Pharaohs in America

A little sermonizing

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born January 15 and died on April 4th. Between those dates we might all reflect upon our dreams for the world. Here are mine. With all the world’s failings and shortcomings, I still have a dream.

It’s partly about hunger and poverty: I have a dream that, one day, every sister and brother on earth will have reasonable access to the elements supporting life — safe water, sanitation, basic education, basic health care — so that they need not live in fear that they face mortal danger simply in living.

It’s about harmony with Nature: I have a dream that, one day, humanity will unite in the pursuit of protecting and preserving the balance of nature, wildlife and wild spaces — environmental sustainability on earth.

It’s about human rights and civil rights: I have a dream that, one day, all people in all cultures will see the inherent value and dignity of all others, as an expression of the infinite possibilities for personal development and appreciation we all can know.

It’s about being part of a human community, a beloved community as Dr. King described it, where everyone’s needs matter: So, I have a dream that, one day, leaders in all public and private arenas will embrace the liberating principle that we have more to gain by sharing than hoarding; more joy to experience through inclusion than exclusion; more satisfactions to share in pursuing the common good and general welfare than achieving personal wealth or national power; more life to give through cooperation than war.

Now, I believe that this vision resonates in the hearts of most people alive in the world today. So, why can’t we achieve it?

I say it’s because there are Pharaohs who don’t want it. The Pharaohs believed they should have pyramids constructed by hundreds of thousands of slaves. Pharaohs always believe they deserve riches while millions around them have nothing.

There are Pharaohs in the world today. Every generation has them, and they use their intelligence, their political skills, every resource at their disposal to hoard mountains of riches at others’ expense.

Pharaohs know that the only way for some to have such wealth is for great masses of people to live in poverty — slavery if you will — serving the minority who enjoy special privilege. And if the children of the masses die of preventable disease or malnutrition, or if the elderly parents of the
masses live in terrible poverty, eating pet food because that’s all they can afford, well, then, so what? “Survival of the fittest is the way of the world,” they say. “Poor people wouldn’t appreciate wealth if they had it.”

In many Latin American nations, a wealthy minority often runs the government, the businesses, the Police and Army, while a huge majority under-class remains perpetually poor. This model of a “Banana Republic” has been a stereotype for centuries — always politically unstable because of the desperate efforts of the poor to attain their fair share.

If you’ve visited Central America, you have seen it. The rich live behind walls in expensive homes, driving their Mercedes past the ghettos where poor children sort garbage at the dump. Such poverty must be enforced.

In the United States, life was like that at the height of the Industrial Revolution: the late 1800s and early 1900s. What people forget is that the Great Depression came about when America’s warehouses were full of products for sale, but people were so poor they did not have money to buy. The rich had wealth — mountains of wealth — but only the purchases of a healthy middle class can sustain a healthy economy, and America’s economy collapsed in 1929.

It was resurrected by Franklin Roosevelt, who implemented dozens of programs, regulating finance and putting people to work building the things America needed to grow a healthy economy: Railroads. Bridges. Dams for hydro-electric power. Schools. Public buildings. Concert halls like Oklahoma City’s Civic Center Music Hall. Social Security for the first time guaranteed even poor people the right to grow old with some financial dignity. Other programs, like Medicaid, came later, and have proven — dollar for dollar — to deliver care at cost-effective rates. Born since World War II, most of us grew up in America feeling secure from the economic exploitation and abuses suffered in Indonesia, Bangladesh, El Salvador and China.

But an alarm bell has been ringing in my ears for some time that Pharaohs are also at work in the US, and the results of their efforts are manifest all around us.

Over the past 30 years, tax and trade policies passed by Congress are resulting in the ever-growing concentration of wealth among the wealthy, and the flattening and reduction of wages and wealth of everyone else. The disparity of wealth in the US — the gap between riches and poverty — has never in history been as extreme as it is today.

As corporations go global, setting up assembly factories in nations where labor unions are illegal and environmental protections are non-existent, the profits to their stock holders naturally go up, even as the resulting economic fortunes of average American families go down.

As taxes on the wealthy go down, social programs must be shifted to the states, with the result that the rich get richer, and, at the state level, the programs just get cut. Whatever happened to all the programs serving America’s mentally ill? Cut.

America’s social contract — our faith that all Americans are united in common purpose — is being replaced by a profit-driven corporate value system that views American families and workers no differently than workers in Bangladesh or El Salvador.

One reason this has been possible is that those I call Pharaohs have gained control of much of America’s radio and television messages. A whole stable of radio shock jocks speaking over the 1200 stations of Clear Channel Communications, and the Fox News Network, speak with one coordinated voice in support of programs and policies pushed by America’s corporate elite — America’s right-wing.

Rush Limbaugh, Shawn Hannity, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Ken Hamblin, Michael Reagan, Gordon Liddy, Oliver North and hundreds of local wanna-bes parrot a daily agenda supporting whatever America’s corporate elite supports: that tax cuts are good for America because government is the problem; deregulating industry is good; global trade policies are good because they liberate everyone; the war in Iraq is all good, and is only opposed by cowards
and people who hate America. The real threat to America — they say — is the liberals: union organizers, environmentalists, feminists, peace activists, and gay rights activists.

They attacked everything Bill Clinton ever did, although, during the Clinton years, the numbers of federal employees went down, corporate profits went up, unemployment was kept low, and the deficits which Clinton inherited were turned into surpluses.

Well, now the surplus is gone, the deficits are rising, social programs are on the cutting table, and America is in a war which was based on distorted evidence and false hopes. A vast amount of money is being spent in Iraq, with very little oversight, and dozens of US corporations are reaping huge windfall profits as a result.

After 9/11 terrorist attack, the whole world supported the US in bringing Osama Bin Laden and Al Quaida to justice.

But the administration turned that momentum toward War with Iraq, a war I say was unjustified, illegal, and was catastrophically poorly planned and poorly executed, with immoral disregard for the human rights and civil rights of the Iraqi people.

Are these religious issues? You bet they are. If my nation goes to war and kills 100,000 people 12,000 miles away, and Christians dare not even ask if the war was justified or a terrible mistake, then I say we have lost our credentials as people following Jesus, the Prince of Peace who would never kill another person for any reason, ever.

And — simultaneously — even in this time of war, the wealthy are acquiring greater personal wealth through tax and trade policies shattering the economic hopes and security of more than half of Americans.

Those radio shock jocks used thousands of hours of air time telling us that war with Iraq was necessary. Many elected officials did the same. Senator Jim Inhofe was interviewed on KTOK’s “Open Mike Live” show, six months before the war started. Mike McCarville asked Inhofe what was happening with Iraq, and Inhofe said, “Well, we know that Saddam Hussein has nuclear weapons, and we know that he has missiles capable of hitting Great Britain. What we want to do is stop him before he gets missiles capable of hitting Oklahoma.” Total fabrication, but statements like that are why we are at war.

The CIA Director responsible for presenting false information about Iraq has now received the Medal of Freedom, and officials who blurred the line between interrogation and torture have been promoted.

Repeating things over and over makes people believe they are true. After the November elections, 41% of Americans said they still believed Saddam Hussein had supported Al Quaida and had weapons of mass destruction — but the investigative committees actually headed by Republicans concluded in their reports that Iraq did neither.

Forbes Magazine reports on the wealthiest people in the world every year, and they say some 300 Americans are billionaires today — a billion dollars is a thousand million. That’s the wealth of nations. The numbers of millionaires has risen as well, while median family incomes are going down.

But apparently they believe there’s not enough wealth at the top end yet, because our government is moving ahead to dismantle more of the social structures and public institutions put in place over the past 70 years which pulled America out of the depression, gave millions hope for a better life, and created the American Middle Class.

They’re waging war on Social Security — once again instilling fear with misinformation that it is going bankrupt. I say it’s just more of the war of the wealthy against the common people — and the environment.

I have never been as apprehensive as I am today about the leadership or direction of America. They are turning America into a society that justifies greed, violence, and war. I think it is dangerous, immoral, indefensible, and unnecessary.

The people of Poland suffered under an oppressive regime, but it was replaced, without war, by the Solidarity Movement, installing the government of Lech Walesa.

In the Philippines, the oppressive regime of Ferdinand Marcos was replaced by a nonviolent citizens movement which resulted in the election of Cory Aquino as president.

In South Africa, after 100 years of unjust rule by the Apartheid government, universal suffrage of black — as well as white — citizens was achieved nonviolently, and Nelson Mandela, newly released from 27 years in prison for noncooperation with Apartheid laws, was elected President.

War makes huge profits for corporations, but it kills tens of thousands of innocent bystanders; it arouses new resentments and rage which fester for decades; it renders its soldiers emotionally traumatized and Physically sick, as was the case in Vietnam, and, we are learning, is also the case in Iraq. I just read about a young veteran of the Iraq War, living in Bethany, Oklahoma, who
recently committed suicide.

War is probably no longer a positive solution to the world’s challenges.

If America could take the amount of money we spend every WEEK in the Iraq war, and add just that much, each year, to our foreign assistance budgets supporting things like immunizations, inoculations, oral rehydration therapy, AIDS, TB, and malaria treatment, microcredit lending for self-employment, it would triple the amount we currently spend on such efforts. If the US could add just
the small amount we spend every week in Iraq — just $5 billion — to our annual investments addressing global poverty, I believe America would be viewed around the world as the most benevolent nation on earth.

Imagine Al Quaida then, trying to recruit suicide bombers to hurt America. The response would be: “Are you crazy? America paid to immunize my child, and is fighting AIDS, TB and malaria in my country. You want to hurt America? Find somebody else.”

We are called by God to be people of God, discerning what is truly God’s agenda here on earth. And I say that if God’s agenda includes concern for the poor, the downtrodden and the outcast, reconciliation and peace among nations, and stewardship of Nature, then I fear America has drifted far off the beam.

And, in this nation whose government is the product of citizen action and voting, our government will implement policies in the common good and general welfare only if we citizens are demanding that they do so.

Politics always requires compromise — we know that — and we must always work with the elected officials we have, because they are the only government we have.

But, as people of faith and conscience, neither should we ever compromise the principles and values that motivate us and inspire us to hope and work for a better world.

The nonviolent revolutions which took place in Poland, the Philippines, and South Africa would have been called impossible — by any realist — just ten years before they actually happened. They remind us that we can never envision what is actually possible if we will just keep trying. They remind us that it always seems darkest just before the dawn.

So, I still have a dream, that all the things I want for the world can come to pass — not because leadership or Pharaohs will ever hand it over to us — but because our collective voices, our united spirits, our hopes, dreams, and prayers will make anything else impossible.