Pope Music

The new Pope has been on a tear for the past two years. If ever the term “Hope and Change” can aptly be used, it would be for His Holiness. He is fundamentally transforming the Roman Catholic institution’ thinking (not doctrines but attitudes) with some of the most liberal and progressive views. Here are a sample of his recent stances on various issues:

a) Global Warming – Pope Francis has blamed human selfishness for global warming in his long-awaited encyclical calling for action on climate change (Reference – Link )

b) in July 2013,  “If a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge… it is not right to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.” (Reference – Link )

c) On Atheism – Pope Francis rocked some religious and atheist minds when he declared that everyone was redeemed through Jesus, including atheists (Reference – Link )

d) Abortion – Pope Francis opened a special, temporary, “mercy” window to make it easier for women who have abortions and confess to get back into the full good graces of the church (Reference – Link )

Don’t get me wrong he is NOT a liberal, and the softening of his positions on key issues opens up an opportunity for a conversation regarding change within an institution that has been long criticized as anachronistic. He still has to make significant changes in multiple areas such as improving the response to the pedophilia charges, contraception, female priests to name a few. As Jorge Ramos of Univision put it, ” He has delivered style but not substance (yet)”

That brings me to Free Market Capitalism. Here is a quote from Yr-2013:
[S]ome people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacra­lized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

Over the past two years, on numerous occasions the Pope has been very vocal of the “evils of capitalism” and the “Free Market” comparing “Unbridled Capitalism” as the “Dung of the Devil”

So what does all this mean to our stateside Conservatives. Clearly such positions are in conflict with our country’s conservative pro capital viewpoints. From a fiscal standpoint clearly his positions on Free Market makes our conservatives squirm, but his take on social and environmental issues really has them in an uproar.

As an outside observer of this there is a certain element of schadenfreude in watching this unravel. For years the conservatives felt they had the backing of the Church on key social issues (read – marriage, abortion, contraception etc.). Now here comes a Pope who is no longer interested in having the traditional conversations on social issues but rather would like to bring wealth inequality and climate change to the forefront of the conversation. In other words (quoting a particular right wing talk radio person) he is a “Marxist”.

So here is how a typical conversation goes:
– “Climate change is a fact” there is a broad consensus amongst almost all scientific institutions around the world
– ” How can u say that? there was a scientist in the UK who was “fudging” his research and it has been proven to be a hoax
– “Yes! that was one person and he was discredited BUT there still remains the fact that there is broad consensus”.
– I don’t believe it for the following reasons – a)climate has changed before so this is cyclical; b) it has actually been colder in the past few years; c) increasing CO2 has no effect; d)they said we will pass point of no return but we didn’t”..and so on
– “OK but let me reiterate – consensus is broad; proof is real and even the Pope has called it out as one of the most important issues of our time”
– (quoting Santorum)” “The pope ought to stay with his job, and we’ll stay with ours,”

Rick Santorum, a devout Catholic and a once long-shot contender for the Republican nomination, told a Philadelphia radio station: “The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we’re good at, which is theology and morality.”

So riddle me this:
– We cannot take direction from the Pope on matters related to science since that should be left to the scientist.
– We cannot take direction from the Pope on matters of wealth and free markets since that should be left to the Economists
– But we should take direction from the Pope on contraception related matters since that cannot be left to the doctors or health care specialists?

The answer cannot be cause it is in the good book?….cause the good book is very specific about charity; greed and wealth. So then where does this hypocrisy originate from?

The answer – it is the “Conservative Bubble”. The beauty of this bubble is it is impenetrable to logic, reason and rational thought. The bubble is fed by a steady diet of talking points from the right wing radio and television outlets. While the so called pundits are getting rich pandering the same weak talking points, the folks who listen to them are struggling to enter or stay in the middle class.

Actual Example (s)

– One of the conservative talk show hosts allege that Boehner’s resignation was timed to coincide with the Pope’s arrival so he can spend the last month of his term executing Obama’s remaining Marxist agenda. All this because Boehner was instrumental in bringing the Pope stateside.

– Sarah Palin trying her best to equate her son’s domestic abuse to Obama’s policies (Link to Story). You just cannot argue with this kind of lunacy.

Maybe the Pope’s visit to the US was a positive harbinger of change to conservative attitudes. Or maybe I should look out the window and see if pigs are flying.

You down with OPP – One Percent People?

No I don’t mean reference to the Naughty by Nature song but rather the One Percenters that have been making the news for the past few years that was the basis of the Occupy Wall Street Movement.
I go to the grocery store about every week – Costco, the local Mariano’s or ethnic grocery stores and I consider myself as frugal or at least approaching frugality (with the few occasional indulgences). It is impossible to fathom how a family of four are able to get by with what is considered as “average” salary in the US.

I was watching Real Time with Bill Maher last week and he had a segment on the 1%ers and how the time to have a discussion on “Maximum Wage” in addition to “Minimum Wage”, has come. He quoted Warren Buffet – “I should write a book on how to get by on $500 million because apparently there is a lot of people who don’t know how to do it”. Also referenced was the Oxfam Report in his New Rules segment –the 85 richest people, 85, own more (wealth) than the bottom three and half billion put together, which is half the planet”.

Personally I support capitalism, as it is one of the best engines for innovations and growth . Yes you need the wealth creators to sustain/grow innovation and job growth. But there is a level of perversity that comes with the Oxfam statistic that is French Revolutionesque. Maher is also quick to pay accolades to the current crop of socially responsible billionaires who have pledged all or most of their net worth to charitable causes (The Giving Pledge).

Social Security Administration’s 2012 report shows a sobering statistic. The key summary is as follows – The “raw” average wage, computed as net compensation divided by the number of wage earners, is $6,529,097,960,690.75 divided by 153,632,290, or $42,498.21. Based on data in the table , about 67.1 percent of wage earners had net compensation less than or equal to the $42,498.21 raw average wage. By definition, 50 percent of wage earners had net compensation less than or equal to the median wage, which is estimated to be $27,519.10 for 2012. (Reference – http://www.ssa.gov/cgi-bin/netcomp.cgi?year=2012) . Also, over the past 40 years, wealth gains for the top 1% completely dwarf the gains for the remaining 99%.

The problem of income equality is real both in the US and globally and needs to be addressed. All indications point to this issue being a campaign point in the upcoming mid term elections and also in the 2016 Presidenial elections. What are some of the options? – controls in executive compensation, Tax reforms, not more but “optimal regulations’ are all being kicked around.

Obviously, I am not an economist, policy wonk or part of the 1% club. At the end of the day there is the real issue when you see people struggling to get by every day. You talk to people at work who have no savings cushion, borrowed – in debt to the hilt or folks who have lost their jobs and are struggling- the working poor and out of work poor!

So here is my question. While this whole debate continues and solutions are being looked at can we”increase” the use of our tax money we are spending to help ameliorate our poor?

Here is a thought — Cut defense spending and reallocate it. I know I know this has been bandied about for a while and this year’s defense budget from Hagel is a good start. But c’mon do we need to spend this much money on our defense (and the answer can’t be we need to protect the freedoms of the world).
What about the freedoms of our citizen who deserve a decent standard of living? Don’t get me wrong this is not a progressive rambling, I am in fact conservative on a lot of issues.
The chart below shows that the US spends as much in defense as the next 15 countries COMBINED!

Source: http://armscontrolcenter.org/issues/securityspending/articles/2012_topline_global_defense_spending/

And here is the allocation of of our entire US budget across various categories:

As Maher points out in his one of his previous shows –“we 
are in the Empire Building business”. We don’t leave anywhere we go”. Our threats in the 21st century are not the traditional wars we have fought in the past, rather disparate groups and organizations with stateless affiliations. We don’t need to build F-35s and Tanks or weapons that will never be used (even the Military is crying that they don’t want anymore!). Will we become less safe if we spend (say) the total defense budget of the next 6 or 7 countries combined instead of 15? I don’t know the answer but it is frustrating when we can send money to support meaningless wars when we can spend it on programs that can make an impact stateside.

So while we figure out how to improve upward mobility and reduce the income disparity can we at least make a small and immediate impact in improving the lives of our citizens?

Maybe the first step in being the “world’s police and beacon of freedom” is to take care of our own first? Now that may be a novel thought!