In Chapter 7 of the Book of Matthew, during Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks directly to hypocrites who judge the actions of others while being oblivious to their own faults.
"How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,'' and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." -Matthew Chapter 7, verses 4 and 5
Our political leadership should take some cues from this passage as we approach a solution to deal with the turmoil of Russia's intrusion into Ukraine, Iraq's impending downfall that came as a direct result of our past meddlings, and other foreign policy crises to come. We look tremendously foolish to the rest of the world when we try to dictate how other countries should behave, considering the vast number of critical problems the U.S. faces internally.
Here are a few logs the U.S. should take out of its own eye before telling Iraq and Russia how to handle the specks in theirs.
1. We have the worst health care system in the developed world.
A recent study showed that of the top Western industrialized nations, the United States has the worst health care system. That's no surprise, considering that only in the U.S. is it acceptable for the illness and injury of citizens to be a commodity from which others can profit. To put this into perspective, the average hip replacement in the U.S. costs $40,364. In Spain, that same operation costs $7,731. This means one can fly to Spain, live in Madrid for two years, learn Spanish, run with the bulls, get trampled, get their hip replaced again, and fly back to the U.S. while still coming out ahead. Britain's National Health Services came out on top of the survey, as citizens who are critically ill or injured can get life-saving medical treatment and be sent home just as a result of paying taxes.
2. We intentionally saddle college students with a lifetime of debt servitude.
The student debt bubble has now surpassed the $1.2 trillion mark, which is even more than America's accumulated credit card debt. This is a direct result of states investing less in public higher education and making students pay
for the bulk of their education. And because wages are already so low, student loans are, in many cases, used for basic survival rather than tuition
payments. The average amount of debt each college graduate owes is just under $30,000. This means that even if a student manages to secure a job in an economy where there at least two applicants for every job opening, it will take years of consistent payments for that graduate to be in the black again.
To contrast, most other developed Western nations allow students to go to college for little to no cost of their own, seeing the education of a citizen as an investment in the country's well-being. When Quebec proposed a tuition increase from $2,200 to $3,800 over a six-year period, hundreds of thousands of students took to the streets in protest.
3. We effectively have an oligarchy, where the rich can buy their own politicians.
The idea of the U.S. invading Iraq to "spread democracy" is laughable, considering the complete absence of democracy in our own country. In a country of 310,000,000 people, we have a body of a little over 500 people making decisions on the behalf of all of us. Most of those few hundred people are millionaires. And most of the time, these millionaires who supposedly represent us spend more time -- roughly 30 to 70 percent of it -- with other millionaires, courting donations for their next re-election campaign, than they do listening and responding to the needs of their constituents. One study
from Princeton University concluded that the U.S. government in its current form has more in common with an oligarchy -- where a small number of wealthy people run the government -- than a democracy. Another study found that members of Congress were more free to schedule meetings with people who identified as donors than with people who identified as constituents. It isn't hard to see why there's such an uptick of "insurgents" in Iraq who don't want to see the U.S. spread what we call "democracy" in their country.
4. We punish poor people for enduring the circumstances we forced them into.
In Detroit, Dan Gilbert, the billionaire owner of Quicken Loans, became known as "Subprime Dan" when he made a killing before the burst of the housing bubble by pressuring homeowners into risky subprime loans. Since the 2008 housing market crash, roughly 60,000 Detroit homeowners have been forced to vacate their homes, which has led to massive urban blight and enabled billionaires like Dan Gilbert to buy those homes for pennies on the dollar to gentrify and develop into housing that only the rich can afford.
Now, the few Detroiters who are still lucky to have a place to live are paying increasingly higher rates for water, and in the down economy of Detroit, many have fallen behind on water payments. The city of Detroit has responded by shutting off water for 150,000 households, and is doing so at a rapid rate of 1,500 to 3,000 houses per week. When Detroit raised $1 billion in bonds to pay for infrastructure like water in 2011, Detroit's unelected emergency manager Kevyn Orr, appointed by bank-friendly governor Rick Snyder, allowed big banks to take a big $537 million bite in interest payments. Even after the big industries made a profit by shipping jobs overseas, and the big banks made a profit by swindling people out of their homes, Detroit's corporate-owned government won't allow people owing as little as $150 in water payments to have access to a basic human right.
Another example: a poor single mother in New York had landed a job interview, but no babysitter for her two children, ages 6 and 2, was available during the time scheduled for the interview. She had no choice but to leave her two children in the car for 70 minutes. After the interview, she was arrested for alleged child endangerment. And just recently, child protective services took the two children away from their mother for this alleged endangerment. To sum it up, a woman doing everything she could to earn an income to support her family was punished to the point of having her family taken from her, simply because she couldn't find a babysitter for 70 minutes.
We have an economy that rewards the rich for being rich, and punishes the poor for being poor. Is it any wonder that foreigners scoff at Americans who say their country is the best in the world?
5. We allow a rape epidemic on our college campuses to go unchecked.
On American college campuses, an average of 1 in 5 women will experience sexual assault. And this is just taking into account the number of instances which are actually reported. The number is likely much greater, because reporting a rape and reliving the traumatic experience for campus authorities is itself a daunting task.
In one case of a student at James Madison University in Virginia, her assailants, who actually recorded video of their sexual assault, were allowed to graduate on time before being expelled from university grounds. The survivor of the assault saw her grades drop as a result of the trauma she suffered, and she lost her financial aid. She had no choice but to drop out.
Why should anyone take our claims of making their country safer at all seriously, when we can't even make our college campuses safe for women?
6. We send people off to die, and don't take care of the ones who come back alive.
While politicians reserve two months out of the year, May and November, to honor war veterans, they fail to back up their words with effective policies. After the recent VA scandal that culminated in General Eric Shinseki resigning as the sacrificial lamb, Congress has yet to do anything meaningful to address the years-long backlog that stands between veterans and the health care they earned through their service. But that's just the tip of the iceberg.
On any given night, there are between 130,000 and 200,000 veterans sleeping on the streets, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. And every time Congress has had an opportunity to address the plight of veterans, it's been filibustered by Republicans. In 2010, Senator Patty Murray's bill to provide aid for homeless veterans with children was filibustered by Mitch McConnell. A bill that would have spent $1 billion to hire veterans for jobs in the public sector was filibustered by 40 senate Republicans in 2012. And just this past February, Senate Republicans once again blocked a bill aimed at providing health care and education to veterans.
The fact that neocons are once again clamoring for troops in Iraq, while they continue to deny returning veterans the help they need and deserve, proves that at least one of the two major parties sees our troops only as cannon fodder not worth a penny if they manage to survive the battlefield. I can't imagine any country seriously believes we care about their welfare given the way we treat our own war veterans.
7. We make it profitable to systematically incarcerate poor people and minorities.
In America, incarceration is a profitable enterprise. Counties in rural areas hard up for cash are willing to guarantee a certain percentage of occupancy for private prisons, meaning that law enforcement is working extra hard to fill the jails by any means necessary.
Usually, this involves heavily patrolling communities of color and low-income neighborhoods, and busting young black men and women for negligible amounts of marijuana. Portugal has done the opposite with great results -- a decade ago, the country decided to approach drug addiction as a public health issue rather than a crime, and treated addicts instead of sending them to jail. As a result, Portugal's addiction rate has gone down by half in the last decade.
The drug war costs us an estimated $20 billion dollars per year from both federal and state governments, while drugs have only been made more widely-available in the process. The continued war on drugs has led to the United States having more black men in prison than there were black men as slaves in the Confederate South. And in a sad parallel to slavery, private prisons are now essentially contractors for major corporations, where work that once paid a livable wage to a unionized employee has been "insourced" to prisoners who do the work for pennies. It's laughable for the U.S. to deplore slavery in other countries while allowing it to continue at home.
8. We cut our own public services while letting billion-dollar corporations dodge taxes
Our infrastructure was given a
"D+" by architects and engineers, who say our roads and bridges are badly in need of repairs. Our failure to invest properly in public education means our kids are falling far behind students in other countries who are learning much more than we are. And we've allowed the last line of hope for the long-term unemployed to be cut off permanently, as Congressional Republicans refuse to extend unemployment compensation for the hardest-hit victims of the economy, saying we "can't afford" the social safety net. Congressional Republicans also succeeded in cutting the food stamp program by billions of
dollars in the last farm bill.
But while Republicans are running around screaming about the deficit, they somehow ignore the more than $100 billion in tax revenue we lose every year through corporate tax loopholes. Major corporations like GE, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Boeing, Verizon, and dozens of others have paid $0 in federal taxes for several years now, even getting tax refunds in the hundreds of millions instead of paying federal taxes. While there has been extensive awareness about the prevalence of tax loopholes like transfer pricing schemes like the "Double Irish" and the "Dutch Sandwich," and while there's been plenty of news about corporations like Apple having more untaxed cash than the U.S. Treasury, members of Congress owned by these same corporations turn a blind eye to this hemorrhaging of funds.
The people of Iraq and Ukraine have reason to scoff when we say we care about building up their public infrastructure, given the neglect those same political leaders have shown about American infrastructure.
9. Our police forces have become unaccountable paramilitary organizations.
As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have wound down, all the surplus military equipment not getting used in the battlefield is being used at home, by local police forces. All a municipal police department has to do is apply for a grant through the Department of Homeland Security, and it can get tanks, drones, firepower, armor, water cannons, flash bang grenades, LRAD sound devices, and other equipment that has no purpose enforcing the law amongst civilians. As the crackdown on the Occupy movement showed, this military equipment is often used to suppress the democratic rights of citizens nonviolently assembling in public spaces.
When countries like Egypt or Russia use military equipment to suppress peaceful citizen protests, our government is the first to condemn it. But through the continued auspices of the "War on Terror," our government has sanctioned everything from the mass surveillance of calls and emails to the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens in military jail under the flimsiest of accusations. How can America "bring freedom" to another country when American citizens live under the thumb of a militarized police state?
Before we start sending off troops to bring all the wonderful things we love about America to the rest of the world, maybe we should tend to our own affairs first. Let's take the log out of our own eye before we talk about the speck in the eye of other countries.
This post originally appeared on Reader Supported News.