Tuesday, September 22, 2015

An Inconvenient Pope

Corporate media coverage of the Pope's visit to the USA is being framed around two main issues: how it will impact the artificial, wedge issue-based political gridlock in Washington, and how it will cause traffic gridlock in New York City.

News that the world's second largest car maker has engaged in an epic criminal conspiracy to bypass anti-pollution emissions laws is vying with news about how much cars themselves will be inconvenienced during this historic visit. For days on end, traffic and shopping will come to a screeching halt. The very atmosphere will be forced to take a breather. For one brief shining moment, the rights of humans to walk will take precedence over the rights of machines to drive.

I'm sure that all the rich irony surrounding his visit to El Norte is not being lost on Pope Francis.

His message that turbo-charged capitalism is destroying all living things on land, sea and air is being drowned in the American shallows of media spectacle for the sake of media spectacle. As he wrote in his recent encyclical:
The continued acceleration of changes affecting humanity and the planet is coupled today with a more intensified pace of life and work which might be called "rapidification." Although change is part of the working of complex systems, the speed with which human activity has developed contrasts with the naturally slow pace of biological evolution. Moreover, the goals of this rapid and constant change are not necessarily geared to the common good or to integral and sustainable human development. Change is something desirable, yet it becomes a source of anxiety when it causes harm to the world and to the quality of life of much of humanity.
So, who did Barack and Michelle invite to their White House reception? Who will she be wearing? Will she "stun" as she greets the Pope at the airport? Will LGBT  activists and right-to-die reformers be given front row seats on the South Lawn just so that President Peace Prize can one-up the Pope in progressive bona fides? How will stocks react as the Pope shuts down entire miles of Big Apple asphalt?  What's the price of a scalped ticket to get close to him as he parades through Central Park? How many scents of Pope Soap-on-a-Rope are available at Macy's? Is the Pope Catholic?

Even when more enlightened media outlets dare to "go there" and write in-depth pieces about the Pope's environmental and social justice messages, unbridled capitalism still gets in the way. When I went to read an online article about his exhortation Laudato Si': On Care of Our Common Home at the New York Review of Books, the very first thing confronting me was an ad exhorting me to purchase a custom-framed cartoon drawing of Pope Francis for $150.

The reviewer, Yale climate economist William D. Nordhaus, is not only disappointed that Francis's core message is being ignored by the media, he is disappointed that the Pope himself is against market-based "cap and trade" and other gimmicks to supplement his anti-consumerism message of environmental conservation and care for the poor. The Pope is not neoliberal enough, apparently. All that the climate needs, according to Nordhaus, is a more "moral market"  -- an oxymoron if there ever was one. He writes:
But the growing peril of climate change and many other environmental problems arises primarily not from unethical individual behavior such as consumerism or cowardice, bad conscience or excessive profiteering. Rather, environmental degradation is the result of distorted market signals that put too low a price on harmful environmental effects.
I guess that Nordhaus missed the news that Volkswagen's altruism and beneficence caused it to deliberately tinker with the pollution-detecting device in at least half a million 11 million of its cars. Those market distortion signals will get you every time. Mistakes get made, but crimes against the biosphere are never committed.

"We have totally screwed up," the aptly named Michael Horn, CEO of Volkswagen of America, humble-bragged at a lavish event this week to introduce the company's latest model. He offered the standard explanation given by the rich and powerful and unaccountable whenever they get caught doing the nasty. The crime "was not consistent with our core values," he abjectly schmoozed.

After all, it pales in comparison to Volkswagen admitting decades after the fact that it had used Nazi concentration camp slaves to manufacture its cars for the Folk. Luckily for them, no car officials went to jail for that one. All they had to do was to make some token reparations to their mainly Jewish victims. So they probably hope that this latest scandal will be swept under the rug just as efficiently.

The real test of our political class's seriousness about reducing global warming and combating climate change is how it will treat the Volkswagen crimes. If the company gets the usual financial slap on the wrist, as General Motors recently did despite their officials being, at the very least, accessories to murder, our government officials will have proven themselves irredeemable hypocrites, once and for all.

As the Pope's late, great fellow Latin American leftist Eduardo Galeano put it, the United States is the Vatican of the Church of the Sacred Car. And the depraved religion has spread all over the globe. "The imported faith in the four-wheeled god and the confusion of democracy with consumption have been more devastating than any bombing campaign. Never have so many suffered so much for so few," he wrote in Upside Down.
In Nordhaus's neoliberal view, meanwhile, the problem is not that water is scarce. It's that it is underpriced. The problem is not the number of polluting particulates in the air that we breathe and the ensuing damage to our lungs. It is that the poisons are underpriced. What this planet, and the people and animals and plants residing on it need is not health and conservation of resources and clean-up. What it needs are plutocrats making more money by finding more efficient ways to use their poisons.

Pope Francis has his work cut out for him with such thinking from the allegedly enlightened side of the climate "debate." (Yes, the media conglomerate is still framing the death of the earth as a debate instead of a reality.)

As he puts it in his encyclical, "Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation, or blind confidence in technical solutions. We need a new and universal solidarity." 

Meanwhile, even though Laudato Si' is readily available free of charge all over the Internet, billionaire Jeff Bezos is charging people $5.95 to download a Kindle copy from his own Amazon website marketplace. Because the rich rentiers will always parasitize the poor. Commodified humanity is their main course.

We all have got our work cut out for us.


Kate said...

Well-written and thought out as usual. It's always such a relief to me to read your pieces - my husband and I feel less alone in how we view the world around us.

One thing that rankles me quite a bit though concerning good old Francis - is that it seems to me that Obama seems to align himself with the pope...rhetorically. Like look, see, we're on the same side as far as climate change and helping the poor. I mean, it makes me so angry and frustrated. Then I see the pictures of him and Francis - Obama with his usual big old smile, just two buddies on the same side of the issues. And it's so maddening, because I wonder, when they're alone, does Francis let him know that he's onto him and his hypocritical ways? Does he tell him in no uncertain terms that Obama's clear love for and support for the financial industries, big oil and all other profit-driven corporations, is immoral? Or does he believe Obama's two-faced lies, as so many liberal or so-called progressives do? I want to think that Francis is too smart for that. That he can see through opening the Arctic for Shell while traveling to Alaska to show the world how much he loves and values the natural environment is not only hypocritical and manipulative, but maybe even borderline evil. I want to think that...but I tell ya, watching Obama all these years and dealing with the cognitive dissonance between reality and what and who he actually is, is disheartening and exhausting.

That's one of the reasons we love your essays and articles - because you're one of the people that does see through them and then writes about them in such a clear, articulate and intelligent manner.

Meredith NYC said...

quick note....Krugman has good blog today on Islam and views of their golden age of science and learning, way back when.

Karen Garcia said...

Thank you, Kate.

I am sure that both Obama and the Pope will put on their best happy diplomat photo-op faces for the occasion. However, if Obama read the Encyclical he will have found plenty of veiled criticisms of himself therein. There is one part about politicians who speak out of both sides of their maws that seems to have been tailor-made for the prez.

If the Pope does vent his spleen, it will probably be at his U.N. speech, when he is speaking to the whole world instead of to one smarmy little politician.

Speaking of photo-ops and smiles and handshakes, I am reminded of Malala Yousafski's visit to the White House, where they were posed grinning and getting along just fine. Or so we were led to believe. Turns out that Malala gave him an earful about his murderous drone strikes in her country. So, it wouldn't surprise me if the Pope manages to get in a few jabs (from the left, of course) himself.

Karen Garcia said...


Yes, Krugman's blog-post was a very pleasant and well-written surprise. Hopefully he will get out of his insular, wonky neoliberal comfort zone more often. It is really incumbent upon public intellectuals like him to take more of an anti-xenophobic, pro- social justice stand. It is not enough to just call the likes of Trump and Carson dumb-asses. (Although that is also a must.)

Meredith NYC said...

One definition of religion is this:
A system of control over the masses. It gets authority from an all knowing higher power that no one can see, but whose messages are conveyed as ultimate truth by a elite caste called priests, having special communication with the Almighty.

This basic template can be updated for 21st century high tech societies. They no longer execute unbelievers or heretics, only distort and marginalize them out of any influence, lest dangerous doubt be spread about the prevailing dogma.

Today the mass media caste conveys the dogma of the powers that be who have the media and politics tightly tethered to their sultan like riches. Thus corporate wealth with no responsibility to the larger society has become the norm. To object is labeled big govt socialistic interference in free enterprise--challenging the religion of unregulated, ruthless capitalism.

The competition of contrary values, which may have a chance of influence in countries with public financing of elections are here too weak to fight back. Thus conformity achieves the aims of the plutocrats, with no need for explicit dictatorship. Why bother with violence if you can rule by peaceful propaganda? Thus we maintain the fa├žade of freedom, independence, and democracy.

Meredith NYC said...

Krugman says he knew nothing about the Islamic Golden Age before reading the book he cites. Most people don’t, as I didn’t at one time. So I found some class related notes I’d saved and posted this to his blog.

Yes, I got a new perspective in a history class on how the Christian Crusaders found an Islamic civilization far advanced from their own in learning and civilized refinements. They wore silks and used spices, while back home they wore rough wool and ate oatmeal, anyway. The Christian’s exposure to this new civilization led to them returning home with new ideas, but got resistance against high falutin ways of exotic foreigners. (my teacher said she was not taught about this at all way back in her own college days.)

From the web:
"At its peak about 1000 years ago, the Muslim world made a remarkable contribution to mathematics and medicine. Baghdad in its heyday and southern Spain built universities to which thousands flocked. Rulers surrounded themselves with scientists and artists. A spirit of freedom allowed Jews, Christians, and Muslim to work side by side.

Private as well as public libraries were common, and one street alone in Baghdad contained a thousand book sellers' shops.

All this time, while Europe was almost illiterate and Charlemagne himself could hardly write his name, a great intellectual awakening happened in the Islamic world.

In the European dark ages, the scientific and philosophical scholarship of the Greeks and Persians had been lost to the West but was introduced to European intellectual life via the Islamic world in Spain.

The work of Newton would have been inconceivable without Muslim mathematics and navigational instruments such as the astrolabe made possible the great voyages of discovery by European explorers.”

So the discoveries contributed to Europe advancement, but over a very long time, with harsh Church opposition, using violence to assert its power. I wonder---how would the scholars of the Islamic Golden Age react to our Republican ignoramus, narrow minded, xenophobic, racist candidates for leader of the ‘world’s greatest democracy’?

Meredith NYC said...

Karen....I'm truly curious—what is the pope’s position in the world, among Catholics and others, compared to heads of other religions? We never see other top clergy quoted like this, there every move given such widespread publicity. And who address congress and the UN.

The News of the moment is...the president of the US has gone to greet the Pope at his airport landing. They said that historically, presidents don’t go to airports to greet foreign leaders, but wait for them to come to White House.

What other religion, say, Protestant or Jewish, has a clergy leader, (if that’s the right phrase) who has the authority and world prestige of the pope? None. Is this because Catholicism is the dominant western religion in terms of numbers, (and the richest)? Or its historical influence, that it once rivaled Kings of Europe? Whereas Protestants are divied up into many denominations, and the Jews are so small in number?
Any thoughts are appreciated.

annenigma said...


Ditto! Except I don't think that Obama is 'borderline' evil. He's clearly crossed the line. What sickens me the most is that his magical charm and charisma has helped him fool so many people for so long. Actually, I think it's one of the defining features of evil.


I took a class in Islamic civilization a few years ago and I was pleasantly surprised and enlightened by the discoveries, inventiveness, and greatness of it. Our educational system fails us as does our current High Priest of Darkness, Obama, who insists that we're soooo exceptional.

The same can be said about China. Despite Carly Fiorina's claims, the Chinese invented useful tools thousands of years before Western civilization even came into existence: paper, printed books, magnetic compass, wheelbarrows, umbrellas, kites, toilet paper, chess, abacus, toothbrushes, topo maps, dental amalgams, rotary fans, weather vanes, spinning wheels, hygrometers, etc. to name just a few. They've been thoroughly documented in a masterworks of 7 volumes (so far) by British scientist, historian, and sinologist Joseph Needham who started his project in 1954. After his death in 1995, new volumes are being developed through the Needham Research Institute.

Americans should realize that we stand on the shoulders of giants.

Meredith NYC said...

True Annenigma, the Chinese have a great history, and thanks for the list and author citation. Americans would say we stand on the shoulders of giants, but they are American giants,or similar ethnic group.

Patricia M. said...

Thank you, Kate, Annenigma, and all the posters on this site. It is a great relief to know that there are others "out there" like you. I feel less alone, too - thanks to you, Karen.

Karen Garcia said...


Popes have historically enjoyed a lot of power and prestige and privilege. Remember the lovely Borgias?

One book on religion that I always highly recommend is Karen Armstrong's "Fields of Blood". (she is a former Catholic nun). She essentially echoes Krugman's point, that religion is whatever people choose to make of it. Virtually all the world's religions have both good and bad sides... meaning that, while their original purpose has usually been one of social justice, community, and making sense of existence, they all of them end up using God as justification their various slaughters, incursions and wars.

The current pope is definitely more liberal than his predecessors. I think his cohort of cardinals elected him not because they agree with him, but because they realized he is the only leader who can bring disaffected Catholics back into the scandal-ridden fold. Not me, though. I am a lapsed Catholic of long standing, but I truly I admire Catholics like Sister Simone Campbell and her Nuns on the Bus, as well as the late Dorothy Day and her Catholic Worker newspaper and "hospitality" movement.

By the way, I just added a very interesting site, Tikkun, to my blog roll. It is run by a Jewish rabbi and it is ecumenical in its content. I found out about it when Henry Giroux sent me an article he published there, on Donald Trump and totalitarianism. Hannah Arendt literally wrote the book on Donald Trump and his ilk. He is the very epitome of the banality of evil. And so are far too many American politicians, in my opinion.

Patricia M.,

Glad you are a reader and commenter! Thank you.

Karen Garcia said...


Speaking of way over the borderline evil:


DW said...


Just a point of clarification.

Krugman's blog was not referring to the "golden age" of Islam, with which he is undoubtedly familiar.

He was referencing a book which outlined the achievements of Central Asia....This is very little known.
The Islamic golden age is generally considered as stretching from the Iberian Peninsula to the Middle East.

From a review:

The book in many ways is a crusade to make the world aware of the greatness that was Central Asia. That region made up of what are today some of the poorest countries on earth – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan – was once a hub of wealth, power and intellectual achievement that dwarfed anything Europe could boast. In fact much of the Greek writing that sparked the European Renaissance, once thought by scholars to have been rediscovered through the work of Arab translators, was in fact translated by Central Asian scholars writing in Arabic. It was Central Asians that first popularized the use of the Indian numeric system which we use today and the concept of the Zero long before Arabs and Europeans. The work also highlights the great engineering achievements that allowed Central Asians to create irrigated urban centers out of the desert and stepp.

('crusade" might not have been the best choice of word!)

It is this very-little explored history that was referred to in the blog.

Jay–Ottawa said...

I read somewhere that the billionaire who gave St Patrick's a wad of cash to spruce up the cathedral for the pope's visit, is now threatening to hold back his bounty unless the pope backs off the environmental issue and leaves science to the scientists. Truth be told, Francis received a "titulo" (Argentinian post-secondary school diploma) in chemistry and worked in the field before joining the Jesuits. Paying attention to scientists and world class economists was exactly what he was doing in writing his treatise on the environment and capitalism's ongoing contribution to anthropogenic global warming.

Judge for yourself: read some or all of Laudato Si' at no cost and without the filter of outside color commentary here:

You commenters are so well-read. I'll try to add my two cents. First of all, delighted to see Tikun added to the blog roll. For decades it has supported the wisdom of peace and justice in the Middle East.

As for Nordhaus's advocacy of 'cap and trade,' that deceit was unmasked years ago in Harper's Magazine ("Conning the Climate: Inside the Carbon-Trading Shell Game"):

Because, like the rest of you, I don't embrace neocon and AIPAC idols, I usually skip political articles in the pages of the New York Review of Books, or take them with a grain of salt. Yet I still subscribe to the mag to keep up with some of the best writing in history, archeology, anthropology, architecture, science, literature and the visual arts.

Still better in that format is another bi-weekly, the lefty London Review of Books, where, time available, I skip nothing and come away better informed, not propagandized. Full print plus digital versions are lots cheaper than the NYRB. No, I don't work for the LRB, I just want to share the joy.

The Sunday NY Times Book Review isn’t in the same league as the above-mentioned publications.

annenigma said...

Notice Obama's big huge toothy grin whenever he's with Pope Francis. It reminds me of a wolf's - the kind that wears sheep's clothing of course. It also looks extremely forced, like he's trying to keep his eyes squinted enough so that the Pope can't see into his soul.

The width of the grin = size of the sin!

annenigma said...


Thanks for the article about Rubio and the Hitler memorabilia collector. Like a moth to the flame!

Meredith NYC said...

to DW....

Thanks for your clarification. This is confusing, using modern country names to refer to a vast, varied region. So do you mean Krugman was maybe cognizant of the Islamic advancements in Arabia, Persia, Iraq and nearby areas, but not in Central Asia, going further east? He says he knew nothing about it, period.

A commenter to PK’s blog cited astronomer Neil de Grasse Tyson’s interesting videos from his TV show Cosmos Show, on this. So I found on youtube a few of his short lectures at the Museum of Natural History.

He says “From 800 to 1100 the intellectual center of the world was Baghdad. All religions and even atheists were all there, exchanging ideas. Math, biology, medicine.” (Imagine, they tolerated and worked with atheists, instead of executing them)

Then I looked at the book Krugman cites, on Amazon, Lost Enlightenment, by Frederick Starr. One of the reviewers blurbs is Henry Kissinger! Science maven?

He says "From 800 to 1200, Central Asia was the world's most advanced civilization in the sciences, mathematics, medicine, law, and art. Starr's Lost Enlightenment thoughtfully explains this astonishing evolution and its end.”

Maybe it was the whole region, and Krugman didn’t know about any of it, or some of it, or what? Was he a cloistered economist? Anyway that golden age is now Gone with the Wind. What a movie that would make, right?

Anyway, PK’s point was to counter Gop racist ignoramuses vilifying Muslims. But let’s relate the rise and fall of civilizations to current USA. Today the US is behind other advanced democracies in green energy, infrastructure, transport, broadband, plus in education, worker protections, human rights and middle class security, and also democracy, in terms of representing majority interests.

Will an author centuries hence write The Lost Enlightenment of America? And will people say--who knew?

Meredith NYC said...

Many of the comments to Krugman's blog are very interesting ...Religion is what people make it...23 sep re Islam, Christianity and politics, etc.

Pearl said...

I wonder how the Pope's visit under the sponsorship of the President of the United
States affects the concept of the separation of Church and State which is not clearly defined? And how do the allowance of speeches by the Pope which permit statements affecting the operation of the country's affairs by the Congress and President, viewed. His statements when not including his religious views may be acceptable to many, but they were not without the inclusion of his private religious beliefs.

Are there any legal questions involved regarding this visit and how do leaders of other religions or non believers feel about his statements while an invited guest of the nation?

I have not come across any reports along these lines but did read of some protesters being present at his appearances without any explanation of what they were protesting about.