Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Walmart, American Workers, and their Families

Walmart has grown from a small discount store in 1968 into the world's largest retailer and has become the largest company in the United States. The chain attracts 100 million U.S. shoppers every week, 1/3 of our country's population, who seek low prices and items they need in their day to day life. Walmart offers a seeming contradiction in that it has the highest profit margin of any retail chain and yet continues to deliver low prices. While low prices may seem like a good thing for American shoppers, it is unjust to its workers and slowly weakening the United States. Walmart's success forces us to take a serious look at this chain and ask some difficult questions.

If Sam Walton were alive today, he would qualify as the world's richest man. Carlos Slim Helu, who holds this position today, has $53.3 billion dollars. Walton's wealth, which was divided among his four children, is worth $30.4 billion more than Helu's sum and is valued at $83.7 billion. Walmart's success has made the Waltons the world's wealthiest family.

The four children (and their individual net worth) are listed below.

Christy Walton's net worth is $22.5 billion

Jim Walton's net worth is $20.7 billion
Alice Walton's net worth is $20.7 billion
S. Robson Walton's net worth is $19.8 billion

When we contrast the wealth of the Walton royal family to that of its workers, a very different picture emerges. The average Wal-Mart employee makes $1,200 a month (or $8/hour) and this amounts to $14,400 a year. This is above the official U.S. government poverty calculation which is $10,830 for a single person. If the employee has one family member, they fall officially below the poverty rate (the poverty rate for a family of two is $14,570). According to U.S. government expectations, a family of two with a full time wage from Walmart will not be able to pay for its basic necessities and would need to seek additional help. Who picks the tab? A North Carolina hospital reports that thirty-one percent of patients who were Walmart employees were covered by Medicaid and sixteen percent had no insurance at all. Georgia found that over 10,000 children of Walmart employees received health care from the state. The cost is paid by taxpayers. The health insurance Walmart provides (to 45% of its workers) requires them to pay as much as $264 a month to insure a family and out-of-pocket costs can be $13,000. The basic premium is twenty-two percent of the average full-time employees salary and this forces families to live on less than one thousand dollars a month.

Where does the money spent at Walmart go? Walmart has the highest profit rate of any retail chain earning 5.5% on its gross revenue (Cosco's rate is only 2.7% but it provides health care) and 0.5% of your purchase pays for employee health care. When you spend $20 at Walmart the company profits $1.10 (which goes to the Walton children) and only $.10 (ten cents) goes to cover employee health care costs. This means that Walmart profits are 1,083.77% more than total health care costs. Another way to state this is that Walmart profit is over 10.8 times greater than the money it spends on employee health care. This is not a problem of a capacity to fund its employee's health care, rather it reflects a simple lack of desire.

This very brief commentary contrasts the vast wealth of the Walton family with the misery suffered by their average worker. Walmart does not pay a living wage and it has effectively blocked all attempts to unionize (Pope Leo XIII recognized unions as fundamental human right in Rerum Novarum); this has made it impossible for the employees to generate any pressure for them to be paid a living wage. Walmart has another cost in that its search for low prices often forces U.S. manufacturing firms to move their factories outside the country and frequently they relocate in China. As Walmart has become the largest company in the United States, it has made our country weaker by exporting high-paying manufacturing jobs that generated enough income to support middle class families. As these positions are lost, more families are turning to low wage jobs where they will need public assistance merely to provide basic necessities. This serves to decrease the size of the U.S. economy and reduce the number of jobs in the United States. Walmart has done more to hurt American families than any other company and yet families will continue to shop there because they do not understand the relationship between their purchases and poverty. Shopping at a Walmart is not neutral and, I contend, serves to weaken our country and its families. Please take this posting seriously and do your best to avoid Walmart whenever possible.

These issues will be ignored politically in the United States because Walmart created the largest corporate political action committee in 2004 and also manages its own 'voter education' program (since 2006). Their donations to legislators have worked to prevent Congress from taking a serious look at the domestic costs Walmart inflicts on U.S. families and our country. We cannot depend on government to address this fairly. Our best course of action is to boycott Walmart and avoid purchasing anything until this reality changes.

Remember that shopping at Walmart comes at a price, namely your job and standard of living.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

O'Connor and Rowling: A Very Brief Comparison

Last spring I gave a talk on Flannery O’Connor and, in the middle, made a short comment on the Harry Potter series that generated more questions and misunderstanding than O’Connor’s work. In retrospect, I was unprepared for the reaction of my audience that sought to defend Rowling from any possible criticism. As an author who has now become the richest woman in England, her life is the opposite of the Catholic short story writer from Savannah and Milledgeville who gained a very limited following when she was alive. Everyone seems to understand Rowling and not even the professional reviewers understand O’Connor. One went on to riches and fame and the other to an early death caused by lupus at the age of 39. There is no comparison between the two author’s works. O’Connor’s work generates wonder and conversion while Rowling chronicles the adventures of a nihilistic boy. One is open to life, suffering, and transformation while the other is open to magic, revenge, and control. The danger of Rowling is that Harry Potter presents nihilism as something positive and attractive. The work should not be judged moralistically, but by the reality it portrays as normal. This means that criticism of Rowling’s works should originate from their defective understanding of the human person and reality (it has a faulty philosophic anthropology and ontology). The problem with most criticism of Rowling is that is examines her work moralistically and this misses the dimension where the weaknesses are present.

Michael O’Brien captures this missing dimension in Rowling’s work in several online essays that are available at the following links:

Harry Potter and the Death of God
Harry vs Frodo
Fantasy and the Family
Zenit Interview: The Next Stage in De-Christianization of Fairy Tales?
"No" to Harry Potter Doesn´t Mean "Yes" to Fundamentalism
Why Harry Potter Goes Awry
II. Why Harry Potter Goes Awry

... Younger than sin

She is our Mother, the mother of all flesh, a new Eve. But she is also our daughter. The ancient world of sorrow, the world before the access of grace, cradled her to its very heart for many centuries, dimly awaiting a virgo genetrix. For centuries and centuries those ancient hands, so full of sin, cherished the wondrous girl-child whose name even was unknown. A little girl, the queen of the angels! And she's still a little girl, remember! . . . The simplicity of God, that terrible simplicity which damned the pride of the angels. Our Lady knew neither triumph nor miracle. Her Son preserved her from the least tip-touch of the savage wing of human glory. No one has ever lived, suffered, died in such simplicity, in such deep ignorance of her own dignity.... For she was born without sin—in what amazing isolation! A pool so clear, so pure, that even her own image—created only for the sacred joy of the Father—was not to be reflected. The Virgin was Innocence ....The eyes of Our Lady are the only real child-eyes that have ever been raised to our shame and sorrow . . . they are not indulgent for there is no indulgence without something of bitter experience—they are eyes of gentle pity, wondering sadness, and with something more in them, never yet known or expressed, something that makes her younger than sin [emphasis added], younger than the race from which she sprang, and though a Mother by grace, mother of all graces, our little youngest sister.

George Bernanos, Diary of a Country Priest (quote available here)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Rainbow Sash Wearers Denied Communion, Instead Given Blessing by Archbishop John Niestedt

The Church has some pretty specific, well-known, and immutable teaching on whether homosexual behavior is sinful. (It is.)

Some people disagree with this teaching, including an outspoken Methodist clergyman. Some of those who disagree recently attempted to receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist during a college campus mass being celebrated by the Archbishop of the Twin Cities (Minnesota). They were wearing rainbow sashes and protest buttons.

Fortunately, the good archbishop was not willing to allow others to play games with the body of our Lord.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

2010 Nobel Prize in Medicine: Awarded a Promoter of the Culture of Death

After the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to newly-elected U.S. President Barack Obama, a committed pro-abortion and anti-family supporter, another Nobel Prize has been awarded to a promoter of the culture of death. The 2010 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has in fact been awarded to Robert Edwards, the British researcher who developed in vitro fertilization (IVF).

According to the Nobel Committee Press Release, "His contributions represent a milestone in the development of modern medicine." This is really puzzling and makes one wonder: wasn't medicine suppose to heal people and help them live a healthy life? Isn't the Nobel Prize supposed to be awarded to "scientists who have made the most important discoveries for the benefit of mankind"? How is this discovery beneficial when millions of babies are killed in the process of 'creating' one in a lab? This researcher has designed a way to 'make' babies in a tube, and thus opened the way to man's attempt to supplant the Creator of life, and in the meantime, he has also opened the doors for the destruction of life. How many embryos have been thrown away once the right one has been implanted? How many millions of babies have been diposed of as if they were a commodity since 1978? This is obviously something that the Nobel Prize Committee and the papers don't tell you.

Because Mr. Edward's 'discovery' does not benefit humanity but only contributes to the destruction of its children, it should not be an achivement deserving of recognition, let alone a Nobel Prize. It is clear that the agenda behind these awards perpetrates a culture of death.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Training Seminar against Pro-Life Activity: an Interesting yet very disturbing article

Today, LifeSiteNews published a disturbing article titled "FBI, Obama Admin Join Pro-Abort Groups to Host Training Seminar against Pro-Life Activity" which discusses the recent seminar hosted by the FBI and the Department of Justice to stop 'violence' against abortion providers. Make sure you scroll down to the bottom of the page and read the attached report; it lists all major pro-life groups in the section "Anti-Abortion websites."

The free speech of pro-life groups is clearly under heavy attack from the highest levels of the government.