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Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Panamanians Shall Inherit the Earth

Jesus once said that the meek shall inherit the earth. This phrase is often taken as a bit of hyperbole, as his way of saying it’s better to be meek, to be poor and humble, than to be rich and powerful. But I am increasingly convinced that this statement is also to be taken literally, as a prophecy – of what is coming in the near future.

Worldwide destruction, like it or not, is coming, folks, so start getting yourself used to the idea. As the polar ice caps melt thanks to pollution, coastal cities around the globe are in danger of inundation. As the ozone layer dissipates, as clean air and water and food become increasingly scarce, as earthquakes caused by fracking increase in intensity and frequency, as more Gulf of Mexico-like oil spills and Bhopal-like accidents proliferate, as more and more countries plus private militias get their hands on “dirty bombs” and nuclear and chemical weapons, as a large meteor approaches the earth in 2014 – there is going to be cataclysmic destruction.

There are other kinds of destruction looming too. The only thing keeping the United States economy away from disaster is the fact that the U.S. dollar is the medium for international monetary exchange. It is only because of this fact that the U.S. government can stave off its creditors by simply printing more money. However, with the dollar in big trouble, a movement has already begun among the world’s financial leaders to switch from the dollar as the international exchange medium to a consortium of other currencies. When that happens – and it is a matter of “when”, not “if” – the United States will no longer be able to print unlimited amounts of currency to pay off its debts. And that will lead to a colossal financial crash in the United States with global ramifications.

The entire Western capitalist system is based on exploitation. What made Europe and North America the financial powerhouses they are today was what these countries did in the past – exploiting cheap raw materials in Africa and Asia, enslaving Africans and Chinese and Native Americans, and then selling the finished goods to a consumer base with plenty of disposable income. Still today, the big companies buy their raw materials on the cheap, export jobs to where work is cheap, such as India and México and Pakistan, and sell the finished goods at high prices. But this is becoming increasingly difficult; sooner, not later, the European Union, like the United States, is bound to collapse on itself – it will lose the cheap raw materials and labor, and it will lose the consumer base as more and more of its own people lose their jobs.

Capitalism breeds crime. The wealthy use their power to get around the law, and the poor use cunning to get around the wealthy. Government becomes legalized exploitation, enforced by the police and military. Many turn to crime - elderly people stealing food or even selling drugs - out of sheer desperation. And government becomes a form of organized crime, propped up and protected by propagandistic media and the military/police.

Which is why the worldwide Occupy movement is flourishing. What began in Tunisia and Egypt has spread worldwide, including the United States. People around the globe, long subjugated to the greed and arrogation of the ultra-rich, are rising up in determined, but largely peaceful resistance. Sooner or later, either the people will grow frustrated by governmental failure to make major changes and rise up in revolution (as has already happened in North Africa and is happening in Syria), or the plutocrats will send in their police and military to brutally crush the peaceful revolution. One way or the other, there will be massive bloodshed.

As the United States Congress puts forth the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows the government (through its police and military puppets) to detain anyone in the world, citizen or not, on U.S. soil or not, to hold them in prison for any amount of time they choose, without trial. This is a clear and egregious violation of the United States Constitution, but these megalomaniacs do not care. This act in itself could finally bring the people to the breaking point.

And therefore I say that Jesus’s words – “The meek shall inherit the earth” – are to the point.

When destruction comes (be it from bombs or riots or natural disasters), it will be globally devastating. As Jesus suggested, if you build your house on sand - in this case, the sand of an economy based on speculative trading and vacillating stocks - that house will fall when the wind and waves beat against it.

Truly, skyscrapers will tumble, bridges will crash, and mass transit will stop running. There will be no gasoline for your car, no electricity in your house. There will be armed gangs roaming about stealing from you and your neighbors so they can survive. There will be no law, and no police to enforce it. The countries that rely on a massive infrastructure (North America, Western Europe, Southeast Asia, and Japan in particular) will be in disaster mode: there will be no food shipped in to feed starving millions in the cities, nor medicine, nor clean water. Nothing. Adding to the madness, the ultra-rich plutocrats are now looking at future disasters as a way to make yet more fortunes: in the United States they are planning to privatize FEMA, the government entity that responds to natural disasters.

When “earthquakes, wind, and fire” (to quote the story about the prophet Elijah) overwhelm the industrialized countries, millions will die when their big houses and office buildings and malls fall down on them. Millions will die when elevated superhighways and subway tunnels are tossed about and crushed. As the prophet Zechariah put it, they will beg the mountains to fall on them, and the living shall envy the dead. As the prophecy of the Nehiyawok (Cree) Nation puts it, in that day the wealthy will finally come to understand that they cannot eat money.

However, ironically, poor countries, Third World countries, with relatively little infrastructure, will fare far better. People who live in simple homes like I see here in rural Panama will be fine; a roof of straw or thin sheets of corrugated tin might fall on them in an earthquake, but they will just laugh and put it to rights again. Citizens in the urban seacoast – in Panamá City, Colón, and Davíd – will starve, because there won’t be any trucks bringing them food, because the pipes bringing them water will be crushed and broken. But up here, surrounded by the abundance of farms and wilderness, flowing rivers and clean mountain air, people will survive the destruction in relative comfort.

In the words of the Magnificat (in the New Testament), “He has thrown down the mighty from their seats,” as in an earthquake!, “and exalted those of low degree.” And, from the same passage, “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”

So, clearly, when the industrialized countries are in ruins, simple places like here where I live will be still all right. “The meek shall inherit the earth.”

While, yes, Panamá uses U.S. dollars as its own legal tender and heavily relies on its gringos to bring in more wealth, I fully expect that, when the U.S. economy collapses, this country will simply declare its financial independence and what used to be dollar bills will continue to flow around Panamá as its medium of exchange.

More than that, here in the Tierras Altas (Highlands) of Panamá – and still in remote villages around the world – there remains the structure of a barter economy. I love how neighbors in my village come by with a bag of onions or potatoes, and we share the same way with them. I love how my dear Panamanian wife sends over to them plates of the same supper she has prepared for me.

Here, people live by genuine Marxian principles – those who have to spare share with those who don’t have enough, because people here realize we survive not as competing individuals, but as a coöperating community. “From each according to his or her ability, to each according to his or her need.” This is the kind of relationship that all religion urges: covenant, as opposed to the greed and cheating that inevitably are fostered by capitalism. As Saint Paul put it in the New Testament, my neighbors here “strive to outdo one another in generosity.” Or, as Jesus put it, quoting the Torah, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He condemned the rich, with their storehouses full of grain while the poor suffered. He urged his followers, if they had a coat to spare to give it to someone who had no coat.

And here in the Tierras Altas people look out for each other; if armed gangs come up here from the cities to try to steal their survival, they will face a choice - either they somehow defeat a united, strong community, or they respectfully join that community and live by its covenantal rules.

You see? “The poor shall inherit the earth.”

In a barter economy, the focus is on building strong relationships with your friends and neighbors and relatives – so one gives as much as possible and accepts as little as possible in return. In a moneyed economy, the focus is on buying as cheaply as possible and selling at as high a price as you can. return.

That’s the problem with money. There’s no end to how much of it you can gain – or lose. In a moneyless society, there isn’t any reason to stock up more food than you can eat, so either it goes to waste or you do the smart thing and give it to someone who doesn’t have enough.

Likewise, you may have nothing, but you can’t possibly have less than nothing, and, when you have nothing, somebody is going to help you out. But in a moneyed society, you can have more money than you can ever spend, and you can fall into having less than nothing, into a debt deeper than you can ever climb out of again. You see, a money economy removes the parameters naturally imposed by “everyone has what he or she needs and shares the excess with those who do not.” In a moneyless society it’s impossible to be a billionaire, and it’s impossible to be seriously indebted. A moneyless, barter society fosters sharing, not hoarding.

In a moneyed society, those who make a lot of money get to make the rules. If you’re rich, you can contribute to the campaigns of politicians you like – politicians who will change the laws so you can make even more money. Therefore, under capitalism, if you’re rich, you will inevitably get richer and more powerful, and, if you’re poor, you will become poorer and more helpless. The facts show it – in the United States and other industrialized countries the gap between rich and poor is widening fast. This is simply the nature of capitalism; it is inevitable in a capitalist economy.

The only way to prevent the tendency of capitalism to develop a rich class and a poor class is through government: that’s why, until recently, the U.S. government had laws to prevent monopolies, laws to prevent industrial pollution and mineral exploitation, and laws to ensure big business and ultra-rich people paid their fair share of taxes. These were instituted after past periods of excess: the railroad and coal barons whose greed brought about the Great Depression. Now these controls on rampant capitalism are being dismantled by the teaparty proxies for the ultra-rich, with the inevitable result of a widening gap between rich and poor, leading to total economic collapse.

Hence, more and more people are losing their jobs – and, what is even scarier is what the statistics don't show. The statistics give how many people have jobs, but it counts the under-employed (those who settle out of desperation for part-time work or very low wages) as employedD, so it doesn’t count them among those looking for work. Moreover, the statistics don't tell us about those people who are just as much overwhelmed with anxiety as the unemployed, filled with constant fear that they are soon going to be fired – those who have jobs, but probably not for very long.

Indeed, employers in most states do not even need to give you a reason; they can fire you at will, anytime. Most if not all states now have pro-employer legislation that allows them to fire employees at any time, with no reason needing to be given. And the first to go are usually the more expensive middle-aged people who need a higher income to support their families, who take more time off for family or health reasons, and who cost more in health insurance. They want to replace a middle-aged head of household with a kid fresh out of high school at a lower wage? They decide they don’t like you because you’re black or Muslim or gay? Doesn’t matter; you’re gone. I was let go as an editor at a certain daily newspaper because I refused to compromise my ethics and experience as regards tribal casinos – the newspaper wanted the advertising revenue from the casinos, and only I was willing to express in print the horrible devastation these casinos wreak. I was let go by a private company for absolutely no specified reason, though it was clear to me that it was because I was middle-aged and more expensive than a kid.

And, again adding to the madness, the ultra-rich are finding ways to make a profit off your joblessness. Consider the big financial company JP Morgan. It has contracted in a majority of U.S. states to provide food stamp debit cards. The company is paid for each case that it handles, so that means that the more Americans who go on food stamps, the more profit JP Morgan makes. In an ABC News interview, JP Morgan executive Christopher Paton admitted that this is “a very important business to JP Morgan,” and that it is doing very well. Considering the fact that the number of Americans on food stamps has exploded from 26 million in 2007 to 43 million today, one can only imagine the soaring profits JP Morgan makes in this part of its business. In the interview Paton said that 40% of food stamp recipients are currently working, and he said he expects continued “growth” in this “product”. JP Morgan, which is already one of the primary financial institutions implicated in the “robo-signing” forclosure scandal, has admitted to wrongly foreclosing on more than a dozen military families and overcharging thousands of other military families on their mortgages. What is more, if you seek help from a JP Morgan call center for your food stamps or child support debit card, and you will be talking to a Morgan employee in India.

We who oppose the evil schemes of the ultra-rich plutocrats are just as guilty. For we, too, are obsessed with money.

The ultra-rich are always thinking how to make their next fortune, and how to avoid paying taxes. For them it’s just a game, a job to do, since they certainly don't need more money. And the rest of us, constantly worrying about how we’re going to pay our bills and our taxes, tend to obsess about how to come up with more income. We fall for the schemes of the rich to make us covet the latest electronic gewgaw, to buy the brand-name instead of the generic brand, – such that the rich make another fortune, but we are left with nothing to pay the necessaries. Yes, the rich manipulate and mesmerize us into doing this, and that is part of their evil, but it is still ultimately our choice.

So let us not single out others when we, in a different way, are to blame too. We could, if we were wise, emancipate ourselves from their controlling influence.

We could join the ranks of the poor – and build strong local barter economies based on sharing, not on taking – and, when the cataclysms come, as inevitably we too will inherit the earth.

NOTE: The most recent chapter, "Village Economics", in my other blog, "A Writer in Panama", is on the same theme. Go to -

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