Tag Archive: economy


Sometimes I can’t decide if I’m a bleeding-heart Democrat, a Libertarian or an Anarchist at heart. Depends on the day of the week and how much fiber I had for breakfast, I guess.

On the one hand, I feel morally compelled by my faith to advocate for social support programs that help the poor or marginalized. I’ve been a vocal advocate for single-payer universal health care and for so-called “welfare” programs. I’ve also been a member of the ACLU and I’ve spoken out for the rights of people to do, believe or say things I find reprehensible.

So what the hell am I?

When I look to the Bible for guidance, I find many cases where we are called, not just as individuals, but also as a community, to care for those with less than us. So this seems to be an argument for a more left-leaning, almost Socialist kind of system.

But then I consider things like the teachings of John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg, who point out that it was the creation of coinage that led to the relative enslavement of so many from the Biblical era. Whereas people had lived as subsistence laborers and had bartered for what they needed, the introduction of money allowed governments to control – and therefore, tax – everything from the land to the fish in the seas and lakes.

I also look at the institutional church and convenient marriages that have led to theocracy, genocide, mass persecution and oppression of millions, even to this day, in the name of God. Maybe, I wonder, we’d be better off if the whole thing was dismembered, piece by piece, until we were back to what we started with: a movement consisting of passionate studiers and preachers of the ways of Jesus. No budgets, no staff, no power over others.

In my Utopian imagination, groups like the Church (big “C”) nonprofits, families and individuals would fulfill all of the needs of their sisters and brothers, thus eliminating the needs for such government-run social safety nets. But again, this is just a dream. After all, the counter to this Democratic system of governance is our capitalist economic system that depends on self-interest, greed and excessive consumption.

So what’s the answer? More government? Less government? No government? And the same goes for the church. Are we doing more harm than good?

We can ponder and worry over these kinds of things to the point that we end up paralyzed by it all, but that’s not what we’re called to as Christians. Even Jesus acted or spoke, and then changed course as his eyes were opened to a greater reality (see the story about Jesus calling the Canaanite woman a dog). Fred Craddock actually said something recently in a sermon that helped me sort this out for myself. I know, leave it to Fred to lay some heavy thing on your in his trademark, “aww shucks” way.

Fred was preaching about Jubilee, the time in the Jewish calendar when all debts were to be forgiven. He suggests that this probably never actually happened. So why bother talking about it? Are we making empty promises to string along those shackled with indebtedness?

The notion of Jubilee actually is a necessary hope for us to maintain, Fred says, much like my image of a society that is mutually nurturing enough that we have no more need for nonprofits or government support services. It’s that ideal, whether attainable or not in reality, that draws us forward toward the place where we need to end up.

It’s the same sort of hope that undergirds liberation theology, and that is woven into the words “Thy Kingdom come” in the Lord’s Prayer. Is God’s love fully realized in the world? In some ways yes; in others, not yet. Are government, the institutional church or private nonprofits the silver bullet we seek, or just another cog in an opportunistic, soulless machine?

Well, yeah.

If we maintain that hope of Jubilee, whatever form that takes in our God-inspired imaginations, then the tools we use to strive toward that goal are less important than the aspiration itself. For now, I’ll keep voting, and I intend to keep on paying my taxes, but the day I breathe a sigh of relief and begin to believe that I’ve divested myself of personal responsibility because any of these institutions are taking care of it, I afford them the power to become something much worse.

Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004.

Christian is the creator and editor of the BANNED QUESTIONS book series, which include BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

For more information about Christian, visit www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.

Newspin

Pueblo Going Nuclear?

(Originally printed in PULP)

Everyone’s aglow about the prospect of nuclear power coming to southern Colorado. Given the ongoing plant disaster in Japan, it seems the timing for such a proposal could not be worse, though the plans for the 24,000-acre Clean Energy Park southeast of town were moving ahead well before then.

Lawyer and local resident Don Banner is at the helm of the proposal, which would develop in three phases. At present, he’s seeking rezoning for the giant swath of land in eastern Pueblo County for a PUD, or Planned Unit Development.

As Banner himself noted, there are scores of factors that would have to fall into place for his plan to work, only one of which is local support. But he claims, too, that the only way to bring together other green energy components of the park. such as wind, solar, biomass and geothermal, is to go nuclear, to the tune of a 1,000 megawatt plant, give or take a few watts.

There’s plenty of hyperbole around such an explosive issue, so let’s set aside the Simpsons-like images of fish with three eyes long enough to get a little bit more perspective on what’s at stake.

PRO

It’s easy to hedge at plans for a nuclear power plant, reacting with a knee-jerk sense of fear. From Chernobyl to Three Mile Island, the fallout from a nuclear plant failure ain’t pretty. But Banner argues that the fears are generally overblown. Chernobyl’s substandard engineering doomed it from the start, and Three Mile Island – the only nuclear plant to fail on US soil to date – cannot be connected to any actual deaths, according to Banner.

The new plant would be far superior to either of the aforementioned plants, he says, and it would be located in a relatively remote area, buffered on all sides by thousands of acres of the Clean Energy Park. As for security, the storage facilities where the spent fuel rods are kept after use have been tested against the heartiest potential air attacks, standing firm in the face of fire.

On the upside, we would enjoy hundreds of Davis Bacon-wage jobs over the several years it would take to build the plant, followed by up to a hundred permanent jobs that pay well above average for power plant work. In addition, more than a dozen interest groups organized by Banner, from local schools to nonprofits, would share in hundreds of thousands of dollars donated back to the community.

The average Joe Consumer would stand to benefit from Banner’s proposal to contractually require the utility company that builds the plant to sell power generated to Pueblo residents, the price of which would be equal to the cheapest rate offered to any other community. Pueblo would benefit from the taxes the plant would push back into the local economy, and Banner suggests that the number of secondary jobs due to the new plant could grow into the hundreds.

Another big question is water.  We’re more or less in the middle of the desert here, and nuclear plants require water to keep the fission process under control. Though Mr. Banner points out that the volume of water needed will depend largely on what kind of plant a developer can place on the land, he projects that consumptive water use (the amount that can’t be returned directly to the water system) could be as low as 125 acre-feet per year.

CON

It’s well and good to claim no lives lost during the Three Mile Island catastrophe, but some studies have projected that upwards of 5,000 will eventually die because of complications related to radiation exposure from the site. This is not to mention the risks to the livestock, land and other natural resources which could be affected for hundreds of years or more, should an accident happen.

So the silos where the radioactive spent fuel rods are stored (on-site, by law, for at least sixty years) may be sturdy, but are we inviting terrorist attacks by having such materials lying around? And, current US law requires that the uranium be removed from reactors and stored before it reaches weapons-grade level. This means it still has the potential to be converted to weapons-grade uranium, which seems to invite trouble.

Most of the construction work would be temporary, and yet we’d be left to contend with nuclear waste for generations. And who is responsible for decommissioning the plant after its projected 60- to 80-year life? If history is an indicator, the plant operators will walk away and leave local taxpayers with the bill.

Pueblo is developing a reputation for being the dumping ground for power plants other folks need but don’t want in their own back yards. How much of the power created will actually stay in Pueblo? And doesn’t having the plant in our county warrant a little bit more of a homeboy discount?

Jobs are fine, but if folks don’t have water to drink, what good is economic development? How many hundreds or thousands of acres of farmland will dry up as a result of water purchased for the power plant, and how many agricultural jobs will dry up as a result? Will the water that passes through the plant damage the streams into which it is released? Is nuclear power our last, best hope to stem the effects of global warming, or are we just passing on the problem in another, possibly more dangerous, form to future generations? Can we afford the water? Are we even sure the net to Pueblo is positive when all is told?

And the debate rages on.

My Take

Comparing the proposed plant to the one in Japan impacted by a 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami really isn’t fair. Neither is in the cards for Pueblo. And yes, modern plants have many more safeguards than those from decades past. But aside from moral, safety and security arguments, there’s the question of what we want Pueblo to be.

Will we continue to produce for wealthier communities what they need, yet refuse to provide for themselves? And will we use our limited water resources to do so, for the promise of a fleeting handful of jobs and some negligibly cheaper power? Or are we something more?

Our bountiful sun and wind position us to be industry leaders in renewable energy, setting a standard that others around the world will long to follow.  Do we want to invest in decades-old technology that may be at its apex, or should we focus on developing energy technologies that have more potential without the negative environmental impact?

We’ve gotten a start with the likes of Vestas and the proposed solar arrays here and in the San Luis Valley. But we have to believe that we’re more than a repository for the rest of the state’s undesirable industries.

Finally, we’ve created this beat of need for power with our own unbridled consumption habits. If we’re really worried about what the risks of such power sources will be for any community – not just ours, the only real solution is to reduce consumption.

It’s been said that the two-fold path to happiness includes both making more and needing less. Only one is a path that leads anywhere. We have to choose our own path.

NewSpin@ PuebloPULP.com

Deconstructing Pueblo’s inferiority complex

By Christian Piatt

(Originally printed in PULP)

If I had but one wish for our community in the new year, it would be to eliminate the qualifier “for Pueblo” from our collective vocabulary.

I went downtown a few weeks ago to hear a screaming jazz ensemble with my friend Barclay Moffitt, that took the group to new melodic heights with his tenor sax. Though still a college student, Barclay has worked on several studio recording sessions with pros, and currently is on a full scholarship at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Back for his winter break, he sat in with a handful of other musical savants and cranked out some of the finest bossa nova, bebop and ballad standards anyone could hear most anywhere, especially on a Tuesday night.

“These guys are really good for Pueblo,” a person nearby said in a tone that clearly was not meant to be secretive. “Where are they from?” When told all of these folks were home-grown talent, they blinked in disbelief, as if such cultural sophistication defied the laws of Pueblo physics.

These guys were good enough for most anywhere, not just Pueblo. So, why say such a thing? And why the surprise? After all, in a country of some 130,000 people, can’t we figure that there will be at least a smattering of folks who are really pretty amazing at most anything we can think of? Or do people believe that Pueblo is an exception to the rule when it comes to quality?

I asked some of our local public leaders their thoughts about this, since I’m sure they bump up against this kind of mentality even more than I do. Angela Giron, our recently elected state senator, offered an interesting anecdote related to this very subject.

“I have a friend, Theresa (she managed my campaign),” says Giron, “who is a community organizer in Pueblo with the Colorado Progressive Coalition.  Following the election, she was diagnosed for the second time in five years with breast cancer.  She is committed to receiving treatment in Pueblo but has received lots of ‘advice’ to leave town to get a second opinion.

“People seem to be genuinely shocked that she is opting to be treated in her home community.  We have had several discussions about this.

“I believe the inferiority complex stems from our identity as a blue-collar steel town.  That class bias, coupled with a geographic identity and culture that seems to find greater affinity with Northern New Mexico than the Northern part of Colorado, has historically left Pueblo (and much of Southern Colorado) on the outs.

“When you come from a community that is working class and 50 percent Latino, it is no surprise, given the history of this country and region, that we have issues with internalized inferiority.”

County Commissioner Jeff Chostner has a different perspective. “I don’t think Pueblo has an inferiority complex,” he says, “but I do think our history has made us look more inward than outward. I believe that is one of our challenges, particularly with regard to economic development, and in other areas as well.

“We are trying to do more outreach with the rest of the Front Range in integrating our economies and cultures.  As more businesses locate in Pueblo and more folks come to Pueblo County, I think you will see us take a more prominent role in Colorado and there will be less introspection.”

So is it a matter of internalized inferiority? Or are we buying the baloney that’s peddled about us up north? Maybe, as Chostner suggests, it’s more a matter of cultural isolation than it is an issue of a “less than” mentality.

Though I’d like to lean more in the commissioner’s direction, my gut tells me Sen. Giron is more on the mark. And based on my discussions with lifelong locals, it doesn’t seem like a state of mind that’s only come along since the steel bust some decades ago. Maybe it starts with what we’re telling our kids, how we help them understand their own worth and, by extension, the value of the community in which they’re raised.

I expect that, as institutions like CSU-Pueblo and international businesses like Vestas broaden the scope of who is drawn to live here, the negative self-doubt ethos will be diluted. That, or it will simply become more concentrated among “lifers” who see themselves as somehow inferior to new imports, simply because of where they come from.

I hope, for the sake of our city and its residents, that we come around to the mindset that it’s the imports who are lucky to have found us, rather than the other way around.

NewSpin: House of the Rising Stench
Written by Christian Piatt
December 2010

There’s a home down the street from us that’s affectionately known by neighbors – particularly those within smelling distance – as “The Toilet.” On warm days, the distinct smells of decaying garbage and slow-rotting feces waft through the air.

Gross, right? Try living by it.

The Toilet, which some might call a rental property, sits at 1724 N. Grand and is the bane of the block. In a neighborhood that has been designated “historic,” The Toilet stands alone as a monument to squalor. From the couch on the front porch to waist-high weeds and crumbling façade, the place looks like it should be condemned.

How can anyone live in such conditions? For most of the past decade no one has lived there, which is part of the problem.

The house, title to which is under the name of Robert P. Mourning, was consistently rented until mid-2003. After the last tenants moved out, the utilities were disconnected and the house sat vacant for the next six years. In the meantime, homeless people regularly broke in and made camp – bathroom included – inside the house, alongside wild animals that found shelter within the decaying walls.

For years, neighbors would occasionally mow the lawn and pick up trash left by homeless visitors in an effort to keep the place from looking even worse. The owner was nowhere to be found, and would not return messages.

When some renters finally moved in, the carpet, which by now was drenched in sewage from a backup in the lines, was tossed into the backyard along with animal excrement, garbage and other goodies. What wasn’t thrown into the yard or the garage was burned in the fireplace, creating a noxious stench that caused several neighbors to call everyone from the sheriff to the health department in an effort to get the place cleaned up.

Oh, and although the new family moved into the place, they did so without reconnecting any utilities, including water. So they used candles to light the space despite the many clear code violations. When regional building staff finally deemed the home uninhabitable until utilities were turned back on, the family simply tore down all warnings and camped inside until the sheriff’s department threatened them with serious consequences if they were found on the grounds except to clean it during the day.

More than a month later, the utilities were reinstated and the young family moved back in, along with at least eight cats and a dog. There seemed to be a revolving door on the house, with various newcomers crashing there from one night to the next. Meanwhile, the animal excrement was tossed into the backyard to mingle with the carpet and other garbage.

You get the picture.

A number of complaints were filed with the health department, and a few times Mr. Mourning was ticketed. But there were a couple of problems with the system. First, the fines cost significantly less than any of the repairs would have been to remedy the issue. Second, no one with any authority followed up to enforce the violations.

Instead, Mourning’s paid a few hundred dollars to satisfy citations over the past decade, and the festering heap of a house continues to decay before the community’s eyes and noses.

When challenged by neighbors of such properties about the relatively impotent code enforcement power the city and county seem to have in such cases, officials balked, saying that their hands are tied by state regulations. This, however, is false, since local communities can establish their own codes and consequences, so long as they are at least as strict as the state’s.

It would be bad enough if this was an isolated incident, but Mourning himself owns more than a dozen properties around town, many of which are in similar shape – or worse. If he were the only culprit, a handful of run-down homes wouldn’t be enough to create a larger negative perception of our city. But he’s not.

So, if slumlords have little incentive to change their ways, and our local officials hedge at giving more teeth or funding to the anemic code enforcement we currently have, what’s a resident to do? For one local citizen, the answer is to take the cause online.

Lori Winner started a Facebook page called Pueblo Houseofshame, inviting people to post photos of decrepit properties with the hope that community pressure would push owners and residents to clean up their act. One can also email photos taken from the street (please, no trespassing) to pueblohouseofshame@yahoo.com This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , along with the address and details about the condition of the site, and Lori will post it for all to see. [See sidebar.]

We all know that Pueblo struggles with an image problem with many tourists and residents from the north. But until we become more proactive about making the change ourselves, and unless regional building officials and other code-enforcement bodies get serious about making it painful for owners to let blight continue, whom can we really blame for the bad rap we have, other than ourselves?

An Update

Over the weekend prior to publication, Lori Winner, moderator of the Pueblo Houseofshame page on Facebook, posted that she had received a “proverbial shot over the bough” and was considering shutting the page down.

In response to P.U.L.P.’s inquiry, Ms. Winner said she had received word from her husband – Jay Winner, Executive Director of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District – that Pueblo police captain Troy Davenport wanted to speak to her. Though her husband gave Davenport her number, Ms. Winner claims he didn’t call her.

The week of November 20th, Ms. Winner wrote to me, stating, “[My husband] Jay’s board member told Jay on Tuesday that Davenport said that ‘police were laughing because they are going to drive by her houses.’ On Friday I [received] 3 citations on 3 different rental properties,” though she claims her properties all are “nice” and that, “The violations are ridiculous, and easily fixed at no cost.” She added, “however I am seeing this as a warning shot.”

Following her husband’s call to one of the board members who had heard the conversation noted above, Ms. Winner received a call from Capt. Davenport, who denied that her properties were being targeted in retaliation for her publicity against run-down properties and the lack of enforcement by local officials.

Davenport told P.U.L.P. that the reason he originally intended to call Ms. Winner was to invite her and her husband to observe how the code-enforcement process works in person. However, when seeking permission for this, other officials from the city told him the Winners already had been offered such an opportunity, so Davenport saw no point in calling her.

Davenport also said that he has no recollection of any such comments being made at any meeting where he was present. He also clarified that the three items issued to Ms Winner’s properties were notices of violation, and not citations, which means the property owner has ten days to remedy the violation without further action.

Davenport said that it is the policy of the code enforcement department to respond to any citizen complaint, including the cases involving Ms. Winner. He also noted that, since all complaints are allowed to remain anonymous, he had no way of knowing who had lodged the complains against Ms. Winner’s properties.

Very pleased to find a strong review in Publisher’s weekly for our new book, SPLIT TICKET, coming out next month. Publisher’s Weekly is one of the – if not the – most influential trades in the publishing biz. So a positive nod from them can go a long way.

To see the review on the PW site itself, click on this link.

To order SPLIT TICKET, click here.

Split Ticket: Independent Faith in a Time of Partisan Politics
Edited by Amy Gopp, Christian Piatt, Brandon Gilvin, Chalice (Ingram, dist.), $16.99 paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-8272-3474-1

At a time when partisan politics involves backbiting and cynicism, here is a collection of essays about politics aimed at unity and hope. In the spirit of a friendly roundtable, the essay writers, mostly 20- and 30-something pastors, each discuss the importance of Christians’ involvement in political activism. The writers represent areas from Los Angeles to Bosnia and take up a variety of causes both systemic and personal, including genocide and affordable housing. Their diversity proves that Christians “are not a monolith” and must wade through what are characterized as competing truths in discerning whether to advocate. Some urge Christians to fight the power of empire, citing the way Jesus challenged the status quo to effect change. Others retreat from activism, citing Jesus’s pacifism. Yet the authors all agree that Christians should work against injustice in some way and should employ peaceful debate to work toward unity. Using their own tales of injustice in a post-9/11 world, they force Christians to wake up and take a stand–even if they themselves cannot agree on exactly what that should be. (Aug.)

Public School Cuts Run Deep
NewSpin
By Christian Piatt

Originally published in PULP

Call it schadenfreude, but I couldn’t help but smile when I read about Dr. John Covington, former Pueblo City Schools superintendent, having to contend with the ugly business of shutting down nearly half of Kansas City’s public schools. Granted, it was clear when he split town for the Midwest that he was entering a hot mess of a district.

But hey, when upward mobility calls, right?

Despite my sadistic need for karma to beat up Covington a little, the closure of 29 schools is nothing short of a crisis for children and families living in the city. Such a dire situation makes some of the recent developments in our own back yard a little easier to swallow.

Schools District 70 announced that, as of next year, it will be cutting back to four-day school weeks to try to balance the budget. Naturally, parents are concerned about the quality of their kids’ education, young ones taking the bus in the dark and what to do with the little buggers an extra day of the week when the rest of the world works.

Many parents in Pueblo are barely making ends meet as it is, particularly in outlying areas covered by District 70, and the challenge of paying for an extra day of child care every week might be the difference between making the car payment and giving it up to the bank. Obviously, the schools are trying to save money, so to stay open just to babysit would make no sense, but what to do?

As a vocal advocate that churches and community service groups should step up when there’s an identifiable need, this is a great opportunity to put words into real action. Some churches offer parents’ night out or daytime relief once a month or so for caregivers. But if retired, unemployed or underemployed congregants could provide a safe haven for children to play and continue learning, it might actually help all of us justify those big buildings that, too often, only get used on Sunday mornings.

The busing issue is more easily addressed. True, there might be days when the buses have to run in darkness or at least twilight, but how many parents are content to leave their children at a bus stop on their own, even in broad daylight? I realize that rural areas tend to create a climate where everyone knows everybody else, but given the fact that sexual crimes against children are usually committed by relatives or family friends, this is hardly an excuse for a lack of vigilance.

When I rode the bus to school – the city bus, mind you, not a school bus – in Dallas, my folks stayed with me until the bus came. Yes, it took time, but it also communicated to me that my safety was a priority. Sometimes we’d carpool and parents would take turns at this job, but even in the winter months when the bus ran into the evening, I knew there was always someone waiting for me on the other end.

Regarding the quality of education, the comments of a teacher friend of mine from District 70 makes the point well. She explained that, given busing schedules as they are now, combined with all the transitions kids have from one class or program to another, it’s hard for teachers to pack in all the curriculum-mandated material they’re expected to cover.

With the four-day schedule, she explained, teachers will still have the same number of contact hours in a week, but with one-fifth fewer transitions. This means longer periods of contact in the classroom, and, according to her, a better chance to cover important content than in a five-day system.

This still doesn’t point to the 800-pound gorilla in the room, the absurdity of a donut-shaped district the educators and administrators are struggling to manage. Meanwhile, Pueblo City Schools sit square in the middle of it all, with some of its schools much closer to District 70 facilities than other schools in their own district.

It’s understandable how reluctant either district may be to consider redrawing district lines or cost-sharing more than they already do, but considering what Kansas City schools are now facing, reshuffling the deck sounds like a much less bitter pill to swallow if funding continues to lag.

Finally, this still doesn’t address the other problem we have in Southern Colorado, which is the value – or lack of it – that we seem to place on public school funding. Ours is one of the absolute lowest in per-capita funding of public education compared to income, and within Colorado, our two districts are near the bottom of that miserable pile.

I understand the resistance to raising taxes, particularly when we’re all hurting financially. But the old adage, “you get what you pay for,” tells only part of the story when it comes to children’s minds. Actually, the lack of investment will have a negative ripple effect, for decades to come, in the form of overburdened social services, swelling criminal-justice dockets, teen pregnancies, dropouts and substance abuse growing unchecked.

Maybe the more appropriate saying is “pay now, or pay later.” The four-day week may be relatively good news, compared to what may be coming if we don’t step up to support public education. Unless we’re looking for John “Hatchet Man” Covington to come back our way and work similar magic for our kids, it’s time to make big changes while we still have a chance.

My wife, Amy and I were watching TV the other night, and a series of commercials came on that told me a lot about who the sponsors of the show thought I was. First, there was a Pepsi ad for this program they have where they give “grants” to people with good, community-changing ideas. Second was a Sun Chips commercial touting their new compostable packaging.

I remarked to Amy about how prevalent this kind of social marketing had become, and did so with no small amount of disdain in my voice, I expect, based on the way she looked at me.

Basically, it’s popular these days for companies to tout their social responsibility to help persuade you to buy their product. From Sun Chips (owned by junk food giant Frito Lay) to Pepsi, and even Coke with their “every time you drink our sugary, caffeine-laced soda, you’re participating in worldwide recycling” promotion, everyone wants to get in on the action. Of course, food and beverage manufacturers aren’t the only one’s getting in on the action. Car manufacturers, clothing designers and all manner of retail chains try hard to give you wamr fuzzies about their products.

On the surface, I know it seems cynical to grumble about companies trying to be socially responsible, even if it only is to better their bottom line. After all, if the result is the same, who cares what their motivation really is, right? But the concern I have hearkens back to my time-tested theory about capitalism at the consumer-level, which is that companies try hard to make us feel good about buying their stuff, and we agree not to ask too many questions, because we’d rather feel good (even if falsely or superficially) about getting what we want rather than doing the hard work of digging deeper for truth and – God forbid – maybe having to sacrifice some wants for our ethics.

First, we should never take a company at their word that what they’re doing is good for us or the planet. As an example, here’s a recent mention about Sun Chips’ installation of a ten-acre field of solar panels to help operate one of their factories, for which they won an “Effie.” This award, it turns out, is not an environmental award, but rather an “effectiveness in marketing” recognition. This from Effie’s website:

On Earth Day 2008, Sun Chips’ factory in Modesto, Calif., opened a 10-acre solar grid so that Sun Chips would be made with solar energy. However, the brand’s users were not hard-core green consumers, and they didn’t care to hear about the details. They just wanted to know they were doing something a little better.

I’m not saying this move to solar is a bad thing, but there are a few questions I’m left wondering about (though evidently, the marketing folks are clear that the general population doesn’t really care):

What percentage of the factory’s total consumption is generated by solar?
Was this part of a government mandate for communities/companies to get certain percentages of their energy from renewable sources, or was it voluntary?
Does the company have any standards for their suppliers and the way they grow, harvest and transport their products?

In short, the idea is to find out if this company seriously is committed to the values they’re promoting, or if it’s simply a photo-op. Before we give ourselves pats on the back for being responsible consumers, we should try to find out.

Second, and perhaps more important, I have concerns that we allow companies who engage in this kind of social marketing to assuage our guilt for our way of life, allowing us to feel like we’ve done our good deed simply buy buying a soft drink or eating chips. Yes, guiding our dollars to more responsible outlets is an important thing to consider, but this doesn’t let us off the hook as human beings, responsible for the care of ourselves, our fellow human beings and the planet. It’s not unlike how some folks figure they don’t have to work hard at making the world a better place all week long, just because they go to church on Sunday.

If the companies we support truly are walking the talk, and if we can verify this, more power to them, and more power to us to support their efforts with our money. And if guiding our purchases in such a way is simply a reflection of a greater effort in all parts of our lives to do right by ourselves and our world, that’s great.

But let’s not fool ourselves; just because we drink Fat Tire instead of Miller Lite or buy our gifts from 10,000 Villages doesn’t mean we don’t have a hell of a lot of work left to do.

I understand that not everyone is a fan of the changes coming with the new health care reform legislation. However, I expect most can understand why at least the 32 million people anticipating having some kind of coverage would beg to differ.

This is not my issue. My beef is with the fear-mongering about the “government takeover of health care.” this is a broken system, and most of us simply find basic health care and insurance untenable. It’s been a problem for decades and nothing substantial has been done, so kudos to those lawmakers who bucked up and spent some political capital to do SOMETHING. But in debating the law’s implications, let’s stick to logistics rather than capitalizing on fear of big government to polarize public opinion.

I would also suggest that such rhetoric is hypocritical for anyone benefiting from any of the following taxpayer-supported programs, which we have “no choice” but to support through our taxes:

Medicare
VA Benefits
Public Education (this includes state universities)
Social Security
Transportation systems (you drive on a road I/we paid for with our taxes)

I could go on, but the point is that ALL of us benefit from taxpayer-supported programs. Sure, health care is a huge portion of our national economy, but how about national defense? I’ve yet to hear a tea party activist complain about their tax dollar going to missile systems or to fund internment camps for enemy combatants. Why is this? isn’t the health of our citizenry at least as important?

For me, this is an issue of theological importance. If Jesus were here today, it would be hard to argue that he wouldn’t chastise us for our treatment of the poor and less privileged, here in the wealthiest country in the world. And while I’d love to see our communities address this and other issues without government intervention, how much longer do we wait? How many more thousands/millions should remain sick or die while we debate how to best reform a broken health care system? How many more decades should we say is acceptable until we say “enough”?

It’s not a perfect bill, and no one is saying it is. But thank God something is changing. At least now we’re taking some responsibility for one of the most sorely neglected issues of social justice we’ve yet to content with as a nation.

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