What Makes @realDonaldTrump Qualified to Be President?

2016, by far, has been the most troubling and challenging election cycle I’ve experienced. I originally harbored a certain amount of glee that the Republicans didn’t just fill their clown-car with, well… clowns, but that they ultimately decided to let Donald Trump drive. He even had the clown-hair. It was rich indeed, although not in the way Trump likes to bandy about. However, as the election has dragged on, my amusement has transitioned to bewilderment as to why Trump continues to gain popularity with certain demographics, Christians in particular. Yes, there are always a few morons who will support just about anything, but we’re talking about close to half of eligible voters in our nation. It’s not a lunatic fringe. Neither is it mere idiocy that’s driving these tens of millions of Trump voters. I don’t understand them, but it is a categorical mistake to assume that all these people are just idiots. As Trump himself likes to say, “There is something going on here.” I just have no idea what’s driving it. I am tempted to say “fear” or “basic gullibility,” but I recognize that neither of these are significant improvements over “idiocy.” So I’ve interacted with a few acquaintances to see why they support Trump, and inevitably two things come up: Trump’s alleged business acumen, and Hillary Clinton.

It’s the same thing on radio and TV: “Trump’s a great businessman, and Hillary Clinton blah, blah, blah.” Yes, there are also the odd policy proposals that resonate with some people, like Trump’s promised wall-building, refusal to act on climate change, and banning Muslims etc., but as I’ve listened to Trump speak, and seen a series of interviews with his surrogates and spokespeople, none of them are able to say anything substantive about how Trump will accomplish any of his plans, how they might be at odds with the U.S. Constitution, or why Trump’s own business dealings and foreign operations are plainly at odds with his rhetoric. Trump and his folks cannot even answer any questions about his own words or behavior without desperately trying to pivot towards Hillary Clinton. I just keep asking myself, “Who finds this guy even remotely credible?”

But I’ve been drinking the liberal Kool-Aid (and I like it), and it’s clear that millions of people, for whatever reason, find Trump to be a credible candidate, so instead of focusing on all the peripheral garbage that clings to Trump like stank on crap or his complete inability to describe how he will try to accomplish his stated purposes, the focus here is on his number one claim to credibility as a candidate for the Office of President, namely, that he’s a business person. And on that front, there are three questions that deserve the attention of anyone who believes that Trump is qualified to be President because of his experience in business. If you’re a Trump supporter, and you haven’t decided to ignore those who challenge you (nicely done!), then consider this your invitation to answer some questions. Clearly you are no moron, and you may even help me gain some insight into your voting for Trump. And if you haven’t made up your mind yet, these questions are just as relevant for your consideration:

1) Is being just a business person a sufficient qualification for someone to be President?

The primary force driving business is to turn a profit. Oftentimes, that purpose is served by making all other priorities secondary (including what might otherwise be best for its employees, the environment, and broader social contexts).  In contrast, the primary role of government is not to turn a profit (or even sell anything at all) but rather to protect and serve its people (ALL its people).*

Of course there are businesses built on merging core values with profitability. The outdoor company, Patagonia and their profitable passion for producing quality gear in environmentally sustainable ways comes to mind. I’m not suggesting that all business leaders and their enterprises are slaves to money or that they sacrifice all decency to worship at the shrine of gold, but that brings us back to Trump. His businesses don’t appear to have merged any higher values at all into his pursuit of money. In fact, it’s a pretty easy case to make that at least one of Trump’s primary business endeavors (casinos) are not even morally neutral, but rather socially questionable at best. The same can be said of Trump’s other business schemes, especially his fraudulent “University.” Trump’s businesses don’t seem to serve any purpose at all beyond making money, and that is a curious thing to make as the core “qualification” for anyone looking to engage in government service, much less the Office of President. In fact, the slavish pursuit of money at the expense of everything else is completely antithetical to the purpose and mission of good governance. It seems to me that Trump fails pretty hard by this measure.

For the sake of comparison, it’s worth mentioning that previous party candidates who ran on a business background (like Mitt Romney most recently) also had strong, relevant experience in publicly held offices. I’m no fan of Romney, but at least he was the former governor of Massachusetts. He also seems to have decent character and general values, but not Trump. Trump has never been elected to ANY public office. He doesn’t even run a publicly traded company that would otherwise be accountable to a constituency of shareholders. He has zero experience working with anyone he can’t boss around or fire.

It seems to me that if just being a business person was a sufficient qualification to run for President, then we would literally have tens of millions of qualified candidates, and that is a pretty big overstatement. Unlike Trump, even if a businessman were exceptionally honest and trustworthy, and had a spotless record of impressive profitability (and no bankruptcies), welcomed transparency and open tax-returns, had a history of paying all his bills, treating his employees and subcontractors well, supporting domestic businesses rather than relying on overseas operations and taking advantage of undocumented workers, it STILL would not mean that this experience made him qualified to be our nation’s chief diplomat, or our military’s Commander in Chief, or that he would know how to work with people he needed but could not dismiss (you know, like Senators and Supreme Court Justices, etc.).

In addition to failing in all the ways the ideal businessperson would succeed, Trump has never held elected office, knows virtually nothing about foreign affairs, domestic policy, or even the basic tenets of the U.S. Constitution or how the Office of the President works. Trump has never served in the military, never had to take orders, and has never had to work with anyone he couldn’t fire or at least manipulate or cheat out of their paycheck if he didn’t like them. And now, just because he claims to have made a lot of money, we’re supposed to take him seriously for the highest and singularly most powerful publicly elected office in the land? We’re really supposed to grant him access to our nuclear launch codes, count on him to be our chief diplomat on the world stage and put him in charge of signing legislation that impacts all U.S. citizens (the 99% who aren’t billionaires like he claims to be)? Are we really going to expect him to be able to work with the other branches of government (whom he can neither hire nor fire) to compromise and get things done? This strains a lot of credibility, and I think Trump supporters and any undecideds need to take this question very seriously. Merely being in business does not qualify one to be President.

2) Does Donald Trump run his businesses in a way that we would want applied to our government?

Pursuit of money is one of the core differences between a CEO of a private, for-profit business enterprises and the Office of the President. There is not a simple transition to one office from the other, but what about serving and protecting people? Does Trump have a record of serving and protecting people within his business operations and personal dealings? That might not seem to be a fair since Trump has never held public office and does not run a business for any purpose other than making money, but the question is absolutely relevant.

I don’t have any special insight here, but it’s enough to consider what we already know about how Trump conducts himself. He has made use of racist and sexist epithets throughout his career, most of which have surfaced during his recent presidential bid. One of the oldest ones to surface was a lawsuit that Trump settled in 1975. It was brought against him by the Department of Justice for his refusal to rent apartments to people of color in New York City. When Hillary Clinton pointed this out in a recent debate, Trump bragged that he settled the suit without having to admit any wrongdoing. Is this the kind of person we want at the helm: a racist cheat who refuses to admit wrongdoing even when caught red-handed? And the 1975 case is not the only example. Trump has been caught in lie after lie this election cycle, and he almost never apologizes. The closest we got was in the aftermath of his bragging about sexual assault on the Access Hollywood tape, in which he ultimately said he was “sorry if someone was offended” by his behavior, which is itself an underhanded move that puts the blame on someone’s reaction to his sexual misconduct rather than the conduct itself.

Additional issues indicative of billionaire-Trump’s quality are his proud remarks about gaming the system to pay zero dollars in federal income tax (how much did you pay last year?), his accusing a federal judge of bias against him for no other reason than that the judge had Mexican-American parents, his categorical denial of climate change while simultaneously preparing his golf courses for rising sea levels, Trump’s bragging that he was able to capitalize on one of the United States worst financial meltdowns in history even as millions of our citizens lost their homes, and his hypocritical sales pitches to supporters about bringing American jobs back home even as he has dozens of enterprises (including manufacturing jobs) abroad. And then we have the fraudulent “Trump University,” his systemic abuse and non-payment of contractors, investors, and debt holders. Trump also refuses transparency on his finances and has consistently made false excuses as to why he won’t release his tax returns.

I could go on about Trump’s character, how he runs his affairs, and how he treats people, but I think any moderately intelligent person can get the idea. Simply put, in addition to Trump’s lack of qualifications to lead a nation based on his status as a businessman, his character and approach to how he deals with people and runs his business is equally concerning. It seems to me that the last thing we want for our nation is to let it be run like Trump’s runs his business.

3. Is Donald Trump even good at business? 

I’ve already suggested that merely being a business person is an insufficient qualification for the presidency. I have also made a quick case that character and business ethics matter, and that Trump has a sordid and alarming history on both counts. But for the people who still aren’t quite sure, I think it’s relevant to ask if Trump is even very good at business. This is the weakest of my three questions since it is fairy obvious that Trump is a billionaire even by relatively conservative measures. It is widely speculated that he doesn’t have as many billions as he claims, but even if it’s just 1 billion, that is the equivalent of 1000 million dollars, and that is more money than 99% of the rest of us will ever have. So yeah, that pretty much means that Trump has done okay for himself and is not a fair representative of the average American citizen.

Even so, it begs to be asked, if he is such an awesome businessman, why has Trump had to declare bankruptcy no less than four times? Once is bad enough, but four? There are always extenuating circumstances for bankruptcies, but at the very least it shows that Trump is not the financial wizard that he wants everyone to believe he is.

And perhaps the even bigger question to ask regards why Trump won’t release his tax returns. There are two main reasons he might not want to, the first of which is that it may reveal a serious conflict of interests for his presidency. Odd ties to Russian subsidiaries or scandalous, poll-hurting dealings in so-called “sin” industries like pornography or arms sales are theoretical (although admittedly unlikely) possibilities. Alternatively, and this is largely speculated to be the most probable, disclosing his tax returns might reveal that Trump is not as great at business as he wants his followers to believe. This could be a real problem for Trump since he has indeed built his entire candidacy on his alleged business wits. After all, that is precisely why I put together this blog post. If Trump kind of sucks at business, and business is his only claim to legitimacy, then what’s left of his credibility?

I think it likely that Trump is no more a genius as a businessman than he is as a political outsider. Yes, he still has assets worth at least a billion dollars and probably more, and that is certainly not nothing, but assets are not the same as liquidity. No need for a deep financial discussion, but to explain the difference, let’s say you live in a $200,000 house that you own outright (paid off -good for you-). You are also a stellar budget master and have managed to save $10,000 in your savings account. Assuming no other debts or income, you technically have a net worth of $210,000, but only $10,000 of that is what is referred to as “liquid,” or money that is easily accessed. So, for example, you are worth $210k, but you couldn’t go out and pay cash for something like a $125,000 Porsche GT2 unless you first sold your house (which takes a lot of time and may create other problems for your situation).

Your house is a financial asset, but it is not liquid, and that brings us back to Trump. Trump may well be worth several billion on paper in assets, but it is also quite possible that he is cash-poor and doesn’t actually make that much money or have many liquid assets from year to year. This would be fairly devastating to the image that Trump desperately needs his followers to buy into. That Trump basically admits that he has figured out a legal way to pay no federal income tax is an additional piece of the puzzle that provides a clue into Trump’s questionable finances. He’s probably just not that good at business.

If you’re still with me, what do you think?

1. Is just being just a business person sufficient qualification for Donald Trump to be President?

2. Does Donald Trump run his businesses in a way that we would want applied to our government?

3. Is Donald Trump even good at business?

I’ve spilt a lot of ink and used what would have otherwise been a glorious pre-election Monday afternoon, but in addition to all of the insanity and frustration that this election cycle has brought us, my three questions regarding Trump’s candidacy have been burning in my head and now they are out there for everyone who follows my glorious and keenly insightful blog to consider and perhaps respond to. So, to all 3.5 of you who’ve made it this far… thank you.

Sincerely,

-Corbin

Posted in Politics | 3 Comments

When Gun Facts Aren’t

We have a serious problem with gun violence. Believe it or not, just about everyone agrees on that point. The disagreement (putting it politely) concerns what ought to be done about it. There are numerous iterations and nuances between them, but there are two basic viewpoints that dominate the landscape on gun violence. The first of these argues  that if the combination of guns and people are a problem, then it is easier to control the inanimate portion of that equation (guns) than it is the sentient creatures (people) who are prone to reach for them. For its part, the opposition reasons that if gun violence is an issue, then the most sensible thing to do is get more guns into the hands of more people. I wish I could say that the problem with one of these proposed “solutions” is obvious and that most reflective people would favor one over the other. Sadly, that is not the case. In fact, along with marriage equality, climate change, and abortion, this is a topic that engenders embarrassing quantities of vitriol, emotive verbal dumps, and accusations (my glorious blog entry excluded -of course-).

The 2nd Amendment of the United States Constitution makes conversations and efforts at progress all the more daunting. I won’t dissect the nuances of this amendment’s language or what, precisely, the Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote it in after the Constitution proper had been adopted. Despite the fact that our United States has become quite different than theirs, there is no doubt that U.S. citizens presently have the right to possess guns. The U.S. Constitution is an inherently alterable document, and I hope it will someday be amended to repeal this Yosemite-Sam holdover from yestercentury, but I am not making any predictions or holding my breath.

In addition to the public’s ongoing demonstration that it cannot responsibly handle the right to bear arms (33,636 gun-deaths last year), we have also proved that we lack the moral and political will to address gun violence in meaningful ways. Even in the wake of horrible mass shootings, we dig-in our heels and double down on our commitment to guns rather than using the political process (or other means) to reduce gun-related death and injury. Technically speaking, I suppose I am part of the deadlock. I am not about to load up on “tactical supplies” under the guise of defending my family any more than my gun-clutching counterparts are willing to give an inch on reasonable #gunsense legislation.

It is a sad stalemate of sorts, but because of the 2nd Amendment, it is clear that gun-rights activists have effectively won the argument, at least in the past and present. My hope for the future is different, however. Because of the data available, my perspective on guns and gun violence has dramatically changed, and I hope that others’ will change as well. I just don’t know how realistic that hope is.

The Truth Will Save Us?

I am often tempted to think that facts and reason are the keys to making progress against gun violence. If people understood how much damage guns do to our people, our economy and society at large, and if they understood how infrequently guns were actually “needed” or used for legitimate self-defense, then surely they would be willing to do something about the problem of mixing guns and humans, right? This is obviously a mistake on my part. Conversations on gun violence are rarely governed by legitimate information and logic.

Similar to other politically charged and emotional topics, I don’t think truth and rationality will save us. We are emotional creatures, and our choices are often dictated by those emotions rather than facts and reason. It seems that our nature is to latch-on to any factoid or tidbit of information that reinforces the conclusions we have already leapt to with our emotions and feelings, even if those so-called “facts” aren’t.

When it comes to gun violence, control, and the 2nd Amendment in particular, neither of the respective sides are immune from leading with their emotions or launching whatever faux-facts they can as “evidence” for their perspective. In a discussion on another blog, a commenter who was aware of this danger responded that he did not care about any of the facts I supplied in making a case for gun control because he knew that data could be skewed to support any perspective. Ironically, he then began offering his own “facts” in an effort to make other points. Clearly it wasn’t facts that he didn’t trust, it was information that he didn’t like that he did not trust. This showcases our tendency to lead with emotions, but it also points out the trouble we face with the rising tide of poorly interpreted information, faux-facts, exaggerated internet memes and generally bad logic when it comes to gun violence (and our uncritical acceptance of that which reinforces our pre-existing opinions).

Real Facts. False Conclusions.

Even real data can be presented in a just-so fashion to mislead people. A perfect example is provided by the Conservative provocateur, Bill Whittle, and his video series, “Firewall: Number One with a Bullet.” In his episode, The Truth About Guns, Whittle describes how the United States has more guns in public hands than any other nation on the planet, more than 90 per 100 people. He then begins a disingenuous monologue about how, if guns are so bad, and we have so many of them, then the USA must have the most murders in the world too, right? That’s what the Liberals want us to believe, so it must be true, Whittle claims. But no! The United States is number 91 on the world stage of murders per capita. Take that, Libtards! USA! USA! USA! The conclusion Whittle wants uncritical viewers to draw is that more guns = more safety.

Did you catch that? The USA is #91 in the world for murders, and we do have the most guns per capita of any nation on earth (almost more than twice as many as our next closest gun-toting nation), therefore guns = good, and gun-control = bad. I don’t dispute the facts Whittle used in his premises (#91 in murder, #1 in guns). It is the way he used them that is shady and led to a questionable conclusion (guns = good). If you aren’t tracking with me yet, ask yourself this: “Is a non-gun related murder (like stabbing) relevant to a discussion on gun violence?” And if it isn’t relevant, why is Mr. Whittle including it to make his point instead of murders related only to guns?

Unfortunately for Whittle and his gullible fans, he is working with a faulty comparison, something to the effect of measuring apples to, I don’t know, golf balls. To do a legitimate comparison, we would not measure gun ownership in relation to murder in general, but in relation to gun-violence in particular. Gun-related deaths might be an even better place to start, and by that metric, the pro gun-crowd argument is in trouble. The USA is not #91, but #13 in gun-related deaths in the world. If guns made us safer (as Whittle wants us to conclude), then shouldn’t the USA be the safest nation in the world? We aren’t. Not by a long shot (pun apology). Is there any doubt concerning why Whittle didn’t bother sharing this information with the audience?

If we are going to discuss the “truth about guns,” shouldn’t we limit the conversation to gun issues? If we are going to host a video series called “Number One with a Bullet,” then shouldn’t we, I don’t know, maybe keep bullets in focus? Apparently not, if you’re Bill Whittle and want to mislead people on the issue of gun violence. The really sad part is that the video has more than 4.6 million views on You Tube, and its Facebook promo from Cold Dead Hands tells viewers to “Watch this video…  and allow yourself to be enlightened.” The stupidity and misplaced confidence is astounding.

Faux-Facts

Whittle’s video is just one example of using real facts to promote false claims and mislead people, but at least he started with reality. The same cannot be said of another pro-gun website that purports to highlight “gun facts.” Indeed, that is the name of the website, and I have often been referred to it. Yet even a modicum of digging reveals that the “gun facts” listed on the opening page are, well… not facts. The website consistently makes revisions to its listed “facts” and often writes in new qualifications for them, but when I looked at the site a few months ago, I decided to explore the first four “facts” listed, and you can see them below.

1: Guns prevent an estimated 2.5 million crimes a year or 6,849 every day. 5 

2: Property crime rates are dropping (especially burglaries). As the legal handgun supply in America rises the property crime rate drops. 6

3: Every day 400,000 life-threatening violent crimes are prevented using firearms.

4: 60% of convicted felons admitted that they avoided committing crimes when they knew the victim was armed. 40% of convicted felons admitted that they avoided committing crimes when they thought the victim might be armed. 7

These samples are from: http://www.gunfacts.info/gun-control-myths/crime-and-guns/ (The related footnotes can be found there as well).

But when we take a closer look…

“Fact” #1 references a discredited paper from, Gary Kleck, who leapt to an inductive conclusion on defensive gun uses after surveying a woefully small sample-set and presuming that it held true for the entire population. Kleck didn’t even bother to verify any of the respondents’ claims or match them with available, real-world evidence. He claims between 1 million and 2.5 million annual instances of defensive gun use (that’s right, he allows himself a margin of error of one and a half million), but in 2014, the verified number of such uses was just shy of 1600. Even if we doubled that number to allow for the possibility of unreported instances, it still means that the pro-gun crowd has multiplied the number by a factor of more than 781 to come up with their claim. “Fact” #1 isn’t, and interested readers can find a fuller criticism of Kleck’s study here.

“Fact” #2 Fails to make a causal relationship between handgun supply in the USA and “property crime rates.” Never mind the fact that most property crimes (like shoplifting) do not require a gun to commit or stop, this faux-fact wants gullible readers to jump to the conclusion that handguns reduce property crime even as it provides zero evidence about the involvement of guns in either committing or defending against property crime. In short, “fact” #2 is useless (at best), and designed to deceive (at worst).

“Fact” #3 Is at odds with “fact” #1. Which is it? Do guns prevent 6,849 crimes every day, or is it 400,000 per day? We just went from 2.5 million annual instances of defensive gun use in “fact” #1 to 146 million in “fact” #3. Not only is this wildly inconsistent and flatly unbelievable, this faux-fact doesn’t even bother to cite a source. And just like “fact” #1, it fails to correspond with verified defensive gun uses.

“Fact” #4 referenced a 30-year old study that only considered the input from a select group of inmates in a handful of prisons and merely assumed that it applies to all criminals today. I hope reasonable people can see the problem with this sort of inductive logic leap. And if that is not enough, consider that by the linked website’s reckoning, “60% of criminals avoid crime when they know their intended victims have guns.” Sounds like an impressive case for guns, right? Unfortunately, the inclusion of all criminals is like saying that a drug-dealer wouldn’t sell cocaine to his usual clientele if he knew they were carrying or that a tax-evader wouldn’t have dodged his due if he knew IRS agents carried weapons. “Fact” #4 is ridiculous.  Sometimes “gun facts” aren’t.

Correlation ≠ Causation

A final issue that regularly surfaces in arguments over guns and control is confusing correlation with causation. For example, while it is true that every person who has ever eaten peas has ultimately died (correlation), it is not true to say that peas were the source of death (causation). That is an obvious example, but it gets trickier when we make it about guns, especially since both sides of the aisle are guilty of making this mistake. For instance, I recently chased some clickbait provocatively titled, “The Gun Violence Chart that DESTROYS Liberal Gun Control Arguments.” How could I resist?! You can see the handy chart right here (special thanks to my partner for pointing out that a single chart with two X-axis is stupid in and of itself):This Gun Violence Chart DESTROYS Liberal Gun Control Arguments

As it turns out, the numerical claims are more or less true, gun murders have decreased since their highpoint in 1993, and the number of guns in the population has risen. However, this chart’s lines (and its claims) significantly misrepresent the situation, not just because points from A to B were anything but straight lines, but also because it presumes that increasing gun numbers were the cause of decreasing crime rates. The two are roughly correlated in the sense that they both changed over the 22-year period from 1993 to 2015, but this does not prove that one caused the other. The chart’s claim and credibility is further reduced when we consider that most of the crime reduction happened from 1993 to 2001, but that most of the increase in guns (68% of the estimated 118 million added since 1993) happened between 2001 and 2015. Even more interesting is that crime dropped most abruptly as the crack cocaine market was routed in the 1990s and at the same time as the Assault Weapon Ban was in effect (1994-2004). So, if we wanted to construct a gun violence chart of our own that would “destroy” pro-gun arguments, all we would have to do is draw some straight lines between 1993 figures and those of 2001 that showed the steep decline in gun homicides along with the even steeper decline in gun sales, assault weapons in particular. In fact, the two may have had a direct relationship on one another, but these figures alone prove nothing more than correlation. Claims to causality reach beyond the data listed here, and that is a regular logic leap found in gun discussions.

Playing Detective and Overcoming the Tendency to be Sheeple

From purposefully misrepresenting real information and fabricating faux-facts, to confusing correlation with causation, clearly there are poor arguments on both sides of the gun issue. Most of us intuitively know there is something wrong with a lot of the rhetoric we hear, even if the errors aren’t immediately obvious. So I hope this blog entry has helped inspire us to be better at looking beneath the surface of the panoply of soundbites, manipulated charts, and ridiculous internet memes that we encounter every day. If we allow ourselves to be misled, we will be. And when we fail to be critical thinkers, we fail ourselves.

Thanks for reading me,

-CL

For those willing to look, one of the more balanced assessments of arguments over gun control I have come across can be found here, at FactCheck.org (and they are far less biased than I am).  -CL

 

Bill Whittle  Aaron Betz  Tony King

Posted in Guns, Other Topics, Politics | 9 Comments

If We Were All Just Christians, then Gun Violence Would…

…still be a problem.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you know that we’ve had yet another mass shooting at a school. On October 1, 2015 a man who legally purchased all his guns went on a murder spree with them at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. Nine people were killed before the previously “law abiding” gun owner shot himself in the head. You can read about the gun-murder spree in this NYTimes article: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/02/us/oregon-shooting-umpqua-community-college.html?_r=0

In the days that followed this latest mass shooting, the 291st in 2015 (so far), I have witnessed (once again) more than a few of my fellow Christians take up and parrot the usual NRA propaganda. You know, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” and “If we really want to protect our families, then we need MORE guns everywhere, not less,” and “This is really about mental illness, not guns,” etc. If anyone is interested in some sample rebuttals to these bogus soundbites, this blog entry might be of some use: If You Give A Man an Assault Rifle.

But in a slightly new twist (new to me, at least), many conservative Christians have decided that mental illness is no longer the best tool used to steer discussions on gun violence away from guns. Mental illness still gets blamed a lot (since blaming guns is off limits), but the new culprit we are apparently supposed to focus on is sin, or the churchy term that Christians use interchangeably with evil in motion. Guns are not the problem we are told. Mental illness is not (really) the problem either. It’s sin, and if we can just get everyone to become a Christian, then sin will be defeated and gun violence will no longer be an issue. We don’t need restricted access to guns; we just need us some Jesus.

Okay. Let me just say that on philosophical grounds, I agree with the notion that evil is a real problem, and the root of all the other manifestations of “sin” we see in our world. As a Christian myself, I think the Bible is on to something when it describes the state of humanity that has turned away from love and care for our neighbors and enemies (and environment). I also agree, at least in theory, that if everyone always followed Jesus and his “greatest commands” that we love God and our neighbors as ourselves, then yes, gun violence would go extinct.

But how often are told that it is Liberal la-la land to think that gun regulations and bans work because “If we outlaw guns, then only outlaws will have guns”? Apparently we can’t expect everyone to be a law-abiding citizen (that’s just unrealistic), but we can expect everyone to become a Christian, and that is supposed to be the answer? Can we not see the inconsistency in assuming that every one can become a Christian, but that these ubiquitous Jesus people will nevertheless not be law-abiding citizens? This is an internal inconsistency problem that some fellow believers have bought into. And that is about the nicest thing I can say about it.

This logic also fails to consider the present reality that Christians are not known in Western Civilization for their peace and love, either amongst themselves or their non-Christian neighbors. Claims to Christian “peace” and “love” are particularly suspect if you happen to be gay, black, brown, Native American or a woman. The indisputable fact is that being a “Christian” has never been a very good guaranty against violence, genocide, or systemic oppression. In fact, many times throughout the history of the West (as well as today), Christianity has been used as the pretext for these heinous evils. That is a pretty big fail.

I agree that “sin” is a real problem, but how can Christians honestly address the messed-up state of humanity without focusing on the means that we use to perpetuate evil? With reference to the out of control gun violence that our nation witnesses on a daily basis, how can we Christians claim to fight evil while concurrently refusing to fight the means by which it is expressed in deadly and oft-repeated fashion? It makes no sense at all. It is hypocritical. It is revolting, and it is anything but “following” Jesus, who, by the way, didn’t make bland statements about evil in general, but took very specific actions to shut it down and to rescue those who were targeted by it. Can we not follow his example? What does it say about us if we want to make spineless blandishments about sin while refusing to even admit that guns themselves are part of the problem that sin makes use of? Whatever it is, it is not good.

If that is not depressing enough, I recently posted a much shorter invective against Christian hypocrisy on gun violence on my Facebook page. I have included it below, as well as one of the comments left there by a Christian I previously believed was my friend. The response he left was ultimately deleted from Facebook (but presented in its original, unedited form below), because I tend not to put up with name calling in mixed company. But what is particularly saddening is that he actually defends genocide and is so upset at my calling out Christian hypocrisy that he claims I am following the Antichrist, Satan, that I’ve lost my mind, and that *I* am helping usher in “anialtion” [sic] and “genecide” [sic]. That’s right. Because I spoke against gun violence and Christian hypocrisy, I must be worshipping Satan and fomenting some sort of coming genocide. Face. Palm.

I am not often left speechless, but this insanity did the trick. At least until now, that is. With apologies to Hinduism, apparently unfettered access to guns is such a sacred cow in some conservative Christian circles that these folks would rather assign me a place in hell than consider that maybe, just *maybe* the claim that “guns make us safer” happens to be the opposite of reality and needs to be addressed in meaningful ways.

For your viewing displeasure, below is my original Facebook post followed by the response offered by my apparently not-friend.

 

Corbin says: “When some of my fellow Christians say that gun violence is really just an extension of sin, and it would not be a problem if everyone just became a Christian, I just have to ask about things, like, you know, the Crusades, witchunts, and the various Inquisitions of our sordid Christian/Western history. Oh, and let’s not forget the systemic genocide Christians foisted against Native Americans or why some contemporary Christians load up on guns and ammo for “defense,” or why there is a freaking assault rifle company emblazoning their killing “tools” with Christian imagery and Bible verses. And by the way, how is that Make-Everyone-A-Christian project coming? If we Christians blame sin for violence, gun violence in particular, without talking about serious and lasting gun restrictions or plausible means for limiting gun violence, then we are full of it. And the world knows it.

Jesse D. Armstrong replies: Actually you paint that picture, the world doesn’t know it. Your God… if you claim the God of Christian’s, led his people to drive entire people groups from their lands… corrupt and wicked people who probably were “loving” to their children but who did not know or acknowledge him as Creator. When Christ comes again he will bring a sword for war and destruction…. judgement upon a Godless people. You may not like it but armed men still protect what is God’s today. I personally have two guns which have never killed anyone but that might if anyone threatened my family. These days… as in the days of the U.S. independence, O/C Government and foreign teligion are enemy #1. I say this only because of the antichrist mentality that they are under… which you also seem to be under. You are hell net on a way that is not Christ like. You preach rightly that God forgives but miss entirely that within the relationship purchased by Christ’s violent death men must repent or be even further temoved from the Creator than they first were. God serfs men to trust in his love then to surrender their lives to him… their desires and their wills. I have never used a weapon but I have stood up to homosexuales men trying to rape my boys on the streets of Nica… I have stopped a mmen from beating their wives by force… and by God’s power I will do these things again. The issue is that men no longer want to hear about Jesus because it requires their whole life, but you don’t know that Jesus it seems. Tell men about their sin and about freedom from it. Your gun issue is a smoke screen which Satan is using to accomplish an even greater anialtion yet to come… and you are there promoting this genecide. Your mind is lost Corbin.

Well gee whiz. I hope Jesse will forgive me if I am not persuaded.

Thanks for reading me.

-Corbin

Posted in Guns, Politics | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Who Would Jesus Kill? A Reflection on Violence and the Way of Christ

A friend recently asked me about the morality of killing an attacker. The story he used to highlight the question was the reported death of an ISIS leader killed at the hands of a woman the jihadi had enslaved in the group’s sex-trade. I could not get the web-link my friend supplied to work, but I did an independent Google search for the story. The story seems unverifiable, and the following link even suggests that it might be ISIS propaganda: http://www.examiner.com/article/woman-kills-isis-commander-captured-iraqi-female-made-into-sex-slave-retaliates

We just don’t know if the story is legitimate, but it doesn’t matter. I am going with the assumption that the story is true because the theme of abusers and using violence against them is not isolated. I am also going to assume that the killing occurred in defense, not vengeance. Revenge punishment or killing is specifically forbidden in Scripture (which is why I am against capital punishment), but defensive action is a knottier problem. There are evil people in the world, and there is no doubt that they intend to prey on others. The question remains, “Is it permissible to use violence to stop them from carrying out injustice?”

It’s a tough issue, and I have to qualify everything with an, “It seems to me… .” I don’t speak definitively with THE Christian perspective (as if there is only one), but rather as one voice among many. That being said, I side with the woman who shot her would-be attacker and slaver, and I say that with serious reservation since I am against both guns and violence. Furthermore, while I don’t think Jesus would kill anyone, it is clear from the biblical text that God’s patience with humanity does have its limits (although it is unknown what determines when, precisely, God has had enough. If the impending genocide of Native Americans, Jews, Cambodians or Russians -under Stalin- didn’t qualify, then… well, go figure).

But back to the alleged slaying of a militant sex-slaver. There are several relevant themes in play here. There are Jesus’ teachings about turning the other cheek, giving a robber or arbitrary order from an overlord more than he or she demands, etc. (Matthew 5.38-41). Similarly, we have the example of Christ who offered himself up as a sacrifice despite the fact that he could have easily made heads roll and kicked major ass at any point that suited him. He chose the way of passivity and self-destruction rather than defend himself. That is a powerful statement to say the least. However, Jesus wasn’t in it “only” for self sacrifice. He was in it, because he knew the unquantifiable good that his sacrifice would bring. It was a horribly difficult (but worthy) trade-off for him.

For a different perspective, there were many times in Jesus’ ministry when he stirred up the jealousy and hatred of the day’s religious big-deals, and the text says that “they” sought to kill him. It wasn’t Jesus’ time, however, so he easily danced through their traps. You could say that he stealthily “fought” their efforts until his appointed time, and even then, his execution was at his discretion. He retained choice.  This was not the case for the would-be target for sex-slavery. She did not have a choice as far as complete control over the situation went. Unlike Jesus, she didn’t have the option of easily evading those who would hurt her. Similarly, it doesn’t seem that her passivity would yield a greater good if the crime were allowed to proceed. The salvation of others was not on the line. Stated another way, her suffering would be gratuitous. In fact, if she had not successfully resisted, she would probably not be the last victim of this criminal. In that sense, her violent resistance -rather than passivity- yielded the greater good.

Finally, I think we should consider the only time we see Jesus get angry in a way that lead to violence: the temple cleansing. This story has multiple attestations, and can be found in Matthew 21.12-13, Mark 11.15-17, and John 2.13-17. Essentially Jesus finds a marketplace in the temple courts that is serving to separate temple-goers from their money. You may know the story. Jesus pretty much loses it, knocks over tables and uses a whip to drive out the capitalists.

But what if we were to up the ante, and make it not greedy money-changers and animal-sellers in the temple courts, but slavers (sex-slaves or otherwise)? I’m pretty sure Jesus would have been just as aggressive if not more so. The original whipping and overturning of tables was just for the sake of holy ground, not the subjugation and abuse of disenfranchised people, so I cannot fathom that Jesus would be any less motivated to knock heads together in a slavery situation. He would be pissed.

Throughout Scripture, we see both the Father and the Son advocating for the weak and marginalized, be they women, children, orphans, widows, the sick and the old. In our day and age, that would surely include “illegal” immigrants and those who identify as LGBTQ as well. As a Christian, I am convinced that we people of faith are mandated to stand up for these folks, even if that means that we take up “the sword” when oppressors turn violent. The problem, of course, is that humans are very good at rationalizing what qualifies as appropriate purposes for violence and what qualifies as “just war” or “wars of justice.” We see blood spilled over land, money, resources, power and prestige, and these are all sinful and surely variations of abuse. It is only when we use power to fight for REAL justice and protection of the weak that qualifies as honoring God. Killing a person (as a last resort) to stop injustice and systematic abuse seems appropriate to me in a fallen world, even if it is not ideal.

Thanks for reading me.

-CL

Posted in Questions for Christians, Theology | 2 Comments

Yes, Christians Can (and should) Support Same-Sex Marriage

And yes, you can be gay or transgender, and be a Christian. Shoot, you can even be a heterosexual too. Nobody is not invited to the Jesus party. But I digress.Replacing that Flag

On Friday, June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled that bans against same-sex marriage are unconstitutional and therefore unacceptable. I support this decision and have long said that there is no other decision the court could come to if it is truly governed by fidelity to the U.S. Constitution, the 1st and 14th amendments in particular. Just as a reminder, the 1A prohibits our government from making laws that “respect the establishment of religion,” and the 14A guarantees equal protection under the law. It was the 14th that was specifically cited regarding the SCOTUS’s majority decision in favor of marriage equality on Friday. By contrast, the court rightly ignored religious claims against same-sex marriage, and the 1st amendment was not invoked in the court’s decision.

As I said, I believe that this was the right decision, but my conviction is not merely connected to the legal/ constitutional argument. I also believe that recognizing and supporting marriage equality is the right thing to do as a Christian. I am not ashamed of this.

Nevertheless, I acknowledge that I presently hold a minority position among fellow Christians in the United States. There are more than a few of them who want to “correct” me or judge me regarding my support of same-sex marriage (and almost always by quoting Scripture out of context or without any supporting rationale at all). They believe I am confused, at best, and downright deceived or in Bible-rejecting, God-hating, apostate territory at worst. Anyone who knows anything about me should know better than to go with the worst type of name-calling listed in the previous sentence. While I tire of all these accusations and the constant harassment and judgment of other Christians, I don’t necessarily blame them, at least not at first. The fact is that I used to be (perhaps too recently) among their ranks, and I used to believe similar things about the Bible and what God thinks about homosexuality.

So I don’t hate or ridicule Christians who are convinced that homosexual behavior is always sinful in all contexts at all times. I don’t troll their Twitter accounts or Facebook posts just looking for a chance to argue, judge, or inform them of my disapproval. I disagree with them, but I respect their opinions on the matter and their freedom to post whatever they like on their own social media outlets.

However, this does not mean they are welcome to post whatever they want to on my Facebook page. I do not often tolerate damaging words being posted on my page on the chance that they will hurt other friends who frequent my Facebook feed. I nevertheless understand that Christians who disagree with me believe their convictions are grounded in the biblical text. I accept that their opposition to same-sex marriage is connected to their understanding of morality and what good Christians should and should not do. If homosexuality (and same-sex marriage by extension) is always sinful, then they feel they would be remiss in not opposing it. I get it.

That being said, Christians who judge and speak out against homosexuality in general, and same-sex marriage in particular, are driving people (not just gay folks) away from Christians, away from the Bible, away from the church and even Jesus himself. This is another reason their right to free speech does not necessarily extend to my Facebook page. In expressing beliefs and opinions against the LGBTQ community, it seems to me that these Christians are actually working against Christ rather than for him. This deeply saddens me since I believe Jesus is legit and has a lot to offer our damaged world.

But how can I say this? If homosexuality is a sin, then how can I be for the LGBTQ community? How can I be against my co-Christians who call out the gay “lifestyle” as sinful, and how can I be for same-sex marriage? These are all fair questions, and as some of the commenters on Facebook have tried to prod me, they deserve a response.

For the sake of readability, I will be as brief as possible in describing my general advocacy for members of the LGBTQ community and marriage equality. Read on.

Here is my basic argument in support of same-sex marriage as a Christian

A. God is perfect justice.

B. It would be unjust for God to make a person a certain way and then categorically deny them appropriate means to express how he made them when that exact expression is happily given to others.

C. God makes gay people.

D. God indicates that marriage is the way his people can express their sexuality in a healthy and meaningful way.

Therefore, gay marriage is God-honoring and ought to be celebrated by all Christians instead of being banned and denigrated. If Christians want sexually active adults to be in committed, mutually consenting, monogamous relationships, then marriage is the way.

It is the premise, “God creates gay people,” that anti-gay Christians will take issue with. They have no other option in the argument above. Nevertheless, asserting that all gay people chose their sexuality while heterosexuals were merely created that way by God is hypocritical and completely unhinged from science, the testimony of many gay people, and even the biblical text itself. The bottom line is this: If a person legitimately and honestly believes in their heart that God created them as a gay person, then it would exceed all credibility for me to suggest that I know differently or that I know how God created them better than they do. That just doesn’t add up, and ultimately, a person’s sexuality is between them and God, not me and them and God. Thus far, I have found no reason to reject my argument as outlined in the paragraphs above this one. Until such time, I will continue my advocacy and support of LGBTQ communities and marriage equality. People deserve friends, not oppressors.

Beyond this basic argument, below is a smattering of other issues I believe should be considered before anyone gives in to the temptation of presuming that our secular nation is subject to their specific religious interpretations and before any more Christians make judgmental and hate-filled pronouncements against LGBTQ communities and same-sex marriage.

1. Bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. This conclusion has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

2. Theocracy has been tried and been found utterly lacking and destructive by the history of the world. The USA has Christians in it, but has never been (and never will be) a “Christian nation.” It is therefore inappropriate (and illegal) to let anyone’s religious dogma and doctrine dictate laws in the United States of America.

3. Christians who nevertheless want to make others live by their particular religious interpretations are closer to Islamic extremists -who want to impose Sharia Law on everyone- than they are to Jesus, who never forced anybody to do anything.

4. Christians who want to deny others the rights they themselves enjoy are not “loving” their neighbor. They are being hypocritical and bigoted.

5. Condemning same-sex marriage and being hateful towards LGBTQ folks will not change anyone’s sexuality or spirituality.

6. Same-sex marriage is not like bestiality or sexual exploitation of children. We aren’t talking about sex anyway. We are talking about marriage, and unlike marriage among mutually consenting, monogamous adults of sound mind, marrying animals and children has never been legal for anyone in our nation. This is the difference between equality and legality.

7. Quoting Bible verses at people is not a proper way to engage anyone who doesn’t understand it or give the Bible (or an anti-gay interpretation of it) any special authority.

8. Judging people won’t make them like you, other Christians, the Bible, church, or Jesus. In fact, it will drive them away.

9. Judging others’ salvation is exactly what Jesus told his people not to do.

10. Even if a homosexual “lifestyle” was always a sin in all contexts (a claim I doubt), it does not follow that being “perfect” is required of anyone who wants to follow Jesus. If that were the case, then all Christians, gay or otherwise, would be totally screwed. Sinful or not, There is absolutely no reason that a gay person cannot be a Christian.

11. Nowhere does the Bible feature the word “lifestyle.”

12. Nowhere does the Bible specifically speak of same-sex marriage, but it does hint at the goodness of committed, monogamous, marriages among consenting adults of sound mind. If people are gay, then why wouldn’t we allow them to be in committed, monogamous relationships?

13. No bacon-eating Christian has any credibility when they quote Levitical Law to make negative assessments of homosexuality. And I love bacon.

And finally, a wise campus minister once told me, “Nobody cares what you know until they know that you care.” Pushing for oppression, spewing hate, and pronouncing judgment is a pretty good indicator that you don’t care about non-heterosexuals. At all. And if that’s you, you’re following somebody, but it’s not Jesus.

For my part, as a Christian advocate and friend, I support same-sex marriage in particular, and all LGBTQ people in general. I don’t anticipate that changing anytime soon.

Sincerely,

-Lambeth

Additional comments, questions, and arguments are welcome provided that they honor the spirit of friendly conversation. Posts that violate this spirit will be edited and may not be read or posted at all. There are already enough a-holes with internet access. Don’t be one of them. -CL

Posted in Politics, Sexuality, Theology | 41 Comments

Oregon Passes Universal Background Check Law for ALL Gun Sales. That’s a Win.

I just stirred the pot on Twitter with the @NRA regarding Oregon’s new law requiring background checks for ALL gun sales (internet and private sales were previously exempt). I know, I know, probably not the best way to approach NRA types. What can I say? I am human too and don’t always tolerate the stupidity I see in the world. Anyway. Not only do the the NRA trolls apparently like the idea of gun sales to folks without background checks (insane), they also predictably united against me in rabid, gun-nut propaganda and hostility. Rather than taking my chances by further taxing the emotional state of angry and unstable gun-users, I decided to release myself from the insanity and not waste any more time trying to reason with them. Nevertheless, I thought it would be fun to add a quick blog entry about the encounter. I put a link out there for them to engage on the blog, but I suspect most of them are too busy congratulating themselves on attacking me. But I digress.

The first NRA mantra that surfaced was the faux-point that gun laws of any stripe won’t stop crime. The implicit conclusion they want to force is that we should therefore not have any gun control laws. What a load of garbage. This is like saying that murder should be legal since laws against it won’t stop it. Fail.

I mentioned this to one of the gunnutters, but it didn’t compute for him. I then asked him why he thought we had any laws at all, and his response was to “punish those who break them and deter crime.” His failure to connect the dots was lost on him. I briefly tried to get him to think, but he switched to telling me that criminals fear people with guns more than they fear prison. I asked him to support this, so he referenced a 30-year old study that only considered the input from a select group of inmates in a handful of prisons and merely assumed that it applies to all criminals today. I hope reasonable people can see the problem with this. For just one example, by his reckoning, “60% of criminals avoid crime when they know their intended victims have guns.” Sounds like an impressive case for guns, right? Wrong. The inclusion of all criminals  is like saying that a drug-dealer wouldn’t sell crack cocaine to his usual clientele if he knew they were carrying or that a tax-evader wouldn’t have dodged his taxes if he knew IRS agents carried guns. Once again: fail.

The second and perhaps most mindless dogmatic claim that was made (this time) is that guns are “harmless.” I told the Twitter-er who said this that he should therefore let his children play with a loaded gun. Needless to say, he didn’t like that and then switched to the old adage that “guns don’t kill people; it’s people who something something.” I’ve dealt with the stupidity of that argument here, but it always amazes me that people are so indoctrinated with that logic (and oblivious to its problems). When will it ever die? Never,  I suppose, at least as long as folks are willing to let the NRA do their thinking for them.

But anyway, for the third argument that was made, Bobby B. (isn’t it always a guy?) posted the following meme in reply to my suggestion about regulation and cars:

CENW_jWWIAMEntv.jpg-large

I love dissecting this sort of thing, so let’s consider it line by line:

1) The first line posits that cars are not regulated for use on private property, therefore guns shouldn’t be regulated either. This begs the question: How are you going to get your car/gun to your private property without crossing not-your-private-property? Fail. And a car isn’t much good if you can’t take it off your property, but whatever. I might not be opposed to enforced laws (and technology) that prevent any guns from leaving one’s private property. I’m pretty sure that the gun-nuts don’t want that, so once again, number 1 fails to make a decent argument.

Line 2) No license required? Hardly. You have to take a test (or series of tests) to drive a car regardless of its transmission. The same should be the case for the regulation of guns and bullets, at least if you want to use them. Number 2 fails.

Line 3) You are required to title and register a car through proper paperwork when you buy it. Period. This is all the more the case (as well as required insurance) if you want to use it on public roads, regardless of private or “public” sales. Number 3 fails. Like cars, guns should be titled, registered and insured.

Line 4) “Full faith and credit?” I don’t even know how that part of our legal code applies to cars, much less concealed carry laws for guns. Number 4 not only fails; it is three notches up on the “Huh?” factor.

Line 5) Unsupervised operation at 16? Yes that’s true for cars, but applying the same standard for guns seems questionable at best. At the very least, I would not oppose raising the driving age to 18. Does number 5 fail? Hmm. I don’t know, but I don’t find it particularly convincing either.

Line 6) Mufflers and Suppressors required? Like number 4, this so vapid and ridiculous that it  totally fails. Mufflers don’t increase the chance of murder like suppressors do. That being said, I think that perhaps my EV should have synthetic Harley pipes broadcast outside so unsuspecting pedestrians don’t step off the curb into my path. In that sense, perhaps guns should be required to be louder or have warning signals broadcast when they are in use. That’s some reasonable #gunsense that I could support.

Line 7) Limits on fuel and magazine size? This is another stupid, apples to envelopes comparison. Gas in the tank doesn’t increase potential death tolls like bullets in a magazine do. Besides, how many bullets do you reaallly need for hunting deer and target practice? If you need a machine gun with a huge magazine to go hunting, you’re probably doing it wrong.

So, nice try, @bobby_b71, but you’re going to have to try again. Your meme is stupid and unconvincing. At best.

For my part, I think I’ll stick with a more realistic comparison between guns and cars:

guns-and-cars2

Unless it is because of the irrational fears and general paranoia fostered by the NRA, or unless they actually want irresponsible types to have guns (and perhaps they do), I don’t understand why any “good person with a gun” would be against any of these sensible regulations. Don’t they want guns to only be in the hands of functionally responsible citizens? Don’t they understand that requiring proper training and licensing would be a good thing and make it more difficult for criminals to attain and keep such weapons (or at least help authorities know an unauthorized gun when they see it)? Don’t gun advocates want people with guns to be physically and mentally capable and in good health before having or using a deadly weapon? Shouldn’t responsible citizens want to know what happens with guns, who has them, when they are sold, traded or given away? Don’t responsible citizens want accountability for people who are irresponsible in who they give, trade or sell guns to?

The NRA and their minions are against each and everyone of these common #gunsense suggestions. It begs the question: “Why?”

If that’s not enough, be sure to look at my other, related blog entries regarding the ridiculousness and insanity of our gun-nut culture:

In Guns We Trust

If You Give A Man an Assault Rifle

Trayvon Martin and the Insanity of Gun Culture

Happy hunting!

As always, thanks for reading me.

-CL

Posted in Guns, Other Topics, Politics | 45 Comments

Is Now a Good Time to Invest in Oil?

I am going a little afield from the usual menu of faith-based entries with this post, but I am also an aspiring finance geek and wanted to put some thoughts together on the recent trend in oil prices. But don’t worry, one of my core Christian convictions remains that we cannot show respect to our creator while systematically disrespecting his creation (especially when it’s done in the name of short-sighted economic gains at the expense of just about everyone, especially the poor and defenseless). Yes, gasoline is “less-expensive,” these days, but if you were driving in the mid to late 90’s, then you know it still isn’t “cheap.” And when we figure in the externalized costs of oil (like health problems and environmental destruction), it is still way waaay too costly.

Anyway, I just read a friend’s blog this morning that discussed the ramifications of the drop in oil prices for personal finances. It was well done, and you can find it here: What Falling Oil Prices and a Rising Dollar Mean for You. But it got me thinking about investments in oil as a money maker or a portfolio holding. Unfortunately, if you own any mass-market exchange traded fund (ETF) or mutual fund that focuses on large-cap companies or the S&P 500, you absolutely have money invested in the oil industry, like it or not. It is what it is, and there’s nothing you can do about it if you prefer index funds (like me). That being said, there are ETFs and mutual funds that are specifically dedicated to the oil sector (as well as individual stocks if you like extra exposure). The question, therefore, is: “Is now a good time to buy in to oil-dedicated investments?”

As much as it pains me to say this (no really, I may have to punch myself in the face here), right now might be a decent time to invest in oil (in general) if you are a short-term or even medium-term investor. Oil securities, ETFs and mutual funds have generally taken a beating in the last 6 months, and I don’t think this is going to last. There’s just no way. Short term, I’d say less than 2 years. Mid-term? Maybe 3-7. And when prices spike again, it could be the perfect model of buying low and selling high, if you buy-in now. But investor beware, so-called “market timing” is notoriously difficult, and I am not recommending any such thing. In fact, the prevailing wisdom of benefiting from investing in stocks, bonds, ETFs and mutual funds is to buy and hold, holding forever if possible (thanks, Mr. Buffet). With that in mind, Now is definitely NOT the time to take a long-term approach to investing in gas and oil or any of their subsidiary businesses. Ah, maybe I can sleep tonight after all.

Whether it’s investing or budgeting for sub-$2 gallons of gas, I think it is a huge mistake to get too excited or make long-term financial plans that depend on lower oil prices year over year. What I mean is that the current trend is likely a fluke in the steady rise in demand for and shrinking supply of oil. At least easy-access oil, that is. At best, this will cause oil securities to stagnate concerning capital appreciation and dividends too, and maybe even continue to fall. And please, for the love of God, don’t go buy a Chevy Suburban or Ford Expedition thinking that gas prices won’t ruin your day in the future. They will.

Over the mid-term, the less expensive oil hiccup will simply not continue. Oil companies all over the world have a vested interest in higher oil prices. Combined with free-market mechanics, this necessitates that less-profitable drilling and refining will be shutdown, which will entail reduced supply. On the other side, demand will inevitably increase, especially with the growing middle classes in China and India (and all of them want cars). This will cause oil securities to rise in capital appreciation and perhaps dividends too.

Falling production with increasing demand = higher prices, and this is exactly what Saudi Arabia (the cornerstone of OPEC) wants AND why they have decided to increase short term oil production. It’s a brilliant market play on the part of the Arab Kingdom because (as I said) this will drive a lot of the smaller and more challenging oil fields to become unprofitable and shutdown (think dirty tar sands oil & every smalltime operation in West Texas and North Dakota). Once those players are out of business, and OPEC chops its supply (and they will, mark my words) that organization can do whatever it likes with prices and the rest of the world will just have to say “Thank you, may I have another?!”

That being said, over the longer-term, the entire oil business is in deep trouble (and it should be, given the environmental and geo-political consequences of long term oil addiction). Eventually we are going to wake up and realize that fossil fuels (and all the petrol dictatorships who hate the USA that depend on them) are not a good thing for our nation or for the world at large to keep financing. When we finally accept the poisonous nature of our addiction to fossil fuels, and when we finally build-out a renewable, clean energy economy that eschews dirty fuels, long-term investments in the fossil-fuel industry are going down in a major way. Hasten the day.

But it’s not just an environmental thing. As hinted at above, moving away from oil means that nations like Venezuela, Iran, and Russia get put in a serious financial pinch. These nations aren’t exactly a list of America’s biggest fans, and each of them are presently facing serious financial crises and domestic turmoil for no other reason that falling oil prices have gutted their economies (think military and social spending). I suggest that Putin’s recent land-grabs are motivated by the desire to distract as much as they are to commandeer much-needed, non-oil resources, but that is a separate topic, I suppose. Nevertheless, the fact is that moving away from oil means that we can put hostile nations (many of which use oil revenues to finance terrorism) out of business, and that is a wonderful thing. It also represents a serious set of motivators for clean, renewable energy sources like solar, wind, geothermal, etc. Even if we prefer to deny science / climate change, the fact is that moving away from oil can protect more than the planet.

When we take the longview, it seems that the heyday of oil is over, perhaps in its twilight or at the very lest, well past noon, and thus not a good option for the buy and hold investor. Divesting from fossil fuels now = investing in a healthy and peaceful future.

And I think that’s something Jesus could dig.

Thanks for reading me.

-Lambeth

Posted in Environment, Other Topics, Politics | 5 Comments