, or must ratchet up prices to meet Wall Street's profit demands. Good wages and benefits are why Costco has extremely low rates of turnover and theft by employees, he said. And Costco's customers, who are more affluent than other warehouse store shoppers, stay loyal because they like the fact that that low prices do not come at the workers' expense. "This is not altruistic," he said. "This is good business."
> Read the whole article: How Costco became the anti-Wal-Mart The quote by Bill Dreher of Deutsche Bank illustrates the skewed thinking of Corporate America. In Wall Street's mind, short-term returns outweigh long-term impact — i.e. make the buck now and who cares what happens to the company, its employees or society in general. It's a great example of the idea of live for moment, even if you heavily mortgage your future in the process.

Wal-Mart censors views it doesn't like

Here's an interesting story about how Wal-Mart handles "bad press."
Here's why you can't buy the News Journal at Wal-Mart You can't buy the Pensacola News Journal at Wal-Mart anymore. The store ordered us off their property, told us to come pick up our newspaper racks and clear out. So we did. A few people called last week, some even wrote letters to the editor, and wanted to know why they couldn't buy the newspaper at Wal-Mart in the days after Hurricane Dennis. Some managers at Wal-Mart didn't appreciate a column Mark O'Brien wrote last month about the downside of the cheap prices that Sam Walton's empire has brought to America. We all pay a little less, and sometimes a lot less, at the grocery store and department store because of Mr. Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart. > Read full column

Wednesday

CARTOON CONSCIENCE: The insurgency

STORIES FROM A MIRKY QUAGMIRE — #05-001: The victim and the killer

The following story from the July 27, 2005 edition of Salon.com illustrates some of the inherit problems facing both American soldiers and the people of Iraq. It's symptomatic of a mirky quagmire where fear and desperation reign and where hope and goodwill wane.
The victim and the killer Yasser Salihee was an Iraqi journalist. Joe was an American sniper. On June 24, 2005, fate brought them together on a Baghdad street. > Read the story.
(NOTE: Salon.com is a subscription based eMagazine. However, non-subscribers can view premium content by watching a brief ad that gives them a site pass valid for 24 hours.)

Resurrection

After a 6-month hiatus, this blog has been resurrected (with a new name and mission). We've cleaned up previous posts, leaving just the "best of." More to come.

Monday

Repentence of a 'Religious Right' Republican

I have a confession. I am an evangelical Christian... but I didn't vote for George W. Bush in 2004. For the first time in my life, I did not vote for the Republican candidate. Even more so, I actually campaigned AGAINST Bush. In fact, after the primary season, I changed my voter registration from Republican to Independent. I have lost my religion — er, I meant, my party affiliation. I first became "politically aware" in the sixth grade. It was Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign against Jimmy Carter. For reasons I can't clearly remember, I was drawn to this dynamic, inspiring candidate. I couldn't yet vote, but I did my part — I made a campaign sign for him (as part of a class project) and hung it my bedroom. Reagan's crusade to restore nationalistic pride and defeat the evil Soviet empire captivated me and my loyalty to this great leader and this party became ever increasingly entrenched. It was also during this time that I began to dislike — and eventually disdain — the Democratic party. Furthermore, I began to see that the respected Christian leaders of the country were gravitating more conspicuously to the Republican party. If the ordained men of God were endorsing one particular party, why wouldn't I believe that God must have endorsed this Grand Old Party. As a young, impressionable, and passionate citizen, I found myself as a vocal crusader for the Reagan agenda and the Republican Party. By the end of Reagan's second term, I was now eligible to vote. I was proud to be able to finally register officially as a Republican. I became active in College Republicans on my campus and actively campaigned for then Vice President George H.W. Bush's campaign for the presidency. During that Republican National Convention, there was a stirring tribute to Reagan, which deeply seered a special place in my heart for this "greatest" president. Even then, I recognized how well-crafted the multimedia presentation was, with inspiring imagery and soul-stirring music and narration. There was no matching the brilliance of such a well-staged event. Michael Dukakis had no chance of winning the election as Bush rode on the coattails of a popular president with a well-oiled political machine. It was during Bush 1's presidency that I was turned on to a relatively new radio talk show host, named Rush Limbaugh. It started out innocently enough. I listened once or twice a week. Then I couldn't miss the show, going so far as to miss class to make sure I caught it. It was worse when he started his syndicated television show. He was riveting. He was well-spoken. And he was sticking it to all those evil Democrats, environmentalist wackos and the despised Feminazis. He was funny. And he could really dress down any opposing viewpoint and had all these clever, disparaging names for the political villian of the day. In retrospect, he skillfully introduced demonization of ideological opponents in the national political discourse. This powerful rhetoric continued to shape my ideology. I was addicted. Then I began to push Rush on others — first it was other friends, then it was my family. I had become a full-fledged "ditto-head." When the "liberals" (usually spoken with a disgusted tone) and Democrats railed against Rush, I aggressively voiced my defense and expressed animosity toward his critics. Something happened to my hardened, political ideology my fourth (of six) years in college. I started going to a cutting edge church that rocked my whole faith system. No longer was politics and country first. Now God and Christ had taken priority in my life. As I devoted my whole passion now to my rededicated Christian life, my heart began to soften and the hard-edged, intolerant political viewpoint gradually dissolved into a genuine desire to share Christ's message of hope, love and salvation to a lost and hurting world. In my deepening personal walk with Jesus, I began to study His words and His message of grace and mercy. That was a pivotal point in my life that would eventually force me to reevaluate my role and responsibility as a Christian and as a citizen, as well as who I would ally myself with. Early signs of change In the waning semesters of my six-year college career, I began to find my identity and purpose. I was a journalism student with all the passion and enthusiasm of a young, crusading journalist with idealist fantasies of walking in the footsteps of the journalism giants like Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. (For some diehard, dogmatic ideologues, this career path would automatically disqualify me as a credible voice.) At the same time, I continued to grow in my Christian faith. As I more closely studied the Scriptures, I began to see the immense compassion and immeasurable love Christ showed those who were in need, those who were sick and those who were hurting. It was the outcasts and the shunned that He chose to spend most of this time ministering to. And it was the religious elite, who placed the letter of the law above the spirit of the law, that He displayed the most scorn. It was Christ's ministry that began to mold my feelings about and, ultimately, my compassion for my fellow man. Even so, my addiction to Rush Limbaugh continued. After all, he was the steadfast crusader for the conservative cause. I was a Christian and Christians were conservatives — or at least that's what I was led to believe. I was still a loyal Republican, the party where Christians like me could call home. Daily, the "great one" would "expose" the Democratic party for what it was — an evil political machine bent on destroying the moral fabric of our society. How could I not despise these enemies of everything good and holy (other than the fact that Jesus himself said "love your enemies")? My last semester of college, I was appointed the op/ed page editor of our collegiate paper. It was one of the most enjoyable, fascinating and enlightening times of my college career and my life. As the editor, I tried to apply the fundamental rules of journalistic fairness, diligently trying to allow both/all sides an opportunity to be heard. During my tenure, I was called everything in the book by both sides: right-wing radical, left-wing liberal, homophobe, gay rights activist, pro-Democrat, pro-Republican, pro-choice advocate, pro-life fundamentalist, self-righteous ideologue, wishy-washy fence-rider, anti-Christian, evangelical Christian religious nut. In fact, I kept a sign by my computer with each new "title" ascribed to me by the vocal opponents of that day's page — it was a continual source of humor for me (and my fellow newspaper staff members). What it showed me that neither side really wanted an open, honest discussion of issues. Both sides demonized the "other side." And when I allowed opposing viewpoints space on the page, I was apparently an accomplice and promoter of that radical agenda — it didn't matter whether it was on the left or the right. My fundamental belief is (and maybe it's flawed) that if you bring both sides of the issue to the table, then the light of truth will expose the fallacies of one or both sides. Zealots on both sides feared an open discussion and debate; and they all were quick to express their hate to the authors of the piece as well as to me as the page editor. Even though I enjoyed the provocation toward active discussion, I found myself increasingly troubled that some of the most vocal, unforgiving and spiteful critics were from my fellow Christians. In retrospect, it was a prophetic vision of things to come. Rather than challenging opposing positions with honest, reasoned and open debate, these vociferous critics advocated censorship of such "unholy" viewpoints (not as an institution-imposed policy but as a matter of editorial practice by a Christian editor). There was no thoughtful rebuttal; it was little more than character-assassination and hate-filled name-calling. Even so, I remained a loyal, "religious right" Republican. More and more, it was out of a sense of duty, because it was understood that Republicans were the "champions of Christian values." I found myself waning from my addiction to Rush, because his rhetoric lacked compassion to those truly in need and those struggling with life's many issues. He seemed especially contemptuous of social programs, while championing the cause of smaller government and reduced tax burden for those "who pay the most" (i.e. the wealthy). His language became increasingly acerbic. He demonized and dehumanized anyone with an alternate viewpoint. At the same time, he advocated a greater focus on "values" in this country. During the mid- to late-90s, I began to believe that Rush's brand of conservatism (shared by much of the Republican party leadership) was lacking in a greater and greater degree the compassion I saw in Christ. Yet, Christians were supposed to be Republicans because Democrats represented everything immoral — or so was the understanding amongst fellow believers. So I dutifully voted for the Republican candidates (with less and less enthusiasm) in the '92, '94, '96 and '98 elections. In 2000 came a candidate who championed "compassionate conservatism." He openly professed his faith as a "born-again" Christian. A breath of fresh air, I desperately hoped. Here was a Republican presidential candidate who said he reads the Bible and prays daily, and who campaigned on an agenda that would reflect Christ's compassion to those who were in need of help. Despite some bumps in the road (including some unsavory campaign tactics and some problems making sense in his speeches), I was hopeful for his election. Al Gore embodied (in my mind at the time) everything bad about the Democratic party and the direction we didn't want to go. I agonized during the long election night and the following month as our nation waited to learn who are next president would be. At that moment, I believed it to be divine providence that Bush won the presidency. Over the next four years, there would be profound, life-changing occurrences for our nation and for me. Our "innocence" was lost. Our nation would never be the same again. I would never be the same again. Disillusionment brings change I was hopeful about the presidency of George W. Bush. He ran an aggressive and successful campaign based on two fundamental ideas: He was a "compassionate conservative" and "a uniter, not a divider." These were two ideas desperately needed in Washington. I was further encouraged by the fact that the existing Republican Washington establishment, one characterized by bitter partisanship and self-righteous politics, wasn't so quick to embrace this "maverick." It gave me hope that a new way of doing business was coming to town. However, after his inauguration, there were ominous signs of how this administration would conduct business. He quickly appointed several controversial, highly partisan individuals to his cabinet that signaled he was going to push a very conservative agenda that looked quite different from the "compassionate conservatism" that he campaigned on — deeply divided electorate or not. "W" was indeed changing the way things were in Washington, but it wasn't in the way I thought. My hope was quickly disappearing. During his first eight-plus months of presidency, it appeared that he wasn't going to be the great "uniter" or "compassionate conservative" he said he would be. Yes, the administration tried to promote some initiatives that seemed to promote this "compassionate" agenda with programs like "No Child Left Behind," federal support for faith-based charities and school vouchers; yet, the record now demonstrates that there it was more show than substance. Yes, the administration seemed to reach across the aisle toward Democratic stalwarts; yet again, the record demonstrates how the administration really dealt with political opponents with hyperbolic rhetoric that served only to demonize and marginalize. Even so, he was accomplishing very little as a president. His personal approval ratings were dropping. I had lost faith in the president. Then came 9/11 — a day that shook a nation and the world. In its shock and horror, fear and grief, this country came together in a way not seen since Pearl Harbor. Its people rallied around their leader. The world rallied around America. It seemed to be Bush's finest hour. We had a common enemy — Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. Even the most "dovish" of American's was ready to go kick some terrorist ass. As Afghanistan and the Taliban were identified as harborers of this evil, there was little opposition to our military action against them. The pledge from our leaders was that we were going to do everthing in their power to hunt down these terrorists and either capture or destroy them. The world was behind us. Yet, it didn't take long for a new target to emerge — Iraq's evil regime. The administration began to "expose" Saddam's imminent threat to America with his massive programs to produce weapons of mass destruction. Like a drumbeat, the administrations top officials spoke in identical tones of fear and impending doom: Saddam has chemical, biological and even nuclear weapons that he'll give to Al Qaeda to destroy American cities. Anthrax and ricin became household words. The picture of "mushroom clouds" was infused into the American psyche. We were now a nation gripped in fear. Could that have impaired our judgement? The administration geared up for a war with Iraq. The justification: the imminent threat to Americans by massive stockpiles of WMDs held by a rogue nation in the hands of a "madman." This wasn't about oil. This wasn't about regime change (alone). This was about securing and destroying WMDs. Or so we were told. There was a superficial attempts toward a diplomatic solution. Many of our NATO allies and other power player countries in the world were opposed to military action — the same ones who supported our action in Afghanistan. The administration's response was to ratchet up the rhetoric: "You're either with us or you're with the terrorists." America was now a maverick, "damn-to-the rest-of-the-world" country on a mission. There seemed to be a rushed timeline to meet. With everything I was seeing and hearing, I couldn't determine why there was such an intense push to go to war. But, I was willing to trust this president and this administration — they must know something that I don't. After all, this was a Christian president who was worthy of my faith and trust with these difficult decisions, right? Yet, it appears there weren't vast stockpiles of WMDs. Despite repeated assurances by the White House and the Pentagon that they would be found, 20 months later nothing substantive has been found. It seems the intelligence was wrong — woefully wrong. It seems the foundation of our justification for war had crumbled. So, rather than admit that a serious mistake may have been made, the administration began to "nuance" its justifications: this was a brutal, evil regime that oppressed its people and had to go. Now I found myself troubled. Can you change your justification for going to war after you've already started a war? What is sufficient justification for preemptive war? Is it enough that the leader is evil? Aren't there other evil dictators in the world that we've done nothing about? (See a interesting discussion about "What Would Jesus Do about Saddam Hussein?" on the Rational Christianity blog.) What makes the administration's position and actions so egregious, in my opinion, is that it wasn't just mistaken; there was deception in order to bolster the case to justify a marginally justifiable war. The administration went beyond saying that intelligence believes or best estimates show Saddam's regime had WMDs; they stated as fact that these WMDs existed and the imminent threat posed to America and the world. In Secretary of State Colin Powell's address to the U.N Security Council, he was quite specific about the quantities that existed and the methods of delivery that Saddam planned to utilize. During the early stages of the war, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld claimed to know exactly where the WMDs were located and it was just a matter of getting to it. I began to distrust what the administration was saying. The administration's conduct during the Iraq war and the subsequent occupation prompted me to question our participation. Why were we obsessed with Iraq? Weren't there more dangerous countries? And what about Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda? Weren't they the original objectives of this "War on Terrorism"? I then began to question this president and his administration, their motives and their agenda. And then, I began to question everything. A paradigm shift I had become disillusioned. The president was not being honest. Here was a man who campaigned as a "born again" Christian who relied on his deep faith in God. I voted for him because I wanted a "man of God" in the White House. During the dark days following 9/11, I took comfort that we had a praying president drawing supernatural strength and guidance from the ominiscient, omnipotent and omnipresent Almighty. When he made his case for war against Iraq, I trusted in a man of "integrity" who was "hearing" God's wisdom and direction. I trusted him. But the administration, and by default the president, had not been entirely honest with the American people (or maybe even themselves). What else were they not being honest about? When you've been deceived by someone, it's hard to fully trust what they say subsequently. Everything becomes circumspect. What was increasingly troublesome to me was that if you challenged the administration, or the merits of the Iraq war, your patriotism was challenged. There was no room for honest disagreement and debate. The administration villified anyone who questioned the Iraq war's legitimacy; they and their blindly following Republican congressional allies pounced on any dissenter, claiming they were "against the troops." Honest discussion was replaced with highly partisan, hyperbolic rhetoric that borderlined on hysterical (and not the funny hysterical). I began to recognize that the Republican party had become one giant, powerful political machine that demanded unquestioning loyalty and adherence to the party line. It was more interested in vanquishing its foes (both foreign and domestic, strategic and political) than in the long-term interests of the nation. Pride and self-interest seemed to eclipse sound reason and objective awareness. Nationalism usurped brotherhood with our fellow man in this world. Then, I began to examine how this all lined up with Christ's teachings. After all, this president was a professed Christian and this party was the part of the "religious right." Did their fruit reflect the teachings and principles of their adopted religion? It was a sobering evaluation. With the help of my brother, who had been studying these issues meticulously and without prejudice for more than a decade, I researched the historical record through a myriad of resources. I read as many articles and books as I possibly could to try to develop a clear and balanced understanding of the evidence. I looked at domestic and foreign policy track records. I analyzed economic issues and social issues. I explored political tactics, agendas and priorities. In the end, I came to the conclusion that the Republican party was the wrong party for me. The fruits of its efforts seemed to generally be incongruous to the teachings of Christ. One of the most damning indictments relates to economic policies. A resounding theme throughout the Bible is God's concern for the poor and needy; there are repeated admonitions that those who "have" must help those who "have not." Under Republican administrations, the economic gap has grown dramatically and the number of people living in poverty has grown substantially. At the same time, programs to assist the poor and needy are increasingly gutted in funding or outright eliminated. During a fundraising dinner, this president joked: "This is an impressive crowd of the haves and have mores. Some people call you the elite, I call you my base." It may have been meant as self-depricating humor, but the evidence seems to endorse the premise. The other thing that disturbed me was the "religious right," comprised in large part by evangelical Christians, seemed to endorse by default the Republican party without examining the entirity of its priorities and agenda. The GOP political leadership has successfully dangled the carrot of two or three highly divisive "moral" issues in front of evangelicals to lure us into believing it is the party that represents Christian values. It's an even greater indictment of the American Church that it seems so easily blinded by these peripheral issues in the larger perspective of things eternal — but that's left for a more detailed examination in another article. The evidence, too much to enumerate in just one post, seemed overwhelming. God is not a Republican (or a Democrat), as a campaign by Sojourners proclaimed. In fact, this president and his party seem to be on a course that seems quite contradictory to Christ's teachings.