July 6, 2012

Barclays Influence

State legislatures across the country are passing voter suppression laws ostensibly to prevent fraud.  While over thirty states have considered regulations requiring people to present government-issued photo IDs to vote, up to 11% of American citizens lack such identification.  The requirement would make it more difficult for certain people—especially the elderly, blacks, students and people with disabilities—to vote. 

Here is a summary of other similar actions that have been taken:

  • Three states passed laws to require documentary proof of citizenship, though as many as 7 percent of American citizens do not have such proof.
  • Seven states shortened early voting time frames, even though over 30 percent of all votes cast in the 2008 general election were cast before Election Day.
  • Two state legislatures voted to repeal Election Day registration laws, though Election Day registration increases voter turnout by 10-12 percent.
  • Two states passed legislation making it much more difficult for third-party organizations to register voters—so difficult, in fact, that some voter registration organizations are leaving the states altogether.

Proponents of voter suppression legislation have failed to show that fraud is a problem anywhere in the country.  For example, despite the Department of Justice’s 2002 Ballot Access and Voting Integrity Initiative, which promised to vigorously prosecute voter fraud, the federal government obtained only 26 convictions or guilty pleas between 2002 and 2005.  Other studies consistently find that voter fraud appears to be extraordinarily rare.  

At the same time as these steps are being taken, corporations have been given the extraordinary ability to sway votes through unlimited campaign contributions.  One case in point goes beyond the believable into the realm of the surreal.  Barclays, the bank that has acknowledged irregularities among its traders, has been revealed to be the ninth largest bundler of campaign funds to the Romney campaign.  What its traders were apparently doing was to go into cahoots with at least four other banks to manipulate the London Interbank Offering Rate (or LIBOR).  LIBOR is a floating interest rate that $350 trillion of financial contracts, including residential mortgages, reference.  The effect of this manipulation conceivably led to instances in which mortgage borrowers were made to pay too high a rate in order to improve the profit performance of Barclays traders. 

Barclays has been a vocal critic of financial regulation and with its access to corporate profits and a network of well-heeled bankers, is able to influence American voters.  But the thing that is most bizarre about this is that Barclays is a British—not an American—bank.  In other words, a foreign corporation that wants to reduce its regulatory scrutiny despite a spotty ethical track record is bundling millions of dollars to support a candidate who has vowed to dismantle the legal framework built to prevent another financial collapse.   If we don’t recognize something incredibly dangerous in all this, we’re not paying attention.  While it is becoming increasingly difficult for American citizens to cast their votes, even foreign corporations are expanding their influence in our elections.  

July 5, 2012

The Bible's Morality

The more one reads from the scriptures, the more it becomes apparent that a great deal of it should not be taken as useful, or even moral.  For example, the premise that God would select a chosen people and make enemies of everyone outside that group should make any moral person shudder.  Can we really find joy in the vengeance of the Psalmist as it is written in 137:8-9?
O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.  Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.
The New Testament, too, is not without fault and Paul is especially problematic.  To me, Paul never really became converted to the gospel.  Rather, he took what was most abhorrent from the Old Testament and amplified it, telling the Galatians, for example: "I would they were even cut off which trouble you."  In doing so, he encourages men to emasculate themselves to achieve the aims of heaven.  But this is not all.  In Ephesians he tells slaves to obey their masters, thereby giving tacit approval for this barbaric institution.

If we were to accept every tenant of the Old Testament, we would be spending all our time executing people for crimes that are inconsistent with even the eye-for-an-eye admonition of Moses.  Here is a short list of offenses that deserve death:
  • Stubbornness and overeating--Deut 21:18-21
  • Cursing--Lev 24:13-14
  • Disobeying the Sabbath--Exod 35:2
  • Touching pigskin--Lev 11:7-8
Apparently God doesn't like football!  With regard to these and other flaws in scripture, the theologian, John Shelby Spong, says:  
I am now convinced that institutionalized Christianity has become so consumed by its quest for power and authority--most of which is rooted in the excessive claims for the Bible--that the authentic voice of God can no longer be heard within it...  The constant attack of right-wing voices on Christian scholarship is a clear tip-off that they cannot face reality.  When people cannot deal with the message, the ancient and still regularly practiced tactic is to shoot the messenger.