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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Pope, Pensions, Mandela and Marxism -- Dec. 6, 2013

Pope Francis is becoming the darling of the liberal mass media with his outreach to homosexuals and recently his rebuke of capitalism. He is even considered to be Time magazine's front runner for their person of the year. His speeches imploring political leaders around the world to address income inequality was embraced whole heartedly by U.S. President Barack Obama as well as low skilled workers in America demonstrating for higher minimum wages. Yesterday, Nelson Mandela died and immediately he was also held up as a saint. People forget the man was a militant Marxist and responsible for widespread terrorism in South Africa. His conciliatory post racial government is on the brink of collapse as is the country itself. In Illinois, lawmakers finally addressed the state's growing pension crises, however, not without much controversy. Unions, Democratic strongest supporters, are incensed by the narrowly passed legislation which reduces payments for current and future retirees. The breach of contract will be contested in the courts all the while the state continues to struggle paying bills with its irresponsible tax and spend policy.

Sunday and Monday morning news programs had plenty of coverage of Pope Francis. Unlike his predecessors, he has broken with traditional Church teachings that homosexuality is a sin. The new pope says he cannot judge, despite how both the Old and New Testaments condemn the perversion unequivocally. Two cities (Sodom and Gomorrah) were even directly obliterated by God in the book of Genesis for the inhabitants' sexual debauchery. The pope, however, will denounce the capitalist system which has made America one of the greatest nations on earth. The hypocrisy was not missed by me or one of my favorite talk radio show hosts.

After returning from the prison store, I listened to part of the Rush Limbaugh Show. He was as outraged as I over Pope Francis' call for government leaders to redistribute wealth. He was advocating for socialism, if not Marxism. These economic systems were the antithesis of American values. America was supposed to be a beacon of freedom and individualism. It was where men through their own merits were able to succeed unhindered by the government. Individual rights and a system of meritocracy were the reason for America's success and wealth. Look to communist, heavily socialist government controlled economies, or tyrannies and this is where one will find the most wretched poor. How well are those nearly bankrupt socialist countries in southern Europe doing? The communist dictatorship in North Korea? The despots in Africa and tribal warlords? There is also extreme poverty in South America where governments dominate the economy purportedly for the public good, including Argentina where Pope Francis is from.

Despite the results of other countries' economic systems, the President of the U.S. was one of the first to jump in condemning the free market. If he was to simply address the asinine free trade policies America has with China and other countries, I would agree. However, this was another opportunity for him to attack trickledown economics and bolster his pursuit of socialism. A more burdensome and progressive tax system was still on his agenda as well as implementing his mandatory government health care law. Continuing food stamps to over 40 million people and unemployment checks to many who have been on the government dole for years were also high priorities. Finally, he supported raising the minimum wage.

The minimum wage law has again been the subject of protesters this week in many cities of the U.S. Federally, the government currently mandates employers to pay $7.25 an hour, but 16 states have raised that. This is not enough for many low skilled laborers, however, and they are demanding more pay. In Chicago, I found it ridiculous men and women were picketing outside a McDonald's restaurant. They thought flipping burgers was worth $15 an hour. Despite how absurd I thought they were, many liberals supported them. They have no clue how wage and price controls disrupt the economy or they just do not care.

Minimum wage laws negatively affect the economy. They cause businesses to move away, shut down, or simply hire fewer workers. When possible, costs are passed on to the consumer. Imagine that $1 cup of coffee at McDonald's costing $5 instead. Aldermen in Chicago once sought to force big box stores like Wal-Mart to pay a minimum wage of $10, and the company simply said they would build out in the suburbs. The low prices they offered consumers were the key to their success and they could not keep their business model with higher wage expenses. The city lawmakers eventually caved and now Wal-Mart and other stores have created jobs as well as economic development even in some of the most blighted neighborhoods of Chicago.

The U.S. is increasingly losing its global competitiveness. Some of this is due to poor trade pacts with countries whose governments subsidize industries, steal intellectual property and conduct corporate espionage. They also will manipulate currency and wages to give them a trade advantage. Consumer protection laws are nearly nonexistent allowing them to dump cheap, dangerous and substandard foods and products on the U.S. markets. Finally, while U.S. markets are open to them, American companies are blocked or when let in they face enormous challenges and even harassment. Free market capitalism does not work on an international level unless the countries are on fair and friendly terms. America should seek out more open trade with Europe while slapping tariffs and trade sanctions on countries such as China.

The greatest internal threats to economic power in the U.S. are changing demographic values and skills. America is aging and more and more people are retiring. They are creating a burden on the young who are not as capable as former generations. Those entering the workforce do not have the same education, ingenuity, or drive. They are lazy and have been coddled by the nanny state. Government has also contributed to this decline by allowing millions of uneducated, low skilled foreigners to migrate to the U.S. The open door policy of letting the lowest productive elements in while impeding the brightest from within and without will be this country's downfall. Liberals blame income inequality on capitalism, however, you reap what you sow.

Late Tuesday night I heard a pension bill was finally passed by state legislators. However, it was not until the following days that I would learn the details. The annual 3% compounded cost of living increases of state union retirees were replaced with a much less costly system. For example, the rate will now be flat and those employees age 43 and younger will not receive any cost of living increases for five years after they retire. The retirement age itself was also pushed back on a sliding scale for workers age 45 and under. Governor Quinn was on the John Kass WLS talk radio show Wednesday, and he claimed the new law will save $160 billion over 30 years. He did not explain how these numbers added up, but I know even if the 67% tax hike in Illinois is extended, the state will have a fiscal budget deficit in 2015 of $1.5 billion. If the tax hike is allowed to expire, the deficit will be double or $3 billion. Currently, Illinois pays $2 billion annually just on the total accumulated debt it owes, roughly the budget of the IDOC.

The governor has for a long time been seeking to reduce Illinois' pension liabilities. Senate and House Democrats have been avoiding the problem due to the political fallout. AFSCME and other state unions are the main source of funding and support to the Democratic Party. They vehemently opposed any cuts to pensions. I was actually surprised Democrats even passed pension reform until I learned what occurred behind the scenes. In the House, the bill passed narrowly by a 62 to 57 vote and in the Senate it squeaked by with the exact 30 votes necessary. Democratic legislative leaders actually had a strategy to protect vulnerable politicians in their party and only those who were "safe" voted yes. Overall, Democratic majorities are safe given the clout of Chicago and gerrymandered districts. However, in the next 2014 election, their super majority over Republicans which gives them unbridled power could be in jeopardy, particularly if Governor Quinn loses to a Republican.

The day after Governor Quinn was on the John Kass talk radio show, one of his Republican opponents gave his opinion on the pension legislation. Dan Rutherford, currently Illinois Treasurer, spoke of how state spending was way out of control, but the pension contract with the unions could not be broken. Under the state constitution, the pension system is considered an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired. While Democrats believe they have solved a major fiscal problem to the state's finances, they have not and it will only give them the green light to continue to spend taxpayers' money without restraint. I agreed with the Republican candidate for governor, however, inside the IDOC spending cuts are still occurring, at least to the detriment of prisoners, and bills are going unpaid.

Although last week prisoners were given a good Thanksgiving Day meal, food abruptly went back to the usual meager and distasteful portions. Imitation salami has been served three times since and processed soy-turkey is used as filler in nearly every meal. On Monday, prisoners were given the treat of nachos, but before the likes of Nancy Grace think convicts in Illinois have it too good, let me explain what a meal of nachos consists of. Nachos are fried corn shells broken into chips by prison kitchen workers. On the serving line, men are literally given a handful of these, although the final cell house to be fed may get two if there are leftovers. The same grey soy-turkey blend product is offered to be placed onto the chips but most men refuse it. A ladle is used to pour a synthetic cheese which the penitentiary buys in gallon cans. Men get a small scoop of salsa but there was no dessert. There have been no desserts this entire week and small cartons of juice are used as a substitute.

The IDOC has failed to pay many vendors which serve the prison system. This week, I was told Waste Management was fed up with delays in payment and finally picked up their large metal garbage bins. I asked then what was going to happen with all the trash. Apparently, some other company made a contract with IDOC and would be taking over. Later in the week, I noticed the green Waste Management dumpsters had indeed been replaced by blue ones. The blue dumpsters are owned by Patriot and they are probably more desperate for the business.

Garbage cans inside the cell house on the staircase at every level were removed as well and I watched prison laborers lift them up onto the roof of the sergeant's office. All five cans were placed against the wall where no one can have access to them. Initially I thought there may be some correlation with a suspension in garbage service. However, the true purpose is to prevent prisoners from hiding things in them. Inmates in maximum security are trapped in their cells much of the time and therefore will typically place garbage on their cell bars. This garbage is then picked up by cell house workers. When not on lockdown, many prisoners will bring trash out with them to put in the trash cans. Since the cans have been taken away, however, prisoners will just pile it anywhere. A few days ago this led to an exchange of words between an inmate and the cell house worker who had to pick up his mess. My cellmate thought it was amusing, but the true amusement is the ridiculous lengths penny pinchers and security personnel will go to.

The warden had two memorandums posted on inmates' televisions this week. The first was about all the new restrictions and loss of privileges classified staff assaulters and weapons violators will now have which is posted as an update on my post, "Retro Prison Garb." The second went into extensive and graphic detail about what types of photographs are not permitted including sodomy, bestiality, and necrophilia. There already are bans on certain pornographic magazines, but apparently the warden wanted to make the policy on photos crystal clear. Many times I am astounded by the perversions which have become normalized in society whether it is gay marriage, the Pope reaching out to homosexuals, or some of the interracial and homosexual programming on TV. The memo happened to be the last of these and once again it seemed appropriate to quote Bill Murray from the movie Ghostbusters to my cellmate: "Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria"!

Thursday evening there was breaking news that Nelson Mandela had died and ever since there has been nonstop coverage. The praise heaped upon him is unbelievable. If the public truly knew his history, they would not be exclaiming him to be a saint. Nelson Mandela's true name was Rolihlahle Mandela, which is probably too difficult for most Westerners to pronounce, just like the nuances of his life are too difficult to understand. In 1943, as a young man he joined the black power African National Congress where he eventually became a leader in the resistance to the South Afrikaner apartheid government. In 1956, he was charged with treason but those charges were dropped until the police could link him directly to numerous bombings, murders, and other brutal terrorist acts. After serving 23 years in prison, he was offered parole if he would renounce violence. Mandela refused, but was released anyway in 1990. The South African government was under considerable political and economic pressures. The sanctions imposed on it were ironically worse than that put on Iran or North Korea who threaten the world with nuclear warheads. Possibly, though, peacenik John Kerry or "The Worm" can smooth things out.

F.W. de Klerk betrayed his white countrymen who built South Africa into the most advanced, prosperous and powerful country on the continent. Universal elections were allowed and Rolihlahle Mandela was elected president. During his time in office he struck a conciliatory political and racial approach to his white and capitalist enemies. However, since his presidency, the ANC has increasingly sought communist and black control. The political party is corrupt and operates with Soviet style democratic centralism. In alliance with the Cosatu and Communist parties, most of the country lives in squalor and segments of the population have a 50% unemployment rate. Despite this, unions with government backing strike demanding higher wages causing businesses to leave en mass. There is an AIDs epidemic afflicting at least 1 in every 5 people. Crime is 3 times as great as in the U.S. and lawlessness is pervasive even in neighborhoods once crime free. Although Jacob Zuma, a former member of the Communist Party, is the current president, Julius Malema is trying to wrest control of the ANC. He is not only communist, but seeks to strip white people of all their property. Already, there are increasing murders and assaults of Caucasian farmers by mobs of his followers. South Africa once was the most promising country on the continent, but now it is on the brink of economic, political, and racial upheaval.

Despite the allure Marxism has to many poor and other groups, the political system has never worked out well. Social and economic equality is only a Utopian illusion which has never been achieved. When governments have tried, it has always had disastrous results. Marxism requires oppressive regimes to crush everyone down to the same lowest common denominator. Government is the exclusive winner while everyone else suffers. Rather than empowering government, Western Civilization needs to restore conservative values. When individual merit is rewarded rather than collectivism, all boats are lifted. Unfortunately, the Pope, many pension systems, and Mandela seek to sink these ships.