Class Warfare Blog

May 2, 2018

Why Capitalism Creates Racism

This is a “must read” post on the Naked Capitalism site.

Why Capitalism Creates Racism

Here are some excerpts:

“In the current era, when NAFTA was passed, Mexico was flooded with American industrial corn. Its lower cost destroyed the peasant economy in Mexico by rendering locally grown corn ‘uncompetitive.’ This cut the peasants whose livelihoods depended on selling their corn out of the cash economy. Millions of suddenly ‘freed’ peasants went to work in maquiladoras or fled North in search of work as undocumented workers. Without racial or national animosity, NAFTA created a new sub-class of industrial labor.”

“In the context of labor coerced through manufactured circumstances (work for us or starve) and control of government by the industries doing the employing, the idea of market wages is nonsense. And therein lies the point. The ‘free-market’ way to entice labor is to pay the wage that people are willing to work for— without coercion. The ‘capital accumulation’ theory behind NAFTA— that sacrifice is required to accumulate the capital that makes capitalism function, (1) begs the question: function for whom and (2) was also used to justify slavery.”

“By the time NAFTA was fully implemented the powers-that-be behind its central policies busied themselves creating explanations of Mexican immigration to the U.S. In their telling, NAFTA had nothing to do with the millions of Mexicans leaving Mexico for the U.S. or for the rapidly declining fortunes of American workers who suddenly faced competition for their paychecks from people willing to work for whatever they could get. ‘Criminals’ and ‘freeloaders’ were coming for American jobs went the carefully-crafted storyline.”

“Of current relevance: (1) different classes of workers were created and placed in competition with one another to benefit a tiny ruling elite, (2) the interests of this elite were / are centered around pecuniary and political gain, (3) after implementation racialized explanations were put forward in lieu of the original economic explanations used to sell these programs and (4) these explanations followed the creation of the racialized ‘facts’ they were conceived to explain. The temporal sequence is important— mass immigration from Mexico and the destruction of the American working class were well-underway before racialized explanations were put forward to explain it.”

“The argument was made at the time, and is still made today, that ‘everyone’ benefits from massively disrupting the lives of millions of people with trade agreements. Theoretical proof is put forward in terms of dollars / pesos of GDP gained. Left out is that the Mexican peasant economy wasn’t monetized and therefore its loss wasn’t counted. Even on its own terms NAFTA was a loser. And imposing these outcomes from above makes them profoundly anti-democratic. In other words, even if the outcomes were as promised, the decisions were made by its largest beneficiaries, not those whose lives were disrupted.”

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April 29, 2018

Wither Public Education?

I was reading a comment recently that in the U.S. no one expects to be given housing or food and drink or medical care, but all parents expect their children to be given a good education. The “why” of this was immediately apparent … because we have already paid for it. Education is funded through property taxes and state taxes with a smidgen of federal funds thrown (but always with strings attached, so those are not funds to support ongoing efforts). If you are a homeowner and say that you are unfairly singled out for these taxes, please realize that those of us who do not own our homes (of which I am one) pay rent, which is used by the rental unit’s owner to pay his property taxes. And we all pay income taxes or other taxes to our states. We are also not paying just for our own kid’s educations, but everyone’s, as part of the commonweal.

So, in our “pay as you go” culture, we have paid for the “go” but it is currently under attack.

As a scientist and a trained meeting facilitator and a sports coach I know that the most important part of solving problems is the careful elucidation of what the real problem is. If you misidentify the problem, the odds of you solving it plummet.

With regard to public education, the problems have been misidentified for years. Starting roughly in 1983 with the publishing of a major (and very flawed) study given the title of “A Nation at Risk,” which launched the false narrative that American public schools were failing, a systematic false narrative about “the problem” was being proffered. The nation, at the time of that study, was in the throes of a recession, and the authors of the report blamed the schools, which is patently stupid because the lag period between youths being in public schools and being out in society where they can have a major impact on the economy has to be measured in decades. Nothing happening now could be caused by the state of schools now; twenty years ago, maybe.

In any case, since that time a major disinformation campaign has been continuously waged against public schools (they are failing and the sky is falling, too). The current object of that campaign is to “privatize” public schools so as to extract profits from them. The justification for the profits is as spurious as the disinformation about what is wrong with our schools. The justification is that “market forces,” aka “school choice,” will solve all of the problems. This is a belief in what I call “market woo” and really should be advanced by “experts” dressed up as witch doctors because it has as much value as does spiritual medicine. The real justification for the profits is the profits themselves. Being able to extract profits from the huge pile of money set aside to educate our kids is the primary motive and it has the oligarchs drooling.

As to the “real problem” with public schools I offer the following: if you segregate out public schools in relatively wealthy parts of the U.S., you will find that they perform at very high levels. Massachusetts public schools, for example, perform on international tests higher than the current darlings of those tests, e.g. Singapore, Finland, etc. This fact alone obliterates the claim that government cannot do public schools well.

Now, if you think I am going to follow this up with a claim that schools are underfunded, you will be quite wrong. They are often underfunded and that is part of the problem, but school funding alone will not make the schools that are not performing at a high level do so. (The wealthy cannot claim that school funding is not an issue when they are sending their own children to schools that have very high levels of funding.) Careful studies show that there are real roadblocks to performance in schools. (Hint: teacher competence is not a major concern here, even though that has been part of the misinformation smear campaign of the oligarchs.) The roadblocks are poverty, racism, and violence. In school districts where the students are chronically hungry and receive threats of violence on a frequent basis, we now have solid research showing that almost nothing else can be done to raise performance up to the levels of schools in which these forces are absent. Asking the schools to fix these problems is stupid. We can ameliorate them a little. We can escort students to and from schools, but they are being preyed upon in the neighborhoods as well. Fear for one’s physical safety is an all-consuming distraction. We can provide school breakfasts and lunches (and I recommend we do that for all students) and by so doing that we can ameliorate the effects of hunger on being able to concentrate in class. (My son wrote a history of school lunch programs, so we have a great deal of history with regard to what does and does not work in that, plus we have examples in other countries as to what is possible.)

It is now clear that the “reformers” claims of the value of vouchers and charter schools are bogus. These “solutions” were proffered as solutions for “the problem.” Since the problem was a false construct in the first place, the solutions were hardly likely to work and have been proven not to. They also have unleashed a tide of corruption as fly-by-night charter operations which have bilked states out of many millions of dollars. This has become such a common event that a premature closing of charter schools has become commonplace.

This is a con, pure and simple. The con artists (in order to extract our money) established “the problem” and “the solution.” (Any time the problem and solution come from the same source, you know it is a con.) The con artists did a good job of obfuscating who is behind the scam, but we can see it all now. And politicians, who are receiving “campaign donations” from charter schools(!!), are always willing to “serve the public” by giving us what we want: “school choice.” But we don’t want school choice, that is their solution. We want the good education for our children that we have paid for.

A careful consideration of the real issues shows that the “crisis” in our schools was not there in the first place. The real problems center on inconsistency. We demonstrate, on a daily basis that we can “do” public schools very, very well but we also demonstrate that we are willing to accept a very much lower standard of performance in some schools. Much of this attitude is racist and some is politically and religiously motivated, but it does not solve “the problem.”

If we want to continue the “pay as you go” system we have created, with all of its incentives, what is the incentive in crippling some of our citizens with a poor education, so they cannot earn enough to pay for a decent life for themselves and their families? The answer is that there is none, that the effort to undermine the education of the poor is fueled out of animus and this just has to stop.

We can start by “calling bullshit” on the public education reformers. If you need any ammunition, any of Diane Ravitch’s recent books will do (Reign of Error or The Death and Life of the Great American School System, etc.) And do realize that our democracy is teetering. While we should be making efforts to strengthen it, it is being undermined by authoritarian rich assholes and one of their leverage points is public education. Privatize that, let public schools wither away, and our democracy is in extreme peril.

April 28, 2018

Give Me the Child …

Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man.
Jesuit maxim widely attributed to Ignatius Loyola;

In a blog post on the website of The Institute for New Economic Thinking (The Corporate Plan to Groom U.S. Kids for Servitude by Wiping Out Public Schools by Lynn Parramore—April 6, 2018) the author summarizes part of the opinion of Gordon Lafer, Associate Professor at the Labor Education and Research Center at the University of Oregon, thus:

Lafer explains that in the new system, the children of the wealthy will be taught a broad, rich curriculum in small classes led by experienced teachers. The kind of thing everybody wants for kids. But the majority of America’s children will be consigned to a narrow curriculum delivered in large classes by inexperienced staff —or through digital platforms with no teachers at all.

Most kids will be trained for a life that is more circumscribed, less vibrant, and, quite literally, shorter, than what past generations have known. (Research shows that the lifespan gap between haves and have-nots is large and rapidly growing). They will be groomed for insecure service jobs that dull their minds and depress their spirits.

She went on to say: “In the words of Noam Chomsky… ‘students will be controlled and disciplined.’ Most will go to school without developing their creativity or experiencing doing things on their own.”

While reading this I am also reading the book “Why We Do What We Do: The Dynamics of Personal Autonomy” by Edward L. Deci. I reached a point in that book in which a long standing question of mine got answered. That question is: why do kids in kindergarten and the early stages of their educations show so much curiosity when that is no longer in evidence when they get to middle school and high school?” It seemed to me that education had the effect of beating the curiosity out of kids. I wondered why. According to Deci “It is truly amazing, as pointed up by our (research) findings, that if people are ongoingly treated as if they were either passive mechanisms or barbarians needing to be controlled, they will begin to act more and more that way (p. 84).” Controlling behavior includes structuring the environment, establishing the rules, enforcing the rules, defining the rewards, etc.

When Chomsky says “students will be controlled and disciplined” he is saying “more than they are now,” the effect of which is to stifle curiosity, creativity, political will to resist the “rules,” etc.

The oligarch’s effort to dismantle public education and remake it under their “leadership” is motivated by a desire for worker drones that will shut up, do what they are told, accept whatever salary and benefits they are offered, and not make problems.

It seems that 1984 is coming, just 30 years later than predicted. And there is no Big Brother;  there are, however, quite a number very wealthy men, old white men, who are auditioning for the role.

April 17, 2018

Taxing the Rich: A Good Idea or Not?

To those whom much is given, much is required.

The standard narratives regarding not taxing the rich are quite bankrupt but are still used, much like the tired old arguments of religious apologists (there is always a new audience to whom these arguments make sense). The usual thing touted is that the rich are the job creators and if you tax them (at all?) they won’t take risks and start new companies which hire workers and we all suffer thereby.

As a counter narrative consider the story of Toys R Us, a huge entrepreneurial success story, which ended in a financial meltdown. The company, however, made its owner rich when individual and corporate taxes were ever so much higher and met its demise in a time when those taxes became ever so much lower.

Read this fascinating story here.

The “standard narrative” of the rich about the rich is they made their money “themselves,” so they “deserve” the rewards. But in reality, does anyone make it themselves? Or is it like personal gifts one is born with and developed, in which we deserve some credit for the development but much of what happens to us and because of us depends upon things like genetics, luck, externalities (like available electricity and good roads provided to all), circumstances of birth (being born into a rich family is a strong marker for “becoming” rich)?

March 26, 2018

Oh, The Irony!

When the American Experiment in self-governance began, the creators of the government we now possess were significantly concerned that the hoi polloi, the “middling sort,” as they called them, not get too involved in the process. The Founding Fathers were elitists, by design. They felt that only people like them had the education, the perspectives, and experience to lead the government.

One of the fears expressly stated was the fear that if the poor got control of  the government that they would use the government’s powers to strip the wealthy of their wealth. Most of the FFs were quite well-to-do, don’t you know. (Like you I was shocked, shocked, I tell you!)

This fear: that the poor would go after the wealth of the wealthy, has lived on in the hearts of most of the wealthy persons since the later eighteenth century and exists today.

In all of that time, I can only think of one period in which the wealth of the wealthy was effectively restricted and that was due to the New Deal of the quite wealthy President Franklin D. Roosevelt (who was called a “traitor to his class” for his efforts). People often point to the 90% tax bracket introduced during WW2 and kept there after (even under Republican Dwight Eisenhower) as an example of  wealth stripping by “the people.” But this doesn’t hold up. This onerous tax bracket didn’t kick in until one had an annual income in excess of $100,000. Considering that the average worker’s income was around $3000, this was quite a lofty salary. So this 90% tax bracket applied to very few people. Plus SS taxes were quite low in the 1950’s as opposed to now. (Thank you, Ron Reagan!) And one can argue that effective tax rates (the rates people actually pay, not listings in tax tables) are higher now than in the 1950’s, so this does not wash as an example of a time in which the rich were attacked by the poor. The actual slowdown of the accumulation of wealth in the 1950’s was, I believe, caused not so much by policy (some was) but by a feeling of “we are all in this together” due to the war, making it harder to screw your neighbors.

There are, however, more than a few periods, including the one in which we are in now, in which the wealthy have joyfully robbed the poor and middle class. (Oh, the irony!)

If you are unfamiliar with wealth inequality (really it should be termed wealth inequity because really no one is arguing that all should be equally wealthy) you need to educate yourself on this very hot topic. Wealth “inequality” as currently defined is at an all-time high, worse than it was in the Gilded Age or any other period in U.S. history.

The entire process of civilization has been fueled by coercing inexpensive labor out of the masses to benefit the religious and secular elites. Any advantages of civilization that have been gotten down to the poor are the result of trickle down process and we all know how effective those are. Still, a certain amount of this is acceptable but when it gets excessive, as it is now, the torches and pitchforks tend to come out and, well, there are more of us than them.

I think we all need to take a page out of the playbook of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and establish a single issue voting block. I will no longer vote for any candidate who has an A or B rating from the NRA, in support of their effort. (Vote them out!)

How about a wealth inequality inequity single issue voting block? Establish a few parameters and then VOTE THEM OUT. Unfortunately this will go badly for all Republicans and the corporate Democrats. On second thought, strike the word “unfortunately.”

March 1, 2018

The Tax Cut Was for the Rich? Really?

If you are in the U.S. you should have gotten your tax cut by now. This is in the form of revised withholding tax based upon new tables. Since taxes will be lower, then less needs to be withheld from your paychecks each month and the withholding tables were adjusted beginning in the month of February.

I checked my withholding and voila … I had $164.88 less withheld last month. Multiply by twelve and that means I have $1978.56 more money available for the coming year. Now, I do not trust these calculations. That is just what is being withheld, it is not the actual tax which I will not learn about until a month or so into 2019, so I am squirreling away some of that windfall just in case.

So, my taxes, presumably, are being cut almost $2000. I wonder how well some of the rich folks did?

Warren Buffet, of Berkshire-Hathaway fame, reports that his company made $29 billion dollars the same way, wait … twenty-nine fucking billion dollars!

Okay, well that is a very wealthy company, how does that stack up against its earnings otherwise? The company’s annual statement declares:

“But 2017 was far from standard: A large portion of our gain did not come from anything we accomplished at Berkshire. The $65 billion gain is nonetheless real — rest assured of that. But only $36 billion came from Berkshire’s operations. The remaining $29 billion was delivered to us in December when Congress rewrote the U.S. Tax Code.”

So, this very successful company made $36 billion dollars through its own efforts … and then $29 billion more in the form of a GOP handout. But, we can be sure that B-H will spend all of that money to boost the economy … or maybe issue bonuses to its few employees … or maybe raise the wages of those few employees. But wait, B-H owns a whole bunch of companies and, in toto, they have 367,700 employees. With that $29 billion they could give each of them $7887, but my guess is that that won’t happen. I won’t be holding my breath for any such miracle as large corporations are doing exactly what they did the last time they got a tax cut. They are buying back their own stock, which raises the price of said stock, which benefits shareholders (84% of all common stock is owned by members of the top 10%), especially a subgroup of shareholders called “corporation executives.” Yep, the people who directly benefit from this action are the people deciding on that action. Anyone surprised at this needs to get a reality check done.

Oh, and the GOP is expecting the “tax cut” to win them the next election. Ha ha ha ha ha … I guess that could happen if the opposition were total morons … oh, wait …

 

 

 

February 16, 2018

More on Civilization

In recent posts I have been parsing the claim that, if I may use Karen Armstrong’s words again, “… historians argue, without this cruel arrangement that did violence to the vast majority of the population, humans would not have developed the arts and sciences that made progress possible. Civilization itself required a leisured class to cultivate it, and so our finest achievements were for thousands of years built on the backs of an exploited peasantry.

If one accepts this argument as being valid, then I must ask: why is it necessary that the coercion and exploitation of the masses continue as it has? Isn’t it time to say, well now that we have civilized societies all over the globe and extended the benefits to all people, poorer people should no longer be exploited.

Basically, I am asking if this coercion/oppression is the driver of civilization, will it ever end?

Will it? Will we say “Enough!” loud enough to get the elites to drop the whip? Or do we need to, as Charleton Heston once inferred, “Pry it from their cold dead hands.”

The answer to this question may revolve around crafting a new role for the elites. If we, for example, were to laud “Stewards of Humanity” enough, might it become attractive enough to elites to have them stop the exploitation and start helping people instead or would people, like the Koch brothers, think “that’s what we have been doing all along.” Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt any more, and I suspect that we would need to be very, very clever to pull something like that off.

Have any ideas about what attributes someone would have to have to qualify as a Steward of Humanity?

February 14, 2018

Did Civilization Have to Be the Way It Was (Is)?

Filed under: Culture,History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:59 am
Tags: , , ,

 

This is a follow-up to my recent posts on civilization, whether it has been “driven” by a desire for immortality (I think not) or greed (I think so). The basic story of civilization shows elites coercing the mass’s labor at agriculture (first), skimming the benefits off for themselves. Karen Armstrong, author of many really good books on religion, says it better than I can:

But robbed of the fruits of their labors, the peasants were little better than slaves: plowing, harvesting, digging irrigation canals, being forced into degradation and penury, their hard labor in the fields draining their lifeblood.” Karen Armstrong, Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence

Here is the scholarly argument, then, that it had to be this way, again from Karen Armstrong (same source):

Yet, historians argue, without this cruel arrangement that did violence to the vast majority of the population, humans would not have developed the arts and sciences that made progress possible. Civilization itself required a leisured class to cultivate it, and so our finest achievements were for thousands of years built on the backs of an exploited peasantry. By no coincidence, when the Sumerians invented writing, it was for the purpose of social control.

This is not just this simple argument, there is quite a bit of scholarship behind this position. Again from the same source:

But the (Sumerian) aristocrats had begun to study astronomy and discovered regular patterns in the movements of the heavenly bodies. They marveled at the way the different elements of the natural world worked together to create a stable universe, and they concluded that the cosmos itself must be a kind of state in which everything had its allotted function. They decided that if they modeled their cities on this celestial order, their experimental society would be in tune with the way the world worked and would therefore thrive and endure. The cosmic state, they believed, was managed by gods who were inseparable from the natural forces and nothing like the “God” worshipped by Jews, Christians, and Muslims today.”

But I note that various justifications are also being put in place. Again from the same source:

For these pioneers of civilization, the myth of the cosmic state was an exercise in political science. The Sumerians knew that their stratified society was a shocking departure from the egalitarian norm that had prevailed from time immemorial, but they were convinced that it was somehow enshrined in the very nature of things and that even the gods were bound by it. Long before humans existed, it was said, the gods had lived in the Mesopotamian cities, growing their own food and managing the irrigation system. After the Great Flood, they had withdrawn from earth to heaven and appointed the Sumerian aristocracy to govern the cities in their stead. Answerable to their divine masters, the ruling class had had no choice in the matter.

Aw, they had no choice! The poor, poor, elites.

Here is her summary of the whole magilla.

“It seemed like an iron law because no society ever found an alternative. By the end of the fifteenth century CE, agrarian civilizations would be established in the Middle East, South and East Asia, North Africa, and Europe, and in every one— whether in India, Russia, Turkey, Mongolia, the Levant, China, Greece, or Scandinavia— aristocrats would exploit their peasants as the Sumerians did. Without the coercion of the ruling class, it would have been impossible to force peasants to produce an economic surplus, because population growth would have kept pace with advances in productivity. Unpalatable as this may seem, by forcing the masses to live at subsistence level, the aristocracy kept population growth in check and made human progress feasible. Had their surplus not been taken from the peasants, there would have been no economic resource to support the technicians, scientists, inventors, artists, and philosophers who eventually brought our modern civilization into being. As the American Trappist monk Thomas Merton pointed out, all of us who have benefited from this systemic violence are implicated in the suffering inflicted for over five thousand years on the vast majority of men and women. Or as the philosopher Walter Benjamin put it: ‘There is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism.’”

Okay, do you buy this? That “Had their surplus not been taken from the peasants, there would have been no economic resource to support the technicians, scientists, inventors, artists, and philosophers who eventually brought our modern civilization into being.” That you owe your refrigerators, iPhones, TV sets, bath tubs, etc. to the elites who were basically forced by the gods to do what they did?

I have no qualms with the “Had their surplus not been taken from the peasants, there would have been no economic resource to support the technicians, scientists, …” part, but there are some holes in the argument. The concern that the masses would breed out of control and eat up the surplus is based in science (biologically, populations expand up to the limits of their food supply) but not history. These early civilizations were always, it seemed, starved for labor, resulting in widespread slave raiding to acquire it.

I also do not accept it was necessary to be done the way it was. Every step of the way, the elites lived better than the masses, usually very much better. Some might argue that using the greed of the elites was the only reliable pathway to get to where we are, but that is just a justification. The elites were interested only in creating civilization for themselves and this is the flaw in this whole process.

Was there ever a time that even just one elite chose to live as his/her “subjects” did? Was there ever an elite who worked harder to improve the lot of his subjects lives harder than his/her own? Was there ever an elite who didn’t husband his/her own power for his/her own sake rather than for the “good of the people”? If there were, it is hard to find evidence for it and it was, I suspect, very temporary. So, the argument distills down to basically the elites operated out of greed, using secular and religious power to make their lives better: more secure, healthier, better fed, housed, clothed, etc. And civilization for the masses … happened by accident.

I wonder how scholars, like Karen Armstrong, determine that “Answerable to their divine masters, the ruling class had had no choice in the matter.” How can you read intentions from 5-6 millennia in the past distance. Were their written records, diaries perhaps? She is writing about a time when writing was a rare thing. The elites basically invented writing as a method for accounting for their confiscations. Writing was not a skill widespread in early civilizations. Scribes were trained to work for the elites. Ordinary people did not have the wherewithal to afford the services of a scribe, not did they have the wherewithal to deliver a message once written. Only the elites had the capacity to place things into written records. So, I think it is no stretch of the imagination that the earliest non-accounting forms of writing were done at the behest of the elites, to serve the interests of the elites, and that those writings would be “self-serving.” Only much later did writing become something that could actually serve to undermine the interests of the elites (usually in the form of plays that conveyed messages to a largely illiterate population). So, how do these scholars “know” that the elites felt that they had “no choice in the matter” of how they organized society?

Isn’t it just like us humans, that “shit happened” and later we determine the “meaning of it all.”

To too many people, religion is a real thing in their lives. (Karen Armstrong flunked out of nun school.) They seem to think that religion is more than a tool, a vehicle to move some into the elite column of society and to keep others out of it. Some are inclined to give religion a pass as the religious elites were just trying to satisfy the dictates of the gods.

I do not.

I see very greedy people on the make for anything they can use to advantage them and their immediate family and disadvantage everyone else, especially those who competed with them for their oversized share of the pie created by the coerced labor of the masses. There was an uneasy alliance between the secular elites and the religious elites; sometimes these were merged but often enough they were not. (Why? Because their separation allowed for more elites and more elites allowed for more coercion.) The secular elites used religion’s rules to control the masses. The religious elites used secular force to enforce religious authority. Hand meet glove.

This is still the case, even though some of the benefits of civilization have “trickled down” to the masses (to the great profit of the elites who consider the masses to be “consumers” now).

As to the question “did it have to be this way” I answer, well it was that way (and still is), but it could have been different. Imagine a society in which the “aristocrats” consider themselves to be stewards of the lives of the masses (in democracies we call them “public servants”). These stewards spend all of their time trying to improve the lot of the masses, while simultaneously urging the masses to do the labor necessary to support that work. These stewards earn the trust of the masses by sharing the surpluses in ways unforeseen by the masses and by living austere lives themselves. Ordinary people saw the benefit of these wise leaders and bought into the better lives they could organize and didn’t begrudge their labor to serve the whole effort.

Under such, albeit imaginary, leadership civilization could have been something done for the people rather than to the people.

It still could.

 

 

 

 

 

January 31, 2018

What Religion … Trying to Control Us?

I continue to insist that no matter why a religion was created in the first (or second, third, etc.) place, it continues to exist because it controls the great masses of a society to the benefit of the religious and secular elites. The easiest example is Christianity. If Christianity had not supported slavery, it would never have become the state religion of Rome and would have remained an obscure Jewish sect.

Fast forward to today and Ireland is having a referendum on the legality of abortions. In the U.S. there has been a massive anti-abortion campaign being waged for the last thirty years (at least). A primary source of the energy for the “opposed” position on abortion has come from the Catholic Church.

So, what do you think the scriptural basis for this opposition is? For some, the important distinction was of “ensoulment,” the exact moment in time a fetus receives its soul. So, what does the OT have to say about this? While the Hebrew Bible only requires a fine for the loss of a fetus through the actions of another, whatever its stage of development, the Greek Septuagint (LXX) translation of the Hebrew text (a pre-Christian translation that the early Christians used and quoted extensively in the NT) introduced a distinction between an Aristotelian “formed” and an “unformed” fetus and treated destruction of the former as murder. The debate was over when the fetus became “formed.” So, the scriptures were distorted to include Greek philosophical distinctions by Greek translators. (The NT is rampant with such things, both segments having their science based upon Aristotle or superstition.)

The “debate” was not settled quickly (nor has it been settled now). In 1679, Pope Innocent XI publicly condemned sixty-five propositions taken chiefly from the writings of Escobar, Suarez and other casuists as “at least scandalous and in practice dangerous.” He forbade anyone to teach them under penalty of excommunication. The condemned propositions included:

  1. It is lawful to procure abortion before ensoulment of the fetus lest a girl, detected as pregnant, be killed or defamed.
  2. It seems probable that the fetus (as long as it is in the uterus) lacks a rational soul and begins to first have one when it is born and consequently it must be said that no abortion is homicide.

That these teachings that were being condemned were of Jesuit Catholics, it can hardly be claimed that scripture is crystal clear on the topic.

Of late, the idea of ensoulment at the moment of conception has become popular, but not because it is supported by scripture, just by the Catholic hierarchy, which means it is political.

Now, why would Christianity in the form of the Catholic Church and many Protestant sects (allies in the anti-abortion movement), have its position “evolve” in this manner? For one, each religion has seen itself involved in a war of attrition. People in general did not tend to lose their faith (it wasn’t healthy) but to dominate, more “believers” were needed, consequently more and more children were favored. The Catholic Church didn’t just oppose abortion, it has opposed all artificial birth control methods. More Catholics means more power and that is the name of the game they are playing.

It is a bit of fun watching the Catholic Church squirm as it is rapidly approaching “majority minority” status. The highest birth rates in Catholicism are in Latin America, Latino Americans, and Africa, etc. Pope Francis may come from Argentina but his parents were Italian and of Italian-extraction, so he is far from being a South American, just another overseas Italian and the church does love them some Italian (aka white) popes. How well that will continue to go down as Catholics become more and more brown and black skinned is what will be interesting to watch.

Still, the name of the religion game is to control the behavior of the masses to the benefit of the religious and secular elites. Since, for example, 96% of Catholic American women have used artificial birth control at some point in their lives, that control seems to be slipping. Ireland has approved gay marriage and may decriminalize abortion.

But the Catholic Church and other churches will continue to have opinions, backed with political muscle in these debates. Be sure, however, that there is no clear guidance from scripture on these and many other issues. (The Catholic Church also extols “tradition” as a basis for their opinions which equates to “the way we have always done things” which, surprise!, puts them in control of their opinions.)

And what do you call someone whose political stance is to preserve the status quo and all its institutions? Answer: a conservative. More and more the “opinions” of churches (for example, on the fitness of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States) is determined by their conservatism rather than their professed faith.

The game is all about power … over us. Are you surprised?

January 12, 2018

Oh, If Someone Else Will Pay For It, Sure

Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, said on Thursday that it would raise its starting wages, give bonuses to some employees and vastly expand maternity and parental leave benefits for its army of more than one million hourly workers. The retailer said that it would use some of the money it expects to save under the recently passed Republican tax bill to pay for the raises and enhanced benefits.

Walmart said it would increase its starting hourly wage from $9 to $11, and provide one-time cash bonuses of up $1,000 to hourly workers, depending on how long they have been with the company. The wage increase brings Walmart in line with some of its other retail-industry rivals amid a tightening labor market. Target raised its base pay to $11/hr last fall.

So, Walmart is struggling to keep up with Target? WTF?

Within hours of its self-serving announcement, Walmart undercut its triumphal message when news leaked that it was closing 63 of its Sam’s Club stores.

So, was the wage increase a smoke screen? Some “good news” to cover the “bad news” to follow? Otherwise why make the announcements on the heels of one another?

And, since Walmart is using its “tax cut” to pay for some of these employee benefit increases, how much of it we do not know, are they saying “Gee, now we can afford it?” Walmart has made huge profits for its owners and investors for decades, large enough that they could have been a leader in how to treat their employees. But no, Walmart would rather their primaries get to become billionaires than their workers to have a living wage.

And if anyone claims that Walmart is paying the “market price” for its labor, I will scream! The “market” is not magic, in fact it is a political construct that has been manipulated to create the lowest possible labor costs for its participating companies. The “market” is something that is a lousy guide for any endeavor. Worse are “free markets.” Any decent economist can tell you that unregulated markets doom the sectors they serve. In fact markets cannot thrive without regulation. So, why is one of our major political parties campaigning on a “regulations are bad, we must get rid of them” plank? Ask the people who are paying for those opinions to be espoused and actions taken. (Hint: it ain’t you or me.)

As to who will actually pay for those raises, look forward shortly to the Repubs to cut benefits to poor people. Why? Because the tax jiggering they have pull off is going to lower federal tax receipts and “we won’t have the money” to pay for such frivolous expenditures. Look for Walmart employees, a class of workers who benefit from the government programs lined up for haircuts by the GOP, even with their raises and bonuses to be less well off a year from now than they are now.

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