Pope Francis Is Doing His Job — Very Well

Pope FrancisElizabeth Stoker Bruenig wrote a good article on Friday, Feminists Should Not Give Up on Pope Francis. It is about the repeated liberal complaints that Pope Francis is not turning the Catholic Church into a feminist wonderland fast enough. This includes Sadhbh Walshe, who just four months after Francis became pope, wrote, Thanks for Nothing, Pope Francis. It had the subtitle, “Francis casts himself as a reformer, but his views on women’s roles in the church are as conservative as ever.” It is downright funny, but also sad. It reminds me a little of how we ended up with eight years of George W Bush because many liberals thought that he was no different from Al Gore.

Of course, this kind of thinking is silly. And I’ve been especially disappointed with the New Atheists. Last year, I wrote, Bill Maher Trashes Pope for No Good Reason. With him, and frankly with just about everyone complaining about the pope from the left, the ignorance is staggering. Somehow, the pope is supposed to come into power and change everything the way these people would like. There is no recognition that there are over a billion Catholics who are used to the religion being the way it is. Few of these same critics would be in favor of any political change that was so radical, but they expect it from the Catholic Church?!

Bruenig noted that there are many things that Pope Francis has done that are in alignment with the goals of feminism. For example, his most recent encyclical, Laudato Si, called for women to have more control over how many children they have and when they have them. In that, he was talking about the economics of childbirth and how it is dictated by our economic system. She also mentioned the fact that Pope Benedict XVI was investigating the Leadership Conference of Women Religious for the crime of “radical feminism.” Francis shut down that investigation “in a hail of praise for the nuns and their good work.”

But the main thing is that liberals don’t understand that there are great restraints on what the pope can do:

Francis’s positions on climate change and inequality — for which commentators have praised him — are also rooted in Catholic doctrines. Such commentators often do not recognize that his authority in both these cases does not come from some personal license, but his ability to speak to the Catholic tradition.

I think that is the critical thing. And this is where conservatives err as well. Everyone wants to think of the pope as though he were Stalin. But that’s just not true. Conservatives are unhappy, because he is pushing the aspects of Catholicism that are liberal. But those aspects have always been there. It is unrealistic to expect Pope Francis to change the Catholic Church to accept the use of condoms. My problem with Pope John Paul II was not that he was against condoms; it was that he went all over the world telling Catholics that they shouldn’t use condoms — as though that were the biggest thing that Catholics did for God.

From a political standpoint, expecting more from the pope than he can reasonably deliver is extremely bad. The question is not whether Pope Francis is perfect in the eyes of liberals. The question is whether he is better than the options. He looks set to be the most important pope at least going back to Paul VI. Pope Francis is making the Catholic Church better. So when Sadhbh Walshe says “Thanks for nothing,” she’s just being silly. Most people are being silly about the pope. And Francis is just doing his job — about as well as anyone could reasonably expect.

Lies By Omission About the Soviet Union

Lies My Teacher Told MeFew Americans who were not alive at the time know anything about our “unknown war with Russia,” to quote the title of Robert Maddox’s book on this fiasco. Not one of the twelve American history textbooks in my original sample even mentioned it. Two of the six new books do; Boorstin and Kelley, for example, write: “The United States, hoping to keep stores of munitions from falling into German hands when Bolshevik Russia quit fighting, contributed some 5,000 troops to an Allied invasion of northern Russia at Archangel. Wilson likewise sent nearly 10,000 troops to Siberia as part of an Allied expedition.” It is possible, although surely difficult, for an American student to infer from that passage that Wilson was intervening in Russia’s civil war.

Russian textbooks, on the other hand, give the episode considerable coverage. According to Maddox: “The immediate effect of the intervention was to prolong a bloody civil war, thereby costing thousands of additional lives and wreaking enormous destruction on an already battered society. And there were longer-range implications. Bolshevik leaders had clear proof… that the Western powers meant to destroy the Soviet government if given the chance.”

This aggression fueled the suspicions that motivated the Soviets during the Cold War, and until its breakup the Soviet Union continued to claim damages from the invasion.

—James W Loewen
Lies My Teacher Told Me

One More Time: a Strong Dollar Is Bad

Strong Dollar - Weak YenPart of my day job over the last couple of weeks has consisted of writing profiles of a number of companies based outside the United States. This led me to check out their prices — which were listed in things like the euro, real (Brazil), złoty (Poland) — in US dollars. And it always looked just like the graph on the left: over the last four years, the values of these currency have gone down — dramatically — compared to the dollar. It was usually roughly one-third. And what this meant was that the prices of these companies were really attractive if you happen to live and work in America.

But then it hit me: this is why having a strong dollar is such a bad thing for the American worker. The products and services in all these countries are really attractive to buyers. We as consumers don’t much notice it, because most of what we buy comes from a lot of different places. And yes, it means that the stuff we buy is cheaper as a result of this. But when you see that the Japanese yen has gone down by 30% in the last four years, you know that Japanese steel is a whole lot more competitive than American steel, and that means there are fewer jobs for Americans.

Last Friday, Mary Amiti and Tyler Bodine-Smith at Liberty Street Economics wrote, The Effect of the Strong Dollar on US Growth. And what they find is pretty amazing, “Our analysis shows that a 10% appreciation in one quarter shaves 0.5 percentage point off GDP growth over one year and an additional 0.2 percentage point in the following year if the strength of the dollar persists.” In the last year, the Japanese yen has gone down 20% compared to the dollar. But overall, the trade weighted change of all nations is 10% — still a cause of great concern.

What I find most interesting about this is that the over-valued dollar isn’t just hurting jobs; it is hurting economic growth. I would think that the power elite would care about this. But they don’t seem to be especially interested in it. They already have huge amounts of money. So the more that that money is worth, the better. Who needs economic growth in the US, anyway? (Besides workers.) They can just use the great exchange rate to invest overseas. In fact, one aspect of this that Amiti and Bodine-Smith didn’t take into account was the reduction in domestic investment spending as a result of less demand for US products.

The main thing is that we all need to remember that a strong dollar is by and large a bad thing. If you are one of those loser Americans who actually has to have a job to get by, you need a weaker dollar. If you are sitting on piles of cash, then by all means be glad that the US dollar is doing great compared to the currencies of most of our trading partners. But don’t get caught up in the nationalistic braying about being “strong.” When it comes to the dollar, being significantly weaker would be great.

Homogeneity and Conservative Apologetics

Matt BruenigThere is a common conservative argument that I continue to hear in polite society. It is used in many areas, but it seems especially to be prevalent when discussing education. If you note that Finland has an excellent educational system without focusing on “job skills” and testing, you will often hear the refrain, “But Finland is such a homogeneous country!” I’m frankly shocked that people say this. They would never say, “Of course that works in Finland — they’re all white. We have all these black and brown students!” Yet that is what I hear whenever people make these arguments about homogeneity.

Matt Bruenig noted another aspect of this, An Actually Meaningful Homogeneity Argument. He pointed out that this is used as a common excuse for why some countries manage to grow and innovate just as fast (Or faster!) than the US even while having “higher tax levels, lower poverty, and lower inequality.” The causality here is mystifying on an economic level. Bruenig writes at too high a level to discuss this, but it’s clearly just racism: “Of course that works in Finland — they’re all white. We have all these black and brown people who are just lazy!” That is undeniably the argument, right?

But Bruenig pointed out that there is one case where having a homogeneous population would help in relieving poverty. It is where direct assistance is given. So rather than cash aid or even food stamps, think: food banks. An argument against this is that not everyone wants or needs the same food. So it is better just to give them money to buy the food that they want and need. But if the society is homogeneous, it is much easier to give out food because, for example, all white people like Swish cheese!

It’s important to note that Bruenig’s idea here is not real. It is a purely hypothetical situation. No group of people is that homogeneous. People always have different tastes and different needs. But it is no doubt a lot easier to fulfill the needs of the 5.5 million relatively homogeneous Fins than it is to fulfill the needs of 320 million quite diverse Americans. But Bruenig is giving the conservative argument the absolute maximize chance he can. And of course, it falls apart.

Here’s the problem: it is liberals who want to make aid to the poor as free as possible. Conservatives are the ones who are concerned that the poor are not going to spend their assistance on exactly what the conservatives think is right for the poor. Remember how angry conservatives were recently that a surfer kid was buying lobster with his EBT card? At one time the complaint was that poor people shouldn’t be buying drugs. Then it was that they shouldn’t be buying junk food. Now it is that they shouldn’t be buying perfectly healthy food that conservatives is too good for the poor. I don’t think anything has changed: it was always about spite, but it is crystal clear now.

But what all this means is that conservatives want to make policy that acts in direct opposition to the one argument they are most likely to use against having welfare. But it really does come back to the fact that conservatives are disingenuous. They don’t actually think that we have to screw over (or at least forget) the poor so that our economy works properly. They just hate the poor. And there is a big — even overwhelming — racist aspect to this. Still, I don’t think their opinions would change if we really did have a homogeneous (white) country. It’s only that they would have a much harder time convincing the rest of the country.

Morning Music: Florence Reece

Florence ReeceI continue to be appalled by the fact that over the past 60 years, the capitalist class has managed to get the working class to turn against itself and see the world from the perspective of the rich. The first thing that most people think of when they hear the word “union” is “violence.” But the violence was first and predominantly caused by the capitalists. And to this day, no one questions but that companies should be able to organize themselves. But the idea that workers should be allowed the same right is disputed. The truth is that the rich will one day regret what they are doing to our society. They ought to be able to give a little to get a lot. But right now, they can take a lot and get a lot more. So they are.

In the early 1930s, the Harlan County War took place — an actual armed conflict between coal miners on one side and the coal mine owners (with the complete assistance of local law enforcement) on the other. It was only ended when state and federal troops were sent in to disarm the miners. This is the way it always is: the executive and the judiciary take the side of capital. So many workers lost their lives in the struggle. But today, workers who benefit from that struggle see them as the aggressors. It’s incredibly sad.

Florence Reece was the wife of Sam Reece, an organizer with the United Mine Workers, during the Harlan County War. After being terrorized by the local sheriff, JH Blair, she wrote “Which Side Are You On?” to the tune of the hymn “Lay the Lily Low.” It is saying that you have to pick a side in the struggle: “They say in Harlan County; There are no neutrals there; You’ll either be a union man; or a thug for JH Blair.” It went on to become one of the great songs of the labor movement. Here it is sung by Natalie Merchant with a nice photo montage:

Anniversary Post: Air Conditioning

Willis CarrierIt was 100°F Sunday — with very high humidity. So I really need to talk about Willis Carrier who built the first modern air conditioner on this day in 1902. He actually wrote down the plans four days earlier. His main innovation was to include humility control. That’s the thing: most of the heat in the air is contained in the water vapor. You get rid of that, and it gets cool — fast. In fact, if you want to defog your windows, put the hot air through the air conditioner, and the windows will clear shockingly fast.

This all reminds me of a trip I took to southern China in the summer of 1992. I’m not much good with languages. But it was so hot and muggy, I made people teach me three phrases. The first was “air conditioning.” The phrase for this means literally “cold air.” And the Chinese words are, “Lěng kōngqì” or “冷空气.” The way I remember pronouncing this was, “Lung chee.”

The second phrase was, “Cold beer.” This is, “Lěng píjiǔ” or “冷啤酒.” The way I pronounced it was, “Lung pee-gee-oh.” But I don’t think anyone was ever happy with my pronunciation. The last phrase was simply, “Thank you.” That’s “Xièxiè” or “谢谢.” Most people know how to pronounce this, “Shea Shea.”

So I would walk around Guangzhou repeating over and over, “Lěng píjiǔ. Lěng kōngqì. Xièxiè.” Yes, I put beer first. Priorities are important.