Thomas Cahill on “Bill Moyers”

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Monday, December 30, 2013              1:44 AM

On Bill Moyers tonight a guy said, ‘There’s really only two sides: kindness and cruelty.’ And I agree. When all detail is scraped away, a kind person will do what they can, and a cruel person will do what they can get away with. The main obstacle to that clarity is human history. We start focusing on debts, borderlines, dogmas, politics, and whose dad could beat the other guy’s dad. The cruel side uses all this ‘white-noise’ to tap-dance endlessly around the simple issue of ensuring that no one starves to death.

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My South African friend became quite exercised about we Americans always bringing up Apartheid. (On Bill Moyers they also talked about Mandela’s turning away from revenge or bitterness towards his oppressors—and how that was as rare a thing as a thing can be.) I think South Africans have a false sense of how easy it is to end bigotry—their miraculous, overnight switch from apartheid to equality, as an entire nation, could have gone in many different, less peaceful, directions after Mandela’s release from prison.

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But the funniest thing on TV today was mentioned on both Bill Moyers and Religion & Ethics Newsweekly—The new Pope, Francis, is throwing a huge monkey-wrench into the neo-con evangelists’ secularizing of Christianity. He reminds the world that ending poverty and hunger must be a Christian’s highest priority, Catholic or otherwise—this flies in the face of pious Republicans whose decidedly selfish narrative ‘explains’ cutting food stamps for poor families and refusing to raise taxes on the wealthy.

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The Roman Catholic Church, prior to Francis, was a major banking institution and the single biggest holder of real estate around the globe—an institution soaked in power and property—and was thus reliably on the side of big business and high finance. Pope Francis’s new thrust seems to be a sharp break with expectations. He wants Christians to live their faith: mercy, charity, and love—and he’s not inclined to spiral off into some distraction that allows the status to stay quo. Recently, the Pope even mentioned the existence of atheists like myself—and not as damned souls doomed to perdition, either!

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This pleases me more than I can say. I was happy enough to hear that the Catholic Church had finally seen the light, vis-à-vis pederasty and general corruption amongst the priesthood, and would no longer consider buggery an ‘old tradition’, but rather as the crime it was always (quietly) known to be. But now—O, to have a Pope stand up and tell the world that we don’t know what Christianity is. If Christians want to be worthy of their faith they have to act like Christians. They have to believe in mercy towards, charity for, and love of our fellow men and women.

 

You know, people talk about the Jews having to avoid the flesh of scavengers, like pigs and shellfish; or the Muslims having to pray four times a day (or is i

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t 5?). But Christians get a pass. To believe in Christ is to want to follow his teachings—which say plenty about the poor and the outcast, but nothing at all about mortgage derivatives or early foreclosures. There was a story about J. K. Rowling in the news this week—she was a billionaire, but now she’s given away so much to charities that she’s become a mere multi-millionaire. I was shaking my head at the thought that this was news—it was news because no one else had ever f*#king done the same.

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But between her, Bill and Melinda Gates, billions of US $s in foreign aid, and the Catholic Church, we still have starving kids and homeless victims of a global system that says, ‘not my problem.’ Just within the USA alone, we have erosion in our beautiful Capitalist sand-castle—Detroit declared bankruptcy a while ago—the whole city. Of course, rich people can move. But what does civil bankruptcy mean to the Detroit denizens that were already broke before the crisis? It means that what little support the poor were getting there will become no support at all. A major city in the USA!—O how the mighty have f*#ked up.

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And often we hear about the churches of all denominations being the major source of soup kitchens, charities and volunteer work. There’s only one problem with that—nobody goes to church much anymore. Hey, don’t shoot the messenger—but there are definitely a lot of people besides just me, all staying home from church—some just lazy, yeah, but a lot that just don’t have religion in their lives now. A lot of Catholics are staying away because of the betrayal of sexual misconduct committed by their once most-trusted and respected civic leaders, their local priests. And don’t even ask about the number of young men deciding to enter the priesthood–who in their right mind would jump into that abyss?

I don’t want to go into that cesspool of a subject, but my point is—the church is no longer the core of a town or a neighborhood. And without the collections funds, the charities have no cash to operate. It is time we stopped looking to church charities and began implementing something more secular. We could call it “The Centers For People We’ve Finally Stopped Pretending Weren’t Suffering” (“…and stuff”, as Derek Zoolander might say).

Well, I Googled, so now I know the guy on “Bill Moyers” was Thomas Cahill—and he was right: ‘There’s really only two sides: kindness and cruelty.’

Back to Welfare (or How To Fix Public Education)

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Ah, the myth of the man-month, all over again. “The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering” by Fred Brooks, [“..First published in 1975 (ISBN 0-201-00650-2), reprinted in 1982, and republished in an anniversary edition with four extra chapters in 1995 (ISBN 0-201-83595-9), including a reprint of the essay “No Silver Bullet” with commentary by the author.]”–Wikipedia.

Brooks’ Law has been around a long time. However, Brooks’ book is jovially described as the ‘Project Managers Bible’, oft-quoted, but almost never followed. There are good reasons for not following the rational approach described therein—for one thing, it concerns group efforts in a business environment. Ask anyone with experience in such things and they will tell you, “Sure—in group efforts (or team efforts) there is nothing rational involved—it’s all about their feelings and relationships (and their hierarchy, corporate-wise).”

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Like office staff during a prolonged period of ‘downsizing’, members of a ‘group effort’ assume a herd aspect—everyone looks to everyone else, ignoring their specific efforts while focused on the much more important mob-moods of the group as a whole. But the vagaries of corporate dysfunction and corporate survival are not my theme for today.

Today, in examining the exhaustive world of Insolvency, I’m going over ground that’s been gone over before—but is very worthwhile in reviewing and reminding us of key facts. Part of the Poverty problem is the enormous effort required to be poor and alive at the same time.

Let’s enumerate. Point One—if you cannot afford a car, you are forced to either walk or take mass transit, often for long distances, on a daily basis. This applies not just to the commute to a job (yes, many poor people have jobs—they’re just not good jobs) but to shopping, medical emergencies, parent-teacher meetings, etc. Commuting is, however, where it hurts the most—the likelihood of being late is magnified by the number of factors outside of the control of the worker—missed busses and trains, inclement weather, and heavy traffic on a street that must be walked across, etc. And this results in either docked pay or diminished perceived value as an employee—or both. In short, the lack of a car can be costly in effort, man-hours, reputation, and straight-up paychecks. And it makes certain destinations virtually unreachable.

Point Two—if you cannot afford a house, you must find a friend to let you stay on the couch—or find a homeless shelter. Either way, you are subject to all the disadvantages of not owning a home—you cannot accumulate appliances, furniture, or foodstuffs; you cannot give a home phone number or mailing address; and you can end up spending too much time exposed to the elements—which can lead to…

Point Three—if you cannot afford a doctor and you are sick or injured, you must spend a minimum of one whole working day at an Emergency Room—and then get less-than-competent health care at the end of it. Infection is more likely to find people who have no Band-Aids or Purell.

I could go on to Point Thirty-Three with this stuff—but I’ll spare you the rest—in truth, it makes me very tired to think about Poverty. So many people—so much injustice and unfairness—thinking how it would affect me, in my disabled state, if I were all alone, I can’t help but see it as a sort of hell on earth.

I can only surmise that the many angry voices on the Internet, that despise the poor and the hungry, are the voices of like-minded folk—with the important difference that they fear that hell-on-earth for themselves and, rather than empathize with today’s victims, simply wish to distance themselves from such a horrible condition. That fear makes them angry and such people want to insist that the monster could never catch them—thus their characterization of the poor as ‘lazy’ and ‘un-enterprising’. But they are no safer for all their hexing.

None of us are safe. That is why it makes a tremendous amount of sense to ameliorate the horrors of Poverty. It could happen to me tomorrow—then wouldn’t I feel like an idiot for trying to stop government aid to my new demographic? We should be making Poverty an embarrassment rather than a frightening wasteland. We should be making Poverty so easy to bear that the only damage it inflicts is the wounding of one’s pride.

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But please understand me—I’m not saying we should taunt the poor—that isn’t it at all. No, I’m saying that poverty should hold no fear for our lives, for our health, for our daily bread. I’m saying it should be easy to be poor, easy to care for our children when we’re poor, and easy to get medical treatment for us and our families when we’re poor. We should be tempted by Poverty—it should call to us when we are down and make us think, “O, forget all this trouble—I’m just gonna give up.”

Without such a safety-net system of support, none of us are safe, none of us can rest easy—the poor suffer, and the rest of us worry about becoming poor. It’s too primitive this way—and what is a civilization anyway, if not a collective effort to improve quality of life for everyone?

I remember the ‘Welfare state’ of yesteryear—how it became a black hole of government expense. But that was not caused by an army of ‘lazy good-for-nothings’, people who chose welfare over honest labor—even in those easier times, no one went on Welfare just to avoid working. No, the true cause of the arterial spurt of cash that Welfare became was corruption, not overuse.

Plus, no one thought Welfare through—it was an attempt to end the poverty of inner cities and depressed rural areas—when someone has lived hand to mouth for a lifetime—and then is handed money—that person doesn’t have any natural propensity for changing into someone new—no. When Welfare was instituted, there was no concomitant effort to guide those people towards a different way of life—so when they got money, they spent it as they always had. The idea that they would simply march straight into a bank and start a savings account, try to use some of the money to get a better education, and generally start doing things the way prosperous people were used to doing them—that is one big assumption.

It showed our ignorance of social dynamics and, more importantly, it revealed government’s (any government’s) weak side: envisioning what will happen tomorrow. Mixed up in there, too, was a lot of prejudice, condescension, and miserliness. And the Misers ultimately won out. The media painted it thus: calls for rooting out the corruption and illicit scams in the Welfare system were followed by pronouncements that it couldn’t be fixed, we should just trash the whole thing. And that’s what we did.

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A few years later, NYC (and many other places) noticed a new problem in the streets—homelessness. Coincidence? You tell me. Then we had years of debate over how to solve the homeless crisis. No one suggested anything as old and shabby as Welfare—we’d already tried it, hadn’t we? Well, not really.

Let me say this—if we tasked our armed forces with a war on domestic poverty, we wouldn’t be that far off. As I see it, much of the perpetuation of poverty is due to businesspersons that create an economic niche within the plight of the poor—slumlords, high-interest-loans, overpriced merchandise targeting customers who can’t afford the extra time and the extra distance travelled to reach an honorable establishment. It is a microcosm of how most of the world is eternally being ripped off by the rich—but I’m going to stay on task here—back to Poverty.

So there are businesses which prey on the poor—but there are the gangs, too. Modern gangs control many under-served, depressed areas—and our world’s largest penal system contains an inexhaustible supply of replacements for all the gangs. Between street gangs, our prison system, and organized crime, huge swathes of the ‘land of the free’ are so ‘law of the jungle’ that they actually could be perceived as foreign countries—thus my suggestion that the military take point on this issue.

If our armed forces can get rid of the thieves and tin-pot dictators of the Mid-East, rebuild the infrastructure, train and educate the native populations to the point where they can govern themselves—why can’t we do that at home? I say bring back Welfare, and enforce it with heavy armament! Then, when people stop starving and freezing, perhaps, the public education system can be fixed.

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Absence of Justice

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I find it so difficult to accomplish goals nowadays—the fatigue, the distraction, the swiss-cheese of my memory…It’s kinda like Mississippi having only last month completed their official State ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery—only I’m in their league in neither lag time nor significance of mission. I guess you have to be a government to screw up to that high a degree.

How sad the waste time passed. It has finally come to me (these mills grind slowly…) that the entitled, the wealthy, and the powerful see their cardinal mission as the maintenance of status quo. What all the rest of us want (and our numbers grow, as the aforementioned 0.1% of ‘Dynasts’ shrinks to an even more measly few) is change, substantial change. The Dynasts are careful to couch these things in general terms such as ‘the economy will collapse’ or ‘our military defense will lose its primacy’ or ‘chronic mass unemployment’—but in truth that is only the background to the personal nightmare currently premiering in brains near them, nationwide—the loss of personal power, wealth, security, shelter, food, health, ending ultimately with themselves and their families being at the mercy of the same winds of capitalism, desperation, and pain that storm across the landscape of the rest of us ‘regular people’.

We want big change—they want no change—or, if absolutely necessary, a little, tiny change. They set the odds because they run the table—many of our problems are worsened by misguided argument in the media, which only moves the issue further away from its substance.

We talk about the unlimited sexual assaults by our fighting men and boys, against our fighting women and girls. And they want to talk about ‘under-reporting’, ‘counseling’, and ‘prosecutions’—when what should be the prime issue—why are these men being trained in boot camps and in exercises about how to fight, without covering the important topic of “Don’t rape anyone, but for god’s sake, if you have to, at least don’t rape your own!” Is this something the military is too bashful to talk about in public? Is it so very hard to include, along with say field-drills or gun-cleaning, a few words about how sick and disgusting and sad it is that women who dare to put their lives in the hands of their military leaders—to serve their country—end up being targeted for sexual assault by their own fellow soldiers?

What the hell?

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We want to know what the big deal is with increased taxes on people that make more than a million dollars a year—are you kidding me? We got tens of millions without jobs, homes, or even food—and these fat cats want to discuss how ‘business will be hurt’ if our heavy players have to part with more cash flow! I call BS on that one—total BS. It’s time to stop worrying about what would hurt business, and start worrying about what we can do to stop business from hurting people.

It’s time we saw some limits placed on industrial and financial lobbyists—it’s time we created more jobs by increasing the number of regulators watching over every bank, investment house, and trading market. If the derivatives are too complicated for anyone to understand them, then make them against the law—is that some big intuitive leap?

If the NRA lobby pushed through legislation to stop the CDC from recording or reporting any data on gun-related death and injury stats, then let’s take away their permission to be lobbyists—and overturn that bill and any other law that specifically suppresses significant research collection and publication—how is such a law not deemed unconstitutional in the first place? Doesn’t our freedom of speech include the right for our government institutions to freely collect and share health-related data?

Who are these bums on Capitol Hill? Someone please explain how the correct answer could be, “Let’em burn; we’ll start over from the ashes.” Not even in session, lazy bastards, and blaming the ‘advent of sequestration’ on the President. Five years now I’ve been waiting for these closet-red-necked pussies to give our president the respect he deserves—but they’re still trying suck the life out of our country, while pointing at Obama. As if it maybe might work, eventually. Not according to the polls, not for a while now—is it only the Republicans themselves who are convinced of something the whole danged rest of the country has seen through—and been wise to for some time?

Big movie coming out “A Place At The Table” about hunger in America—the tens of millions, largely children, of the greatest food-producing nation in the world that go without enough food to keep them alive. I give up. Starvation? For crying out loud—why isn’t starvation included in any of these political debates over the National Budget—are the Hungry a frickin’ side-issue? What are we?

Okay, enough out of me. The media will continue to emphasize the sensational, diverting attention from the actual substances of our problems—that way, we get to enjoy our empire’s decline on TV, instead of actually pushing back at the darkness that weighs so heavily on us all.

Just think, if we employed one person, and told them their job was to make sure this little girl got three squares a day—then we’d have one more unemployed with a new job, and one less starving child. There, that’s a recovery plan. It’d work great—so much to do, so many people busy, so many kids overeating for the first time in their lives—but you know those suits and talking-head-pundits and power-grabbers would tear it to shreds, and make the tearing to shreds of it last as long as possible. That way, they get us all busy arguing over what a stupid idea it is—you know, distracted—the way they like us.

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I’ve Looked At Greed From Both Sides Now

Call them entitlements; call them social programs; call them liberal arts boondoggles; however you think of them, you don’t think of them in the same way as everyone else. Some people see our governmental infrastructure as an imposition upon them, a charity towards us (assuming you and I are both among the 99%) and a betrayal of the self-made American Dream for individualists, pioneers, and let’s face it, rich people. Others, like me (and maybe you) see our social supports and education enhancements as an investment in our quality of life.

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Amidst the latest electioneering was some debate about small government. Also briefly appearing on the sound-bite battle-lines was talk of entitlements—a word aptly chosen, because it makes financial aid sound as if it were some fancy-assed dilettantism that reeked of intellectuals and leftists (you should pardon the French). And I loved that phrase, ‘small government’, imagining it in the sense of being made more responsive, efficient, and streamlined. But I’ve gathered, over time, that small government is actually code for ‘low taxes’ and ‘no financial aid for the needy’.

But without help, the ‘Have-Nots’ are being placed on an unequal footing with the ‘Haves’, and this is a problem for the land of liberty and the land of equal opportunity. Part of the importance of equal opportunity is that it ensures the government doesn’t spend money on services for the elite while taxing everyone else. Or, put another way, we don’t like taxation without representation. If federal or state government funds an institute of higher learning, that college or university should be equally available to citizens from all income-levels. If our taxes are paying fallow-farm subsidies to big farmers, they should pay out a matching amount in food stamps to help the poor keep pace with the artificially boosted value of food commodities.

So, that is number one on my list—small government is a cancer of inequality that, if unaddressed, can only grow over time and cause our ‘equality’ to become a total sham.

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Beyond that, we have to look at the ethics of small government from both Pro and Con. The obvious Con is the expense of supporting people who do not contribute to the community. This is bad business, on its surface. Why should I pay taxes for something that doesn’t benefit me? I’m sure, also, that there will be cheap-skates who work the system to grab a free ride or a free lunch, or whatever. So some of my taxes are inevitably going towards a scam that pays out only for one greedy bastard! Or even (god forbid!) an organized-crime family or terrorist cell.

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The not-so-obvious Pro is that we could end up taking our own place in the breadline, depending on charity for food and shelter and medicine. Our own children may one day find themselves in desperate straits, dependent on government assistance to survive. If we take this concept out to its furthest resolution, we can imagine a world in which, should you lose your job, your house, and everything you own, your quality of life won’t change a bit. Business owners would hate that, of course. They would have to offer real compensation to anyone that chose to ‘cooperate’ with them, i.e. ‘take a job’. A minimum wage enslavement would have no basis in reason—finally, bosses would have to treat with their employees like equals. Frightening, right?

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But there is another Pro — peace of mind. It is far easier on the conscience to feel badly for the families in shelters than it is to feel sorry for the people one must step over to hail a cab. Even if we ignore the difference it would make to the homeless people, it would still be of benefit to us.

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Plus, there’s the health angle—even in the Dark Ages, individuals in cities and villages could say “Those corpses are none of my business.” But that wouldn’t change the fact that it is dangerous to live ten yards away from a plague-victim’s bloated carcass.

In our modern settings, similarities appear—mental wards’ and criminal facilities’ overflow create an unstable environment for commerce and leisure. Central Park can only be enjoyed if the police patrols keep any homeless folks from setting up camp therein. The crime rate rises in proportion to the desperation of the less-fortunate of that community. And many poverty-stricken neighborhoods, city or country, are locked in cycles of suffering that only real dedication to healing the issue can break. And by ‘real dedication’, I’m suggesting not only serious thought and full-time personnel, but governmental oversight and financial support.

Besides, if we raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires, it isn’t as if they are going to starve—they will have less cash, not NO cash. What’s the big deal? We tried that trickle-down BS for three decades, and there are fat-cats who swear it’ll still work—if we just give it a little more time. Ha! So let’s give ‘taxing the rich’ a measly year or too—then if it precipitates an even worse economic collapse than the Republicans presided over, we can always go back to relying on the super-wealthy to voluntarily create good jobs. No harm, no foul.

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And, lastly, I’d like to appeal to your paranoia. The USA once had the greatest productivity, highest literacy rate, best public schools, the most innovative scientists and inventors, and we still had plenty of rich people. Working on our ethical infrastructure is no more a danger to them than is work on our transportation or communication infrastructures. It is, in fact, even more important for them.  If there are only a tiny elite of high-ticket consumers, mostly every shop is going to stock the ‘brand x’ stuff; the airlines won’t have regular flights to the really ritzy vacation spots; advertisers will spend less because the market for goods just isn’t there. Pretty soon, you’re living in Syria. And have you seen the line-up on Syria’s prime-time TV broadcasts?

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Our dominion over the earth has already gotten pretty threadbare. In time, we may have the worst schools, the least productive research, the stupidest citizens. In trying to keep pace with emerging nations, particularly China, we will rip the heart out of what always made us better off than they. I remember back  in the eighties, Japan had set up a college devoted to replicating the experience of American students, in hopes that Japanese students could have the same innovative, inventive creativity that our college grads had. One of the things they found out was that college was too late to start. The entire childhood experience of American children was a non-stop urging to test boundaries, to criticize ideas, and to seek solutions. I wonder if they still see that in us?

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But whatever lows we may have reached, it is obvious where our past strength came from—from unity, community and a respect for each other that knows no sowing of generosity will produce anything but good for all of us. We were the first country to have free public schools and in the nineteenth century we were the first country to have a majority of our citizens be literate. In a world undergoing an Industrial Revolution, that gave America a tremendous advantage.

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Many pundits point out the financial, commercial reasons for doing this or not doing that—you would think that this ‘acumen’ was the only achievement of the most powerful country in the world. But we showed our greatest power in enduring a Great Depression for ten years and then conquering the world! We weren’t a nation of fat cats, then. Obviously, our greatness came from our rejection of elitism, our respect for each other as equals, and our open-minded-ness towards change.

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And social programs (by whatever name) are simply an offshoot of the ideal of equality. There can be no equality between the opportunities available to rich kids and to poor kids. So, government programs that add a feather to the scales on the side of the poor—to offer them the merest inkling of opportunity—are not ‘taxation without representation’ perpetrated against the rich. They are, rather, a tenuous link between rich and poor which allows the poor to feel they’re not being completely played. The super-rich should realize that millions of unemployed citizens are filled with anger and frustration—and it would be a bad thing for us all to turn that blame (and rage) towards the millionaires….

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I think the biggest problem is this insistence on black-or-white choices. A lot of what Karl Marx wrote in Das Kapital was, and is, true. By creating a sham model of Marx’s ideas, Communism became a dirty word. This is convenient for the rich, creating a boogey-man that makes unfettered Capitalism seem preferable, even desirable. But Capitalism has recently sidelined millions of once-productive, once-employed citizens–and that could make those unemployed thoughtful enough to realize that Capitalism, founded and maintained by a rich and powerful elite, is nearly as bad as Communism founded and maintained by a greedy and powerful elite. The good ideas that Marx had have been lumped in with all the madness of the Soviets and Red Chinese. The Chinese have seen this problem and have tried to unclench about some of the good things Capitalism has to offer. The USA, and especially its Conservatives, have unfortunately clung to their hatred of any Socialism, however beneficial to our country as a whole, because of its effects on the wealthy.