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Commentary

Social Justice, Marxism, and Christianity

Christian social justice is a positive concept. It can and should be taken back from the secular left.

Simply defined, social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal access to economic, political, and social rights and opportunities, which is a concept most people can get behind. This perspective has become controversial, however, largely because of its co-option by the secular left, Marxists and socialists. The term “Social Justice Warrior” conjures images of hysterical activists and has become a pejorative even for people outside the political right wing. 

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Social justice incubated in the Catholic Church. In the 1840s, Father Luigi Taparelli used the term to criticize the major economic theories at the time for ignoring moral philosophy and for undermining the unity of society by dividing it into competing classes. Since then, the Catholic Church has been clear about its condemnation of both Marxism/socialism and unrestrained capitalism. 

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Commentary

Where’s the Beef?

We should be celebrating the fact that innovation and entrepreneurship has brought a wide variety of food options to the table for people of all economic backgrounds, and not attacking a company for providing cheap food at a cheap price.

By all accounts, Taco Bell is a story of success. Since Glen Bell opened the first Taco Bell restaurant in Downey, California in 1962, the franchise has expanded to 7,072 restaurants with over 200,000 employees worldwide. In 2015, the company (which is currently owned by Yum! Brands) brought in $1.98 billion in revenue. It is no secret why this restaurant has experienced such growth.

Like its rivals in the fast food industry, Taco Bell specializes in offering meals to its customers at the cheapest possible price. In 2011, the company came under attack by a publicity-seeking law firm and a news media that was all-too-eager to exploit any potential controversy, no matter how frivolous. What should have been a story about how a private business feeds millions of people for what amounts to pocket change was instead a pseudo-investigation into what qualified as ground beef.

No one has ever gone into a Taco Bell under the illusion they were purchasing quality food, because we are all aware that you cannot stuff 460 calories into a burrito and charge 99 cents without sacrificing something. Its cheapness is the foundation of its appeal, and even the company acknowledges this fact with its advertising slogans “Big Variety, Small Price,” and “Why Pay More?”

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Commentary

When “Fairness” is No Longer Fair

When a girl was denied admittance to her school’s gifted program because her family’s income was too high, it exposed the inherent unfairness of certain policies designed to redress economic inequality in public school.

In February 2010, Hannah Workman, a fifth grader and straight-A student in Florida’s Clay County School District, was denied entrance to her elementary school’s gifted program because she did not score high enough on the entrance exam. Remarkably, her mother later learned that Hannah would have scored high enough to enter the program if her family earned less. 

The standards on the entrance exam, she discovered, were based on income level and English proficiency. Students who qualified for free or reduced lunch or who spoke limited English only had to score in the 90s to qualify, while other children needed to score at least 130.

Though seemingly a minor footnote in the story of America’s public schools, the testing policy of this Florida school district cuts to the core of the philosophical debate over the role of education raging among educators and policy makers. It reveals much about the changing definition of “fairness” and the problem with using publicly-funded education to redress social inequality.

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Commentary

Cast Down Your Bucket Where You Are

Every dollar spent at a locally owned business pays dividends in your community. If you wish to see a viable economy, choose local businesses over chain stores.

In 1895, educator and author Booker T. Washington cajoled members of his community to “cast down your bucket where you are” instead of seeking labor or employment somewhere else. Likewise, I believe more can be accomplished for the benefit of our community by casting our talents and our dollars where we live by buying and producing locally, as well as abandoning a “there’s nothing I can do” attitude.

It’s tempting in the face of seemingly intractable problems to uproot and leave, convinced that nothing can be done. Individuals and families make this choice every day. I spoke to dozens of friends and acquaintances who have left Illinois for greener pastures over the past several years, and I can count myself in that number. 

For a community to be successful, however, a collective effort is needed to bring the kind of entertainment, businesses, and recreation you want to see, as well as support those places already in existence. Supporting local businesses means using your dollars like votes in favor of the businesses you want to remain. 

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Saudade

How Life Has Changed in 30 Years

As I approach my 40th birthday and the birth of my first daughter, I’ve been thinking about how life has changed since I was a kid. What will the world in which she grows up be like?

Growing up in the 1980s and early ‘90s, my family didn’t have a home computer (not until I was in high school). There was no Internet, and if I wanted to play with a neighborhood friend, I just walked over to their house and knocked. There was no texting.

I asked my friends and family how many things they could think of that were commonplace 30-40 years ago that either aren’t around anymore, or wouldn’t be around in the next ten years or so. The list was long. Here are just some of the things I got to see/use/experience that my daughter will not:

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Commentary Saudade

My First Foray Into Local Politics

Running for public office can be a rewarding experience, if you learn the right lessons. It’s a crash course in local government with few downsides but, perhaps, a bruised ego.

In 2012, while living in Rockford, Illinois, I did something I never thought of doing before. With little money and little experience, and with a lot of personal reservations, I decided to run for public office. While I ended up losing the race, I gained valuable insight and experience into local politics, and I saw a side to the process that most people never see. I hope demystifying this process will encourage others to get involved.

It began with a casual suggestion: We need people like you to run for office. Then, a thought: Why not? I chose to run for a seat on the Winnebago County Board in the Republican primary election. 

In Winnebago County, Illinois in 2012, an aspiring candidate only needed 25 signatures for his or her name to appear on the primary ballot for the position of County Board Member (other elected positions require hundreds or thousands of signatures, and it is always a good idea to get twice as many as you need). After introducing myself and announcing my intentions at a community meeting, and being greeted by rowdy applause, I decided to commit myself to the race. Three other candidates, including the incumbent, joined me in declaring their intention to run.

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Commentary

Leadership we Can Believe In

With trust in government and other institutions at historic lows, only a leadership renaissance from bottom-up will restore public confidence.

What people most look for in a leader, whether he or she is in politics, sports, or any other profession, is honesty, competence, and a positive vision for the future. When leaders are performing at their best, they are doing more than just getting results, they are also responding to the expectations of their constituents. 

When times get tough, people expect these authority figures to give an honest assessment of the situation, determine the root causes of the problem, and act in the best interests of everyone to solve that problem. Good leadership depends on individuals who are willing to take that responsibility seriously. 

We are currently experiencing a severe leadership deficit at all levels of society and government. That deficit has led to a crisis of confidence in America in which poll after poll has demonstrated that public confidence in institutions like government, banks, churches, and corporations is at historic lows.