Category Archives: economics

Obamacare repeal begins. For real this time.

WASHINGTON, DC — On 4 May 2017, the U. S. House of Representatives overcame fear-mongering from opposition party members to pass the American Healthcare Act.  The American Healthcare Act is a bill that begins the process of repealing and replacing the prior Administration’s signature healthcare law.  Noteworthy within the prior Administration’s law were a large number of taxes, mandated benefits to be included in all health plans, employer mandates and the prohibition against health insurance companies pricing health plans by the health of the customer.

A brief review of the summary of the American Healthcare Act shows that this bill does repeal many of the taxes included in the prior Administration’s healthcare law, as well as  individual and employer mandates.  It looks like the bill may also open up the definition of what coverages are allowed/required in ‘qualifying health care plans.’  More freedom is seldom a bad thing.  The bill also allows health insurers to price their offered coverage according to the age and health condition of customers whilst also assisting those with ‘pre-existing conditions’ and severe health conditions in paying for their own coverage.

Further, it appears to allow States to decide whether to roll back the Medicaid expansion.  Federal Funding for the Medicaid expansion will continue to remain available to States through 2020.

The American Healthcare Act has several hurdles yet to be crossed before it can become law.  It must still be debated, amended and voted on in the U. S. Senate. It must have differences in the House and Senate versions worked out by a Joint Committee.  The final version must pass both houses of Congress.  Finally, the President must sign it into law.

This bill appears to go a long way toward removing the shackles the prior healthcare law placed on the entire U. S. economy with the taxes and mandates.  Employers will be free to give more hours to part-time employees and to expand their businesses by hiring more total employees, without the mandate to provide expensive healthcare coverage.

Without the mandates, philanthropists, public-spirited organizations and religious denominations will have to step in to ensure that noone falls through the cracks.

The bill passed the House by a margin of 217 to 213, with no members of the Democrat Party voting for it.

Opinions expressed herein are my own and in no way reflect those of Texas Army National Guard, the Texas Military Department, the U. S. Army or the U. S. DoD.  All of these organizations have their own public affairs offices and spokespersons, which do not actually include me.

 

Sources:

Summary and full text of the American Healthcare Act

Reuters

Wall Street Journal

Pres. Obama’s Trade Promotion Authority, and the treaties that go with it, are a bad deal for USA

Reports emerging on the Trade Promotion Authority the President has requested from Congress on the ‘fast track’ are sketchy but they all agree on one thing: secrecy.  Secrecy in trade deals can’t be good.  If it was good, the President would be shouting about it from the mountain tops, or slow-jamming it with Jimmy Fallon or preaching about in community college campuses around the nation.  But it’s secret: 800 or more pages in a locked room with no windows and only one way in.  Only Members of the House and Senators on relevant committees are even allowed in the room to read, but not take notes.  Neither recording, nor imaging, nor communication devices of any kind are allowed in this room, and no one who reads the documents is allowed to discuss them with fellow Members or Senators or constituents.

This sounds like the kind of secrecy surrounding Classified Warplans: locked room, eyes only, no discussion outside the locked room and any notes are classified.  But with warplans at least the planners and the units involved can discuss them in a secured room from time to time.  The reported secrecy surrounding this trade package eclipses even this secrecy because the Members and Senators who will vote on it cannot discuss it amongst themselves.  Secrecy is entirely appropriate for matters of national security: warplans, new weapons programs, nuclear weapons, etc. We don’t want the enemies of freedom and of the USA to find out about our national security secrets and develop countermeasures.  It is entirely inappropriate for trade deals.  Trade deals should benefit all parties concerned and should be good enough to be bragged about.  Or they should be in a constitutional republic where the duly elected representatives of the people and of the sovereign States make the laws and ratify the treaties.

Some reports suggest that behind TPA is set of deals the Administration has been working in secret for as long as the last six years.  Now, the President has come to Congress to ask for an up or down vote giving him wide latitude to make trade deals without further Congressional approval.  House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Establishment Republicans, some in pocket of multi-national corporations and the national chamber of commerce, are salivating over this authority and what an Establishment Republican President could do with it in the future.  Democrats, led by Nancy Pelosi, and many needing union contributions to their 2016 campaigns, have largely decried the TPA at the behest of their union donors.  It’s strange to see the Establishment Republicans and Democrats opposing each other, but there it is.

Other reports suggest that the trade pacts include a Pacific deal with 21 nations that includes improved labor regulations, wages, health and safety in the workplace.  That sounds good, right?  None of those requirements apply to any nation other than USA at the outset. Reports suggest that the trade pacts also include some kind of Atlantic deal as well.  Still other reports suggest that companies would be allowed to bring in three times as many foreign workers on H1B visas as are currently allowed.  Finally, Congress will vote on a welfare and retraining package for workers displaced as a result of this/these deals.  If the deal(s) was (were) good and would create new skilled jobs for Americans, why would there be a welfare and retraining package required?

So, again, the only thing all the reports agree upon is the secrecy surrounding this deal, and in matters of trade (not to be confused in any way with national security), secrecy is bad.  The US Senate has already passed it, so call your Member of Congress and tell him or her to oppose it until it has been explained and debated.  They would brag about it if it were good.

Opinions expressed in this essay are my own and not necessarily those of my employers.

Thank you for reading.

If you have thoughts about these trade deals, secrecy in government, or off-shoring of American jobs, or displacement of American workers here in the USA to foreign workers brought in from overseas…sound off in the comments.

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Los Angeles and Seattle Minimum Wage Hikes

Earlier this week the Los Angeles city council voted 14 to 1 to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour incrementally over the next several years.  Labor organizers and other minimum wage advocates say the increase isn’t coming fast enough.  Los Angeles area business advocates say that most small to medium business don’t have enough profit margin to absorb a 50 percent increase in the cost of labor on any shorter timeline.

Seattle has already passed such a law and the first incremental increase came last month, in April.  While some minimum wage employees in Seattle say that they are seeing an increase in their paychecks and that this is improving their lives, it’s only temporary.  Soon, if not right away, the businesses that depend on minimum wage labor will raise their prices, or cut hours and benefits, to compensate for the increased labor cost.  We are already seeing all of these strategies implemented in the Seattle area business that employ minimum wage employees. Seattle restauranteur Tom Douglas has raised prices in his fourteen restaurants.  Hotels around the SEATAC Airport have cut hours to their minimum wage employees and stopped offering them free food.

The next step for business who are being forced to pay employees more than the value they create for the business is to automate and eliminate some workers.  Minimum wage workers will either have to improve their skill sets so that their labor is more valuable to the businesses that employ them, thus getting a better job, or they will have to become more productive in the skill sets the already have.  Or they’ll have to get a second/third job.  Momentum Machines made a splash in the news last summer with its gourmet burger making robot.  This ‘bot will cook a higher quality burger that tastes better; plus it never misses work, never takes a vacation, never takes family or medical leave, and it won’t need a health plan. We have already seen the self-check lanes in some large retailers and automated ordering in chain restaurants.  The self-check lanes allow one employee to run four check stands instead of just one.  The automated ordering or automated payment in restaurants means fewer wait-staff covering more customers.

Here are a few other little known facts:  only about two percent of the labor force even makes minimum wage and most of these are students or recent graduates in their first job.  Furthermore, most minimum wage employees see at least one raise in their first year of employment.

So what does a minimum wage do?  It makes it harder for unskilled employees to even find work at all.  And raising it forces price increases throughout the economy so that eventually everything catches up and those minimum wage employees who still have jobs are right back where they were before, in their overall situation, for those still employed.

Here’s what else it does.  For any employee out there who is depending on a government mandated minimum wage, on some level they’re believing that they can’t ever move beyond entry-level.  On some level they’re believing that they can’t improve their skills to be more valuable to employers and thereby get a better job.  This is what the politicians, organizers and activists are really saying:  ‘All you fry cooks and housekeepers out there will NEVER improve yourselves, so we have to force employers to pay you more.’  Having that little faith in people — and people having that little confidence in themselves and their own dreams and ambitions — is really sad.

Thank you all for taking a moment to read my thoughts on the minimum wage.  Do you have a minimum wage or entry-level job story?  Share it with us in the comments.

If you liked what you read, please check out some of my other posts.  Also, don’t be afraid to click follow and bring ten of your friends back with you!  You know you want to.

Any opinions expressed in these writings, not otherwise documented, are my own, and not necessarily those of my employers.

Sources

http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/Los-Angeles-City-Council-Vote-Minimum-Wage-Proposal-304234341.html

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/may/21/seattles-minimum-wage-raise-gave-me-the-breathing-room-i-needed

http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2015/03/16/seattle-learns-a-painful-minimum-wage-lesson/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2015/03/16/we-are-seeing-the-effects-of-seattles-15-an-hour-minimum-wage/

http://www.ijreview.com/2014/06/144019-results-seattles-minimum-wage-hike-deserve-big-fat-told/

http://blog.seattlepi.com/seattlepolitics/2015/04/03/tom-douglas-backs-away-from-surcharge-at-restaurants-to-pay-for-high-minimum-wage/#31671101=0

http://www.businessinsider.com/momentum-machines-burger-robot-2014-8

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/11/fast-food-robot_n_5668600.html

Baltimore: a Jewel of Progressiveism

Freddy Gray’s death in Baltimore Police custody and the riots/protests that followed have brought the US city of Baltimore, Maryland, into the news recently.  Protesters in Baltimore have decried oppressive policies of the city and its police department as well as lack of jobs and economic opportunity.  Political activists on TV have called for more Federal spending in large cities in general and in Baltimore in particular.
          Rome wasn’t built in a day and the city of Baltimore didn’t become what it is today overnight.  The city’s population is approximately 60% African-American/ Black and Democrats have consistently controlled the levers of power in Baltimore City for over five decades.  Baltimore voters have elected Democrats as mayors, city council, state assembly and member of the U. S. House of Representatives for over fifty years.
          So, if the police and city government have oppressed the citizens and residents of Baltimore, it has been on the watch of Democrats and under Progressive policies.  The lack of jobs, businesses and economic opportunity in Baltimore cannot possibly be caused by the Tea Party or white Republicans, because these people and their ideas have had negligible .  Democrat policies and one-party rule have created this situation.  A lack of competition in the arena of ideas for how the city should be governed has created the situation.
          If the Progressive agenda and government spending programs were the answer for American cities, wouldn’t Baltimore be shining jewel of an example?  The Democrat and Progressive agenda has held sway in Baltimore for over half a century.  If their ideas were going to work, to create prosperity or give their voters fulfilled lives, wouldn’t fifty years of unopposed rule be enough time to accomplish this?  In about 50 years under a constitutional republic with capitalist economy, Korea (South Korea) climbed from agrarian nation to industrial power with world class companies like Samsung and Hyundai.
          The Democrat and Progressive agenda has actually lead to the state of affairs we see in Baltimore today.  The Democrat and Progressive agenda has led to the conditions of policing, the lack of jobs, and the communities dependent on Federal programs instead of self-reliance and living within their means.  More government spending programs will create more dependence and accentuate the economic conditions already plaguing Baltimore.
          So what alternatives are there to the policies of the Progressive agenda?  Well, let’s consider states where companies are opening factories, tax-rolls are growing, and people are getting off of unemployment benefits. South Dakota, Wisconsin, the Carolinas and Texas fit this description.  These states have relatively low corporate taxes, moderate regulatory regimens, and modest state level welfare/unemployment benefits.  These states don’t tolerate looting and lawlessness.  South Dakota and Texas are seeing an energy boom.  North Carolina is seeing computer and medical technology growth.  Volvo selected South Carolina as the site of its first US auto plant.  Wisconsin put its public sector unions in check and they have seen job growth as well.
          Private capital flowed into these states to create jobs.  Not government spending and programs.
          What investor is going to build a factory or a store where looters and rioters are “given space to destroy?”  Building a store is expensive.  Stocking it with merchandise is expensive.  Building a factory and filling it with manufacturing equipment is even more expensive.  Private sector capital flows to places where it can see a return on investment, not to places where the investment will be destroyed.  Holding citizens and residents accountable for unacceptable behavior (arresting rioters and looters and prosecuting looters and arsonists), will improve local security.  Improved local security will allow private capital to see more likelihood of a return on investment, which will lead to job growth.  More jobs will lead to more citizens and residents becoming self-sufficient and no longer needing government benefits.
         Work is where people discover their talents and abilities, share them with their fellows by selling their goods and services through voluntary trade.  Working builds the skills and qualities that will lead to promotions and raises and eventual prosperity.  Sitting on the couch or staying in a minimum wage job and relying on government benefits doesn’t lead to raises, or promotions or prosperity.  Viewing the accomplishments of others with envy and jealousy will lead to poverty of spirit.  Finding your God-given purpose and developing the talents and skills to allow you to accomplish it will prosper your soul.
Thank you for taking a moment to read my thoughts what Baltimore shows us.  Do you have thoughts or stories about protests?  Share them with us in the comments section.
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Sources

Immigration policy, Reinvention and Restoration (part 1)

Probably the most powerful tool the U.S. government has at its disposal now to shape voting patterns and economic growth for decades to come is immigration policy.  The most powerful tool citizens have to shape our country is to embrace the Founding, to teach it to our children and encourage our friends and neighbors to do likewise

Importing new labor from developing nations will lead to competition at the lower end of the wage scale and drive wages down for all those in the U. S. who draw a paycheck from work.  Those who arrive on our shores from developing nations are generally willing to embrace a lower standard of living than those who grew up in the U. S. and therefore they are also willing to sell their labor for a lower wage.  Companies — facing pressures of regulation, taxation, and consumers with less disposable income to spend on their products and services — will take often take any legal route to increase their profitability. One of these routes is hiring the workers willing and able to do the required work for the lowest wage.  We see this particularly in the software and technology industries where many qualified Americans are under-employed and wages have been stagnant for about a decade.  If the U.S. government allows this and even encourages it through regulation, taxation and immigration policy, then this is the course many companies will take.

A company, like a person or a bureaucracy, just wants to live and thrive.

Another facet of immigration policy is shaping future voting patters.  When the government allows impoverished, illiterate, unskilled and low-skilled citizens of other countries to ‘live in the shadows,’ this discourages assimilation.  It encourages Balkanization and leaves these US ‘persons’ open to various victim advocacy groups, such as La Raza and even to gangs and triads.  If these US ‘persons’ become US ‘citizens’ without assimilating, then they will continue to vote for the same big-government policies they voted for in their countries of origin.

My grandfather and grandmother immigrated legally from Cuba and Italy, respectively.  He came through Ellis Island in 1929, alone; she, around the time of World War I and with her parents and siblings.  When Castro came to power in Cuba in the 1950s, they began to bring his cousins and other relations to this country, legally.  My grandparents sponsored many themselves and found sponsors for others.  Those my grandparents brought here all learned English, got jobs, served in the US armed forces, build and sold businesses, did not take a dime of welfare and became part of the great American melting pot.  They assimilated.  They helped make this country great.  By the time they became citizens, they loved this country and voted as such.

Other immigrants who come from developing nations without the skills necessary to succeed in the US job market will become wards of the welfare state.  And they will vote for more and high taxes, more and bigger government, just as they did in their countries of origin.  With the flood of teens and single mothers with toddlers across our southern border this summer, and the speeches given by establishment politicians of both major parties calling DREAMers the future and saying that illegal immigration is an act of love, we face the Reinvention of our country.  Do we want more wards of the welfare state, higher taxes, bigger government, less opportunity and liberty for individuals?

If we want to continue to be a nation of pay checks, and not become a nation of food stamps, we must embrace the values of the Founders.  We must embrace  the values that made our nation great, eradicated diseases (polio, typhoid, cholera, etc), won two World Wars, put men on the Moon and liberated Middle Eastern countries.  It was not collectivist reliance on big government programs that made us great. Rugged individualism, self-reliance and acknowledgement of the Creator Who endows us all with our unalienable rights, these values made America great.

Those of you who have read me for a while will know that I tend to favor the Judeo-Christian  view of the Creator.  Among the Founders were Christians and Jews but also Deists and Theists who believed in Divine Providence.  As pluralistic, democratic society we have to acknowledge and tolerate beliefs that differ from ours.  I think Benjamin Franklin had a good idea when he described the American religion something like this:  There is a Creator Who gave us our rights and our abilities, and one day we will all stand before Him as the Supreme Judge of the world.  On that day, we must each give account for what we did with those rights and how we used those abilities.  So, until we stand before Him as Judge, we should serve Him as Creator.  But how shall do anything for He Who sits Enthroned in the Heavens?  We can serve each other, that’s how.  We can voluntarily choose to do right by each other.  We can voluntarily choose respect each other’s rights and property and opinions.  We can voluntarily choose to use the abilities our Creator gave us to make the world a better place, to create wealth, to share charity.  I think that a lot more than just Jews, Protestants and Catholics fall under that Franklin’s description.  I think probably Buddhists, Bahi, Unitarians, and many others — even some Muslims — fall under it as well.

We’ve got to voluntarily stand united, otherwise as Lincoln and Yeshua observed, “a house divided against itself cannot stand, nor long endure.”

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If you have a story about immigrants or values, share it in the comments below.

Views and opinions expressed in these writings are my own, unless attributed or documented to someone else, and either way are not necessarily those of my employers.

Climate and Regulation

Fear is a powerful motivator.  People will stay out of relationships because they’re afraid of getting hurt.  One political party will tell it’s voters that the only way to make the terrible law go away is to vote for them.  Another political party will tell a different set of voters that its opposition will take away the voters’ pensions and leave them penniless in the streets.  Fear can allow people to make decisions they would never make otherwise.

 

It’s been widely reported since the political campaign season of 2012 that the EPA was preparing a massive set of regulations, most of which haven’t gone into effect yet.  It has also been widely reported since at least 2010 that the EPA intended to implement a Cap and Trade system of industrial regulations which would prevent pollution but also cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions of jobs.  Again this Cap and Trade system hasn’t been fully implemented yet either.

Those who support such regulations assure us that they are for our good, that they will prevent global warming and keep the earth habitable.  But the UN climate conferences of the last several years have drawn less interest every year.  So, without a powerful motivator, Americans are unlikely to stand for EPA regulations that put hundreds of thousands out of work and raise the prices of air conditioning in the summer as well as heat in the winter.

Enter a UN climate report climate report saying that global warming will soon melt the polar ice caps, raise the oceans, cause droughts, cause hurricanes kill millions and make life unbearable for the rest.  But they assure us that redistributing wealth and further slowing the US economy — de-growing it, even — are the path to climate salvation.

Now let me present a few climate facts.

All five of the Great Lakes froze over completely this past winter, for the first time recent memory, even Lake Michigan all the way down to Chicago.  My friends have been putting pictures of frozen Lake Michigan on Facebook.

Last December, when the Southern Hemisphere was in summer, a group of environmentalists sailed a boat close to Antarctica and had to be rescued from frozen seas.

I spent last the last two summers in El Paso and there were only a handful of days where the high was over 105 degrees.  When I was stationed here as a Lieutenant in the mid 1990s we had about fifteen straight days over 110 and a total of more than twenty such days over each of the summers I was here.

Since the year of Hurricane Katrina — when there were so many hurricanes, the Weather Service used up all the names on the list — we have had hardly more than ten hurricanes a year.  Superstorm Sandy destroyed a lot of property in NYC and New Jersey, but it was an anomaly.

The drought in central California has far more to do with water being diverted for the benefit of fish, than it does with an actual shortage of water.

When I was in elementary school, I lived in Gainesville, FL and I remember that winters hardly every had freezing temperatures that far up the state.  But now orange growers south of Orlando have to use heaters several times each winter to keep their crops from being hurt by the freezes.  In other words, in the last 37 years the freezes have moved over a hundred miles farther south in Florida.  It’s supposed to be warmer the closer you get to the equator.  The freeze line moving south means winters are getting colder.

The climate did warm between 1975 and 1990, but since then it hasn’t warmed, it has actually cooled slightly.  And yet the UN is saying that climate is warming and unless we submit to redistribution of wealth and a reduction of standard of living.

Giving up our standard of living and submitting to even greater government regulation won’t help the climate.

Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Those who would trade liberty for security, deserve neither and will surely lose both.”  This was true at the founding of our nation and it is still true today.

What do you think about climate change? Man caused? Or does it have something to with the sun?  Sound off in the comments.

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Charity and Economics, part 2 -or- Context is everything

The last weekend of April 2014was very eventful: Benghazi emails hit the press, an old racist (who happens to own a basketball team) made some racist remarks and the Holy Father, Pope Francis, canonised two new Saints: Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII…. and the Holy Father also tweeted about the root of evil.

Pope Francis issued a tweet saying, “Inequality is the root of social evil.” That was it.  No context, no elaboration…

 At least not until I dug through news sites for two days.  At length, I found the explanatory, background materials published separately, in which the Pope explained that he was referring to our individual responsibilities to help each other, especially that the wealthy should help the poor.  Okay, I accept that as the background.  But all that was publicised was the seven word tweet.  I expect millions of people in a hundred countries heard about the tweet.

But how many people are going to dig for the explanatory materials?

To most, it must have sounded like the spiritual leader of a billion Catholics was on the same page with the President of the United States, declaring that income inequality is somehow bad.  I wrote about that a few weeks ago, in a post called Income Inequality is Upward Mobility.

Income inequality is a good thing; it’s hope for improvement.  Read my prior post.

What the Holy Father actually wrote, though, was “Inequality is the root of social evil.”  Let’s set aside for a moment, the fact that Christian and Jewish Scriptures both declare that “Love of money is the root of all evil.”  This I will come back to.  I want to talk about just plain inequality for a few moments.

There are all kinds of inequality.  As Wesley Snipes once observed, “White men can’t jump.”  I resemble that remark.  I am not a good basketball player.  Some people are very good at basketball and many other sports.  The Director I work for is a much more talented athlete than I; he’s good at soccer, basketball, volleyball, etc.  So, we have inequality of talent.

Some people have movie star looks, like Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Scarlett Johansson and Sigourney Weaver.  Some people, like a lady who works in the same building as I do, aren’t so blessed in the looks department.  So, we have inequality of looks.

Some people have the ambition to stay with a particular skill until they become Olympic calibre, or the best in the world, like Mark Phelps, Billy Jean King and Michael Jordan.   Others, like Steve Jobs, the guy from ‘Ten Dollars and a Laptop,’ and Billy Joel, make and lose two or three fortunes in a lifetime, but they keep getting back into the thing they love: computers, business and music, because they have the drive to just keep going.  So, we have inequality of ambition.

Talent, looks and ambition can all lead to success or failure, depending how each of us apply them.

But what is the source of talent, looks and ambition.  I contend that we’re all either born with these things, or we aren’t.  Ambition, properly applied can make up for a lack of most things.  But again, we’re either born with it or we aren’t.

And what is the source of things we’re either born with or not?  God. The Scriptures tell us that God formed each of us in our mothers’ wombs.

God forms each of us as individuals, He makes us each unique.  He gives each of us a purpose and the talents to carry it out.  But He is the source of our different combinations of inborn talent, looks and ambition.  And different combinations of talent, looks and ambition lead to inequality.

So how can inequality be a bad thing if God is the source of it?

Let’s get back to that Scripture verse, I said to leave aside before, shall we?  “Love of money is the root of all evil.”  Love of money:  valuing things over people, valuing the temporary over the eternal.  Love of money leads to covetousness and as I wrote in my first Pursuit of Virtue post: covetousness leads to a host of other sins.

So, inequality isn’t the problem.  People being taught that it’s okay to covet is the problem.

The Pope related this in his explanatory materials, but it really didn’t come across in the tweet.  And, of course, most of the press just publicised the tweet.  Seven catchy words fit better in a headline or a sound byte, than 24 pages of context and explanation.  That’s why I’m an essayist and not a tweeter.

If people covet their neighbor’s skills or possessions or wealth, they will focus on the material, not the eternal. They will focus on what their neighbor has and want to take it or destroy it.  They will ignore, or not sufficiently develop, their own talents.  And failure to understand your purpose, failure to appreciate and develop and use your talents, that’s a poverty worse than dirt floors, lack of food and muddy water.

What do you think about inequality?  Are you a fan of Pope Francis? Or was Saint John Paul your Pope?  Sound off below in the Comments.

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