Brazil's Progressive Moment
A strange paradox is unfolding on the streets of Brazil. A country with a low unemployment rate and a growing middle class is facing urban unrest not seen in decades. Hundreds of thousands of people have marched in cities throughout the country protesting higher transportation costs and excessive spending on the World Cup, which will take place in Rio de Janeiro in 2014. Observers have long predicted a bright economic future for Brazil, which just surpassed Britain as the world’s sixth largest economy. So what gives?
Poverty, for one thing, remains very high at 21 percent. And those who have managed to escape poverty are unsatisfied with the level of government service they are receiving. Brazil’s taxes are among the highest in the world at 36 percent of gross domestic product; the public is simply not seeing a return on their investment. Infrastructure, while better than it once was, is still in need of improvement, especially as Rio prepares for an unprecedented string of international events: this month’s World Youth Day, next year’s World Cup and the Summer Olympics in 2016.
The bishops of Brazil see the protests as the result of Brazil’s history of inequality. They are no doubt correct. Democracy cannot flourish when a large gap divides the rich and the poor. The lesson for the international community is clear, if sobering: inequality must be addressed, even if it leads to short-term turbulence. A healthy democracy will endure some growing pains. There are signs that the protesters—peaceful thus far—could bring about much-needed government reforms. If they succeed, Brazil could become a model for fledgling democracies everywhere.
The Cost of Pregnancy
Everyone knows that raising a child can be exhausting and—considering the price of child care and college tuition alone—expensive. But the cost of giving birth? That can be much harder to nail down. According to a recent report in The New York Times, uninsured and underinsured mothers-to-be are struggling to obtain accurate estimates for the cost of prenatal care and delivery. One woman, when inquiring about maternity care at a hospital, was told the price would fall somewhere between $4,000 and $45,000. Many hospitals refuse to offer any estimates. Hospitals increasingly bill maternity-related costs item by item. For some women this leads to unexpected additional charges over the course of their pregnancy; others choose to forgo potentially helpful medical procedures. The average payment for routine care during a conventional-delivery childbirth in the United States in 2012 was $9,775. For caesarean deliveries it was $15,041.
Maternity care is crucial to the health of children and mothers. Yet high cost does not guarantee the best care; infant and maternal death rates in the United States remain too high. Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance plans must cover maternity care, but what, exactly, this includes is unclear. Care for mothers-to-be must become more straightforward and comprehensive. Couples should be able to obtain reasonable estimates of costs quickly and easily—and the costs should be reasonable. More hospitals should offer basic maternity care packages for a flat, affordable fee. Making maternity care affordable will help ease the burden on women who may feel they are not financially stable enough to raise a child, or even to give birth to one. This is one way to advocate for life and honor what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has described as “the human freedom…to welcome the life of a new human being.”
‘Hulk. Catholic. SMASH!’
In the latest cinematic incarnation of the Avengers, the not-so-jolly green giant Hulk made short work of the godling Loki, literally casting him to the ground as a “puny god.” A snarky aside, yes, but perhaps also a small suggestion of the Hulk’s true religious sensibilities, which, according to astute observers of American comic culture at L’Osservatore Romano, are Catholic.
This is not the first time L’Osservatore has discovered Catholics in odd places. A few years back it provided detailed evidence of Homer Simpson’s faith; more recently it tracked James Bond’s Catholic roots through a Scottish “priest’s hole.” Evidence for the Hulk’s Catholicism, according to the Vatican paper, are a rosary clutched by a de-Hulking Bruce Banner and his own Catholic wedding.
It’s not easy being green, hanging with better-looking Avengers and uttering monosyllables like, “Hulk…SMASH!” But Hulk may have other reasons to be out of sorts. Maybe he’s peeved about the new Missal. But a church big enough to tolerate the likes of you and me should be able to handle the Hulk, so let’s join L’Osservatore and welcome him into the fold. And if the Hulk gets a little unmanageable at the next parish council meeting, consider inviting in the X-Man mutant Nightcrawler to help out. Officially dubbed “Greatest Catholic Superhero” by comicbookreligion.com, the rosary-clutching Nightcrawler is famous for his gifted apologetics in speech-bubble standoffs with the tormented skeptic Wolverine, and, bonus, his mutant skill set should make him a winning fund-raiser at the next parish carnival.