Where Do Our Clothes Come From?

Photo BenefitsOfYogaNow.com
Photo BenefitsOfYogaNow.com

Many readers come to this blog by googling this very question. Well if you’ve been watching the news recently you’ve seen exactly where most of our clothes come from; they come from unsafe sweatshops just like the clothing factory that collapsed in Bangladesh killing murdering hundreds of workers.

Why murdering? Because factory owners and the Western retailers (barely mentioned in the article) knew the factory was unsafe – yet the decision was made that higher corporate profits for American retailers are more important than other people’s lives.

This is what American terrorism looks like. Everyday.

As consumers, we are morally culpable if we choose to do nothing. One can not be neutral. Either we actively work to demand fair wages and safe working conditions for the products we buy or, in doing nothing, we actively demonstrate our belief that human life has no value.

Where do your clothes come from?

You may also like Where Do Our Clothes Come From? and Women’s Apparel Industry is Asleep.

Time to Tax Wall Street

Note: This post was originally published Oct. 24, 2012, but seemed timely to revisit now.

In my last post I asked why neither candidate ever proposes eliminating the capital gains tax subsidy (increasing the capital gains tax rate) as a way to decrease the deficit. Today I will remind readers of another way to reduce our deficit – that is by using a financial transaction tax. Why not tax Wall Street? After all Wall Street bankers didn’t hesitate to use predatory lending and dubious financial instruments to take the home equity savings of millions of Americans.

A financial transaction tax would tax those who can afford to have investments – namely the well off – and easily create funding for those who struggle – namely the working poor.

It is estimated that a paltry 50 cent tax on every investment transaction over $100 would result in additional tax revenue of $350 billion each year! That’s enough to cover our annual budget deficit and then some.

Not surprisingly, the EU has already realized that a financial transaction tax would be way to take back some of the money hijacked by the financial industry and currently ten countries are working toward instituting a transaction tax. Read more here and here.

The banking industry has been a draining trillions of assets from the American people for far too long in the form of bailouts and artificially suppressed overnight bank lending rates. Time to return some of these ill-gotten gains to the public purse.

But ask yourself, “Why is taxing Wall Street never discussed as an option?” “What happens when our government representatives are over privileged elites who consistently vote in their own interests rather than considering the common good?”

You may also like another topic not discussed by either candidate – Extreme Weather – and it’s impact on everyone, but especially on those made poor.

Eliminate Capital Gains Tax Subsidy

Note: This post was originally published Oct. 23, 2012, but seems timely to revisit now.

With so much talk about our annual budget deficit, national debt, income inequality, reducing benefits and raising income taxes by both candidates – I’m surprised neither party ever mentioned eliminating the capital gains tax subsidy by returning the capital gains tax to the income tax rate. It’s a logical option. Why should the profits made on investments be taxed SO MUCH LOWER than income earned through hard work? It’s a huge tax subsidy given to those who need it least and whose corporations use our government funded infrastructure the most – paid for through the courtesy of the rest of us.

Other options for raising tax revenue like adding sales taxes or a value added tax (V.A.T.) will always be regressive – that is – hurting those made poor who must spend nearly all of their earned income. Likewise raising earned income tax rates hurts those made poor rather than those who are over privileged (i.e. the rich) who don’t actually earn income, but receive money from profits on investments.

Those who have the luxury of living off their investments can most afford to pay more in taxes. Eliminating the capital gains tax subsidy by increasing capital gains tax rates is a logical way to increase revenue from the group most able to pay it.

I’m not the only one who thinks so – read more here and from a recent Washington Post article here.

But ask yourself, “Why is raising the capital gains tax rate never discussed as an option?” “What happens when our government representatives are over privileged elites who consistently vote in their own interests and in the interests of their biggest campaign financiers rather than considering the common good?”

Next up: Another way to reduce the deficit that presidential candidates never mention.

You may also like Luck or Privilege? and Myth of Objective Reporting.

Unfair By Design

Americans are notorious for not wanting to look at the systemic problems underlying many of our social ills. For example, we’d rather believe that if we vote for the right politician or political party our problems will be solved – rather than tackle the underlying systemic problem of campaign finance reform and lack of term limits that keeps politicians of both parties beholden to big financial, military and corporate interests. Far easier to turn politics into a competitive sport where we pick a political party more or less like a sports team and cheer for our side to win.

We’d rather tell ourselves that charities should take care of those made poor and those who struggle with health problems or tragedies, rather than look at the huge wealth transfers (regressive rates, deductions) for the middle class, elites and corporations designed to take wealth unfairly from others. Wealth transfers are designed into our tax code. They can be designed out as well.

We’d rather think that millions of home foreclosures were due to the personal failings of homeowners rather than the predatory lending practices, high risk hedging and multi-trillion dollar bail-outs of the too-big-to-fail-banks encouraged by the repeal of banking regulation laws. This mortgage boom-bust was designed by lawmakers acting in the interests of the financial industry.

We’d rather tell ourselves that tolerance and warm feelings toward people of color will solve systems of white privilege and racism, rather than face and dismantle the wealth-transferring discrimination built into our legal, educational and corporate systems.

Many work for or against legalizing marriage for all, rather than acknowledge that systemically, the social benefits assigned arbitrarily to those who are married could and should be made available to all, independent of marital status, and how conventional marriage creates poverty for women and children by design.

Others want to believe that raising the eligibility age for social security or medicare is not the same as privatizing them (meaning giving all the attendant fees and insurance dollars to corporations) when it is exactly that. Health care, like clean water is a basic human right. Without adequate social safety nets crime, corruption and violence will radically increase in our society. Not a country or a world I want to live in.

It’s no different for religious institutions. Within the Catholic church, for example, many feel that ordaining women will solve the governance problem in the church. But it is the ordination system itself that allows for one voice to trump all within a community. Those who are ordained in this system are formed in such a way that they are predisposed to elitism, privilege, self-focus with no accountability. This creates a situation that fosters corruption and abuse. Lack of financial transparency within the church similarly promotes unethical and immoral behavior. Ordaining women will not change these fundamental flaws designed into this system.

Our refusal to look at or discuss underlying systems persists because doing so would take time, require self examination and is complex. It’s easier to focus on personal charity, personal spirituality or personal failings of high profile individuals. But this is to fail ethically and morally because we are all interconnected and interdependent. We either work to transform unjust systems or we are part of the corruption.

Refusing to learn about systemic injustice makes us morally culpable. There are no easy answers or quick fixes. However, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t endeavor to work for systemic change. We’ve had the moral courage and tenacity to make systemic changes in the past (ending slavery, women voting, environmental laws, human rights, etc.). A better future for everyone requires it.

You may also like Time to Tax Wall Street and True Freedom.

Why Don’t Catholics Vote the Same?

You may have noticed that Catholics didn’t vote as a group in recent elections. “Why not?” you may ask yourself. Don’t they all believe the same thing? Don’t they vote the way their bishops or the pope tells them to?

Some may ask, “Aren’t all Catholics Republican?” Or, depending on where you live you may ask, “Aren’t all Catholics Democrats?”

Actually both answers are “no” and “no.” Catholics don’t all believe in the same way and neither political party is truly Catholic. Some Catholics have a good understanding of Catholic Social Teaching preferencing those made poor and those who are oppressed, as well as caring for life from womb to tomb. Many understand that Catholics must inform their consciences, discern and then vote how they determine they are called to vote using the foundational doctrine of Primacy of Conscience.

On the other hand, some succumb to the heresy of fideism (blind obedience to authority) and simply vote they way their bishop  indicates without any reflection or consideration. Finally, others simply follow their political party, tribe, family or culture – another form of fideism. Catholics are all over the spectrum in terms of formation, education, training and belief.

Nevertheless, the Spirit is active in the lives of everyone, regardless of the level of education, relationship to an institutional church or political affiliation. The Spirit, around the globe and over time, helps creates the sensus fidelium or the “sense of the faithful” to discern what is moral and what best serves the common good. Vatican II proclaimed that the Church is the people of God (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium 9). Thus, this sense of the faithful becomes part of the teaching of the Church.

The Spirit doesn’t work in a vacuum. No one individual or group has exclusive access to the Spirit. All must cultivate gratitude, an orientation of otherness, an understanding of justice as well as solitude in order to listen to the Spirit. We must read, become educated and listen to theologians and church leaders. God lives in everyone. The incarnation of God in Jesus and the community’s experience of that event confirm this. God or Christ is with us everywhere and always.

It is in listening and sharing our insights as a community that we can come to know what we are being called to do. Conversation, education and sharing various understandings help us to know what is most compassionate and what will best serve the common good. Without ongoing conversation there is no access to the Spirit active in others.

The question for those who name themselves as Catholic is, “How do we listen and discern what the Spirit is calling each of us to do?” God works in the world through our hearts and hands, after all. For Catholics it is not “What would Jesus do?” It is not about following the rules or imitating Jesus’ specific responses to specific situations, even though Jesus  serves as a model of compassion and justice. Rather, we allow Spirit to emerge from within and ask, “What is the Spirit calling me to do now in this situation?” This is something quite different.

Each of us is unique with unique experiences of life and of Spirit. The decision for any question, issue or situation, therefore, may be different for each of us. And that is just as it should be.

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