Posts Tagged With: Pope Francis

ODDS AND ENDS (THAT ARE MOSTLY ODD)

Pope Francis recent visits to the Americas and to the U.S. were considered overwhelming successes by most people in this country as well as those throughout the hemispheres. But there is a large contingent in the U.S., of mainly Republicans and other far-right-wing dingbats that were quite upset about many of the Pope’s remarks and, accordingly, bad-mouthed his actions. The Pope shockingly seemed to put all his emphasis on helping the poor, and his worst heresy was actually advocating to save the ecology of this planet from further desecration. My God, what was he thinking. Surely he must have known that that when Jesus walked the Earth he wore nothing but the finest silk robes embroidered with gold and expensive jewels such as diamonds and rubies. That he and his entourage would only stay in the most elite 5-star hotels. And that his preaching and sermonizing were almost always before corporate CEOs, Boards of Directors, and Hedge Fund Managers where he invariably advocated for trickle-down economics and tax cuts for the rich. No, you say? It was just the opposite? That he and his disciples wore mainly rags and slept in open fields or where some follower could provide them with sleeping quarters. That his sermons always seemed to focus on assisting the poor. Imagine that. It might explain why this pope (unlike previous ones) is so emphatic about identifying and being critical of the worst abuses of our capitalistic form of economics which so heavily tilts toward the rich. Who knows? Some people living outside of right-wing looney-tunesville might actually take his words to heart.

With yet the latest atrocity being committed at a rustic Oregon school by, once again, another deranged individual, the subject of gun control, as always, springs to the forefront. President Obama and other assorted liberals take to the podiums to, predictably decry our appalling lack of gun control legislation, while the National Rifle Association and other gun nuts say the problem is too few guns, and that any tightening of gun control laws would be a violation of their infamous Second Amendment rights. And, sadly, it’s the gun nuts that always seem to carry the day. But there is one set of statistics that need to be pounded into American heads if any progress is to be achieved. At 320 million, the U.S. comprises less than 5% of the world’s population. Yet more than 50% of all the guns that exist on this planet reside in the U.S. That explains it all. The U.S. is awash with guns so that the ensuing chaos that gun proliferation causes, comes as no surprise. A new book on gun control, just out, refers to this situation as the “wellspring of crazy.” It’s hard to top that phrase for imagery.

The main problem here is that the U.S. has a gun fetish. A fetish is a compulsion so strong, that most people that have them cannot rid themselves of it. For example, there are many sexual fetishes such as bondage, sado-masochism, spanking, etc. that are used in role playing. Most are harmless and rarely lead to adverse consequences. But a gun fetish is something else. It becomes a total exercise in fanaticism as shown in the expression of many gun owners that, “if they come after my gun, they’ll have to pry it from my cold, dead fingers.” The American gun fetish probably began when the West was being settled, and the settlers had to often fight off Indian raids or outlaws. Those threats are now gone, but the fetish lives on.

Gun advocates like to point out that those jurisdictions that do have strict gun control laws, like New York, Washington D.C. and Chicago, often have the highest crime and murder rates to go along with those laws. They aver that no matter how strict gun laws are, the bad guys will always be able to get their hands on these weapons. But that argument is superfluous. It does little good for one place to have strict gun laws, if one can merely take a short ride into the next jurisdiction and buy all the guns he or she desires. If Illinois has strict gun control, a short hop over to Indiana will remedy that situation. To be effective gun control must blanket the entire country. One other oddity to those killings in Oregon. One of those murdered was a professor that had relocated to these Oregon boondocks from N.Y. City. I’m sure he felt he was getting out one of largest crime hubs of the country, into the safety of some backwater Rubesville. Funny how fate is always determined to play out the cards it’s holding.

One last item. In the on-going, never-ending war in Afghanistan, the U.S. has just bombed a hospital run by the humanitarian organization known as “Doctors-Without-Borders.” Over 20 people were killed in this brainless, mind-boggling act of ineptitude and carelessness. We could chalk it up to collateral damage, as the war advocates proclaim. I would sooner chalk it up to futility of war in general, however, and U.S. impotence in defeating the Taliban thugs and serial killers we’ve been fighting against-14 years later since we began that war. Although there undoubtably have been wars since the beginning of mankind, the first war recorded in history occurred over 4700 years ago. Not much has changed since then, except for maybe the weaponry.

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ADVOCATING FOR THE POOR

I’ve written before about how Lyndon Johnson initiated the war on poverty in the U.S. 50 years ago. Now, 50 years later and trillions spent, about the same number of people, percentage-wise, in this country are still mired in poverty. To say nothing of the billions of people on this planet also living in the most desperate squalor. Especially in Africa, Asia and South America. The thing about poverty is that one is not only forced to live under the most inhumane conditions; but it deflates one’s spirit and self-worth the way a pin prick would allow the helium to come oozing out, thus deflating a hot-air ballon. So, is there anyone out there of major importance who is speaking out on behalf of the plight of the poor. Certainly no one in this country, including President Obama. But there is one figure on the world stage that has now became a major advocate for the world’s impoverished; and that figure is newly inaugurated Pope Francis.

The new Pope, who had previously worked closely with those down-and-out in Argentina, has made some recent declarations that have had U.S. right-wingers and those who believe in laissez-faire capitalism, quite upset. First he indicated that trickle-down economics was a bad thing thing that especially victimized the poor. A BAD THING? Why, trickle-down economics, where a few people who are highly proficient in manipulating our capitalist system become so rich that they’re willing to let a few shekels trickle down to the rest of the peasants, is the heart and soul of the Republican Party’s platform. How can that be a bad thing? The Pope’s proclamation had a number rich, Catholic donors to the GOP, almost apoplectic. Catholic, right-wing demagogues on Fox News like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity were near having total meltdowns.

Next, Pope Francis had the temerity to state that there there should be a justifiable re-distribution of wealth from the rich to the poor. OH MY GOD. Now he’s really gone too far. The Koch Brothers and their ilk began labeling the Pope as a Marxist, if not an out-right Communist. Asking the rich to part with some of their wealth to enable the poor, why that was just plain, out-right subversive. How could the Pope even call himself Catholic. Everyone knows that if people are poor, it means they’re just too lazy or too unambitious or too stupid, or perhaps all three, to make something of themselves. As a result of the Pope’s heresy when it came to statements regarding capitalism, Francis was forced to, at least partially, walk back some of these “jarring” proclamations on wealth re-distribution. Otherwise, how could rich, catholic, right-wing capitalists the world over, live with themselves.

In any event, I thought it might be worthwhile to examine what poverty looks like here in the U.S. since few topics have more myths, misconceptions, stereotypes and distortions surrounding them. The notions that poverty affects a relatively small number of people, is primarily confined to minorities living in the inner-cities, and results because people don’t work hard enough, are flat-out wrong. Research has indicated that nearly 40% of Americans between the ages of 25-60 will live at least one year below the officially designated poverty level. The number rises to 54% if you include those that are just at, or slightly above the poverty line. Also, nearly half of all American children will, at some point, live in households that require food stamps to be able to put food on the table. And, contrary to myth, only 10% of those in poverty live in extremely poor inner cities. The rest can be found throughout a variety of urban and suburban landscapes, and especially in small towns across rural America. Also, instead of mainly minorities, two-thirds of those below the poverty line are identified as being white, a number that has been consistent over several decades.

Well, you might say, especially if you’re a Republican, what about the huge benefits the Government supposedly lavishes on the poor. Again, a myth. Contrary to political rhetoric, the American social safety net is extremely weak and filled with gaping holes. It has become even weaker over the past 40 years because of continuing budget cutting measures. The U.S. stands alone among first-world industrialized nations in failing to provide universal health care, (even under ObamaCare), affordable child care, free or low-cost college tuition, or reasonably priced and decent low-income housing. That’s why, Europe, for example, has a far lower poverty rate than the U.S. Those who are mired in poverty, are often shocked to find how little Government assistance is available to ease their dire circumstances.

Finally, the myth that the poor are too indolent to improve their living standards should also be put to rest. The vast majority of the poor have worked or are currently working. The problem is that they usually lack the job skills and/or education to find employment that pays decent wages. And because we have a generally lousy economy, it’s extremely difficult those that lost their jobs in the latest downturn to find new offers. Couple that with the millions of jobs U.S. companies have shipped overseas so they can pay even lower wages, and the plight of the working poor, becomes even more dire.

Now one must recognize that the definition of poor in this country is a lot different than what it means to be poor in a place such as Africa, for example. In this country, the poor may live in the most squalid of quarters, but they do have a roof over their heads. Most will likely have color TVs, cell phones, computers and perhaps even a car. In Africa, vast chunks of the population don’t even have electricity, let alone all the assorted gadgetry. Many in Africa experience such abominable sanitary and living conditions that their average life expectancy is about half what it is in this country. But the one thing that unites all the world’s poor, is the way poverty drains the human soul of any feelings of self-worth. So,  since no other world figure seems to be up for the job, it would appear that Pope Francis needs to continue to be a strong advocate for the world’s impoverished.

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CAPITALISM’S CASUALTIES

I haven’t writing for awhile, mainly because of doctors appointments, (that senior thing again) and going away for the Thanksgiving Day thingy. Now all that is past, so I thought I would write about one of my favorite topics, as the title explains. It should be a quick and easy read, however. As Elizabeth Taylor said to each of her 7 husbands – I won’t keep you long.

The subject is capitalism, which every single person is involved with, whether they like it or not. Or more explicitly, those that have been victims to the many downsides of capitalism. Capitalism, as we know it today, was kicked into hi-gear by what historians refer to as the Industrial Revolution; which is generally accepted to have taken place from the mid-18th century thru the mid-19th century. Although, of course, the Industrial Revolution has been ever on-going. The latest manifestation, for about the last 30 years, has been in the electronics industry with the proliferation of home and business computers, I-Pods, tablets, and, of course, the latest consumer craze – grossly overpriced cell phones.

To set the mood, picture that since the beginning of time until late into the 1700s, the societies of most of Europe and North America were rooted in agriculture. Farming was the primary industry throughout both continents. Farmers would grow their own food, and what was considered excess would be sold in local markets. Whatever manufacturing that existed at the time, such as the production of clothing, tools, furniture, and horse drawn carriages, etc., were often made in people’s homes or small workshops. But the Industrial Revolution remarkably and dramatically changed all that. It started in England, where a previously manual labor-based economy transitioned into a machine and factory-based type of mechanization. It then spread to North America with the mechanization and factory creation of the textile industries, the development of iron-making techniques and subsequently steel, and the increased development and use of refined coal. Trade expansion was dramatically increased through the introduction of canals, improved roadways, and, of course, railroads. The development of all metal machine tools in the early 1800s facilitated the manufacture of more production machinery in an ever increasing proliferation of factories. Production of goods began shifting from a manual labor-based effort, to that of factory machinery- driven assembly lines. The world began changing in profound ways.

The Industrial Revolution marked a major turning point in human history. The cost of producing those products that were on the market at that time dropped significantly with the introduction of factory mechanization. People who had known nothing farming all their lives began moving off  farms and into cities where most factories were located. As small as pay scales were for factory workers at the time, they were still better than eking out a meager and back-breaking existence by continually tilling the land. In fact, average income began to experience unprecedented sustained growth. In the two centuries following 1800, the world’s per capita income increased over 10-fold from where it had been from the previous 10,000 years. As Nobel Prize winner Robert Lucas wrote: “For the first time in history, the living standards for the masses of ordinary people began to undergo sustained growth. Nothing like this economic behavior has happened before.”

That’s the good part of capitalism. Now for the bad. The fundamental cornerstone of capitalism is based on a few people with extraordinary talent exploiting the masses that don’t have similar talents. Exploitation is the very foundation of capitalism. For example, in the 19th century, a guy named John D. Rockefeller came to understand that energy was the very lifeblood of the Industrial Revolution. He further came to know that oil could be a relatively cheap and plentiful source of energy to fuel factories and homes. The rest, as they say, is history. He founded a giant oil discovery and refining empire starting with Standard Oil, and made billions (in today’s money.) While his employees who often put their lives on the line drilling for or refining oil, earned chump change. Same with Andrew Carnegie. To be fair, though, both John D. and Andrew, in later life, set up charitable trusts and started giving away their money almost as fast as they made it.

Other bad examples abound and are too numerous to list them all. For instance, sweat shops sprung up like weeds where textiles were manufactured. They employed mostly women, who had to slave over sewing machines, in the most narrow confines of non-ventilated of spaces. Since the air on these factory floors was both stale and hot, they weren’t called sweat shops for nothing. Children were often employed in these sweat shops, as young as six. It wasn’t until Teddy Roosevelt became President in the early 1900s, that Congress finally passed legislation prohibiting the employment in these sweat shops of anyone under the ripe old age of 14. Since safety regulations were non-existent back then, it was not uncommon for fires to break out in these sweat shops killing many workers. Or how about coolie wages, which I assume most of you have heard of. Coolie wages got it’s name from what workers who built transcontinental rail lines in the 19th century were paid. Most of these workers were immigrants from Asia (mostly Chinese) and were paid little more than slop that was passed off as food and sleeping quarters, for their back-breaking labors. Needless to say, life expectancy among the working class did not extend into longevity.

The institution of slavery, particularly in the South, and in the British territories was based on obtaining the cheapest of labor costs, a fundamental principle of capitalism. The picking and manufacture of cotton was the prime industry of the American south, and slavery offered plantation owners the lowest possible labor costs. That’s why it took a bloody civil war to get rid of it. In today’s world, much, of course, has greatly improved in terms of wages and working conditions for virtually all workers. But millions of what would be well paying jobs in the U.S. have been shipped overseas where labor is far cheaper, in accordance with the rules of capitalism. That’s why the American economy is limping along with high unemployment. Average per capita income has steadily headed downward for middle-class families for the last 30 years, not only here, but in most of Europe as well. Perhaps the leaks in capitalism’s well-crafted dike have sprung into gushers.

Well, I’ve kept you longer than I intended, but I would like to mention one other thing. The new catholic pope, Francis, very recently came out with a paper critical of capitalism. He specifically mentioned “trickle-down economics” as being particularly injurious to the poor. Or to those who, for whatever reason, cannot function well in a capitalist society. And here, all along, I thought trickle-down economics was the cornerstone of the Republican Party’s platform.

 

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