Thursday, December 22, 2016

Do You Understand What You Read?

Then the spirit said unto Philip, “go near and join yourself to this chariot”. And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said: “do you understand what you read?”
And he said, “How can I, except some man should guide me?” And he desired that Philip would come up and join him. (Act 8:29-31)

There is no one way to interpret, and therefore understand, the true meaning of any bible verse. Every pastor, evangelist, and students of the bible – including the congregation and theologians read the same bible verse, or some versions of the bible, and render different interpretations of that same verse. Most of the times, their intent is to make the interpretation suitable or commensurate with the message they want to impart to their audience. The same situation applies to how students in schools of varying levels interpret and understand the textbook they use for their various school courses and exams; that is why some students would study hard and fail their tests, while others will study less and do very well. It is all about your level of understanding and incorporation of the message in what you read.

In the passage under discussion, an Ethiopian Eunuch, a man of great authority akin to a vice-president or Prime Minister of a country; a Chief Executive Officer of a corporation, or in the case of the Old Testament stories, a Joseph to the Egyptian Pharaoh. This man was a man of great authority in the then Ethiopia under the Queen – the utmost authority in Ethiopia as at that time; his status was like that of Joseph in Egypt or Oliver Cromwell in the 1600 England. According to the story, the Eunuch had been to Jerusalem to worship and was on his way back to Ethiopia; it is also obvious that he was new to Christianity, so God saw an opportunity to use him to open up a Christian front in Ethiopia – what better person to use than a man of wide authority who easily had the ear of the ruler Queen. We do not know the name of the queen ruling Ethiopia then, since the word “Candace” was the Latin version of Kandake – a Meroe word used to describe a queen. Historians have even suggested that the queen then was Amanitore who ruled in the 50CE.

Having had a taste of Christianity during his trip to Jerusalem, the Eunuch was thirsty for more; so, he collected articles on the late prophet Isaiah to read on his way home. Problem was that, not being from part of the region where Jesus Christ’s missionary work took place, he was not familiar with the stories that form the bible today. Also, since the missionaries of Paul, Silas, and the other Disciples of Christ had not started, Christianity had not spread widely in Ethiopia beyond the queen of Sheba who visited King Solomon in the Old Testament. So, the Eunuch could be excused for not understanding what the story of Isaiah was all about. In came God, using Philip who happened to be available at that time. God commanded him, specifically, to go “towards the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem to Gaza, which is desert”. God had to be clear in his description to Philip so that he will not miss His subject of interest; his vehicle for the spread of Christianity beyond the Middle Eastern region. We have to remember that many other people were returning to their various towns and communities from having gone to Jerusalem to worship, just as the Eunuch.

Interestingly, that was where God’s instruction to Philip stopped; He never told Phillip that he will meet an Ethiopian Eunuch heading home from Jerusalem; Philip was to discover that all by himself, and God ensured that he will not miss the opportunity to meet with this man traveling in an unusually expensive and well-endowed chariot by urging him to get closer to the chariot, where he overheard the Eunuch reading out loud. For those who might wonder how Philip was able to hear the Eunuch reading, remember that when we are new at reading a text we are not familiar with, we tend to read it out loud, and slowly too, to better absorb it.

“Do you understand what you read?”

Good question! This same question applies to many of us, not just when we are reading the bible, but when we are reading anything that is worth reading for any reason. I have been around groups where members were asked to render their understanding of an assigned passage, and all of us had very different interpretations. Understanding of what we read is very important towards not just for accurate interpretation, but for proper implementation/application of the instructions, be they in the bible or in a textbook. The Eunuch was interested in what he was reading, and desired to understand what the story was all about; however, being a stranger to a new religion, he needed someone to explain things in simpler terms to him. Sometimes, that is all we need to better understand the verses in the bible and get the intended message.

Beyond the bible, understanding what we read is very important; school assignments, an ordinance, accurate interpretation of court verdicts, contractual and partnership agreements, wills and even pre-nuptials where such things are desired. The deeper a person’s level of understanding, the better his or her level of interpretation. Many have fallen victims of many acts of criminals because they could not understand the documents they were reading, and lacked the capability to interpret it properly. Many Christians have misapplied their pastor’s instructions, or biblical teachings, just because they could not understand these teachings. Unfortunately, instead of admitting their lack of understanding and seeking further explanations, they would form their own opinions and run with it.

And he said, “How can I, except some man should guide me?” And he desired that Philip would come up and join him.
The Eunuch, this man of great powers who has the ears of the Nubian queen of Ethiopia, did not see it as humiliating to admit that he did not understand what he was reading; he even went further to ask Philip, whom he has never met, to come on to his chariot and help explain to him. How many people of means and influence will be humble enough to admit that they do not know something and seek the assistance of a “nobody” to educate them? The Eunuch in his request of Philip, expressed the desire to be further educated, which is very important. If we can overcome our ego and superiority complex, and seek the services of those who know better than us, we would be the best for it. Most times, we suffer for lack of knowledge; and we lack this knowledge because we refuse to seek it. We refuse to seek it because the knowledge is, in most cases, possessed by those we consider inferior, until something goes terribly wrong. By then, it is usually too late.

The Ethiopian Eunuch did not want to leave anything to chance; he did not want his ego and position in society to get in the way of acquiring knowledge. He also wanted to be able to say to his fellow rulers: “this is what I learned from my travels. Here, partake of it and your life will be better”. By acquiring knowledge through the understanding of his readings, he will be able to spread the message of Christ to his people. This is what God had intended, not just for the Eunuch but for all of us. If we cannot properly understand the words and teachings of God, we cannot share or spread it; if we learn and understand the wrong thing, that is what we will share; the same thing those we shared it with will pass on to their converts, and the cycle will just continue. When that is the case, what do we get? “People being led like a sheep to the slaughter house, and like lambs dumb before their shearers, so opened they not their mouths”

Felix Oti

(All Rights Reserved)

Sunday, December 4, 2016

What Is Your Situation?

Then the men of the city said to Elisha, “Behold now, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees; but the water is bad and the land is unfruitful”. He said, “Bring me a new jar, and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. He went out to the spring of the water and threw salt in it and said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘I have purified these waters; there shall not be from there death or unfruitfulness anymore.” (2 Kings 2:19-21)

In spite of our efforts to create a facade to mask our internal problems, there is always something that gives our real situations away. Reading this verse reminds me of Sodom and Gomorrah; the land and vegetation were attractive enough for someone like Lot. In Sodom, he saw vast acres of green for his livestock and crops, friendly neighbors and favorable laws, and cheap labor. Unfortunately, there was a lot morally wrong with Sodom and Gomorrah, and God was determined to destroy the land. So, in spite of its beautiful and lush greens, paved roads and magnificent edifice (assumed), and friendly (too friendly in many cases) citizens, the soul of Sodom and Gomorrah was bad and corrupted.

Another reminder is Enron, the Houston-based energy company that went under in a matter of days after its dirty deeds were exposed. On paper, year after year, Enron was a financially strong company. Its annual filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission was nothing but exemplary, the envy of its competitors and the darling of every SEC auditor. Unfortunately, beyond that paper façade was a company that was financially weaker than a paperweight.  When the façade was lifted off of Enron, the shockwave rippled beyond continental United States; countries far away in African and Asia lost millions of dollars, and in a matter of days the behemoth known as Enron was reduced to a heap of financial ashes. While some of its executives ended up in prison, one or two committed suicide, and the entire staff was up the creek without a paddle.

What happened to Enron and Sodom can be seen in many families and communities today; beyond that beautiful family portrait on the mantelpiece is always a rocky marriage, financial problems, marital infidelity, drug and alcohol abuse, and what have you. Inside that beautiful expensive dress or suit is a tortured soul crying out for intervention. That one person who lights up the party, who tells the funniest jokes, and always wins every drinking contest in the bar; The hunk who gets all the girls, or the blond who attracts all the guys, always smiling and looking all put together well. That socialite who throws the best Christmas parties every year, or the pastor who deliver’s that uplifting sermon every Sunday, they all have hidden “bad” waters that need purification.

What is your situation like beyond that camouflage? In the verse above, Elijah had transcended and Elisha was left with the mantle of prophetic leadership. The sons of the prophets in Jericho, not believing that Elijah did actually transcend, persuaded Elisha – very much against his will - to send some 50 men among his servants to go look for Elijah. As expected, the search party did not find Elijah, dead or alive, deposited anywhere in or around Jericho; but in their search, they discovered something: the terrain and placement of the land was a sight to behold, but because the water was bad the soil is not good for cultivation. Of course, for there to be a bumper harvest, there must be adequate supply of good water either naturally or through irrigation. The same is applicable in life: for there to be marital, financial, and business success, there has to be love and commitment, financial frugality, and business planning. For there to be redemption and salvation, there must first be acceptance, repentance, and submission to His will and ways; and for there to be academic success there first must be dedication to studying.

He said “bring me a new jar and put salt in it”. So they brought it to him. (Verse 20)

Elisha knew what needed to be done, and with what instrument. Salt is largely used as a purifier and preserver in those days, and even in some communities today. So, it was appropriate that Elisha will ask for a jar of salt, since the problem was with the water. If your problem is marital, what are you asking for? If you identify your problem as being financial, or spiritual, what do you perceive as the solution? If your business is not getting off the ground, after many years of toiling, what is the problem? Your soul is not at rest? Having sleepless nights and tortured mind? Where do you go for solutions? Do you need a marriage counselor? A financial planner or business analyst? Do you need a session with your pastor, doctor, a social worker or psychologist? What is your situation? When you identify it then you will be best able to look for the best possible solution.

He went out to the spring of the water and threw salt in it and said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘I have purified these waters; there shall not be from there death or unfruitfulness anymore.” So the waters have been purified to this day, according to the words of Elisha (verse 21-22)

Elisha went to the spring – source/head – of the water and threw the salt in it. This is very important. It is not about pouring a jar of salt into a stream, it is more about where exactly you pour it. He did not pour it mid-stream or tail-stream, he poured it head-stream. If you cut of the head of a snake, the tail dies of. If you pour a jar of salt at the head of the stream, the purification process continues all the way down the stream.

The same process applies in our individual and collective problems. Most of our problems persist because we apply solutions mid-stream; we fail or refuse to apply solutions from the source of the problem; instead of a thorough analysis of our problem, with a view to identifying the source, we embark on a patchwork process that only identifies the parts of the problem and apply solutions accordingly. What is/are the cause/causes of your marital, spiritual, financial, and business problems? Are they in parts? Are the parts easily identifiable? If they are, can you successfully sequence them? If so, then you can apply the solutions from the first sequence and the results will cascade to the last one.

Just like Elisha poured the cruse of salt at the head/spring and cleaned out the entire river, so also will our problems be completely solved if we apply the solution at the origin of the problem.

Felix Oti

(All rights reserved)

Monday, October 31, 2016

What Is That In Your Hand?

And the Lord said unto Moses, “what is that in thine hand?” And he said a rod.
And He said, “Cast it on the ground”. And he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent;
Exodus 4:2-3

When Pharaoh heard of the killing of an Egyptian by Moses, he sought to kill Moses; fearing for his life, Moses ran off to Midian where he made acquaintances at the local well with the daughters of Reuel, the priest of Midian, who took him in and gave Moses one of his daughters, Zipporah, in marriage. The bible said: and Moses was content to dwell with the man (Exodus 2:21).

This contentment lasted long enough until Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush in Horeb; one that will change his life forever, even against his will. As the bible tells us, though Moses had fled Egypt, his kinsmen were still there suffering under Pharaoh; they were still groaning and calling on God for deliverance daily, but to no avail – at least, in their own thinking. In Moses, God saw an instrument with which to use to deliver His people from Egypt. However, as far as he was concerned, Moses did not see himself as a good or the right instrument for the job God had in mind, and he did his possible best to extricate himself from the assignment. Listen to his many excuses:

1.       “Who am I that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:11)

Here, Moses must have inspected himself from head to toe; inspected his hands, legs, chest, biceps and triceps, gluteal muscles, and even stood next to a tree to measure his height, and realized that he was not quite the right build; looked around the area to see if there was someone else standing nearby also named Moses that God may be talking to; and even wondered if he was listening to a false god. Convinced in himself that he lacked the height, strength, and the courage – all the outward qualities that humans consider - to qualify to lead Israel out of Egypt, he wondered if God had his head screwed on straight that He even thought of him for such assignment. “Why in God’s green earth will you choose me of all people for such a difficult task?” he must have wondered in exasperation. “I am here minding my own business, raising my father in-law’s flock of livestock, taking care of my family, and tending to other needs of the community as they present themselves, and you want me to go back to a land where I am a wanted man to save the people that betrayed me in the first place. God, this time, you got it really wrong”. Clearly, Moses was not expecting to be called by God, or any other person of authority, for any assignment either in Egypt or anywhere else; he was very comfortable with his job as a shepherd. Even if something was to develop in the pipeline, he did not expect it to be back in Egypt; an assignment hundreds of miles further from Egypt would have been acceptable to him.

2.       And Moses said unto God, behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say unto me, what is his name? What shall I say unto them? (verse 13)

From Moses’ second excuse we could deduct that he had lost with the first one. Also the word “when”, as used by him confirms that he may have realized that arguing with God might be a lost cause. Since the first attempt had failed, Moses tried a second time. This time, it was not about his physical attributes, or lack thereof; instead, it was how to convince the Israelites to believe that God, their real God, sent him. “God, let’s say that I agree to go, you know these people are stubborn and very hard-headed; if I go there all by myself and just tell them to believe me that you sent me, they will laugh their heads off and even attempt to commit me to a nut house. I need something to show them as proof that you sent me, because they will not believe a simple shepherd like me who still lives and works for his father in-law”, Moses must have said to God; anything to make Him decide that Moses may not be the right person for the job after all. Moses may have either been expecting a sign – some kind of magic he can perform before the gathering of the people, or an angel to accompany him on this journey; some kind of support mechanism that will make his task easier – if he could not wiggle his way out of it.

3.       And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue. (Exodus 4:10)

If at first you don’t succeed, keep trying. Since God dismissed his first excuse and gave him a “sign” in the second one, Moses decided to try a third one: his stammering problem. “God, you know very well that before our meeting at this burning bush, and since afterwards, I was, and still remain, slow of speech; how do you expect me to appear before Pharaoh in this condition and convince him to set your people free? He may not have the patience to sit there and wait for me to blabber all day just to make one sentence. This is not going to work, Lord, it just won’t. Just imagine the fun the people will make of me; even the children will fall over themselves in jest of me. Please, Lord, just send someone who is not just eloquent in speech but very commanding of the spoken word. Someone that Pharaoh will respect”. Who knows, there may even be a law against stammering in Egypt after Moses had left.

4.       And he said, O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou will send (verse 13)

Even at some point, we get tired of giving excuses. Moses had given every excuse or reason that could have convinced God that he was not the right person to go to Egypt, and God had countered every one of those excuses; so, the only option left was to come out and just say it: “please, Lord, just send someone who is physically, mentally, and oratorically qualified to confront Pharaoh, I am not that person. Just leave me let me tend to my in-law’s livestock and, in due course, he will set me up as an independent man. I am not cut out for all of this bravado and drama, just find someone else from another tribe, if you wish”.

All these sound familiar to you? They should. We all have a bit of Moses in all of us, whether in answering the call to spread the gospel: “oh, I am not spiritually equipped enough yet”, or “I am too shy”; lead a project team at our jobs: “there are others who have been here longer and more experienced, or better educated than me”; represent our community in public office: “Ah, those people?. Will they even bother to listen to my message let alone vote for me”, or “nope! I am not the political type”; or venture into a new business: “the money is not quite enough for that at this time”, or “I have not actually decided on what kind of business to invest in”. We also look for excuses to refrain from being in a relationship: “I am not old enough or ready yet”; “I do not enough experience”; “I don’t have the right job yet”; “I am not making enough money at my current job”; “I am not psychologically prepared”; “I just cannot handle all that nagging”; “I love my peace”; or “I want to be a graduate first”. The list goes on forever.

However, just like God dismissed all the many excuses Moses proffered for not being the right person for the task at hand, we can, and are well equipped to look beyond our physique, our age, intelligence and academic level, our financial readiness, spiritual maturity, and social status in our community before taking up a task. Many times, all that stands between us and our life goals and assignments is fear of the unknown. Yes, the task may be daunting when looking at it from the outside, and we may feel, like Moses, that we are not equipped or cut out for it; but, upon further review, we might discover that, just like God provided Moses with all the tools he needed for the assignment in Egypt, He will also do the same for us; He will provide our needs according to “His riches in heaven”. All that he requires of us is a little faith and trust in His ability to equip us for any task He assigns to us.

To be successful in life, we must not let our fears and concerns impede our attempt at trying our hands on God’s assignment for us. Our height, weight, speech impediment, preference for an obscure life, or fear of what is along the way, or at the end of the tunnel, must not stop us. Where those concerns exist, either from the beginning or along the way, we must always remember that God is with us; His promise of never leaving us unattended or forsaken is not a bogus one. What is it that you hold in your hand? A staff? A faith as small as a mustard seed? A love for community service? Desire to spread the word of God? A friendly smile? The gift of gab? Whatever it is, think of how best you can use it to do God’s work when the call comes. No more excuses!

Felix Oti
Arlington, Texas

(All Rights Reserved)

Monday, October 17, 2016

Economic Recession: Causes, Effects, and Possible Solutions

Economists generally believe that recessions occur due to a more than normal drop in spending by both the private and public sectors; some of the causes this drop include financial crises, as was the case in 2008 when the world suffered the consequences of a global financial meltdown due, in part, to the burst of the US housing bubble; an external trade or adverse supply shock – for example, some OPEC member countries like Nigeria and Venezuela who were heavily impacted by the drop in crude prices, which led to about 50% drop in revenue and, consequently, resulting in a drop in importation of some critical consumer goods, seem to be sliding into economic recession. The situation is further exacerbated where a nation could not produce enough of these consumer goods locally to offset the shortfall in importation. Some of the consequences of a recessed economy include the following:

Effects on Employment
One of the consequences of recession is unemployment which tends to increase, especially among the low-skilled workers, due to companies and even government agencies laying off staff in order to curtail expense. Unfortunately, this results in further restriction in overall spending which is needed to pull the economy out of recession. Where family or individual income is drastically reduced due to loss of employment or underemployment, discretionary spending, or disposable income, is mostly eliminated in the budget. This reduction in income, in turn, results in non-payment, or delayed payment of debt obligations – especially credit cards - which further reduces the funds available for financial institutions to lend out to businesses for expansion/investment to increase production. Investments which could have resulted in increased employment, income, and discretionary spending that could help pull the nation out of recession.

Effects on Businesses
Another consequence of recession is fall in output or productivity and business closures. The fall in output may to last until weaker companies close shop; eventually, output picks up again among the surviving firms. During recessions, stronger companies tend to swallow up weaker and smaller ones, and this negatively affects the competitive environment; some level of product scarcity, artificial or real – begins to emerge, and prices of goods creep up in response. These mergers or outright acquisitions also result in job losses; thereby, further depressing family incomes, and reducing discretionary spending that is needed to combat recession. A combination of job losses, scarcity of goods, and increased prices, help drives families further into economic difficulties.

Effects on Society
With more people out of work, and families increasingly unable to make ends meet, the pressure on demands for government-funded social services increases. Since governments experience drops in revenue collection during recession (something that, in some cases, lead to the recession in the first place), it becomes difficult to meet the increased demands on social services. Worst hit are those who are either on fixed income – social security checks –, or on Medicaid, and Medicare services (the elderly and disabled). Unlike those on wages and salaries who experience little or no reductions in salaries, the fixed income earners usually see experience cuts in their benefits and services provided by the government, and these cuts increase the level of hardship these families are already feeling. Another, and probably the most devastating, social effect of economic recession is destabilization of families. With the loss of a job, every plan for the future – college education, home purchase, vehicle replacement, and other family-enhancing plans are all suspended, and may never be reactivated or achieved.

All of the above enumerated effects of an economic recession father exacerbates the situation the longer it lasts. It is more of a vicious cycle – a cause-and-effect; effect-and-cause situation. Now, how does a nation get itself out of an economic recession?

Tax cuts & Government Spending
The most popular, or most recommended, policy for any country to dig itself out of recession is expansionary fiscal policy, or fiscal stimulus. This is usually a two-pronged approach – tax cuts and increased government spending. Let us address these two approaches separately:
1.      Tax cuts: the idea of tax cuts in times of recession is to increase family disposable income, in the hope that these families will go out and spend the extra money which, it return, will spur increased production in companies; the increased production is expected to result in increased hiring, and so on, and so forth. Sounds all too simple and wonderful. But, is it that simple? We must remember that in periods of recession, families borrow money, either from financial institutions or their credit cards, to stay afloat. Now, suppose they elect to use the extra disposable income from tax cuts to pay off these accrued debts, how does that help achieve the government’s expected goals increasing consumer spending? While one could argue that the financial institutions will lend the extra revenue (paid loans and credits) to businesses for investment; the question is: how many financial institutions make loans in recession?
2.      Increased government spending: this is more advocated than tax cuts; however, since most of government revenue is generated through taxes, levies, and duties on imports and exports, the receipts from these sources usually diminish in recessive economic periods, because many companies are closing shop and the few that remain open are cutting cost by decreasing staff and output. So, where is government expected to get the money it is supposed to invest in these capital projects? Yes, it is true that government capital investments injects money directly into the economy through creation of massive employment and its attendant multiplier effect, and construction of infrastructure, like roads, rail, ports, etc., which have direct impact on economic growth; but the money has to be available in the first place. Since tax cuts result in reduced government revenue, the only other recourse is external borrowing. This only works, or makes sense, if the money is directed at the right capital investment for the purpose of creating employment and causing a multiplier effect in the economy. For example, the Nigerian government believes that massive investment in agriculture will make the country less dependent on oil revenue; so, it might make sense to invest any external borrowing on agriculture. However, if you invest on cultivation and harvesting of raw products without any investment on the secondary, and more prosperous, segment of agriculture (processed goods for export), then the revenue generated may not be adequate for use in repayment of the loan, and reinvestment in other segments of other sectors of the economy. So, it is not so much about where you invest the loan, but how you do so.

Currency Devaluation
Apart from the two above, devaluation of the local currency is another suggestion usually put forward by economists. A currency devaluation is expected to cause a boost in aggregate demand of goods and services; that is, if the nation produces what other nations need. For industrialized nations with diversified economies and multiple products, a currency devaluation in periods of recession will be beneficial to export products; for nations with mono-product economies, like some African nations, currency devaluation will not have much positive impact in times of international supply glut. So, even though the product will be cheaper to export, the market may not be available. Now, the other effect of devaluation is to increase demand for domestic goods. Where such goods are produced domestically, this plan will work; but, where the absence is the case, then the purpose of currency devaluation is roundly defeated. It is very difficult for most Third World economies to get out of recession through currency devaluation, because they are mostly mono-product economies with devastating international competition, and little diversified domestic production. One thing to keep in mind with devaluation in mono-product economies is that the likelihood of competitive devaluation – in an attempt to gain competitive edge – does exist. For example, suppose that in a global recession Nigeria decides to devalue its currency to boost oil export, the expectation that Angola, Venezuela, and many other oil-dependent economies will follow suit is very real. In the end the market is flooded with cheap oil that no one want; so, everyone suffers from this policy decision, instead of benefiting.

Quantitative Easing
This is a policy applied by central banks to increase/decrease money supply when interest rates are already at, or near, zero. When all other options are exhausted, or in addition to the option earlier enumerated, central banks can manipulate the money supply by buying government bonds to increase the volume money in circulation. This increases bank reserves which will, in theory, encourage banking lending to businesses. The other effect of this central bank action is a reduction in bond interest rates, which is expected to help increase investment spending. Some of the drawbacks, or dangers, of quantitative easing are possibilities of financial losses by the central bank, difficulty in gauging exactly how much money in needed for injection into the economy, likelihood of loss of confidence in the economy -especially by external investors-, and the danger of the plan not working out as intended.

Conclusion

What tool(s) or option(s) a government elects to use to get its economy out of recession depends on what caused the recession in the first place, and which one will have the most minimal adverse impact on the people, or drive the economy deeper into recession or outright depression; but, it must choose something. In choosing, it must also consider the areas or regions of the nation, or section of the economy where the option will work best, especially in terms of fiscal stimulus policy. Which regions of the nation, or segments of the economy, will a fiscal stimulus generate the most multiplier effect? Also, which policy will have the most immediate impact on the economy, tax cuts, fiscal stimulus, credit relaxation, or quantitative easing? It is important to consider all of these before choosing an option, or a combination of options.

Economic Recession: Causes, Effects, and Possible Solutions

Economists generally believe that recessions occur due to a more than normal drop in spending by both the private and public sectors; some of the causes this drop include financial crises, as was the case in 2008 when the world suffered the consequences of a global financial meltdown due, in part, to the burst of the US housing bubble; an external trade or adverse supply shock – for example, some OPEC member countries like Nigeria and Venezuela who were heavily impacted by the drop in crude prices, which led to about 50% drop in revenue and, consequently, resulting in a drop in importation of some critical consumer goods, seem to be sliding into economic recession. The situation is further exacerbated where a nation could not produce enough of these consumer goods locally to offset the shortfall in importation. Some of the consequences of a recessed economy include the following:

Effects on Employment
One of the consequences of recession is unemployment which tends to increase, especially among the low-skilled workers, due to companies and even government agencies laying off staff in order to curtail expense. Unfortunately, this results in further restriction in overall spending which is needed to pull the economy out of recession. Where family or individual income is drastically reduced due to loss of employment or underemployment, discretionary spending, or disposable income, is mostly eliminated in the budget. This reduction in income, in turn, results in non-payment, or delayed payment of debt obligations – especially credit cards - which further reduces the funds available for financial institutions to lend out to businesses for expansion/investment to increase production. Investments which could have resulted in increased employment, income, and discretionary spending that could help pull the nation out of recession.

Effects on Businesses
Another consequence of recession is fall in output or productivity and business closures. The fall in output may to last until weaker companies close shop; eventually, output picks up again among the surviving firms. During recessions, stronger companies tend to swallow up weaker and smaller ones, and this negatively affects the competitive environment; some level of product scarcity, artificial or real – begins to emerge, and prices of goods creep up in response. These mergers or outright acquisitions also result in job losses; thereby, further depressing family incomes, and reducing discretionary spending that is needed to combat recession. A combination of job losses, scarcity of goods, and increased prices, help drives families further into economic difficulties.

Effects on Society
With more people out of work, and families increasingly unable to make ends meet, the pressure on demands for government-funded social services increases. Since governments experience drops in revenue collection during recession (something that, in some cases, lead to the recession in the first place), it becomes difficult to meet the increased demands on social services. Worst hit are those who are either on fixed income – social security checks –, or on Medicaid, and Medicare services (the elderly and disabled). Unlike those on wages and salaries who experience little or no reductions in salaries, the fixed income earners usually see experience cuts in their benefits and services provided by the government, and these cuts increase the level of hardship these families are already feeling. Another, and probably the most devastating, social effect of economic recession is destabilization of families. With the loss of a job, every plan for the future – college education, home purchase, vehicle replacement, and other family-enhancing plans are all suspended, and may never be reactivated or achieved.

All of the above enumerated effects of an economic recession father exacerbates the situation the longer it lasts. It is more of a vicious cycle – a cause-and-effect; effect-and-cause situation. Now, how does a nation get itself out of an economic recession?

Tax cuts & Government Spending
The most popular, or most recommended, policy for any country to dig itself out of recession is expansionary fiscal policy, or fiscal stimulus. This is usually a two-pronged approach – tax cuts and increased government spending. Let us address these two approaches separately:
1.      Tax cuts: the idea of tax cuts in times of recession is to increase family disposable income, in the hope that these families will go out and spend the extra money which, it return, will spur increased production in companies; the increased production is expected to result in increased hiring, and so on, and so forth. Sounds all too simple and wonderful. But, is it that simple? We must remember that in periods of recession, families borrow money, either from financial institutions or their credit cards, to stay afloat. Now, suppose they elect to use the extra disposable income from tax cuts to pay off these accrued debts, how does that help achieve the government’s expected goals increasing consumer spending? While one could argue that the financial institutions will lend the extra revenue (paid loans and credits) to businesses for investment; the question is: how many financial institutions make loans in recession?
2.      Increased government spending: this is more advocated than tax cuts; however, since most of government revenue is generated through taxes, levies, and duties on imports and exports, the receipts from these sources usually diminish in recessive economic periods, because many companies are closing shop and the few that remain open are cutting cost by decreasing staff and output. So, where is government expected to get the money it is supposed to invest in these capital projects? Yes, it is true that government capital investments injects money directly into the economy through creation of massive employment and its attendant multiplier effect, and construction of infrastructure, like roads, rail, ports, etc., which have direct impact on economic growth; but the money has to be available in the first place. Since tax cuts result in reduced government revenue, the only other recourse is external borrowing. This only works, or makes sense, if the money is directed at the right capital investment for the purpose of creating employment and causing a multiplier effect in the economy. For example, the Nigerian government believes that massive investment in agriculture will make the country less dependent on oil revenue; so, it might make sense to invest any external borrowing on agriculture. However, if you invest on cultivation and harvesting of raw products without any investment on the secondary, and more prosperous, segment of agriculture (processed goods for export), then the revenue generated may not be adequate for use in repayment of the loan, and reinvestment in other segments of other sectors of the economy. So, it is not so much about where you invest the loan, but how you do so.

Currency Devaluation
Apart from the two above, devaluation of the local currency is another suggestion usually put forward by economists. A currency devaluation is expected to cause a boost in aggregate demand of goods and services; that is, if the nation produces what other nations need. For industrialized nations with diversified economies and multiple products, a currency devaluation in periods of recession will be beneficial to export products; for nations with mono-product economies, like some African nations, currency devaluation will not have much positive impact in times of international supply glut. So, even though the product will be cheaper to export, the market may not be available. Now, the other effect of devaluation is to increase demand for domestic goods. Where such goods are produced domestically, this plan will work; but, where the absence is the case, then the purpose of currency devaluation is roundly defeated. It is very difficult for most Third World economies to get out of recession through currency devaluation, because they are mostly mono-product economies with devastating international competition, and little diversified domestic production. One thing to keep in mind with devaluation in mono-product economies is that the likelihood of competitive devaluation – in an attempt to gain competitive edge – does exist. For example, suppose that in a global recession Nigeria decides to devalue its currency to boost oil export, the expectation that Angola, Venezuela, and many other oil-dependent economies will follow suit is very real. In the end the market is flooded with cheap oil that no one want; so, everyone suffers from this policy decision, instead of benefiting.

Quantitative Easing
This is a policy applied by central banks to increase/decrease money supply when interest rates are already at, or near, zero. When all other options are exhausted, or in addition to the option earlier enumerated, central banks can manipulate the money supply by buying government bonds to increase the volume money in circulation. This increases bank reserves which will, in theory, encourage banking lending to businesses. The other effect of this central bank action is a reduction in bond interest rates, which is expected to help increase investment spending. Some of the drawbacks, or dangers, of quantitative easing are possibilities of financial losses by the central bank, difficulty in gauging exactly how much money in needed for injection into the economy, likelihood of loss of confidence in the economy -especially by external investors-, and the danger of the plan not working out as intended.

Conclusion

What tool(s) or option(s) a government elects to use to get its economy out of recession depends on what caused the recession in the first place, and which one will have the most minimal adverse impact on the people, or drive the economy deeper into recession or outright depression; but, it must choose something. In choosing, it must also consider the areas or regions of the nation, or section of the economy where the option will work best, especially in terms of fiscal stimulus policy. Which regions of the nation, or segments of the economy, will a fiscal stimulus generate the most multiplier effect? Also, which policy will have the most immediate impact on the economy, tax cuts, fiscal stimulus, credit relaxation, or quantitative easing? It is important to consider all of these before choosing an option, or a combination of options.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Change Really Does Begin With Me

“A mere need in itself does not cause the wheels of change to spin in a peopled society; rather, the level of desire within that need does”

When I was young and living in Enugu, we used to go to a catholic church; one of the traditions of the catholic institution is the weekly or daily confessional (for those who have sins and crimes to confess to). As children, we were never really into confessions, though we did get into some pranks that required a visit to the priest. However, all such pranks and nefarious behaviors were considered forgiven without admonition, given our age. At these confessionals, it was – and still is – always the priest and the confessor in a secluded environment, devoid of prying ears and eyes. Though the sins and crimes being confessed to may have been witnessed by many, the need and desire for atonement is always personal and private – though it could be made public after the fact.

The decision to engage in activities contrary to one’s spiritual and moral norms is always a personal one; the decision to kill, steal or embezzle public funds, blow up a pipeline, to cheat, deprive or deprave, assault, collude to commit a crime, to forge official documents, or covet another’s property – human and material - are all singularly thought through in the deepest recesses of our souls. Same is the decision to consume illegal substances like drugs or alcohol, defraud the government, join a cult, manipulate election results, stuff ballot boxes, kidnap little children for domestic slavery, murder innocent people for money ritual or to harvest their organs, or simple things as looking the other way while a neighbor (in this case, anyone at any given time sitting, standing, or living close to you) is in the process of committing an act contrary to socially and morally acceptable norms. It could also be something as religiously debasing as a pastor or imam, preaching or practicing heresy in an attempt to impose his or her personal interpretations of a holy book on the congregation; promoting the commission of crime against another religion, culture, race, or ethnic group.

Though some may claim effects of external influence, or coercion, in their decisions, the fact remains that the final decision to engage in, or deviate from these norms, is yours as an individual. Some have blamed peer pressure or need to belong, long periods of unemployment, loss of employment, family responsibilities, family traits and characteristics (my father and grandfather were drunks and smokers), or the fact that government officials or politicians are all crooks, as reasons for indulging in criminal and other reprehensible conducts. The struggle in accepting these excuses lies in the fact that while everyone has been, or are still privy to all of them, not everyone indulge in criminal activities. So, while there are those who loot the public treasury on the assumption that some in government are doing the same, not everyone loots the treasury. The same applies to every criminal act in the book. If everyone who has, somehow, come under the pressure or influence of any or all of the above succumbed, then we all would be criminals today. So, again, the decision to succumb – and stay under any influence – is a personal one.

The decision to change from any or all of these evil ways is also a personal one. One may be encouraged or swayed, just as in the initial decision to commit a crime, by external forces like churches and other religious groups, morality police teams as exist in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia, peers, lessons learned as consequences of criminal and immoral activities, tragic family events, and a realization that crimes really do not pay. The role external influences play in our decision to change our ways depends on the depth of our personal resolve to change. In most cases, we just need a little conviction that our decision to change direction is the right one, and beneficial to us, to our loved ones, and the society in general. Where that personal resolve is not deep enough, or we are just changing to please someone, get them off our back, or for the purpose of obtaining a particular favor, that change will not last for long. That is why we see alcoholics, drug dealers, and addicts relapse; pedophiles return to their old ways after release from prison, abusive spouses continue the same way with their next spouse, cigarette smokers return to their old habits after quitting, etc.

Change is real and effective if the decision is personal, borne out of a sincere conviction that one’s previous behavior was injurious, unethical, immoral, and devoid of any social benefit. That is why our prayers and confessions are in private, our acceptance of Christ is personal, and our pleas for forgiveness and salvation are done privately too. No one person ever goes before God to say “we” have sinned; it is always “I”. Yes, we may hear all the preaching and admonitions in churches and prayer houses, schools, our homes, and even from our friends; it is still up to us to decide to change, pretend to change, or remain the same. It is up to us as individuals to evaluate our personal lives and ask ourselves: how does my daily conduct impact on the life and conduct of my neighbor? How does it impact my family, village, community, state, and nation? How does my criminal activities contribute to the overall poverty level, social and moral decay, and political instability in the nation? It is a question for everyone to answer on their own, from the leaders to the led.

Recently, the National Orientation Agency in Nigeria launched a campaign termed “Change Begins with me”; the idea was to get Nigerians to rethink their actions, especially how it impacts the Nigerian nation socially, economically, and politically. The reaction from the citizenry was more of comical ridicule and disdain. In a nation where the leadership is seen as pathologically corrupt, visionless, clueless, and working against the overall interest of the citizens, this reaction was largely expected. Many suggested that  change must begin with the leadership, and referred to stories of alleged looting of public funds running into billions of dollars over many decades as evidence; others lamented about a nation ran down to a Third World status by series of inefficient and ineffective leaders and politicians since independence.

While all these may be true – and, in some case,  they really are in Nigeria – a few things remain indisputable: the leaders are selected from among the Nigerian populace; the people are complicit in the conduct of their leaders, either by their silence, acquiescence, or by their inactive participation in the selection process; also, given that the decision to engage in any activity, criminal or otherwise, is a personal one, Nigerians who have chosen to engage in immoral or criminal behavior of any kind cannot honestly point to their leaders as a reason. In the same vein, the leadership cannot justifiably blame their behavior on the nonchalance or criminal conducts of the citizenry.

So, to say that change must begin with the leadership is a misnomer; because, within the leadership, there are those who have not been corrupted or influenced by the moral bankruptcy of their colleagues. The same also applies among the citizenry, thereby reinforcing the theme of this essay that the decision to choose one way as against the other is a personal one. The fact that all 180 million Nigerians are neither criminals nor morally debased lends credibility to the argument that choices are individualistic in nature. If you steal because someone is said to have stolen, would you kill for the same reason? Will you offer human sacrifice to ritualists, inflate your company’s payroll, blow up oil wells, or tap into your neighbor’s electric or cable supply just because someone you knew or heard of did the same thing? If you have no moral or spiritual principle, you might. The instructions in the Ten Commandments is to be applied on individual basis, not collectively, that is why some kill and steal and others don’t.

If the leadership is to blame for the lack of principle, good character, spiritual conviction, and morality that currently pervade the Nigerian society, one would ask why the same accusation is not leveled against countries like America, UK, Germany, Canada, and The Netherlands, just to mention a few, where the leadership is exemplary but, still, have differing levels of criminal behavior among its political, religious, and social class. Not one criminal of any class in these countries has ever claimed they were emulating the leadership, even though there might be some in political leadership positions who have been caught with their fingers in the cookie jar.

A tale is always told of a housewife who, lacking the strength to push out her child, blamed it on the presence of her mother in-law in the delivery room. In Nigeria, we either lack the moral strength or are afraid to look inwards for solutions to our problems; we find a general excuse in the government. A ritualist, rapist, kidnaper, 419-er, armed and pen robbers, cultist, oil thieves, lecturers who prey on innocent students, economic saboteurs, office secretary who sells government properties, and medical staff who sell off hospital equipment to private clinics, all find it easily convenient to blame the leadership for their personal conducts and social problems; we refuse to acknowledge a correlation between their activities and the general social, political, and economic degradation of the Nigerian nation. We perceive every economic downturn as an opportunity to further bleed the country dry; every election cycle is presented as an avenue to loot the treasury, settle old scores with an enemy, and every contract is seen as a conduit to personal wealth.

Charity, they say, begins at home. If that holds true, and Nigerians want a better country, we must be the change we desire; and that change must come from us as individuals. Little drops of water make oceans, just as a collection of individual trees make a forest. When change starts with us individually, collectively the nation will change for the better.

Arlington, Texas

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Day the Veil Finally Came Off

On June 12, 2016, the US and, by extension, the world woke up to reports of a mass killing in a nightclub in Orlando Florida. Initial reports put the number of deaths at 20; however, by evening of that day, the death toll had risen to 50, including the shooter, and 53 wounded - most of them critically. As someone who has, over the years, become immune to these stories of mass killings, which seem to have become an accepted fabric of the American culture, what caught my attention were the patrons of the place the killings occurred –a nightclub largely patronized by gays, lesbians, and trans-gender people, or LGBT for short.

I had largely ignored the LGBT community, and their complaints of discrimination, abuse, assault, condemnation, and taunting by the so-called straight people.  I have always wondered why ordinary human beings should congregate themselves into an association, group, or community, design their own flags, form their own churches and schools, and seek special protection from government when, in my eyes, there is no reason to do so. In my mind, their complaints were largely exaggerated and their demands misplaced in a society like the United States. I argued in my mind that if this was Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Kuwait, or Guinea then their complains and quest for special designation and protection will be well-deserved; but this is America where freedom reigns, where liberty is preached from the rooftops, highways and bye-ways; where you can be what you want to be, say what you want to say (as long as you are not in politics), and do whatever it is that brings joy to your heart – just as long as you remember your tax obligations to Uncle Sam. This was until June 12, 2016.

Hate is real
The mistake we make (at least, I do) in life is our belief that as long as we hate no one, no one will hate us in return; as long as we are friendly to everyone, and bear no grudges against anyone, no one will do so against us; or that if we look the same or come from the same tribe and/or tongue, we are incapable of hating one another. Oh, how wrong we could be. I had my first dose of hatred in the month of July, 1987; the day remains so clear in my head because I was barely six months in the country and a novice when it comes to cultures and norms in my new home. I worked in a family-owned restaurant on Skillman Street in Dallas as a busboy, and one of only two blacks; one would have expected a fraternal bond, right? Wrong. To an African, every black man is automatically a brother, and I (mis)took my colleague as one, expecting guidance from him. Unfortunately, not only did our conversations never go beyond brief greetings, nothing else developed. His true feelings for me came out the day one of the chefs asked him if he has been teaching “your brother” the ropes (he was a waiter). He went off on this horrible tirade on the poor Hispanic chef and admonished him for calling “some fucking African” his brother. I was shocked and horrified, and that comment stuck to my heart like a knife till this day.

In college, I experienced and witnessed some more of the ridicule and hate generally directed at African students, not so much by the white community but by fellow blacks. I also witnessed the reciprocity, though veiled from African students. I remember writing a paper in one of my English classes that played down the importance of the Civil Rights struggle, especially the policy of non-violence response in the face of violence, and suggesting that blacks acted out of fear instead of need; it drew a firestorm from my fellow blacks, and a lecture on the history of black suffering in this country. Remember, all these happened in my first two years in this country.

As the years went by, events began to gradually move the veil of indifference and denial from my eyes, and a clearer picture of the level and types of hatred which pervade the American society began to develop. Hatred in the American society is not one-dimensional, it is multi-dimensional and reciprocal; it cuts across religion, culture, race, ethnic origin, social beliefs, and even class. It is insidiously encouraged by politicians, businesses, religious leaders of various practices, grandparents, and interest groups. That is how society ends up with pitch battles between pro and anti-gun groups, pro and anti-abortion groups, pro and anti-immigration groups, pro and anti-Israel groups, and pro and ant-Muslim groups; the pro and anti-police groups, Oath Keepers versus Black Panthers, and the Bloods against the Crips. Right in the middle of these warring groups and factions are politicians and business owners playing one against the other to amass profits and campaign contributions.

“Even if they elect a president today who ……..
Just as the case with every one of these mass killings, out-pouring of emotions, words of solidarity, unity and support followed the Orlando mass killing. Politicians blamed and defended each other’s gun policies; gun rights advocates defended their rights to bear arms as provided in the constitution, and blamed the person, not the guns, for the massacre; long and winding speeches fell over themselves in eloquence, and all kinds of “experts” – America is never short of them – offered analysis and opinions on what went wrong where and why; psychologists, as they are wont to do, offered possible reasons  on what could have triggered the shooter, and law enforcement turned up every stone in search of external links to ISIS and the hundreds of terror organizations that generate huge revenue for arms merchants. The president, as expected, visited and made his plea as he has been doing for 8 years, and many charity organizations set up tents and supplied priests to assist, counsel and console grieving families. All of these, though commendable, will pass along with the last burial ceremonies; the LGBT will gain a few sympathetic minds during this ordeal, and some politicians will make the expected attempt to tighten gun laws, but all of these will last until the next mass killing.

The Orlando shooting and the many stories by survivors, friends and family members of the deceased, and many others in faraway cities and states, of the sufferings of the LGBT community in America and other parts of the world finally convinced me of the existence of a similarity between their situation and those of Black Americans before Civil Rights (and beyond), Jews, and many other social, cultural or ethnic minority groups in the world. It offered a better understanding of their need for special classification and protection. As a patron of the Pulse night club admitted during a radio interview: “we know we live in a time and society that hates us and wants to kill, but we will not give in to hate. We cannot die, because we are not a person; we are a spirit. If we elect a president in this country who wants to kill us all, I will be in front of the line…” I personally hope we never degenerate to a state where we would elect a president that will order the killing of all LGBT people, just for their lifestyle.

Mixed messages from the pulpit
Much of the hatred directed at LGBT people is borne out of the misinterpretation of the teachings of the bible. Yes, as a Christian one is taught that homosexually is not acceptable, and I believe that. Ironically, the same bible and Christian teachings impressed upon us that it is against our beliefs to treat someone differently; we are supposedly all children of One God, and discrimination against another is discrimination against God. Love one another, the Bible said, as God loves us. Unfortunately, most of our religious leaders us their opportunities at the pulpit to preach division and hate, and many of their followers and listeners act upon such preaching. It was heart-warming for me to hear a prominent Dallas pastor, on the day of the Orlando massacre, strongly insist that Christians are only required to understand that homosexuality is unchristian, and not to hate or harm such persons.

The US constitution emphasizes the importance of freedom of choice and equality of all creation. The separation of people by race, gender, ethnic origin, and religious preference is nowhere in the constitution; however, politicians, in their quest for influence and votes, have divided the people along these lines and the result is the frequent massacre of Americans that we witness weekly, in the guise of one thing or the other. We have even appended causes for these mass killings depending on race: if you are a white mass killer, you have a mental problem and forgot to take your medication; if you are a born or converted Muslim, you are a terrorist with links to major terror organizations based in some foreign land. If you are black, you are angry and frustrated, and if you are a police officer, you feared for your life.

The Second Amendment, as originally intended, was in support of the right to self-defense, resistance to oppression, and civilian involvement in the defense of the state. You can agree with me that none of the mass killings in the US today has any relationship with any of the original intents; not Columbine, not Newtown, not Virginia Tech, not Charleston,  and definitely not Pulse night club in Orlando. Yet, the National Rifle Association, and many politicians who benefit financially from the NRA and gun manufacturers have stoked alarm and fear of disarmament in the minds of mostly gullible citizens who, in return, have boosted sales of guns and fattened the pockets of executives of gun manufacturing companies and their families, while leaving a trail of blood, tears, and broken families crisscrossing the entire US landscape.

An abridged chronicle of US mass killings and fatality counts:
Camden, New Jersey – September 1949 – 13 people
University of Texas, Austin – August, 1966 – 16 people
San Ysidro, California – July, 1984 – 21 people
Edmond, Oklahoma – August, 1986 – 14 people
Killeen, Texas – October, 1991 – 23 people
Columbine H.S, Littleton, Colorado – April, 1999 – 12 people
Virginia Tech University, Blacksburg, VA – April 2007 – 32 people
Omaha, Nebraska – December, 2007 – 8 people
Geneva County, Alabama – March, 2009 – 10 people
Binghamton, NY – April 2009 – 13 people
Fort Hood, Texas – November, 2009 – 13 people
Manchester, Connecticut – August, 2010 – 8 people
Tucson, Arizona – January, 2011 – 6 people
Sea Beach, California – October, 2011 – 8 people
Oakland, California – April, 2012 – 7 people
Aurora, Colorado – July 20, 2012 – 12 people
*Newtown, Connecticut – December 14, 2012 – 26 people
Herkimer, NY – March, 2013 – 4 people
Santa Monica, CA – June, 2013 – 5 people
Washington, DC – September, 16 – 12 people
Umpqua Community College, Oregon – October, 2015 – 9 people
Alturas, CA – February, 21 2014 – 4 people
Isla Vista, CA – May, 2014 – 6 people
Marysville, Washington – October 24, 2014 – 5 people
Charleston, SC – June 17, 1015 – 9 people
Roseburg, Oregon – October, 2015 – 10 people
San Bernardino, CA – December 2015 – 14 people
Colorado Springs, CO – November 2015 – 3 people
**Orlando, Florida – June 12, 2016 – 49 people

A couple of things are worth noting here:
1. This total – 371 - number of American casualties occurred not in the hands of an outside enemy, during a war, or from series of natural disasters; instead, these were American citizens killing each other out of hate; frustration with their lives, the system, or their relationships; for adventure, and/or just testing out their new guns and,
2. This does not include other murders committed by gangs, the police, scorned spouses and jealous lovers, business partners because of deals gone badly, and suicides. It does not, also, include the 168 people who died in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which was clearly a terrorist act.


It will be forlorn to hope that the recent massacre in Orlando will awaken the American conscience into action, because Newtown did not achieve that; it is equally self-deceiving to expect the outpouring of support and emotions for the LGBT community to ease or reduce the level of hate directed against them. Because ours has become a nation determined to beat itself back into the age the Second Amendment was written and passed into law, the recent mass shooting will result, like others before it, in increased gun sales and usage. We are all waiting with bated breath for the next mass killing, because it has become an American culture like baseball and apple pie. At least, for me, the veil of ignorance is finally off.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

DONALD TRUMP AND HIS BAND OF ANGRY WHITE MEN

The headline of this piece may sound like a bedtime story for toddlers, the title of a comic play in your local theater, or a folktale by an old woman in an African village; unfortunately, as much as we may wish it to be any of the above, it is neither. Instead, it is about the core support group, or base, of the GOP front-runner in the 2016 US presidential primaries, billionaire businessman Donald Trump, or Trump for short.

I first heard of “angry white men” in early 2008 when then Senator Barack Obama was running in the DNC primaries for nomination as its presidential candidate. The closer he got towards securing the nomination, the “angrier” these white men became.  GOP-controlled, or “conservative” Television houses and newspaper headlines screamed of dire consequences for gun owners if Obama became president; of Blacks running rampant all over the White House, frying chicken wings and cooking pig feet all day, rubbing hair grease all over the walls of Fortune 500 companies and the hallowed chambers of government offices. They warned of the imminent desecration of Honest Abe’s room, Washington’s bed, and Kennedy’s reading table. White Americans, male and female trooped to the gun stores to stock up on both military-style rifles and your average Saturday Night specials, on the rumor that Obama will abolish the 2nd Amendment, and ship all the guns to some Utopian Peninsula. They bought for their wives, sons yet unborn, and their toddler daughters. Some even took second mortgages on their homes so they can buy specially modified street-sweepers.

Throughout the eight years of the Obama presidency, these white men have been getting angrier. Realizing that, contrary to their fears, no one has taken anyone’s guns, they resorted to complaining about loss of jobs to immigrants, outsourcing of American jobs to Asia and India, erosion of American might and influence abroad, recognition of gay and lesbian rights, same-sex laws, ISIS, homegrown terrorism, and everything else on the surface of the earth. They took out their anger on fellow Americans in elementary schools, churches, colleges and universities, workplaces, apartment complexes, parks and playgrounds, and even in private homes. Not to be outdone, security agencies joined tem, with police killing skyrocketing in the second term of the Obama presidency. “Fear for my life” became a general excuse for police killings, and minorities – especially blacks Hispanics, whether sleeping, handcuffed, pregnant, riding your bike around your house, asking for help after an accident, talking to your wife on a street corner, or just simply buying a birthday gift for your nephew at a Walmart – were at the receiving ends of these police guns.  Membership in organizations like KKK, Aryan Brotherhood, and National Rifle Association soared to astronomical heights. Amidst all of these activities, two other consumer goods, besides guns, struggled to keep pace with the level of demand spurred by the anger of these white men: alcohol and cigarettes.

Categories of White Angry Men
Who Are These Angry Men? Good question. There are two groups of white angry men:

1.       The first group are the small business owners who make barely above the national income average; this  group run small sole proprietorship like roadside restaurants, car repair shops, cable & wireless technicians, landscaping, HVAC services, hotshot delivery services, roofing and general plumbing services, and towing services.  Compared to their Hispanic or Asian counterparts in the same category, they work less hours, have a narrow clients’ list (mostly whites), and their service prices are non-negotiable. On top of that, most of them have poor workmanship. They have huge mortgage payments, expensive hubbies like hunting or fishing which requires expensive “toys” like guns and boats they could hardly afford.  On top of their mortgages, they are likely to own the latest trucks, RVs, and/or supped up Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Their many credit cards are mostly maxed out; they spend their weekends at Hooters and other sports grill and bars, and go on vacations at least once every year, all charged on an ever-increasing credit card debt.

2.       The second group of angry white men works your typical 9-to-5 jobs in warehouses, manufacturing plants, junk yards, car dealerships, distribution centers, work in their family companies, or as outside salesmen in major companies. Some also work as automobile, cable and communication technicians for major companies.  In the course of their daily work activities, they interact with colleagues of other races and ethnic origins, including Hispanics, Asians, Africans, and people of Middle Eastern origin most of whom are immigrants.

This group of young white men typically display an air of superiority over the rest of their colleagues; they believe their company should pay them better (which is the practice in most companies), cut them some slack when it comes to frequency and length of break and lunch times. They take more smoke breaks than everyone else, rarely work overtime unless it is mandatory, are the first to clock out – usually a few minutes before time, are less productive than their immigrant counterparts, and are easily stressed and frustrated at work. They, also, are more likely to change jobs more frequently than their counterparts from other races and cultures. They are less likely to interact with other cultures and races at work, and more likely to go for a drink at the end of the work day. They are less likely to own shares in their places of employment, and invest only the allowable minimum percentage of their gross income – 3% - in a retirement plan like 401(k).  They are, equally, less likely to carry full insurance coverage in their workplaces, and more likely to listen to, or watch, anti-immigrant/minority radio and TV stations.  So, why are they angry?

Reason for their Alleged Anger
Though these groups of white men are constantly referred to as angry, not many of them can clearly explain specific reasons for their anger, or how they are personally affected by the situation they highlight. Some of the general reasons offered by them include blaming immigrants – especially Mexican immigrants - for taking over their jobs; Chinese taking over American companies and jobs; Blacks bleeding the social security system dry, and America weakening and losing international respect under President Obama. On close analysis of each of these reasons, which are usually hyped by the news media and politicians, one can easily poke major holes in each of them:

 In the case of Mexicans and other immigrants taking over American jobs, they are only taking the jobs rejected by the white man. An average red-blooded white American male will rather go hungry than work as a housekeeper, dishwasher or busboy in some hotel or restaurant, except he is a college student; they will not be seen any time soon on the streets under the Texas summer heat doing construction work, patching up potholes, mowing the lawn, picking trash on public parks and highways, or sorting recycling materials at the city dump. Apart from private farmers, a typical white American young man will not spend hours and days in the citrus farms of Florida picking oranges, or in the slaughter houses of Pilgrim’s Pride cleaning and packaging frozen chicken. On rare occasions where you come across one willing to do such menial jobs, it is usually on part time and temporary basis, just to make up for cash shortfall. To the immigrant, such a job is a source of survival for self and extended families, and he will do it longer and better while at the same time learning a trade or going to college to better his life.

2.       About the Chinese taking over American companies, that is also not the case; Americans move their companies overseas in search of cheap labor, lower corporate tax, and less regulated environment. A typical iPhone 6 cost around $600 in the US because the assembly staff is paid pennies on the dollar in some Asian country. Now, comparing unit costs in relation to product price: an American phone parts assembly staff is likely to belong to a union which will demand higher wages for their members, all kinds of insurance coverages, and some other unnecessary emoluments which adds to the unit cost of an iPhone. All these extras will help drive up the sale price of the phone, and reduce sales volume, because not many people can afford to buy it. So, instead of and average price of $600 per phone, the price of a domestically-assembled IPhone could rise as high as $900. When sales volume falls, production falls, and the resultant effect is staff reduction. So, if Americans want the companies to stop moving overseas, they need to consider accepting lower wages so the products could be cheaper.

3.       On the allegation of blacks bleeding the welfare and social services system dry due to their laziness, by actual numbers, the ratio of whites to blacks on welfare is estimated to be 6:1. What these angry white men, and their media and political trumpeters are quick to do is refer to population percentages. Yes, blacks make up about 12.5% of the US population of 310m, which is about 40m; now, if 3% is on welfare, this will be about 1.2m blacks on some form of government assistance. Now, let us run the numbers for whites using the same 3% rate of a population of 310 million: at 72% of this population estimate, there are about 223m whites. If 3% of them are on some kind of government assistance, the number will be about 6.6m. So you see, it is a fallacy to blame blacks for the problems with welfare and social security services.

4.       The other false claim is about America losing international respect under Obama. First, there is no other nation greater than America today, or in the last 8 years, in terms of the two major indices – military and economic might. Yes, there are slips in academic achievements when compared to other industrialized nations, but these slips are more of individual and family failings, and not a collective American failure. Obama has been used as a target of blame by most white men for America’s individual failings, to the extent that even those who choose to abuse their spouses blame it on Obama; the same reason for families having reproductive difficulties, drunks electing to squander their earnings on Jim Beam, farm animals producing less milk and eggs, colleges failing to win NCAA tournaments, water pollution in Flint, mass murders in Newtown, South Carolina, and even police killings are all blamed on Obama. Before ever Obama won the presidency, angry white men had openly declared their hatred and disdain for him, not as a person, but as a black person occupying the White House, and that has not changed till date. So, while it is very convenient for them to blame their personal failings on him, it is far from the truth. Reality is that most of these so-called angry white men are simply lazy; they refuse to better their lives, even in the midst of opportunities. To them, 8 years of Obama serves up an excuse for them to wallow in their laziness while blaming their misfortune on someone else.

Core Beliefs and Preferences
 It is difficult to pin-point their core beliefs and preferences, because these change with whoever is in the white House. To them, American greatness is only projected through war; as long as America is not at war, it cannot be said to be great. Unfortunately, they fail to make a correlation between the cost of such wars and the current economic downturn. They equally ignore the human cost  in personal, family, and communal lives, including the social cost to governments at every level. Ironically, if the nation finds itself in a prolonged war, as was the case with Iraq and Afghanistan, this same group of people will be in the forefront of the protest marches demanding an end to the war.

These group of white men will endorse and support any government policy that appears to negatively impact minorities and immigrants, like voter restriction laws, re-drawing of congressional maps to favor a white candidate even when whites are in the minority in that district, and deep cuts in social welfare services for the elderly and very poor, without factoring in the effects of such cuts on elderly whites too. They are for stricter punishments for first time and minor offences, because minorities are more likely to be first time offenders. On social issues, they tend to swing any which way their favorite politician leans at any given time; that is why they cheer when Donald Trump insults or makes derogatory comments about women. They tend to separate their wives, mothers and sisters from the “women” at the receiving end of Trump’s insults; they see them as “those women” and not as “all women”.  They support increases in defense spending and reduction in other essential services, like education and health care; they are more likely to stick to their decisions, or ideas, than admit that it is wrong-headed and detrimental to their persons, families and communities.

It is very important to point out here that within this class of low income, lower class, and minimal education white men are many who care less about the economic and political state of the nation, and more about working and educating their way into the middle class. They are comfortable as part of mainstream America; they are more likely to stay longer on their jobs and take full advantage of whatever benefits it may offer. Also, they plan and work towards a better life for their children. They are less likely to spend their precious times worrying about walls on the nation’s borders and exclusions at the airports. It is, equally, rare to find this group of white males at a Donald Trump or Ted Cruz rallies.

A Fertile Ground
Anyhow one looks at the situation, and if one decides to be honest and impartial to oneself, one will come to the conclusion that the reasons these so-called angry white men give for their “anger” cannot be justified. Unfortunately, these groups of people are easily swayed and deceived by one-chance charismatic politicians, like Donald Trump, who reinforce their erroneous belief that the country is going to hell in a hand basket, without taking out time to analyze the substance of his message – if any. Because they are like fertile ground waiting for seedling, when a politician like Trump comes around, he or she does not have to offer any evidence of his repeated claim of a fallen nation, because these are already beliefs harbored and ingrained in the minds of his target audience. All he has to do is amplify the message, sometimes with the help of a section of the media – social and otherwise, and the people will follow him. The world witnessed people like these in Italy and Germany in the 1930s, and the results of their blind following are still reverberating across many continents today.
It is up to the rest of the non-angry white American men, who are more educated, more focused on a better career and family life for themselves, and more understanding of social and economic dynamics to help educate their brethren, and warn them of the errors of their beliefs, and the misplacement of their trusts; because, when the chips eventually fall, the biggest losers will be these same angry white men.