Category Archives: economics and financial policy

A River Runs Through It: A Lament for Huntington, West Virginia, the Heart of Trump’s America, Part One

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The Ohio River is one of America’s majestic rivers and for nearly two centuries has been one of the nation’s vital waterways. Over those years cities developed along it, cities that were at one time the center of much American industry and transportation. However, over the years many of those cities have lost their manufacturing centers and cities like Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Cincinnati, fell, but have begun to rise again. 

Yesterday we traveled to one of the cities That hasn’t rose again, Huntington, West Virginia, to spend a week with a dear friend. However, unlike those other cities, Huntington has not only not recovered, but continues to slide into the abyss. For years I held onto hope that Huntington and the Tri-State area of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio would come back, but today I realized that it won’t come back for the foreseeable future. No amount of fanatical belief in a political Messiah who promises to Make America Great Again is going to change that, the facts don’t support it and neither do the social, political, and economic culture that has developed over the past fifty years. 

For those that don’t know, Huntington, Cabell County, and adjoining Wayne County are my ancestral home in the United States. My family on both sides were early settlers in the area. In fact I was the first person in my immediate family born somewhere else, thanks to my parents I was a Navy brat and was born in California and raised on the West Coast. My family for the most part has either died off or moved away. I have a few cousins still in the area but haven’t seen any of them in years. 

In spite of that I have always considered Huntington a home away from home. We used to visit my grandparents and other relatives, all of who are now long gone. Some of my earliest and happiest memories were in Huntington. After I finished seminary and my Clinical Pastoral Education residency in 1995 I got my first post-residency hospital job there while serving in the National Guard and Army Reserve. Even then it was a place that I felt safe and wanted to live. Though I went back on active duty in the Navy in 1999 still considered it a place that I might actually want to retire. It is a beautiful area. 

Twenty something years later I no longer feel that way. We arrived in town early in the afternoon and after we unpacked the car I had to pick up a few things at a local grocery store. I know Huntington like the back of my hand, every area, every street, and while the street names and the geography of the city have not changed, the city has fundamentally changed and though I had seen it coming I never wanted to believe it. 

Huntington used to be the largest and wealthiest city in the state, but back in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, things began to change. The heavy industry began moving out, especially in the 1980s when those industries imploded. Likewise in the 1960s the city council and business people decided that they didn’t want Interstate 64 to go through the city because they were afraid that it would negatively effect the downtown businesses. The interstate went around town and the businesses including the state’s largest mall moved to Barboursville in Cabell County. Downtown died and despite efforts to revive it, it has not recovered. 

Bad economic decision after decision, including the rejection of a Toyota engine plant with thousands of really good paying jobs not far from town in the late 1990s have doomed the city. In the 1960s and 1970s the population was close to 90,000, now it is under 50,000. Many people moved into the surrounding areas, but those too are beginning to suffer from many of the issues effecting Huntington which remains the heart of the Tri-State metropolitan area. 

The city infrastructure is crumbling, the ancient storm drain system is failing leading to flooding in areas previously immune from it, and causing flood insurance premiums to skyrocket. Its schools are underfunded, the educational outcomes are poor, its economy is failing, and society beginning to collapse, the opiod crisis is just a symptom of a larger decay. 

The city is still home to Marshall University but without it things would be much worse, as the University partners with business and the major medical centers. In fact if it wasn’t for the University, the medical school, and the hospitals there would be nothing here. Most of the industry including steel and chemical plants which used to supply auto manufacturers, make railroad cars, and other manufacturing goods are gone, and most of the derive industry jobs outside of medical care pay little more than subsistence wages and offer few or no benefits. The coal industry has downsized because the coal here is harder to get and thus more expensive than going elsewhere. Despite promises of bringing coal jobs back that is not going to happen. What is left of the coal industry in West Virginia, much of it owned by the state’s only billionaire and governor, Jim Justice,who by the way was a Republican and became a Democrat to run for governor in 2015, who just switched back to being a Trump Republican, is going high tech and not replacing miners. This is not because of environmental regulations but simply because the coal industry has already raped the state of the easily accessible coal, at a tremendous human and environmental cost. 


The city has some beautiful residential areas near Ritter Park which is a wonderful park that stretches for miles along Four Pole Creek. The homes through that area and in the hills that rise sharply above it are where the well off people live, the doctors, lawyers, real estate agents, corporate executives, and tenured university professors. But just a few blocks away people live in squalor. Boarded up homes and businesses, vacant lots, and barely habitable homes predominant what were once affluent middle class neighborhoods that I remember all too well. 

The once thriving downtown area is a shell of its former self. There have been a number of attempts to revive it, the latest being the very nice Pullman Square, but many businesses can’t make it there because people don’t have the money to spend. Even a Five Guys burger joint went out of business there, and I have never seen one of those places go belly up. 


The city is the poster city and epicenter for the opiod epidemic in this country. You cannot drive or walk down the streets without seeing someone with the wild-eyed or blank stare of an addict. Homeless people, often drug addicts, walk down the streets with their belongings, and sometimes their children in tow. It is quite sad to see. 

West Virginia is one of the poorest states in the country it is the seventh most poverty stricken state in the country. Most education ratings place the state in the bottom ten percent of the United States with one of the lowest success rates measured in educational attainment and earnings. It ranks 50th in life expectancy, it is second in obesity, and has the highest rate of opiod addiction and death in the country. I could go on but the drumbeat of negative statistics and outcomes gets too depressing after a while to go on about them. 

Until the past two decades the state was a reliable “blue state.” That didn’t mean the state was liberal in any sense, it was actually a lot like much of the American South which was reliably Democratic until Democrats began to support the civil rights movement, and other more progressive causes in the 1960s and afterwards. It stayed longer in the “Blue” column because most of its Democratic leaders such as Robert Byrd and Jay Rockefeller did not defect to the GOP like many leaders in the South who followed Storm Thurman and the Dixiecrats to the GOP. In fact many of the Democratic state office holders were solidly on the side of business and would be considered conservatives in any other state. But it was only after Barack Obama was elected to the Presidency that the state shifted to be almost solidly Republican, with all statewide offices with the exception of now endangered Democrat moderate Senator Joe Manchin being controlled by the GOP. 

In 2016 the state voted for Donald Trump with over 68% of the vote. Interestingly enough, West Virginia is one of the states that has benefited the most from the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Health Care Act, and since that legislation was enacted more people have access to healthcare, which if you look at the state’s health rankings is badly needed yet opposed by many Trump supporters. Last week a cheering crowd greeted the President at a campaign rally in downtown Huntington cheering “lock her up!” while jeering former FBI Director and now Special Prosecutor Robert Muller over the Russia investigation. In desparation many people here have pinned their hopes on a false savior, one who promises to Make America Great Again, but cannot deliver for their city. 

Socially it West Virginia is a fascinating state. There are strip clubs and pornography super centers littering the interstate highways and around the outskirts of town, yet the state is full of churches and socially one of the most conservative states when it comes to people’s religious views, especially when it comes to abortion or LGBTQ issues. Of course this is not unusual as the Bible Belt is also the the porn belt. But I digress, I got more into statistics than I intended but they provide a mosaic of what is going on in the state. 

Today I came home in a sense to a place that is no longer home. Since we have been military nomads for some 36 years, West Virginia is still my home of record for the military. When I went back on active duty in the Navy in 1999 it was our intention to return. I can’t do that now. Today, for the first time in my life I did not feel safe on the streets of Huntington. The poverty is the least of my concerns, and it’s certainly not a racial issue because Cabell County is 91% white. I’ve been poor and lived in crime ridden ghettos that were heavily black and Hispanic, but I hate to say I felt safer in those places than I did today. 


Please don’t take this essay wrong. It is not a polemic by any means, it is a way to process my grief for a city and state that is not going to be great again anytime soon. People can shout Make America Great Again all they want, but fervor and fanaticism do not change facts. I do wish that it was different, but people here are doing what they have been doing since the Robber Barons, Coal Kings, and Lumber Lords raped the state of its natural resources, destroyed the encronment, and for all practical purposes enslaved the people in “company towns.” 

Huntington’s crisis didn’t happen overnight, it is the product of decades of poor leadership by politicians of both parties, business leaders, and yes, even citizens and now many are putting their trust in a false savior who despite his words and their fervor will not change the course of their city or state. 

I think that today after I do my run and walk through Ritter Park, that I will be out taking pictures, not just of the nice areas like I usually do here, the riverfront and Ritter Park, but the blighted areas. I will post them as a photo essay as part two of this either tomorrow or Thursday. 

Until then,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under culture, economics and financial policy, healthcare, laws and legislation, Political Commentary

The Importance of the Worker: Labor Day 2016

First_United_States_Labor_Day_Parade,_September_5,_1882_in_New_York_City

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is Labor Day and so I am going back to the vault to remember what this day is all about. By the way, it has nothing to do with the troops, or nationalism, or the greatness of America. But it is really all about the people who labor, especially those who paid with their blood for basic human rights, rights that are under fire today and which will die if we as a people do not stand up for the very workers who make our country great.

Abraham Lincoln, who was perhaps our only President who was a real working man once said, “If any man tells you he loves America, yet hates labor, he is a liar. If any man tells you he trusts America, yet fears labor, he is a fool.”

It is hard to believe that at one time workers had no rights. It was not until the mid-1800s in the United States and Europe that workers began to organize and protest for the right to decent wages and working conditions. There were many instances when this cost them their lives. Employers, often backed by heavily armed private security contractors like the Pinkerton Agency, used deadly force to break up peaceful strikes. In the days of the Robber Barons, when business ran the government at almost every level, employers frequently called in local and state law enforcement, as well as the National Guard, and occasionally Federal troops to break strikes. They played various ethnic and racial groups off of each in order to divide the labor movement. There are hundreds of instances of such violence being used against workers, in some strikes the dead numbered in the hundreds.

1912_Lawrence_Textile_Strike_1

Lawrence Massachusetts Textile Strike; the National Guard with Bayonets Fixed against unarmed strikers

Some of these attacks on workers occurred in major cities, others at isolated work sites and factories. Some are famous, the Haymarket Massacre of May 4th 1886 in Chicago, the Pullman Strike Massacre of 1894, the Homestead Strike and Massacre of 1892, the Lattimer Massacre of 1897, the Ludlow Massacre of 1914, and the Columbine Mine Massacre of 1927.

1024px-Ruins_of_Ludlow_restored

Aftermath of the Ludlow Massacre (above) and the Bisbee Deportation

Others less so, but there was more. In the Bisbee Deportation of 1917 1300 striking miners and their families were deported from their homes in Bisbee Arizona by 2000 armed deputies, put in box cars and transported 200 miles to the New Mexico desert, where without food, water or money they were left. There was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire where managers locked the doors in order to ensure that the fleeing women workers did not put anything unauthorized in their purses. One hundred forty-four workers, mostly young women died.

There are many other instances where workers were shot down in cold blood by private security forces, local police, the National Guard of Federal Troops for simply protesting or striking to gain better conditions of employment, safe working places, or a living wage.

Image_of_Triangle_Shirtwaist_Factory_fire_on_March_25_-_1911

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

Early labor organizations such as the Knights of Labor led the effort to bring about better conditions. For doing so they were labeled subversive and even called communists. Their meetings were often attacked and the leaders jailed and some lynched.

The sacrifices of those early workers, and organizers are why we have Labor Day. One of the early American labor leaders was a man named Eugene Debs. He said something remarkable which still is as timely as when he uttered the words:

“I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.”

On September 5th 1882 the first Labor Day was observed when members of several Unions in New York City organized the first Labor Day parade. The police came armed and ready to intervene if the workers got out of hand, but the parade was peaceful. It ended and the marchers moved over to Wendell’s Elm Park where they had a party. Twenty-five thousand Union men and their families celebrated, with hundreds of kegs of lager beer.

Within a few years many states began to institute Labor days of their own. In 1894, just days after the violent end of the Pullman strike in which Federal troops and Marshalls killed 30 workers and wounded 57 more, Congress and President Grover Cleveland rushed through legislation to establish a Federal Labor Day.

BisbeeDeportation

My Great Aunt Goldie Dundas was a labor organizer for the International Ladies Garment Worker’s Union in West Virginia in the 1920s – 1950s. I wish I had gotten to really know her, but she died when I was about 8 or 9 years old. Sadly the workers represented by that Union have had almost all of their jobs in the textile industry outsourced to China, India, Pakistan, the Caribbean, and Bangladesh where cheaply made garments are produced, and workers abused. The examples of mass deaths due to safety issues and fires in Bangladeshi factories are too numerous to list. But then who cares? The fact is you can drive through many parts of the South and see the poverty created by the exodus of these Union employers, the textile industry, which was part of the fabric of the South is gone. Empty factories and poverty stricken towns dot the countryside. I saw a lot of them living in Eastern North Carolina, towns that once thrived are ghost towns, riddled with crime, unemployment and no hope, unless Wal-Mart opens a store in town. Ironically it sells the clothing made overseas that used to be manufactured by the parents, grandparents and great-grandparents of the people who live there today.

International_Ladies_Garment_Workers_Union_logo

Adam Smith, the father of Capitalism understood it in a very different manner than those who claim to be Capitalists today. He wrote in his magnum opus, The Wealth of All Nations:

“In regards to the price of commodities, the rise of wages operates as simple interest does, the rise of profit operates like compound interest. Our merchants and masters complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price and lessening the sale of goods. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.”

The fact is that today, labor is under threat. Unions have been demonized by politicians and pundits and their power and influence much reduced. Some of this was due to their own success in improving conditions from workers, and not just Union workers. When my dad retired from the Navy in 1974, he went to work at one of the few non-Union warehouses of the John Deere Company in Stockton, California. While they were not union, the workers received every benefit won by the majority of the workers in the company who were members of the United Auto Workers Union. Due to that my dad had high wages, excellent working conditions and benefits. The company had a program for the children of workers, which allowed them to work in the summer in the warehouse and receive incredibly high pay and benefits while in college. I did that for two years, and it helped pay for much of my college. I was not a union member but I benefited.

However, in many places, Unions and labor are under attack, sometimes not just by corporations, but also by state governments. Job security and stability for most American workers is a thing of the past. Federal and State agencies charged with protecting those rights, including safety in the workplace are being cut in the mad rush to reduce government power. It seems to me that we are returning to the days of the Robber Barons. I wonder when violence against workers and those who support them will be condoned or simply ignored.

So please, when you celebrate Labor Day, do not forget that it is important, and that we should not forget why we celebrate it. If we forget that, it will become a meaningless holiday and our children may have to make the same sacrifices of our ancestors.

Oh, by the way…. If you see a meme on Facebook telling you to “thank the troops” for Labor Day, it is a bullshit meme. We troops have our days. Labor day is not ours. Labor Day is a day to remember those civilians, some of them who may have been former soldiers, but more often than not were civilian labor leaders, organizers and union members; some of whom were killed by National Guard and Federal troops for their efforts to secure the rights of working men and women; which paved the way for workers today.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Will We Crucify Humanity on a Cross of Gold?

cross

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Do you remember when conservative Christian politicians and preachers actually supported working people? I am not kidding, there was a time when some did exactly that and did so in the highest reaches of their political parties. Unlike today’s preachers they were not just lobbying for more tax cuts for the most wealthy, and extolling the job “creators” over the the people whose labor actually produces products, instead they spoke boldly on behalf of regular people. Sadly today all of the major political figures as well as most of the minor ones who claim to be “conservative Christians” have more in common with the greedy Robber Barons than one of the most celebrated conservative Christian politicians who has ever lived.

William Jennings Bryan was one of the most influential politicians of his era. Bryan served as Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson, he was a Senator and three time Presidential Candidate. He was also a very conservative Fundamentalist Christian perhaps most famous, or perhaps infamous now as one of the prosecuting attorneys at the Scopes “Monkey” Trial of 1925. In fact I can find that Bryan’s handling of that case played to the basest religious and social hatred of his day and though he thought that he was defending “Biblical” values  ended up making Christians look but small minded, intolerant and hateful. The movie Inherit the Wind, though a fictional account of that trial, shows how decent Christians can become consumed with hatred in the name of righteousness.  It is a sad thing that Bryan is most remembered for the Scopes Trial than when he bucked the political system of both the Republican and Democratic parties to speak up for workers and small businessmen. Personally I cannot imagine Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio or any other supposedly Christian political doing what Bryan did.

Whether one agrees on Bryan’s fundamentalist religious doctrine regarding the creation of the earth or the manner of how God created the earth,  one has to admit that of pre-Great Depression politicians he was quite amazing. Especially in how he saw through the Godlessness of unbridled capitalism and the devaluation of workers by valued capital over the people that actually produced anything.

As an American and a Christian I have to look at the body of work and life of a man. I don’t have to agree with all that they stood for or did and though I find much fault in Bryan and his supporters in the Scopes Trial I do not throw out the good things that he did and got right.

I think the apex of Bryan’s political thought is encapsulated in his speech at the Democratic National Convention of 1896, what is now called the Cross of Gold Speech.

When one looks at it now it really is timeless. Bryan saw through the charade that was being played out by politicians and the big money Wall Street types that they represented with great verve. It was a speech that one might have heard come from a prophet in the Old Testament.

HD_WilliamJenningsBryan1896

I am just going to quote a couple of pertinent sections from the speech to trigger the thought of anyone reading this article. I think that they could be spoken today in light of the way that many conservative Christians both Evangelical and Fundamentalist Protestants, Roman Catholics and those that preach the so called “Prosperity Gospel” have thrown their support behind ideas that are nothing more than unvarnished, crude materialism of the worst kind. In fact I believe that it is nothing more than the “baptism” of such thought by Christians are among the biggest reasons for the massive exodus of people from the churches and the rise of the “Nones,” or those with no religious preference.

Bryan said:

“We say to you that you have made the definition of a business man too limited in its application. The man who is employed for wages is as much a business man as his employer; the attorney in a country town is as much a business man as the corporation counsel in a great metropolis; the merchant at the cross-roads store is as much a business man as the merchant of New York; the farmer who goes forth in the morning and toils all day, who begins in spring and toils all summer, and who by the application of brain and muscle to the natural resources of the country creates wealth, is as much a business man as the man who goes upon the Board of Trade and bets upon the price of grain; the miners who go down a thousand feet into the earth, or climb two thousand feet upon the cliffs, and bring forth from their hiding places the precious metals to be poured into the channels of trade are as much business men as the few financial magnates who, in a back room, corner the money of the world. We come to speak of this broader class of business men.”

His words are striking in their directness and honesty. They are not only Christian but they are deeply American. He called on his Democratic party, which had been as bad as the Republicans during the age of the unregulated Robber Barons who used the Gold Standard to manipulate the markets and eliminate silver as currency to their benefit to be different:

“Upon which side will the Democratic Party fight; upon the side of “the idle holders of idle capital” or upon the side of “the struggling masses”? That is the question which the party must answer first, and then it must be answered by each individual hereafter. The sympathies of the Democratic Party, as shown by the platform, are on the side of the struggling masses, who have ever been the foundation of the Democratic Party.”

His arguments could be called true Christian populism. Bryan talked about two ideas of diametrically opposed types of government and economics:

“There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that, if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them.”

He concluded his speech with this statement.

“Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests, and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

When I hear the unholy trinity of politicians, pundits and preachers who extol the virtue of capital over labor and the worship of wealth as the highest good I wish that there would be some that would remember that the people who actually make things, grow things, fix things and maintain things are not just human capital, but people.

And after all, it is people that matter…

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under economics and financial policy, faith, History, News and current events, Political Commentary

Why Labor Day Matters

First_United_States_Labor_Day_Parade,_September_5,_1882_in_New_York_City

The First Labor Day

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Abraham Lincoln, who was perhaps our only President who was a real working man once said, “If any man tells you he loves America, yet hates labor, he is a liar. If any man tells you he trusts America, yet fears labor, he is a fool.” 

It is hard to believe that at one time workers had no rights. It was not until the mid-1800s in the United States and Europe that workers began to organize and protest for the right to decent wages and working conditions. There were many instances when this cost them their lives. Employers, often backed by heavily armed private security contractors like the Pinkerton Agency, used deadly force to break up peaceful strikes. In the days of the Robber Barons, when business ran the government at almost every level, employers frequently called in local and state law enforcement, as well as the National Guard, and occasionally Federal troops to break strikes. They played various ethnic and racial groups off of each in order to divide the labor movement. There are hundreds of instances of such violence being used against workers, in some strikes the dead numbered in the hundreds.

1912_Lawrence_Textile_Strike_1

Lawrence Massachusetts Textile Strike; the National Guard with Bayonets Fixed against unarmed strikers

Some of these attacks on workers occurred in major cities, others at isolated work sites and factories. Some are famous, the Haymarket Massacre of May 4th 1886 in Chicago, the Pullman Strike Massacre of 1894, the Homestead Strike and Massacre of 1892, the Lattimer Massacre of 1897, the Ludlow Massacre of 1914, and the Columbine Mine Massacre of 1927.

1024px-Ruins_of_Ludlow_restored

Aftermath of the Ludlow Massacre (above) and the Bisbee Deportation (below)

BisbeeDeportation

Others less so, but there was more. In the Bisbee Deportation of 1917 1300 striking miners and their families were deported from their homes in Bisbee Arizona by 2000 armed deputies, put in box cars and transported 200 miles to the New Mexico desert, where without food, water or money they were left. There was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire where managers locked the doors in order to ensure that the fleeing women workers did not put anything unauthorized in their purses. One hundred forty-four workers, mostly young women died.

Image_of_Triangle_Shirtwaist_Factory_fire_on_March_25_-_1911

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

Early labor organizations such as the Knights of Labor led the effort to bring about better conditions. For doing so they were labeled subversive and even called communists. Their meetings were often attacked and the leaders jailed and some lynched.

The sacrifices of those early workers, and organizers are why we have Labor Day. One of the early American labor leaders was a man named Eugene Debs. He said something remarkable which still is as timely as when he uttered the words:

“I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.”

On September 5th 1882 the first Labor Day was observed when members of several Unions in New York City organized the first Labor Day parade. The police came armed and ready to intervene if the workers got out of hand, but the parade was peaceful. It ended and the marchers moved over to Wendell’s Elm Park where they had a party. Twenty-five thousand Union men and their families celebrated, with hundreds of kegs of lager beer.

Within a few years many states began to institute Labor days of their own. In 1894, just days after the violent end of the Pullman strike in which Federal troops and Marshalls killed 30 workers and wounded 57 more, Congress and President Grover Cleveland rushed through legislation to establish a Federal Labor Day.

International_Ladies_Garment_Workers_Union_logo

My Great Aunt Goldie Dundas was a labor organizer for the International Ladies Garment Worker’s Union in West Virginia in the 1920s – 1950s. I wish I had gotten to really know her, but she died when I was about 8 or 9 years old. Sadly the workers represented by that Union have had almost all of their jobs in the textile industry outsourced to China, India, Pakistan, the Caribbean, and Bangladesh where cheaply made garments are produced, and workers abused. The examples of mass deaths due to safety issues and fires in Bangladeshi factories are too numerous to list. But then who cares? The fact is you can drive through many parts of the South and see the poverty created by the exodus of these Union employers, the textile industry, which was part of the fabric of the South is gone. Empty factories and poverty stricken towns dot the countryside. I saw a lot of them living in Eastern North Carolina, towns that once thrived are ghost towns, riddled with crime, unemployment and no hope, unless Wal-Mart opens a store in town. Ironically it sells the clothing made overseas that used to be manufactured by the parents, grandparents and great-grandparents of the people who live there today. 

Adam Smith, the father of Capitalism understood it in a very different manner than those who claim to be Capitalists today. He wrote in his magnum opus, The Wealth of All Nations:

“In regards to the price of commodities, the rise of wages operates as simple interest does, the rise of profit operates like compound interest. Our merchants and masters complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price and lessening the sale of goods. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.”

The fact is that today, labor is under threat. Unions have been demonized by politicians and pundits and their power and influence much reduced. Some of this was due to their own success in improving conditions from workers, and not just Union workers. When my dad retired from the Navy in 1974, he went to work at one of the few non-Union warehouses of the John Deere Company in Stockton, California. While they were not union, the workers received every benefit won by the majority of the workers in the company who were members of the United Auto Workers Union. Due to that my dad had high wages, excellent working conditions and benefits. The company had a program for the children of workers, which allowed them to work in the summer in the warehouse and receive incredibly high pay and benefits while in college. I did that for two years, and it helped pay for much of my college. I was not a union member but I benefited.

However, in many places, Unions and labor are under attack, sometimes not just by corporations, but also by state governments. Job security and stability for most American workers is a thing of the past. Federal and State agencies charged with protecting those rights, including safety in the workplace are being cut in the mad rush to reduce government power. It seems to me that we are returning to the days of the Robber Barons. I wonder when violence against workers and those who support them will be condoned or simply ignored.

So please, when you celebrate Labor Day, do not forget that it is important, and that we should not forget why we celebrate it. If we forget that, it will become a meaningless holiday and our children may have to make the same sacrifices of our ancestors.

Oh, by the way…. If you see a meme on Facebook telling you to “thank the troops” for Labor Day, it is a bullshit meme. We troops have our days. Labor day is not ours. Labor Day is a day to remember those civilians, some of them former troops, but civilian labor leaders, organizers and unions; some of whom were killed by National Guard and Federal troops for their efforts; which paved the way for workers today.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under economics and financial policy, History, labor, laws and legislation, leadership, Political Commentary

Worldwide Uncertainty & the Importance of Now

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

“Some people see things as they are and ask why? Others see things as they never were and claim mad cow.” Alan Shore

I am not an economist, I am a historian and I while I do understand some things about economic theory and history, and I am certainly no expert on markets. Like many I do get concerned when I see the stock markets around the world crashing, not so much for the rich people who are losing inflated stock value, for the rich almost without exception seem to do well in times of such turmoil, in fact they often do better because governments value their business expertise and depend on them to get countries out of the mess. But I worry more for the possible effects that this could have on small business owners, the middle class and the poor. I do get concerned for the middle class who have money invested in the markets through their 401k’s and retirement programs, as well as the poor who could lose their jobs if the companies that they work for tank.

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There are so many variables; interest rates, oil prices, housing prices, and employment rates just to name a few. There are also the factors of what is happening in China and other big yet developing markets which can have ripple effects, or even tsunami-like affects across the globe depending how bad things get. There are so many other things going on in the world economy dealing with Greece the EU and the Euro, Russian rumblings in Eastern Europe and the Ukraine, the rise of ISIL and the potential threats to oil producing countries in the Middle East, things going on with vast refugee migrations as well as economic, political, and potential viral epidemics in African countries which frankly most Americans and Europeans could care less about until they reach our shores. 

All of these things are so troubling on so many levels, and why shouldn’t they be. Not only are we looking at potential economic chaos, but there is climate change and its effects on endangered wildlife like the Virgin Island Screech Owl and the Fresno Kangaroo. Who knows what could be next?

So in light of this worldwide uncertainty I can recommend a number of things. Look at your investments, take a look at history because it always has lessons, or follow the immortal advice of John “Bluto” Blutarsky: “My advice to you is to start drinking heavily.”

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But that being said, no matter how bad things are and how much worse they could get it is far more important to live in the moment with those that you love and care about in the now, not the future that we have so little influence over. As Danny Crane (William Shatner) told Alan Shore (James Spader) in Boston Legal:

“Let me tell you something. When you got polar ice caps melting and breaking off into big chunks and you got Osama still hiding in a cave, planning his next attack, when you got other rogue nations with nuclear arsenals, and not to mention some wack-job, home-grown that can cancel you at any second and when you got…mad cow, now gets high priority. And when you’re still on the balcony on a clear night, sipping scotch with your best friend, now is everything.”

Yes my friends, in the midst of all the craziness that we cannot control, now is everything so keep calm. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under economics and financial policy, History, Just for fun, philosophy, purely humorous

The Winner Takes it All: American Christian Greed

Do you remember that there was a time when Conservative Christian Politicians and preachers actually supported working people and the poor? There was a period where this was true, but with the economic affluence and the political influence that we have enjoyed since the end of the Second World War we have left those days far behind.

I mean really, there was a time when preachers were not just lobbying for tax cuts for the rich in the name of the “Prosperity Gospel” or and extolling the wealthy “job creators” over the people who actually produce or serve products. Late last night I had an interaction on Facebook that was discouraging, wealthy preachers defended the most opulent and extravagant excesses of mega-church pastors. It was disheartening, especially one attacked a man who I went to war with, and who since has endured more trying medical issues than most of us will experience in our lives when he challenged the Episcopal Priest. What I read broke my heart.

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My Church History professor at Southwestern Baptist seminary back in 1988 and 1989 Christian attitudes then that is even more appropriate today. He noted that a:

“reason that many Christians are not servants is more honest: it is that we just don’t want to be servants. We live today in a “winner” society. We value the winners, whether it be in sports, business, or wars….The American Dream is success, climbing to the top of the ladder, making it, winning…. In most metro areas, on most weekends, you can go to a conference in some church where a person (for a fee) will tell you how God wants you rich….This obsession with success, money, and power is the American dream carried to its logical conclusion. It is middle-class Americanism, pure and simple. It is more motivated by greed, selfishness, and pride than by Christ. And in the churches, we have bought it. We want to be “at the top”,” not “at the bottom.”…..We coat our Americanism with a thin veneer of Christianity in an attempt to make it more palatable, but God will not have it. Let’s call this version of the American Dream what it is: selfishness, self-righteousness, and sin.” (Young, Doyle L New Life for Your Church Baker Book House, Grand Rapids Michigan 1989 pp.55-56)

I heard Dr. Young speak about this in class. I was a young Army officer, who had just left active duty to go to seminary. We were in the process of a financial meltdown brought about by the Texas oil bust of the late 1980s and my wife’s illness. We were learning what it was like to be poor. We lost almost everything but ourselves and our dogs during that time. We went to churches where the opulence was over the top, where the pastor drove a Porsche, and not a bottom end or used one. We struggled through seminary and made it, with me working two jobs and being in the National Guard. Most of the time we wondered where the money to get the next meal, tank of gas, prescription medicine, tuition payment or books. When I called the TBN prayer line just for prayer during the darkest days I was told be a “prayer warrior” that “it was obvious that I was not in God’s will because otherwise God would be blessing me.” That angered me and hardened my resolve to get through seminary. There were a good number of people who helped us, some because they felt that god wanted them to help us, others just because they  were compassionate souls. This made me very sensitive to social justice and wary of those who get rich off of God’s people.

It wasn’t always this way.

William Jennings Bryan was one of the most influential politicians of his era. He served as Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson, he was a Senator and three time Presidential Candidate. He was also a very conservative Fundamentalist Christian perhaps most famous, or perhaps infamous now as one of the prosecuting attorneys at the Scopes “Monkey” Trial of 1925. In fact I can find that Bryan’s handling of that case played to the basest religious and social hatred of his day and though “defending” “Biblical” ideas ended up making Christians look but small minded, intolerant and hateful. The movie Inherit the Wind, though a fictional account of that trial show how decent Christians can become consumed with hatred in the name of righteousness, little different than other “sincere believers” that are willing to kill in the name of God.

Whether one agrees on certain points of religious doctrine regarding the creation of the earth or the manner of how God created the earth that he espoused one has to admit that of pre-Great Depression politicians he was quite amazing. This was especially true in how he saw through the Godlessness of unbridled Capitalism.  He saw how workers by were devalued by those who saw them as nothing more than a way to increase their wealth. As an American and a Christian look at the body of work and life of a man. Though I find much fault in Bryan and his supporters in the Scopes Trial, I do not throw out the good things that he did and got right.

I think the apex of Bryan’s political thought is encapsulated in his speech at the Democratic National Convention of 1896, what is now called the Cross of Gold Speech.

When one looks at it now it really is timeless. Bryan saw through the charade that was being played out by politicians and the big money Wall Street types that they represented with great verve. It was a speech that one might have heard come from a prophet in the Old Testament.

I am just going to quote a couple of pertinent sections from the speech to trigger your thoughts, for you will not hear this in the vast majority of conservative Christian churches of all denominations which have been infected with the so called “Prosperity Gospel.”  These churches have thrown their support behind ideas that are nothing more than unvarnished, crude materialism of the worst kind. In fact I believe that it is nothing more than the “baptism” of such thought by Christians are among the biggest reasons for the exodus of people from the churches and the rise of the “Nones,” or those with no religious preference.

Bryan said:

“We say to you that you have made the definition of a business man too limited in its application. The man who is employed for wages is as much a business man as his employer; the attorney in a country town is as much a business man as the corporation counsel in a great metropolis; the merchant at the cross-roads store is as much a business man as the merchant of New York; the farmer who goes forth in the morning and toils all day, who begins in spring and toils all summer, and who by the application of brain and muscle to the natural resources of the country creates wealth, is as much a business man as the man who goes upon the Board of Trade and bets upon the price of grain; the miners who go down a thousand feet into the earth, or climb two thousand feet upon the cliffs, and bring forth from their hiding places the precious metals to be poured into the channels of trade are as much business men as the few financial magnates who, in a back room, corner the money of the world. We come to speak of this broader class of business men.” 

His words are striking in their directness and honesty. They are not only Christian but they are deeply American. He called his Party, which had been as bad as the Republicans during the age of the unregulated Robber Barons who used the Gold Standard to manipulate the markets and eliminate silver as currency to their benefit to be different:

“Upon which side will the Democratic Party fight; upon the side of “the idle holders of idle capital” or upon the side of “the struggling masses”? That is the question which the party must answer first, and then it must be answered by each individual hereafter. The sympathies of the Democratic Party, as shown by the platform, are on the side of the struggling masses, who have ever been the foundation of the Democratic Party.”

He talked about two ideas of government and economics:

“There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that, if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them.”

He concluded his speech with this statement.

“Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests, and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

When I hear the Unholy Trinity of Politicians, Pundits and Preachers who extol the virtue of Capital over labor and the worship of wealth as the highest good I wish that there would be some that would remember that the people who actually make things, grow things, fix things and maintain things are not just human capital, but people.

That’s enough for today. Expect some more on this and similar topics soon.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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There Comes a Time… A Bloom County Reality Check

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If the print on the strip is too spall on your phone or tablet the link is here: http://www.gocomics.com/bloomcounty/2015/02/17

Likewise if you click on the picture it should be larger and more readable

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

It is funny how timeless the social commentary of Berkeley Breathed’s classic comic strip Bloom County is even today. The strip shown above is from 1987. It is part of a series of strips where Donald Trump’s brain is transplanted into Bill the Cat’s body leading to some interesting encounters with the citizens of Bloom County.

In this strip, a little Black girl named “Ronald Ann,” named such by her dad after Ronald Reagan meets Mr Trump. The Donald, like all of us has a dream, but his is a bit different, and in the strip he is symbolic of the worst part of our humanity, that which has everything, while denying others of even the chance to achieve. A class of people who have no empathy, and for whom nothing matters but their bottom line, and they have an army of politicians to enshrine their policies into law, pundits who shamelessly defend them, media empires that promote them and their lifestyles as good, and preachers who give the blessing of something that they call “God” to their most ungodly world view.

The amazing thing is that those who promote this vast imbalance don’t even recognize what they are doing to civilization. Barbara Tuchman wrote in her book A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century that “When the gap between ideal and real becomes too wide, the system breaks down.”

We are watching this unfold before our very eyes and those leading the charge, the politicians, bankers, moguls, media empires, pundits and preachers are blind to what they are sowing. Sadly they don’t seem to care so long as they have power and their profit margins increase.

What they are sowing is the seed of violent revolution, and not just in the United States, but around the world. They are sowing the seeds of war, they have helped create the growing threat of the Islamic State and Boko Haram, and their short sighted policies will bring down nations and economic systems.

Bu then such people and those who allow them to do what they do do not study history, except for the sanitized kind of myth that makes them feel good and justifies their actions. The same is true of how they view philosophy and religion. That is why they love the pseudo-history of people like David Barton, the philosophy of Ayn Rand, and the theology of Christian Dominionism and the Prosperity Gospel. Sadly, those who call themselves “Christians” and promote this seem oblivious to the fact that it is all based on Social Darwinism, the survival of the fittest. But then to the preachers who support those who benefit by such thought believe that a lie told for the glory of God is justified.

As such they seem to have little capacity for empathy or compassion, the death and suffering of people from disease, poverty and war makes no impact on them. Tuchman wrote “[T]he obverse of facile emotion in the 14th century was a general insensitivity to the spectacle of pain and death.” 

The same is true with technology. We have the most wonderful technological capabilities but instead of harnessing them for good, we turn them into instruments of destruction, instruments that may one day destroy all of us. Tuchman wrote: “For belligerent purposes, the 14th century, like the 20th, commanded a technology more sophisticated than the mental and moral capacity that guided its use.” Sadly, that gap between technology and mental and moral capacity to use it has only grown exponentially in this new century 21st century.

Sadly, that bit of satire about Donald Trump and Ronald Ann in this 1987 Bloom County comic strip is even more true today than when Berkeley Breathed drew it and penned the words. The power of the pen can be seen even today as people who speak out, write or pen satire become targets of those that they critique.

But I can no longer be silent when I see such institutionalized evil that is blessed by the politicians, pundits and preachers, who I call the Trinity of Evil. I would rather be called every epitaph that the promotors and supporters of such a hateful, tyrannical and perverse system can muster, than not to speak the truth. It’s funny how the words to the The Logical Song by Supertramp ring true for me:

“Now watch what you say or they’ll be calling you a radical, liberal, fanatical, criminal.”

I’ll have to write about that song sometime soon, as it seems to speak volumes about my own journey, but I digress…

I said at the beginning of this year that I would seek truth and speak truth. Until I came back from Iraq in 2008, having seen and experienced the horror of war, the lies of my government in launching that war in Iraq that has latterly sowed the wind and is reaping the whirlwind with the Islamic State’s advance, I said nothing, and at times even defended the system. But since then I cannot. I have already paid a price, men who I thought were friends abandoned me, a church that I had faithfully served, threw me out and I have been threatened, harassed and trolled by white supremacists; religious fanatics of various denominations, and political ideologues.

But truth is truth and I cannot be silent. As Dr. King so well put it: “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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