The Persecuted: What’s in a Name?

A couple of weeks ago, few news media, Facebook status, and Twitter feeds had failed to report on Phil Robertson’s comments about homosexuality in an interview with GQ magazine.  This was in part due to the outraged response from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (or GLAAD) and other LGBT proponents who felt that Mr. Robertson’s remarks were inexcusable.  Wilson Cruz, a representative of GLAAD, was quoted by the Chicago Tribune saying, “Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil’s lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe…”  Mr. Robertson is the patriarch of the family on A&E’s popular show “Duck Dynasty.”  A&E had officially suspended Phil from being a part of the show, though because of backlash from viewers the TV network has decided to continue “Duck Dynasty” with the entire family.

What is interesting about all of this to me is not that Phil and his family were facing heat for their beliefs.  Celebrities who are conservative politically or religiously are almost always the target for some slander or jokes in today’s culture.  No what is surprising is the attention Phil and his family received even though many business men and women around the country have and are facing similar trials.  Earlier this spring, Barronelle Stutzman from Washington was being sued by the state attorney general for refusing to do the floral arrangements for the wedding of a same sex couple.  On December 9th, Jack Phillips of Colorado was told by a judge that he can no longer refuse to serve homosexual couples after declining to bake a wedding cake for two men.  Examples can go on and on, yet it is rare for these incidents to get the same coverage especially among Christians.

Think about it.  Unless you fervently follow the news or read up on Christian websites like christianitytoday.com or cbn.com, you most likely never talked about the problems Stutzman and Phillips are undergoing.  A friend of yours who is obsessed with the “culture wars” might have posted it on FB or mentioned it in a chain e-mail, but you never gave it a second thought.  “Things like this happen” or “Someone will eventually stop this from going too far” were thoughts that may have even gone through your head.  But what if it was something different?  What if someone had been raped after making a public declaration of faith?  What if someone’s business or home was burned for being a Christian?  Chances are good that you’d be paying attention to the TV and praying for the persecuted believers.  You might event try to organize or join a grassroots movement to get politicians to address the issue.  And I don’t get that.

I guess part of the problem lies with how we as believers tend to define persecution.  The Church in America seems to think of believers in a 3rd world environment with their faces burned to a crisp, their legs misshaped from beatings, or women pregnant with the children of their rapists as the persecuted.  A man or woman going to a US court for refusing to give service on the basis of faith is shrugged off as unlucky, a minor exception, or even an idiot.  The same goes for students who are told not to pray or do book reports on the Bible at school.  If you dare to call them persecuted, you are often met with rolled-eyes or even a reprimand for comparing the sufferings of one believer to the inconveniences of another.  And there is some logic to that.  The hardships of the underground Church around the world terrify even the most intrepid of American believers.  Yet does that mean we in the first world don’t have to worry about trials and tribulations for being followers of Christ?

The answer is no.  “It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.  If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!” (Matt. 10:25, NIV).  Therefore, we as believers who live in America can expect our own form of persecution for the faith.  Now some might say that this is out of context because the verse belongs to a passage which includes martyrdom which we in the US have yet to truly experience.  Others would say that this passage was only meant for the disciples.  However, I believe these claims take away the power of Christ’s words and his ability to comfort his followers.  If the verse can only be applied to those who give up their lives for Christ in a violent death, then we who don’t will have no place in heaven.  For the Lord said that this would happen to the members of his household.  But if the members are those who are martyred, then John 3:16, Romans 3:23-24, and similar passages are meaningless words and a waste of paper and ink.  But since God has affirmed the authority of his word on multiple occasions (Matt. 5:18-19, II Tim. 3:16), we know that these words of Christ are meant for us all.  So whatever form of persecution we face, it can be no greater than what Christ himself experienced.  And it can be no less than the disrespectful “inconveniences” that he endured.

So what?  Why does this matter?  Because it seems only times Western Christians take notice of persecution is when it hits the news like with “Duck Dynasty”.  And I guess it makes sense because Mr. Robertson does have an advantage of being a household name and TV icon making it easier to keep up with him.  Yet, why are we prioritizing the suffering of our Christian brothers and sisters on how well they’re broadcasted?  Consider that three days after A&E had announced its decision to suspend Phil, it was reported that 45 Syrian Christians in the town of Sadat (the same town in Numbers 34:8) had been martyred by Syrian rebels.  Almost no news agencies covered the story and it was largely ignored on FB, including myself, as status continued discussing whether or not the comments made by the patriarch of the Duck Commanders was acceptable or not.  While Stutzman and Phillips did receive some coverage, they didn’t get the notice and support like Phil did in the last few days.

As Christians, we need to be paying attention to what is happening in the world and at home.  We need to stop believing that we are in a perfect bubble where any attack on our faith is simply a matter of inconvenience or bad luck.  We should be grateful that we don’t have to worry about terrorists bombing our churches and homes.  We should be thankful that we have freedom of religion, speech, and the right to vote.  But we need to remember these are our God-given rights.  If we fail take notice of what happens in Syria or to our neighbors in America like Stutzman and Phillips, then we run the risk of losing those rights.

For more information about the Syrian church and other persecuted brothers and sisters, please visit the following websites:
http://voiceofthepersecuted.wordpress.com/2013/11/21/largest-massacre-of-christians-in-syria-ignored/
http://www.persecution.com/

To learn more about Stutzman’s and Phillips’s stories:
http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2013/December/Gay-Wedding-Cake-Case-about-Conscience-Not-Commerce/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/10/barronelle-stutzman-washington-florist-lawsuit-_n_3052301.html

Duck Dynasty controversy:
http://www.gq.com/entertainment/television/201401/duck-dynasty-phil-robertson?currentPage=1
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/ae-lifts-phil-robertson-duck-dynasty-suspension/
http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/chi-duck-dynasty-phil-robertson-20131220,0,1685719.story

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America and the Middle East Pt-1: Egypt

About two years ago, citizens and leaders of the free world witnessed something truly astonishing.  The Arab and Muslim dictators were being openly and successfully defied by their people who wanted free elections and representative governments.  News reporters hailed it as an “Arab Spring” with many talking-heads declaring how the Middle East was slowly leaving the strong men of yesterday for the freedoms of the modernized world.  From Tunisia to Egypt and Libya, the Arab world to seemed to be turning itself around for the better causing some to believe that there might be hope for the region after all.  Today, it is hard to find that kind of hope anywhere.  Many Americans praised the fall of Gadhafi, but were horrified at the attacks of an American consulate in Benghazi.  Many were glad to see tyrannical regimes fall by the wayside in place like Tunisia, but were saddened to see Muslim fundamentalists take their place.  Yet the greatest disappointment for the believers of the “Arab Spring” has been Egypt where the most hope and joy occurred during the protests in 2011.

Egypt had been ruled by Hosni Mubarak for about thirty years.  He began is career as a member of the Egyptian air force and was even given a position of command by his predecessor President Anwar Sadat.  Sadat proceeded to groom Mubarak and appointed him as his successor in 1975.  A few years later, Sadat was killed by Muslim fundamentalists and Mubarak took control.  He wasn’t a very nice man and he did abuse his powers to silence political opponents and religious dissenters who felt that he was too secular.  However he did offer some protection for Coptic Christians and other religious minorities, though this doesn’t mean they were free to do as they pleased politically and socially.  And he did take a more moderate view towards Israel, receiving criticisms toward the end of his presidency for being too lax in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  And perhaps more importantly, he was an ally for the United States.  But these little facts were overlooked as supporters of the Arab Spring, including President Obama, pushed for Mubarak to resign and elections for a new government to commence.  Democracy, after all, must be given a chance.

Unfortunately, democracy had its chance and the result was a resounding victory for Muslim fundamentalist parties particularly for the Muslim Brotherhood.  The party won the majority of seats in Egypt’s Parliament as well as the presidency with the election of Mohamed Morsi.  However the group is known for carrying out terrorist attacks as well as participating in assassination attempts against Egypt’s leaders including Sadat and Mubarak.  They are also antagonistic to the Jewish state of Israel and non-Muslim Egyptians.  And they support sharia law and jihad.  Clearly a group that isn’t open to Western ideals and liberties.

But what is sad is not that they won.  What is unfortunate is not that President Morsi used his powers to pressure secular opponents and to ignore judicial attempts to rewrite the Egyptian constitution.  No, what is sad and unfortunate is that all of this was predicted by foreign policy analysts and experts in Middle East politics and we in the West didn’t pay attention.  We let our love for democracy and civil liberties blind us to the harsh realities of the Arab world.    Just because we hold certain truths to be self-evident doesn’t mean the average Egyptian or Libyan does.  Just because a few charismatic, secular leaders who admire America are leading a non-violent revolution doesn’t mean that they have enough support to be democratically elected.

Of course some of you may be wondering, “Why regurgitate old news?  Why bring this up?”  Because we as a people and our government haven’t fully appreciated the repercussions of our actions.  Not only did we support a democratic uprising that voted for an unfriendly regime, but we also ousted an ally and planted distrust in future dealings with Egypt.  Mubarak wasn’t a nice man, but he was our ally and we did have adequate leverage to make him do what we felt was necessary.  If we really wanted greater political freedom, we could have pressured him to allow free elections while guaranteeing to support his position as president.  If we wanted more civil liberties for all Egyptians, we could have stated that future aid and military support will come at the price of a bill of rights that are respected.  These trade-offs aren’t pleasant and are by no means ethically pure.  No one’s right to free speech or fair elections should be bought with fighter jets.  However, the international arena in politics is a messy affair.  Sometimes bad or less than pleasant deals must be made in order a greater good to be brought about.  This isn’t “the ends justify the means” but “slow and steady wins the race.”  Sudden changes like those in Egypt clearly don’t work.  What is needed is a series of small, incremental steps toward a better tomorrow.

Sadly we may have to stall future democracy building in Egypt in exchange for relationship building.  After Pres. Obama’s public call for Mubarak to step down, America has lost credibility as a reliable ally.  The current military order is now looking for new friends, specifically Russia which would enjoy nothing better than to see America’s influence in the region to disappear.  And you can bet Russia is not going to push for civil liberties and equal rights because doing so would upset a status quo which has more in common with Russian interests.  So what is it going to take to get back to the way things were before the “Arab Spring”?  A lot.  First, the White House needs a wake up call that its handling of the “Arab Spring” had less than optimal results and that to continue backing Pres. Morsi is only going to alienate the military leaders who currently govern Egypt.  Too bad this would require Pres. Obama to make that realization himself as his advisors will most likely not bring it up and the GOP is too busy self-destructing to make this an issue in 2014.  And considering his current track record with international relations, he probably isn’t going to come up with it on his own.

Second, we need to be lenient toward the Egyptian military since it is the one running the show at the moment and perceives America to be treacherous.  We can condemn shooting protestors and ask that political targets be spared.  But at the end of the day, they need to know that we are not out to get them and that we are not going to aid their enemies.  And finally, for the second step to work we’re going to have to show why we’re better partners than the Russians.  This could come in the form of economic aid, joint military practices, etc.  But whatever we offer, it needs to be big and it needs to be offered fast.  Stunts like the one we pulled with Mubarak are not quickly forgotten or forgiven.  However, they can be compensated if the price is right.  And dear readers, we better get it right soon.

Bi-Partisan Budget: a Lesson in Practical Politics

If you’ve been paying attention to the news the last few weeks or the Facebook status of your political friends, you may have heard about a certain budget bill that’s going through Congress.  It is a sad, red-haired, step-child of Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Paul Ryan, both chairs of their respective Budget Committees.  Among other things, the bill is supposed to lessen the severity of sequester cuts for 2014 and 2015 while decreasing the spending deficit by $23 billion over the next 10 years.  This modest compromise is supposed to prevent another government shutdown like the one in October from occurring at the beginning of next year.  Unfortunately it is meeting stiff resistance from the Republican Party.

More specifically, it is meeting skepticism and harsh from Republican Senators who are facing TEA Party primary challengers or promote TEA Party ideology.  The former can be represented by Sen. Mitch McConnell of KY, the current Minority Leader, who tends to play the political game smartly and safely.  This has earned him the wrath of a few disgruntled TEA Party enthusiasts who’ve accused of going along with Democratic schemes and playing “career politicians.”  While McConnell has proven to be a genius at campaign (he’s won about 5 consecutive terms), he understands what a politically charged media would do to him if he voted for a less than perfect bill.  On the other side of the coin is Sen. Rand Paul, a another Kentuckian, who takes a more ideological stance.  For him the bill doesn’t do enough to cut immediate spending.  According to the Wall Street Journal last Friday, the Senator was quoted to have said, “I think it’s a huge mistake to trade sequester cuts now for the promises of cuts later.”  And to be fair that does make sense.  Trade-offs should occur for things of equal value.

However, politics doesn’t always allow for happy endings or perfect situations.  A reality the TEA Party is starting to see but still failing to understand.  Ever since the GOP retook the House in 2010 with TEA Party support, they have been furiously at work to pass their uncompromising views as law.  For example, they’ve been trying to repeal Obamacare for the last three years without any success.  Some even see their part in the recent government shutdown as a point of honor instead of an exercise in futility.  And each time the debt ceiling needs to be raised, they ask for large cuts or major reforms of entitlement programs.  While programs like Social Security and Medicare are out of control and expected to deplete their tax funds in the next few years, sudden cuts and revisions can be just as harmful as doing nothing.

The recent shutdown and budget bill should be learning moments for ultra-conservatives about how politics work.  If you want to accomplish an agenda, you need more than just one house of Congress.  And if you don’t have that, then you need to realize that your agenda is going to have to take a back seat to whatever the party in power wants to do.  This is called practical politics.  You pick battles that you know you can win, even if it is a minor victory.  The “all or nothing mentality” only works if you hold all the cards and the Republican party does not.

Unfortunately, like those on the far-Left, ultra-conservatives follow the drum of pure ideology no matter where it follows.  One could hope that next year more moderate and business oriented Republicans will be elected to take back Congress.  Yet that would be a foolish hope as TEA Partiers have a better command of the news media, primarily Fox News, and are more charismatic to voters who feel disillusioned with how the federal government has been conducting itself for the last 8-12 years.  But however the elections turn out, this budget deal is a step in the right direction.

Polygamy, the New Same-Sex Marriage

Since 2004 when Massachusetts legalized marriages for homosexual couples, members of the LGBT community and their supporters have pushed for same sex marriages to be legally accepted nationwide.  And so far they have done a good job.  About 16 of the 50 states will acknowledge monogamous relationships of homosexuals to be marriage by 2014.  And the Supreme Court this past summer struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional.  However the arguments for same sex marriage are rather weak.

For example: “We’re two consenting adults who love each other and that meets the basic definition of marriage.”  And to some extent, that is very true.  A broad and simplistic definition of marriage is the union of two adults who are hopefully in love with each other.  Yet there’s a very big problem with this definition.  It is too simplistic as it doesn’t capture the fullness of what marriage is.  If I said, “A chair is an object on which you sit,” that could include anything from the ground, the dinner table, someone’s dinner, etc.  None of these things are chairs, yet if we use my broad definition of what a chair is they are chairs.  Thus if A meets the “basic” or even abbreviated definition of B, it doesn’t mean A is B.

Or consider the response of why the definition of marriage should change.  “Because it discriminates our love and denies us the benefits which our heterosexual counterparts have.”  Again, there is some truth in this statement.  A homosexual couple, married over seas, were not considered immediate family and were denied various tax breaks and benefits while DOMA was on the books.  And yes, if you look at marriage’s full and traditional definition it does exclude same sex relationships.  But this begs the question.  If the definition of marriage has to change to be inclusive towards those who are not traditionally and legally considered married, wouldn’t that mean it would have to include things like polygamy?  And here is where any logic used earlier goes completely out the window.  At the individual level, particularly on the internet, the response will usually be “Gay marriage isn’t polygamy” followed by some insult for being so stupid to equate the two.  At the community level represented by various activist groups, the response is typically “We are only concerned with our mandate to make gay marriage equal with heterosexual marriage.  We neither support nor condemn other movements doing the same.”  Essentially it’s an “everybody for themselves” mentality which seems rather exclusive to me, but I digress.  The point is that the LGBT community has largely down played the possibility of others hitching a ride on their movement for equality to support their own views of marriage.  And just recently, one of those groups is started to receive legal status.

Last Friday, Judge Waddoups of the District Court of Utah ruled that the state’s laws prohibiting cohabitation violated the rights to privacy and religious freedom.  According to a NY Times article, Waddoups was hearing a lawsuit from TLC’s “Sister Wives” star Kody Brown who was suing the state of Utah for its extensive anti-polygamy laws.  Brown is a member of an off-shoot Mormon sect which still allows plural families.  (The Church of Latter Day Saints does not officially allow or approve of polygamy).  While the ruling still upheld the state’s zero tolerance for holding multiple marriage licenses for different marriages, for Brown and like-minded individuals this is the first step towards realizing a legal tolerance for their views on marriage.  Many of their opponents, including Justice Scalia and Sen. Santorum, who have been making similar arguments during the debates with same sex marriage also agree with this assessment.

But so what?  American history shows social taboos that begin to meet serious resistance tend to fall by the wayside.  Examples include civil rights for all Americans, voting rights for women, and now homosexual marriages.  Why try to fight history?  Because making new definitions of marriage into law have serious legal and religious implications.

Consider that the government’s powers are like a liquid or gas.  They fill up any container they are put into, but will quickly escape if an opening is made for them.  Its powers will thus expand with any confusion, implication, or silence from the Constitution and national law.  In this case if the government is allowed to determine what marriage is or isn’t, then it would have the power to define any other social institution like the family.  The Founding Fathers never intended for the government to be an authority in such matters and there is no reason to give it now.  Also, remember how the news media a few weeks ago had stories of Christian florists, bakers, and photographers who were being sued for not offering their services to same sex weddings.  Well you’ll soon be seeing similar articles but with polygamists added to the mix.  Which is quite unfortunate considering both movements want tolerance for their views and yet are very discriminatory towards those who don’t agree with them.

But the real problem that is going to occur is the battle between secular and religious marriage, more specifically what the law says and what the Church believes.  For now, churches and pastors are not required to host or perform marriage ceremonies which contradict their religious beliefs.  This is to continue the legal doctrine of “separation of church and state” and affirm that the government will not establish or organize a religion.  Why these protections of religious freedoms isn’t extended to laymen and clergy alike is beyond me.  However if the government has the authority to change the definition of marriage, does the Church have the right to teach that marriage is only between one man and one woman who are not close relatives?  If the answer is yes, then why?  Because of religious rights and freedoms?  As pointed out above, that argument doesn’t hold up for individual Christian business owners who refuse to support weddings that don’t fit the biblical model.  And if that is the reason, then it could imply that religious belief is superior to the law of the land which would mean priests, shamans, imams, rabbis, etc. have the ultimate governmental authority and not elected officials.  If the answer is no, then what purpose does the right to religious freedom serve in the First Amendment?

Now some might say that all of this is ridiculous and over the top because it will never happen.  I would remind them that 20 or so years ago that was the mentality about same sex marriage.  Whenever a new law is made or amended, it carries many new implications and consequences which proponents of the law may not have intended.  Or in the case of marriage, probably never even thought about.  For this reason, I ask that all Americans rethink how this social issue is being handled.

Christmas Devotional

A few years ago, I decided to go through the entire Bible by reading three chapters from three books at a time.  I didn’t set a goal to finish by the end of the year because realistically I simply was not going to be able to meet that goal.  Also I wanted the experience to be meaningful and not a job that just has to be done.  Anyway I began with Genesis, Psalms, and Matthew and was immediately struck by the parallel structure of the first chapters of Genesis and Matthew.  In Genesis chapter one, God is performing a miracle with creatio ex nihilio.  Where there was once only God, there was now God and the entire universe capable of supporting human life.  In the second chapter, God blesses and personally interacts with his creation especially with the man and his wife.  And then in the third chapter, we see mankind fall from innocence and into the corruption of sin by the devil disguised as a snake.  Usually these passages aren’t quoted during the Christmas season because they’re too gloomy.  After all, Christmas is supposed to remind us about the hope that is to come and not our past failures.  Chapter 3 might be read for the Easter season to help explain Christ’s death, but no one really wants to think about sin and death while gathering around the Christmas tree with loved ones.

Yet this is very important to the Christmas story.  It is because of sin that Christ came into the world.  It wasn’t to give us a day off from work and couple a weeks off from school.  It wasn’t to declare a random date for enjoying friends, family, sweet treats, and singing carols.  Rather, Christmas should be seen as the beginning of the Easter season because it celebrates God coming in human form to reconcile sinful men with the Holy One.  Thus I would encourage everyone to read these three chapters this year as a way of remembering the reason for the Christmas season.

Anyway, Matthew 1-3 is a more commonly thought of as a Christmas reading than Genesis especially the story of the Magi.  However it perfectly matches and complements the Gen. 1-3.  In first chapter, God is once again performing a miracle via creation.  Mary, as a virgin, could not conceive a child.  Yet God created the needed genetic material out of nothing for her to bear a son just as he created all the matter in the world needed to support human life.  Thus Christ is in a sense is a new Creation, a new Adam.  In chapter 2, we have the arrival of the Magi.  Typically we think of the Magi as three kindly old men who are awestruck at the newborn king of the Jews.  Sometimes they’re even portrayed to represent three different nationalities to help emphasize Christ’s redemptive work is for the whole world.  Yet I sincerely doubt many people have ever noticed their relationship with the serpent in the garden of Eden.

The word Magi, or Magus, means people are well acquainted with divination, astrology, sorcery, etc.  They were not gurus who through meditation had achieved wisdom and by God’s grace knew what the star of Bethlehem meant.  Instead their occupation required them to be on the look out for signs in the heavens and on the earth with hopes of gaining leverage over spirits and men, an act God deemed abominable.  According to the Law of Moses, anyone found guilty of practicing witchcraft and divination, or nachash (נָחַשׁ) in Hebrew, was to be put to death.  Interestingly though, nachash refers to how a diviner or astrologer would conjure up a spirit or cast a spell which resembled the hissing of a snake.  In fact, nachash is the root for the Hebrew word used to describe the devil in Genesis 3.  This makes the arrival of the Magi very interesting because unlike the Genesis account where the serpent overcomes creation, the serpent now comes on bended knee to offer gifts as a suppliant to the new creation.  Christ, before having spoken his first words, has symbolically declared victory over the enemies of God and saved his people.

And with the final chapter, instead of a curse we see God affirm and empowering his servant to overcome the effects of the Fall at Christ’s baptism.  And this is the purpose of the Christmas season.  It isn’t about simply having hope for the future or sharing the love and warmth of family members.  This can be done anytime of the year.  It is at Christmas that we remind ourselves of where we have been and what we have to look forward to in Christ.  Our hope is not in new possibilities in ourselves but for ourselves because of Christ.  Our love is not about new romances or treasuring friends and relatives.  But it is for our desire that all be included in the blessing that has come to take away the curse of sin.  I hope this Christmas that we all take the time to reflect on our relationship with God and what he has done to bring us out of a dark and cold world and into a realm of bright and colorful lights.

Minimum Wage vs. Unpaid Internships

As Obamacare receives more and more flack, the administration has tried to change subject with the minimum wage.  The President had mentioned earlier this year in his State of the Union to raise the minimum wage to $9 from the current $7.25.  And critics and supporters of President Obama had agreed that this was mostly empty rhetoric for the Democratic members of Congress to applaud.  Yet with problems facing his healthcare program, the President needs another chance to salvage his approval ratings and ultimately his legacy.  The question is, will an increase of the minimum wage be enough?

The answer is no.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, an average 4.76% of hourly paid workers received an income equal to or below minimum wage for the past 5 years.  And roughly half of these workers are between the ages of 16 and 24.  In other words, this demographic makes a small part of the labor force as well as the nation.  Increasing their wages to $9 or even $11 isn’t going to directly help the majority of workers.  Not to mention it only affects a small age group of voters who already tend to register and vote Democrat.  And there isn’t a particular minority which makes up the majority of those being paid minimum wage.  Women tend to be more likely to be paid minimum (last year 6% of female workers), but there are more women working than men so it is hard to say that this is an example of sexism in the workplace.  With the exception of Asians, ethnicities across the board were relatively the same.  The exception being in 2010 and 2011 when more African Americans workers had an income of $7.25 an hour or less.  However there was a difference of 1% between African Americans and their European counterparts during that same year.

In any case, what is the reason then to raise the minimum wage if it only affects a small number of workers and voters?  To create a minimum living wage.  Currently, a job paying a minimum wage cannot support an individual for life let alone single parent families or kids trying to go to college. Also cost of living and inflation are continuing to grow while the minimum wage is flat lining at $7.25 an hour.  Therefore, a politically smart move would be to provide a livable income for hard working Americans.  Never mind the problems with reduced employment and inflation, this policy is flawed from the beginning because it is very vague.  First, what does a “living wage” mean?  Does it mean being able to pay utilities, gas, groceries, mortgage payments, insurance bills, and clothes?  And if so, what kind of insurance policies are considered necessary and what is a reasonable mortgage for any and all houses?  Should the rags at Wal-Mart be considered clothes or brand named designer goods from places like American Eagle?  These are questions not usually asked and rarely answered when this subject is brought up.  Yet they are very important because it shows that only individuals, not the government, know what their basic needs are and if they are being met or not.

Also, an attempt to make a living wage usually ignores an important problem that already exists: unpaid internships.  Yes, $7.25 an hour means a low salary.  But any number behind a dollar sign, as long as it is in black, is bigger than $0.  Yet that is what many students and recent college grads make with their internships.  Because job experience gives applicants an edge for employment, many young people try to find opportunities with businesses that fit their career choice.  And generally this is a win-win situation.  The student gets a chance to see what a job in a law office, news network, etc. is like, develop marketable skills, and possible earn college credit.  Meanwhile employers briefly enjoy some free labor for small tasks around the office.  However, many internships don’t just require making coffee, taking notes during meetings, and filing papers.  Interns can now be expected to setup and maintain websites, organize conferences, participate in independent research, etc.  All of these duties are great and will look good on a CV, but they look more like the descriptions for a job and not an internship.  Also, many of these internship experiences require a commitment of 40hrs a week or more.  This means it can be hard for young men and women to get by each day without a steady income particularly when the internships are located in places like NYC, D.C., LA, and Chicago.

Because of the high cost of living in these cities and the time requirements to do these internships, young people from poorer households are unable to afford to do an internship which can hurt their chances at landing a job.  According to a NACE survey this past spring, only 35.2% of college grads who didn’t participate in internships received at least one job offer.  This is slightly better than those who participated in unpaid internships which was 37%.  Those who received stipends or hourly wages for their work on the other hand doubled their chances of being offered a job and starting with higher wages.  Clearly paid internships provide a better chance for young workers than those that don’t.  Which begs the question: why isn’t there a push for paid internships?  Mostly it is because that is how the federal government works.  Internships that pay in D.C. are rare and highly competitive.  Most agencies depend on part-time employees and interns in order so that they can pursue their own agendas without having to pay expensive full time workers.  If they were suddenly asked to given minimum wages or large stipends to their workers, they’d have to look to hiring a small number of full time workers or delegating more tasks to fewer people in order save money.  Plus it isn’t good PR to be known for denying students the chance to get work experience, never mind those who couldn’t afford to do the internships in the first place.  Thus making paid internships the law is to an extent political suicide while trying to make the minimum wage livable is heroic.

The minimum wage isn’t a bad idea and neither is raising it every so often.  Problem is raising it too high too fast in order to be known as the great politician who came through with a chicken in every pot and two cars in every garage.  The minimum wage was meant to provide workers a legal, rock bottom wage without the fear of an employer arbitrarily changing incomes at whatever level.  It was never meant to support workers throughout their lives because such a plan is impossible without the government deciding what people need to live and what they can do without.  And it only affects a small number of workers and voters which means it will not be enough to save the President’s legacy from the mess of Obamacare.  It might be enough to keep some Democrats in Congress, but they’ll have their hands full with criticisms of the healthcare law.  If the White House wants to help young folks join the work place, it may want to consider pushing for stricter standards on internships.  Not all internships should be paid, but those that do provide a greater chance for students to be employed.

For more information about minimum wage workers for last year, look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics at http://www.bls.gov/cps/minwage2012.htm.  To see other years, change the year in the url.

To learn more about NACE and its student-internship survey, go to http://www.naceweb.org/s05292013/paid-unpaid-interns-job-offer.aspx.