Pope Francis sends out a strong message against economic greed

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

It’s been a long time since I have listened to what a Pope might have to say. But Pope Francis strong words against economic greed certainly made me sit up. It’s always been my feeling that the Catholic church has lagged behind its community. Not that other religions are necessarily doing a better job of keeping up with the global societal changes. Saudi Arabian’s women not being allowed to drive is a case in point.

However, this new Pope is bringing a fresh breath of air into a rusty and quietly working towards becoming defunct religious community. For once it feels like the Pope is a humanitarian rather than a doctrine sprouting head of a church mostly out of touch with its people.

It’s almost like the previous Popes were supporting big business and keeping their regular customers out in the cold. This South American Pope is calling it as it is.

Economic greed is killing off the world.

It’s really strange that we middle and lower class folk are accepting the status quo. Sure there have been some minor skirmishes. Some grass roots movements. I even had to look up the Occupy Wall Streeet movement’s name. That’s how far it has receded in our minds.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who used to wonder at how the people in past historic times lived through oppressive regimes without doing anything to improve their own lot. Think of various Kings and Dictators who treated their subjects with total disdain. And the masses took it all in. How could they we think.

Well. We are doing it again. Aren’t we? We are allowing a bunch of people, a small handful to totally dictate how we live. 10% of the population in the US own 80% of the wealth. And we allow this. And we buy into it because the propaganda these folk spit out at the population is that according to the American Dream anybody can make it to that 10%. You just have to work hard.

Ah no. Not really. You have to first of all be white, male and be born into a family that already has the silver spoon to give you at birth. This way you can buy your journey into Harvard or Yale if necessary and you can network your way into CEO positions. And you can gather the support you need on the Board to pay yourself outrageous salaries and bonuses.

Of course there are some outliers who have made it without the above advantages of birth. That’s why we have such a celebrity culture. Most of the celebrities have gotten to their position through talent, hard work, luck and by knowing how to manipulate the system. Same applies to the Tech billionaires.

But the real money and power lies with the banking sector and business.

And for the first time a Pope, who is supposed to represent the moral compass of society, is pointing out in his Christmas message that the world is totally unbalanced and dictated by a greedy few folk. Too much money is sitting in too few hands. And the inequality is as bad outside of the USA. Even socialist Europe has a sinking middle class.

What to do about it? Well it’s a good start when people with power, such as the Pope, start pointing this out. Perhaps a ground swell can get going. People actually realising that they do not have to buy into this. That they do have power in numbers. And it’s just about getting those numbers together. Of course I’m not advocating another French Revolution with heads being chopped off. But a vote against excessive salaries would be a good start.

Pity the Swiss didn’t manage to push their really sensible law of minimum wages for senior management through i.e. linking Executive pay to the lowest paid worker. The law was supposed to ensure that Executives should not earn more in a month than the lowest paid worker earns annually.  Didn’t quit make it.

There is no reason why 10% of the population own 80% of wealth except that we allow it. We ordinary people who are happy when we can make ends meet and have a bit over for a treat. This is not our lot. This is not fate or karma. It’s straightforward theft by a few on many.

What to do? Well taxation is a good start :) The system is there. It just has to be implemented.

Penitence for the bad amongst us

 

Messina: Pulling the float for the Virgin Mary during La

Messina: Pulling the float for the Virgin Mary during La Vara, August 2013.  Image Credit.

Italy has been in the news quite often for the goings on of its rather colourful politicians. One noteworthy proponent being Silvio Berlusconi. He conjures in ones mind the perfect example of what the Mafia stood for. Political player, entrepreneur and above all else a person who felt he or she stood above the law.

Berlusconi is such an individual. For years he has done all of the above. With his media empire he has manipulated the opinions of the Italian electorate and has managed to stay in power even though he has spent a fair amount of time in court defending himself against a bunch of suspected crimes such as soliciting sex with minors, bribery of civil servants, accounting fraud and more. Above the law. And in fact when it came to the push, even changing the law so that he could escape conviction.

Just like Al Capone, famous Mafia godfather in the USA, he was finally caught on tax evasion charges in 2012. And yet he remained in government. Ignoring all against him. It was only during the last week that he has been forced out. And it seems he is finally offering penitence in the form of community service.

An image on Spiegel caught my eye during the past few days. An image of penitent sinners pulling a float holding the Virgin Mary taking place in Messina during August 2013. It seems the most penitent people are also sometimes the most corrupt. Apparently the people pulling the heavy float (physically) are doing this to be forgiven for their sins. Anybody see Berlusconi there?

Unlike Berlusconi the new mayor of Messina is a barefooted, anti corruption teacher who is seriously fighting the evils of the Mafia in his part of Sicily, historically considered the birth place of the Mafia. One wonders how long he will survive.

Makes me think of the various processions held in Marbella, Spain. Virgins of various names and functions get pulled around as statues or floated in the sea. And the cities governing officials from a few years ago have just been handed long term prison sentences for corruption. A cool €24 billion fraud. Wonder how many of the crew being marched into prison have pulled the Virgin Mary’s float here.

Is there any correlation between penitent Virgin Mary float carriers and the level of corruption practiced by the individual. Probably not…

Effective strategy against terrorism – stop the manufacture of arms

Image courtesy of Sofrep.

People are making money out of selling arms to terrorists. Sure it’s companies. But, here’s a reality check. If you have shares in Dassault Aviation, Sukhoi, Mikoyan, EADS, Finmeccanica, Thales Group, Lockheed Martin, Boeing or BAE Systems then you are making money out of terrorism.

Or what about an investment in companies that appear harmless? General Electric, Rolls-Royce, Mitsubishi, Saab, Hewlett-Packard and the list goes on. Shocker isn’t it. And if you have investments in such ‘harmless’ investments such as Unit Trusts you will find that the bundle of companies they invest in will surely have some of the above in their portfolios.

While government leaders shake their heads at Algeria and the terrorism attack at a BP natural gas plant the main point that is seemingly always missed is who supplied the terrorists with arms. It isn’t really about a gas plant that needs better protection or an Algerian army overzealously riding in guns blazing.

No the real question surely should be how did the Masked Brigade, who claim responsibility, get the funding and arms to launch such an attack and kill 80 or so people. Or so the media have us believe. Could of course be more or even less one hopes.

It’s the same weird logic that keeps the Americans in guns. There would not be the same killings in schools or movie theatres by gun madmen, however unhinged they might be, if they could not get hold of guns. Throwing knives isn’t really an alternative option.

Don’t allow the selling of guns to anybody in America and you would have a considerable fall off of random shootings in public spaces.

Same principle applies to terrorist groups. Do not sell guns to anybody. And you would have a fall off of terrorism.

For instance Germany, upstanding citizens and all of that, have one of the largest armament industries in the world and in fact are the third largest arms exporters in the world. In 2011 exports topped €10Billion, of which 42% went to third-party states outside NATO. In particular Saudi Arabia is a faithful customer. And one asks how many of these arms could end up in Islamist terrorist groups?

So before anybody else blames Algeria for this disaster, ask yourself the question:- who is giving terrorists the arms and ammunition to wage these wars.  Who is making the money.

What would you change about yourself?

A blog I follow mentioned this link to a documentary. The question asked to intellectually disabled people was whether they would change anything about themselves. The answers were surprising.

What do you think somebody would say asked this question? Somebody with Down’s Syndrome for instance who has struggled all his life to be recognised as a person rather than some freak of nature. What would you think this person would want to change about themselves?

Get more intellectual capacity? Be clever?

Many of the people who got the chance to answer this question wished themselves to be nicer people! Sitting in a wheelchair would you think that ‘being nicer to people’ would be something you would want to change?

Shouldn’t that get us thinking about disability? Isn’t our reaction one of pity towards people with disabilities? We feel sorry for folk in wheelchairs. We think they have something major missing in their lives if they can’t walk like we do.

We disregard people who speak slowly and appear to us to have primitive thinking processes. We look down on people who couldn’t cope with the school system. Or people who can’t look after themselves without help.

Perhaps, people with disabilities don’t want to be pitied. Maybe they are happy with what they got given in life. It’s our attitude that needs changing.

Every life has value. Every person can enrich another person’s life. In whatever way. There are no prescriptions, no rules that determine how we should enjoy this life. It’s up to us.

So what would you change about yourself? And what do you think about disabled people? Do you pity and cross the road to try and avoid them or do you see them as people who could enrich your own life experience?

Too much going out and not enough coming in

Here is a great example of what’s going wrong with the economy world wide. This one is about the US Postal Services that’s on the skids. Well, dead actually. Hoping to get a hefty bailout from the government to try and survive a few more months.

The US Postal Service is government regulated. It has one particular nasty law that states:

The law prevents the post office from raising postage fees faster than inflation.

At the same time the Post Office has labour contracts that have long guaranteed no layoffs to the vast majority of its workers. And management agreed to a new no layoff-clause in a major contract last May.

In a nutshell. Can’t cut cost and can’t raise prices. The end is nigh.

It’s the very same problem facing governments of countries. Of course most of them like the UK are in a major cutting mode. Mostly services that make life easier will be shut down by Govt who hopes that the people will take the slack. Help themselves so to speak.

But where’s the increase in revenue? Taxes for the wealthy or for companies. Higher luxury goods taxes for instance such as alcohol, 5 star hotels, first class travel, luxury motor vehicles. There is more than one way to get the filthy loot out of the wealthy 1% of the population who own about 40% of all wealth, globally. Or more shockingly in the USA the top 20% own 92% of all wealth.

Using the same tax system across the board, as happens in most cases of a tax systems , the middle class is the group of folk who carry the bulk of the tax burden. Remember that taxes were first introduced to get money out of the ordinary folk to pay for excessive spending by monarchs or the church. Not much has changed since then.

It’s shown again and again by the determined manner in which the Inland Revenue folk hunt down ordinary folk to make sure they pay their last cent in taxes. Yet the wealthy are able to hide their income by paying their cars through companies, taking their holidays as business trips, newspaper subscriptions through the business, clothes expenses hidden as uniform purchases, that case of expensive scotch as Xmas gifts to customers and the list goes on. I’ve done it as accountant for a company. Easy.

That tax system needs to change to make sure that revenue is collected from the wealthy. High taxes on luxury cruises, ski trips, high end clothing etc will be more appropriate than trying to tax their ‘salaries’. They don’t earn anything.

There has to be an entire mind change in terms of taxation. And of course all of this can be implemented. The VAT system in the UK for instance is incredibly sophisticated with exemptions, scales and variations that could make anybody’s hair stand on edge. What’s stopping the UK from introducing a 50% VAT rate on first class train travel, expensive entertainment centres, art work etc. And yes there is already a high import tax paid on many of these items. But there’s no reason why not let that 20% population that owns 90% of all wealth pay a bit more.

Well, you might ask yourself, why should they. It’s capitalism. It’s reward for risk takers, hard work, innovation, the American dream and a lot more reasons why the wealthy should be entitled to their spoils.

Sure. But when it involves stealing from the general population it’s a bit different. The CEO’s paying themselves 17% more this past financial year while retrenching the workers at a rapid rate are doing just that. If Apple’s past CEO could pay himself $1 per year because he considered his wealth to be sufficient then surely the rest of the greedy big shots can do the same.

Regardless of the little man as that’s not really the point here. The point is that if Governments want to be able to balance their budgets they have to do two things. Bring in more revenue and cut costs. Only cutting costs means that the poorer folk in the system are harmed again and the wealthy folk sit pretty.

Not a good system. The Arab world’s uprising will not be the only one. There are already demonstrations in several non Arab countries. Spain has had some and more recently Israel has had it’s streets full of people asking why their cost of living is so high and their standard of living is falling. And yet they are working as hard as ever.

These demonstrations have nothing to do with lazy, unmotivated, scum of the earth type of folk. This is all about ordinary citizens seeing the world go to the wealthy and their lot getting worse. The Greeks in particular have seen a Govt system where the ordinary folk pay taxes and the upper echelon swims in money. No wonder they are angry.

There will be more and more angry people out there. A French Revolution in the brewing. It’s just a pity that as history tells us one money grabbing regime is always replaced by another money grabbing one. It just gets a different name with a new bunch of people who have spotted the opportunity of being able to the top of the money tree by riding the wave of the ordinary people.

Same ol’ Same ol’. Pity us ordinary folk are always so willing to abdicate our power to somebody who stands up and says they will do it for us. We almost deserve to get nailed by the ruthless top order. Almost.

What makes other people’s grandchildren dispensable?

In a report today on Huffingtonpost it is stated that Gadaffi’s son and three grandchildren were killed by NATO airstrikes. And the question that we should all be asking ourselves is why it is ok to kill these grandchildren but we would be devastated if our own grandchildren were harmed.

What is the difference?

Do people seriously want to believe that Gadaffi’s small grandchildren (that is if they were small – but presuming it) are in any way different to grandchildren of an American family in Idaho for instance or a family in Germany.

Yet these civilians were killed by directly targeted hits by the NATO forces.

The question I have is this. Would the NATO generals be as willing to order hits if their grandchildren were in that building? What about the airforce pilots who fly the planes that strike the targets or the people who hit the buzzer to set off drones? Would it be the same?

Stupid question. Of course not. There would be no wars if people’s grandchildren were in the firing line. So what is the difference? Can we be so callous that we ignore this fundamental principle.

If we could view all children in the same light as if they were our own, we couldn’t possibly conceive of starting any wars. And let’s face it, the intervention in Libya is not short term. These battles never are. Remember the Vietnam war? What about Iraq? The Afghanistan one? The World Wars?

Other solutions have to be found. War is not the answer.

Yeah Can designs for Hope Center

New bookmark for Hope Center by Yeah Can designs.

It’s unusual for a brand new design studio to start off it’s client list with a free service. But that’s exactly what happened when Yeah Can took on the Hope Center in Hue Vietnam as a client.

The Hope Center is a small organisation that looks after disabled, disadvantaged people and a minority group the A Luoi by providing them with vocational training and work. It provides a loving and encouraging home environment to people in need.

The Center has been providing training in tailoring skills since it opened its doors in 1991. Graduates of courses are able to work in production making uniforms. The Hope Center has a well deserved reputation in Hue City and surrounds for its high quality and reasonably priced uniforms.

More recently the Center also started making handicraft products to tap into the creative talents of Vietnamese people. Vietnamese people have a natural ability when it comes to selecting colours and making beautiful patterns. Handicraft production fits perfectly into this.

Besides the classic small gifts and jewellery items produced there are also products made from the traditional handwoven fabric that the A Luoi weavers make. The beautiful colours are enriched by clever use of beads to enhance motifs and designs handed down from generation to generation.

The Hope Center’s graphic design requirements were for an upgraded corporate identity, material to promote the center and it’s services and products and a new web site. There are also plans for new signs for the building and the interior of a new shop.

It’s going well and new business cards and bookmarks to hand out to visitors have been printed and the new site is taking shape. Hope Center staff are so enthusiastic about the new look that they have come up with the idea of new uniforms for themselves incorporating the new colours. They are going to look great!

Everything of the very best for Yeah Can design studio and the Hope Center in Hue Vietnam. May they both grow from strength to strength!

Tunisia and the spread of Revolution Fever

The French Revolution, somewhat immortalised by Charles Dickens and his Tale of Two Cities novel, struck shock and horror and a kind of morbid fascination in the hearts and minds of people of all ages.

Basically what happened was that France was in the grip of a bunch of people from a few elite bodies such as the aristocracy, heads of religions and those enforcing the feudal system. These people had all the money, all the land, all the rights. But not content with that, they also made the lives of the ordinary citizens a hell by treating them shabbily. Ordinary folk had nothing going for them.

During the time of the French Revolution (1789-1799) the bunch at the top of the food chain continuously refused to admit that there was something wrong in the land of the French. And it was only the beheading of a fairly large number of the leaders that saw some sense getting beaten into the heads of the survivors. That is some survived because they either fled or got a little more intelligent.

So that’s the history. And that’s what kids get taught at school. At the same time they are taught that man learns from history.

Well! Not really.

One can, in an indirect way, see a slight similarity with the riots and political upheaval in Tunisia. The despot/president Ben Ali has just fled into Saudi Arabia. The Prime Minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi,who thought he could just take over and step into the void discovered that the rules had changed. He was not about to get a free ride into the position.

Now would this have anything to do with the French Revolution. Kind of. It’s a bunch of ordinary people who got sick and tired of the way the top echelon enriched itself by defrauding the little guys. And the little guys continue to starve and face unemployment while the big guys live it up. Corruption and nepotism. Sounds like the France that got knocked by the French Revolution.

This is all truly interesting. And yes, one can see that nobody is really learning from history. But that isn’t actually the most interesting part at all, although one feels for the Tunisian people and the many who got killed.

What is more noteworthy is that the rest of the Arab world is starting to talk about the fact that this could be the start of a trend. Could the rest of the Arabic countries end up facing a similar fate. After all similar systems are in place whether in Egypt where the son of the prime minister is being groomed for the job or in Saudi Arabia where ‘The Family’ led by King Abdullah is running the show. No wonder Ben Ali would feel welcome in Saudi Arabia.

Will Egypt, Algiers, Iran, United Emirates and the list goes on face the same revolution. Will the little guys take courage from the success of the brave in Tunisia and topple their oppressors?

Maybe not. Because what is not clear as yet is what will happen in Tunisia. Could the military and police stage a coup? After all they are the ones keeping the peace. Sort of. Or will the country actually be allowed to have elections.

Whatever the outcome. Maybe even other countries could start wondering what will happen. In a way the banks and investment houses are wielding similar powers in the USA and Europe. Huge wealth in but a few hands. When will the little guys in the USA for instance stage their own revolution to stop this indecent enrichment of individuals at the cost of the man in the street?

It will happen. There is no doubt. 25 hedge fund managers can’t possibly earn as much as 658 000 teachers and get away with it in the long run. Or can they? Check the Wall Street’s Ten Biggest Lies for 2010 on Huffpost for some illuminating information.

So it could be that not only the Arab World should be trembling a little in its shoes. Perhaps those wealthy modern day pirates on Wall Street might just be noticing a tremor or two. Something will crack. It’s only a matter of time.

A send off with a difference

The death of a loved one is celebrated quite differently in diverse cultures. Funeral customs are definitely strange to Western visitors to Vietnam. And there’s no better place to find out than when your next door neighbour dies unexpectedly or expectedly.

In this instance it seems an unexpected passing away. Granny was only 68 and she died at 2.00am. By mid morning the funeral preparations had started and the first signs of what was to come were to be heard around the area.

In the alley tables had been set up with a shade cloth draped from a building to a building on the other side of the alley. The band arrived and the shrine had been set up showing a picture of the person who had died. Incense burning and flowers, offerings all made a display.

In terms of unexpected, the immediate family only started wearing their white head scarfs by lunchtime. But the sound system had been set up and the band was playing well before then. And played for most of the day. Only to be interrupted by the odd breather or refreshment. A singer contributed his bit too on occasion.

One thing is for sure, the music played at these events is totally suited for a funeral. For a somewhat lengthy but very interesting podcast on this music go here. Lament, dirge, painful are words that one would associate with it. There is no mistaking that this is a sad happening. And it’s also not a shame to cry loudly and with passion. And a further article may be found here.

How different it is in places such as England or Germany where the less noise the more dignified the funeral is deemed to be. Church music is played that soothes the people attending and allows them to blank out any feelings. And the quicker it’s over the better.

Not here. This music will continue until the procession leaves the house scheduled in this instance for the next morning. And in fact the lament can continue for up to three days. It probably depends on how far relatives and friends need to travel in order to pay their last respects.

There is no way that one can ignore this rite of passage  if one lives in the area. You have to walk through the area on your way to anywhere. There is no getting around bowing ones head and looking respectful. A bunch of white flowers or the burning of incense should have been undertaken too.

Death becomes a communal affair with all parties contributing their sorrow and sympathy. It’s a part of Asia and in this case Vietnam more specifically that is precious. The woman next door had lived with the extended family as is custom.

Her many friends that came to keep the mourners company would have been local too and the people who brought their own small chairs and lined the adjoining alleys would have all known the deceased and each other.

It’s something the big city life in the West has lost – that sense of community where people from your immediate environment know you and appreciate your existence. It’s a good thing that has been lost.

Amazon says the most highlighted passage of all times is….

The most highlighted passages of all time is ….. Wait for it. It’s to be found in a book by Malcolm Gladwell called Outliers. Can one believe this headline? After all it’s slightly misleading in that the concept of ‘all time’ is a touch vague and a bit over the top.

What is meant by ‘All Time? Is this since the first book was published way back when the first printing press jumped into action? Surely not. How could that have been tracked one wonders.

What this headline does refer to is the Kindle. And the Kindle is not exactly an ancient printing press. It is Amazon’s little reader gadget that is a few years old. A quick glance at ye olde faithful Wikipedia tells one that Kindle sales commenced November 19, 2007 in the USA only.

So that does place a slight time constraint on the ‘All Time’ statement.

But that isn’t really the pertinent point that this blog post is about.  The question that surely should arise in ones mind is “HOW DO THEY KNOW THIS’?

One presumes that this is how the process normally happens. One buys a book, takes it home, scribbles in it or not and the only person who would be able to track what you are doing with your book is you yourself or somebody to whom you lent, gave or sold said book on to.

Now we find out that somebody can track the behaviour of Kindle readers. And as the statistic is being shown on Amazon’s website one might consider that this is where the tracking is happening.

That means if the customer buys an electronic book from Amazon and reads same on a Kindle there is some tracking happening.  The use of this book and what the reader does to it is watched over by Amazon. How else would they be able to tell us what book has the most highlighted passage of ‘All Time”.

It’s either they keep a link to the Kindle permanently and gather information as soon as the Kindle is linked to Amazon’s site again or the statement is based on some fictional research.

One can’t imagine Amazon sending out a bunch of people with phony smiles and questionnaires on clipboards to shopping malls to get this kind of information.

It’s another little Big Brother moment for sure. As much as we probably feel that we cannot do without the internet sometimes it’s intrusiveness does make one pause. Just for a moment though!