Tag Archives: Capitalism

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Pope Francis?

27 Nov

pope-francis_2541160bWell, I suspect the gates of Hell are now freezing over. For those of you who read this blog, you know I am not a religious person. Never did I think I would be actually praising the Catholic Pope, but alas I am.  Today, Pope Francis actually said that Capitalism is “a new tyranny,” and he also managed to dismantle the ever present Reagan myth of “trickle down economics.” Is it possible the Catholic Church may be moving to a model of social justice and abandoning a platform of hate that has been in place for the past 40 years?

It is difficult for me not to think about the classism and avarice demonstrated by John Boehner, Ted Cruz, and the rest of the Teahaddists when I hear Pope Francis say:

Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded.We have created a “disposable” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.

In this context, some 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 naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.

Not only does he address poverty and how we treat humans as “consumer goods” but he addresses the systemic root problem which we call Capitalism. When I first read his comments, I thought he was talking about The Hunger Games, and in a way he is. The top 20% live off the remaining 80% and they watch us as we fight for any scraps available and mock us for needing social services because not everyone makes a living wage, not everyone has health insurance.

We are approaching the Thanksgiving Holiday; how many millions of families will be struggling now to put food on the table? Thanks for cutting food stamps just in time for the holidays!  The entire apostolic exhortation is really quite wonderful and if you have the time, I encourage you to read at least the first 25 pages.

Sadly, as wonderful as this movement towards social justice is, it left me wanting more. While he addresses poverty and the causes of poverty, he does not seem to be able to understand fully who is impacted and the intersections of oppression – -those oppressed by intersecting identities of gender, race, ability, and sexual orientation. I was hoping for a call to action to stand with all targeted populations and understand that poverty disproportionately affects people of color, LGBT people, and women, so one can imagine how one might be affected by poverty if one is a black lesbian, or Latina transgender woman.

Again, I give full kudos to the Pope’s address here, but when will “the voice of God” talk about women being able to govern their own bodies? Eradicating homophobia and racism? When does the church say: “All are welcome regardless and ever regardful?”

Wednesday Word of the Week: February 23

23 Feb

This week’s word is: SOCIALISM.

This is one of those words that the Tea Party and their Far-Right allies like to wield against President Obama and his administration’s actions. What does it really mean?

Any of various theories or systems of social organization in which the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized government that controls the economy.

This is clearly not an accurate assessment of the actions of the Obama administration so far. The government does not own the means of producing and distributing goods and those means are certainly not owned collectively. So what evidence is used to support this claim?

  • The TARP program and the auto bailout are frequent examples even though both programs were established to maintain the integrity of existing businesses and imposed new regulation only so far as required to keep the businesses from failing. A socialist government would have let General Motors go under and created the Obamacar.
  • Stimulus funding is also treated as socialist, even though it distributed money to states, thus decentralizing the governmental economic control. The program also favored small and emerging businesses, clearly not a collectivist action.
  • The most frequent example is the health care reform bill, mostly on the grounds that it mandates insurance purchasing; sadly for the finger-pointers, that mandate requires purchase from private businesses, thus not qualifying as socialist legislation.

If none of the examples hold true, why would anyone use the word Socialist? The answer is sad and simple: because it’s scary. For decades our nation was locked in a cold war against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Socialism was the enemy. For the even wackier Right-wingers, the Nazi party also used the word “socialist” in its full German title. Calling Obama a socialist labels him as anti-American and links him with Stalin and Hitler. Never mind that those comparisons are (1) not truly socialist and (2) untrue. The language has power so the administration’s enemies use it; being honest isn’t their game.

As an interesting side note, the Tea Party also says things like “We don’t want to be Great Britain or Sweden!” usually in the context of their government-operated health care systems. Once again, they provide more irony than accuracy. Neither country is socialist, neither has a health care system very similar to the one passed last year, and both countries are run by coalition governments unlike our winner-take-all, one-of-two-parties model.

The call of Socialism also summons up a series of other “-isms” with both good and bad connotations.

The wingers want us to contrast Obama with CAPITALISM, which they see as good.

An economic system in which the means of production and distribution are privately or corporately owned and development is proportionate to the accumulation and reinvestment of profits gained in a free market.

Unless of course the free market can be reigned in by the development of massive monopolies that fund Right-wing causes, or corporations can be considered people in terms of political action, or the Vice-President can profit from a military contract.

We’re also supposed to hear “socialism” and think of

TOTALITARIANISM (like Stalin)

A form of government in which the political authority exercises absolute and centralized control over all aspects of life, the individual is subordinated to the state, and opposing political and cultural expression is suppressed.

and FASCISM (like Hitler)

A system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism.

Neither of these words even remotely describes the Democratic approach to governance in the United States. They do, however conjure up images of suppression of public art, repression of the rights of women and workers, the use of military metaphor to inspire action, and the use of fear and racism to demonize opponents. Which party is totalitarian, then?

At the end of the day, the Right wing is simply manipulating language to their own ends with utter disregard for its actual meaning. They can say they aren’t bigots or homophobes, they can tout Christian values, they can decry judicial activism while engaging in it, but they are lying to us. Shallow manipulators and venal corporate hacks, they use language cynically, not bothering with anything as inconvenient as the truth.

But as with the master strategist Vizzini, I don’t think those words mean what they think they do. Should we listen to people who lie so blatantly? I prefer not to.

(All of today’s definitions taken from the American Heritage Dictionary online)

"Socialism in Action"

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