Friday, June 30, 2006

It bears repeating

We got an e-mail from a reader in Binghamton who read about us on a blog in California. Who knew there were readers besides you and me? Anyway, they thanked us for our June 20 posting about aid for victims of Hurricane Katerina. We figured it was worth repeating, keeping in mind that many people in our area also need help now. Because the need is so great, we should not think about giving to one area and not the other, but finding a way to give more to both.

Here is the earlier post:
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Task Force has called upon the Catholic Church Extension Society to coordinate a Parish Partnership Program to assist the parishes in the Gulf Coast dioceses that were affected by the hurricanes.

This program will provide a clearinghouse or central point of contact for connecting these Gulf Coast parishes with parishes across the country that wish to help in the process of recovery and rebuilding -- whether it's a one-time gift, or a long-term commitment.

In the months that have passed since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast region, 273 parishes in 106 dioceses across the country have joined Catholic Church Extension Society's Parish Partnership Program to establish partnering relationships with parishes that suffered severe damage.

To learn how you and your parish can help, go here.

Those poor people

Court of Appeals Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye has called for sweeping reforms to the way New York provides legal defense services to the poor, including transferring responsibility from counties to the state. She said the overhaul of the system's 122 individualized programs will give New York's 62 counties a needed financial break while ensuring there is one system of justice for all.
According to the study, many attorneys are too busy or choose not to visit their clients in jail. The commission found many do not return phone calls, answer letters or conduct even minimal investigations of their cases. In some counties, the study found, defendants first meet the lawyers in the courtroom. In others, the only contact available is through collect calls from jails -- which some lawyers refuse to accept.

Some defendants in town and village courts aren't assigned a lawyer because there's no one available, according to the commission. And many counties don't have enough resources to hire investigators, social workers or interpreters for non-English-speaking or deaf defendants.

Aside from the issue of basic fairness, there is an important criminal justice issue here: if an innocent person is sent to prison because of a poor defense, a guilty party is free to continue committing crimes. You can read more here.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Catholic Charities flooded

The Oneonta Daily Star ran a photo of the local Catholic Charities office getting flooded here.

Contributions can be sent to Catholic Charities 40 North Main Avenue, Albany, New York 12203. Let them know you saw the picture on Albany Catholic.

We have a winner

The Evangelist has published the winning entry in an essay contest for high school students that was sponsored by the Commission on Peace and Justice. The theme was Pope Paul VI's quote, If you want peace, work for justice.

The winning essay was written by Mary Mietlicki, a student at the Academy of the Holy Names in Albany. Unfortunatley, the essay is not posted on The Evangelist's web site, so you will have to grab the paper to read it, on page 4.

Executive compensation

Our previous post noted some of the real facts behind some companies' efforts to end or reduce pensions for their rank-and-file workers. This week the Wall Street Journal reported on the issue of executive compensation, using the example of CEO Hank McKinnell of Pfizer:
Since Mr. McKinnell became CEO in 2001, Pfizer's shares have lost more than 40% of their value. Meanwhile, the CEO has received $79 million in pay during that period and has a guaranteed pension of $83 million when he retires.
. . .
Last year, total direct compensation for chiefs -- which includes salary, bonus and the value of restricted stock when it was granted -- jumped nearly 16% to a median of $6.05 million, according to an analysis of 350 major companies by Mercer for The Wall Street Journal. Most CEOs also received generous pensions, deferred compensation and other perks.
. . .
But institutional investors, who were surveyed separately, think a lot differently. Just 22% think the pay system has helped the nation's economic performance. And some 90% said top executives are "dramatically overpaid," compared with 61% of directors.

These contrasting views illuminate the problem: Most directors -- many of them CEOs and retired CEOs themselves -- still are more aligned with chief executives than with the shareholders they purportedly represent.

The rest of the article is here. Perhaps those who argue for fairness in the areas of pay for executives in relation to pay for the rank-and-file workers need to base their arguments on shareholder rights rather than justice in order to get more support for their proposals.


Bloomberg News reports:
A growing number of the largest U.S. companies are freezing pension plans or dropping them altogether to cut costs, according to an analysis by Watson Wyatt Worldwide.

Of the Fortune 1,000 companies, 113 have at least one frozen or terminated defined-benefit plan or have announced plans for a freeze or termination, Watson Wyatt, an Arlington, Va.-based consultancy, said in a statement. That compares with 71 in 2004.

What they do not report is this intersting piece of information that the Wall Street Journal noted last week:
To help explain its deep slump, General Motors Corp. often cites "legacy costs," including pensions for its giant U.S. work force. In its latest annual report, GM wrote: "Our extensive pension and [post-employment] obligations to retirees are a competitive disadvantage for us." Early this year, GM announced it was ending pensions for 42,000 workers.

But there's a twist to the auto maker's pension situation: The pension plans for its rank-and-file U.S. workers are overstuffed with cash, containing about $9 billion more than is needed to meet their obligations for years to come.

Another of GM's pension programs, however, saddles the company with a liability of $1.4 billion. These pensions are for its executives.

This is the pension squeeze companies aren't talking about: Even as many reduce, freeze or eliminate pensions for workers -- complaining of the costs -- their executives are building up ever-bigger pensions, causing the companies' financial obligations for them to balloon.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Respect life

Rick Hinshaw, who writes the Respect Life column in The Long Island Catholic, the newspaper of the diocese of Rockville Center, writes about immigration:
We don’t need immigration restrictionists demonizing people for trying to provide for their families, nor do we need immigration supporters labeling as inherently sinful anyone who disagrees with them. And we certainly don’t need politicians on both sides fanning the flames of anger and resentment rather than engaging the issue on its merits.

We are called as Catholics to welcome the stranger, to uphold the dignity of the human person, and to not “unjustly look down upon” the “foreign laborer,” in the words of Vatican II. I believe we are also called as Americans to uphold our nation’s proud heritage as a refuge for the poor and oppressed. I fail to see why we should begrudge today’s immigrants the same opportunities our own ancestors had, to come here and build a better life for themselves and their families.

Many supporters of stronger border enforcement insist that they do not begrudge today’s immigrants that opportunity — “as long as they come here legally, like our ancestors did.”
However, argues syndicated columnist Linda Chavez, most of today’s immigrants are coming here the same way our ancestors did.

“Until the 1920s,” Ms. Chavez points out, “people who wanted to immigrate simply showed up at U.S. ports, or in the case of Mexicans and Canadians, just walked across the border.” It’s just that what was legal for them we have today made illegal.

And yet…

The rest of the article is here.

The media and religion

An article in USA Today reports on the problems that can arise when reporters unfamiliar with religion attempt to write about it:
Truth is, far too many journalists veer into mental ditches when asked to cover events and trends rooted in religion. That's bad news when it comes time for serious, accurate coverage of a variety of stories that ordinary readers care about — from trends in Hollywood to debates about free speech in schools, from "sectarian" bloodbaths in Iraq to hard data linking what happens in pews to what happens in ballot boxes.
. . .
After the funeral of Pope John Paul II, the International Herald Tribune described his vestments and added: "Tucked under his left arm was the silver staff, called the crow's ear, that he had carried in public."

Actually, that ornate shepherd's staff is called a crosier (or crozier), not a "crow's ear." And did a BBC producer really write a subtitle that said "Karma Light" nuns were mourning the pope (as opposed to Carmelites)?

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

We're not alone

We have complained about the proposed tax rebate that the State legislature is offering just in time for election day. Several newspapers agree. Here is the first:
Beware of politicians bearing gifts - especially in election years when one of the parties is really, really worried about losing its majority. The strings wrapped around the goodies can end up strangling you after the votes are counted.
. . .
Property tax relief was the Senate's top priority. But its insistence on the first year's payment appearing in your mailbox just before Election Day is cynical. And giving most homeowners the same amount - a few hundred bucks more or less to millionaire and middle-class alike - is regressive. Why not deliver more to those whose incomes don't come close to keeping up with the paper value of their homes?

Another is here:
. . . these "rebates" are not the result of belt-tightening or hard decision-making. Next year's budget includes a deficit of about $3 billion. In other words, structural budget problems remain in place, pushing off even harder fiscal decisions for later.

"We're giving some money back to the overburdened, overworked, overtaxed taxpayers," our Albany Bureau quoted Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, referring to the just-in-time-for-the-election checks. We would be touched, if we believed the outlays were more for us than for them.

And finally we have this:
But the overriding headline on this session was about the money. And if taxpayers follow that money, they will see some of it come back into their pockets this fall in the form of school property tax rebates. Between $200 and $800. Those are the kinds of checks that cause voters to forgive their legislators' sins and pull the lever for them when Election Day rolls around.

However, those also are checks that draw down the balance of the state's bank account, which could come up short in the future if New York's projected $4 billion surplus dries up as has a past surplus.

To die rich

Andrew Carnegie once said "To die rich is to die disgraced.” Which brings us to today's news.

First, Warren Buffett’s contribution of about $1.5 billion a year to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will be used to seek cures for the world’s worst diseases and improve American education, Bill Gates said Monday.
Buffett said his children have known all along that much of their family’s wealth would be given back to society.
. . .
The gifts would be worth nearly $37 billion, which represents the bulk of the $44 billion that Buffet’s stock holdings are worth today.

Second is this: Newsweek magazine launched the
"Giving Back Awards" in recognition of people who, through bravery or generosity, genius or passion, devote themselves to helping others. From hundreds of nominations, these folks were chosen for imaginative approaches to difficult problems. We hope they remind you of someone—maybe yourself.

Third, NETWORK, the Catholic social justice lobby reports that the Senate will take up a compromise reform of the estate tax (H.R. 5638) as early as today, June 27. The House passed this compromise on a 269-156 vote on June 22. With permanent exemptions and drastically lower taxation rates, the damage caused by reducing the estate tax would nearly equal that of repeal.

You can take action here.

In the spirit of Warren Buffet and the people named in the Newsweek article, we at Albany Catholic plan to share our tax relief with the folks at Catholic Charities. You can learn more about them here. Can ahyone get a homily out of this?

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Partisan politics

Peter Steinfels, who writes the Beliefs column in the Saturday New York Times, writes:
For years, Roman Catholic bishops have struggled to find an effective way to deal with Catholic politicians who reject or ignore church teachings on abortion and other moral questions that the church considers fundamental.

To say nothing at all, the bishops were convinced, would signal that these moral principles did not really matter. Confrontation, on the other hand, often proved counterproductive. In different ways, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, who died in 1996, and Cardinal John O'Connor of New York, who died in 2000, tried to resolve this dilemma.
. . .
Cardinal McCarrick, in his recent remarks, which were largely overshadowed by reports about the bishops' approval of altered translations of the prayers Catholics use at Mass, did not go back on the bishops' 2004 decision. "Bishops can come to different prudential and pastoral judgments in this area," he said.
. . .
In a final, more personal conclusion, he expressed "fear that the intense polarization and bitter battles of partisan politics may be seeping into the broader ecclesial life of our Catholic people and maybe even of our conference." Yes, the bishops are "called to teach the truth," he said, but "there should be no place in the Body of Christ for the brutality of partisan politics, the impugning of motives, or turning differences in pastoral judgment into fundamental disagreements on principle."

To which we say "Amen." The entire article is here.

The Year of Father Rother

Father Stan Rother was murdered 25 years ago, but his memory still lives large in his native Oklahoma and in his adopted homeland.
Father Stan Rother so endeared himself to the Tzutujil over 13 years as their parish priest that they still feel his loss today, a quarter century after his murder by a paramilitary death squad. Caught between the revolutionary poor and the military government in Central America’s longest and bloodiest civil war, Stan refused to preach rebellion, but his pastoral devotion to his people eventually cost him his life.

July 28 marks the 25th anniversary of his death. Declared a martyr and since proposed for sainthood by the bishops of Guatemala, Stan was an ordinary man who found extraordinary courage in his faith.
. . .
Oklahoma City Archbishop Eusebius J. Beltran has declared 2006 “The Year of Father Rother,” encouraging Oklahoma Catholics to pray for the native martyr’s canonization. The archbishop plans a memorial Mass in Rother’s hometown of Okarche on July 19. He will also lead a weeklong tour to Santiago Atitlán in late July, where the local Guatemalan bishop will preside at a memorial Mass on July 28, the 25th anniversary of Rother’s death.

You can read the entire story in the July issue of St. Anthony Messenger here.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Catholic columnists

Thoughts from two Catholic columnists. First, Catholic columnist E.J. Dionne, who writes this time about changes in the evangelical movement:
The evangelical world is going through a quiet evolution as believers reflect on the perils of partisanship and ideology and their reasons for being Christian. This will probably affect the nation's political life, but it will certainly affect the country's spiritual direction. My hunch is that not only moderates and liberals but also many solid conservatives welcome the departure.

Read more here.

Second, Catholic writer Mark Shields’ most recent column is headlined Why Liberals Ought to Champion U.S. Return to the Military Draft.
Military service generally does strengthen the character and strengthens, as well, the sense of patriotism. The draft guarantees that American families in all zip codes and gated enclaves will have a personal stake in U.S. foreign and defense policy and will know the grief of loss. It is not enough just to "support the troops," especially when you would never consider having your own daughter socialize with those "troops" you so vocally support.

Obviously, national service could include non-military duty. Homes along the Gulf Coast need rehabbing. The nation's borders, airports and ports still must be made secure. Parks and playgrounds need repairs. Children need tutors. The elderly and the lonely need help and company.

Liberals and all Americans would do well to recall the warning of Sir William Butler that "the nation that will insist on drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man will have its fighting done by fools and its thinking done by cowards."

The rest of the article is here.

Death penalty news

Reuters News Service reports today that the death penalty has been abolished in the Philippines:
Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, seeking to shore up support from powerful Roman Catholic bishops, on Saturday signed a law abolishing the death penalty before her imminent visit to the Vatican.

The new law offers a reprieve for more than 1,200 convicts on death row who faced lethal injection.

Some critics said the law was a sop to win Church support for moves to change the constitution and to soften opposition from bishops to a revival of the mining industry.

``We yield to the high moral imperative dictated by God to walk away from capital punishment,'' Arroyo, a member of the huge Catholic majority in the Philippines, said in a speech.
. . .
The president's advisers denied her decision to abolish the death penalty was designed to woo the Church, which recently said it was concerned about the government's rush to amend the constitution to shift to a parliamentary system.

The entire article is here.

More on pork

The Manhattan Institute's Empire Center for New York State Policy reports on Albany's pork spending:
The newly adopted state budget for 2006-07 includes a $200 million lump-sum appropriation for "services and expenses, grants in aid, or for contracts with certain not-for-profit agencies, universities, colleges, school districts, corporations, and/or municipalities."

The phrase is New York's budgetary euphemism for what is known in Washington, D.C., and other state capitals as "pork" or "earmarks." In Albany terminology, these kinds of expenditures are known as "member items."

The annual member-item allocation is divided among the two houses of the Legislature ($85 million each) and the governor ($30 million). Until the late 1990s, the items were routinely listed in budget bills or in legislative reports--which is how the rest of world came to know about state subsidies for projects like the state Museum of Cheese.

But in more recent years, the grants have been lumped together in a single appropriation, funded out of a special "Community Projects-007" account, and distributed according to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) executed by the governor, the Senate majority leader and the Assembly speaker.

Under the current allocation system, no comprehensive list of projects is released. New York State's pork-barrel MOU list has not been readily available for widespread public scrutiny.

Until now.

Based on a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request filed with the governor's Budget Division, the Manhattan Institute's Empire Center for New York State Policy has obtained complete lists of member items for each of the past three years. The documents amount to 1,154 pages, listing 22,980 individual grants totaling just over $479 million. They have been converted into three separate "pdf" files that can be opened with Adobe Acrobat Reader software.

To download one or more of the annual lists, go here.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Pork suit

The Associated Press reports here that the Times Union is suing the leaders of the state legislature for concealing the names of lawmakers who decide how $170 million in taxpayer money is spent on pork barrel projects in their home districts.
In a suit filed Thursday in Albany's state Supreme Court, the Albany-based newspaper claims Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, violated New York's Freedom of Information Law by refusing to let the public see computer data that shows the member items each lawmaker obtained and who got the money.

Lawyers for the Hearst Corp., owner of the Times Union, prepared the lawsuit, which seeks to have the courts order both legislators to release the records and pay the paper's legal fees.

"At its heart, this case is the right of New York taxpayers to know where and how their tax dollars are being spent," said Eve Burton, general counsel for Hearst.

Albany Catholic suggests you contact your state legislator to ask what he or she is doing to insure we have access to this information. If they are not working on making it available, perhaps you can recommend they prepare for retirement after the November election.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Death for Saddam?

Catholic News Service reports:
No one should be put to death, not even former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, said Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the pontifical councils for Interreligious Dialogue and for Culture. "The Catechism of the Catholic Church, the church itself and the pope reaffirm that every person is a creature of God and that no one but the creator can claim to be the lord of the life and death of another," the cardinal said June 21 in an interview with the Italian news agency ANSA.

"Every creature, even the most wretched, was created in the image and likeness of God," the French cardinal said. "God is the master of life and death." The cardinal made his comments after Avvenire, the Italian bishops' daily newspaper, published an editorial June 20 calling for the life imprisonment and not the execution of Saddam and his co-defendants, who are on trial in Iraq. "Even in the daily slaughterhouse of Iraq a human life -- any human life -- always is sacred," the newspaper said.

The rest of the article is here.

East Timor/Timor-Leste

The East Timor and Indonesia/Action Network reports on the situation in East Timor, now known as Timor-Leste:
East Timor’s foreign minister Jose Ramos Horta formally requested to a special session of the United Nations Security Council on June 14 that the UN Office In East Timor be extended by at least one month to August 22. The Security Council is expected to discuss within the next few weeks extending this further as well as revising the UN’s mandate and function in East Timor.

UN general-secretary Kofi Annan said a new and upgraded UN presence was needed in East Timor to help restore order in the wake of the political and social crisis of the last month. Annan told the Security Council that the scaling down of the UN in East Timor had happened too quickly and that “The sad events of recent weeks reflect shortcomings not only on the part of the Timorese leadership but also on the part of the international community in inadequately sustaining Timor-Leste’s nation-building process”.

You can take action to help the Timorese here.

And we thought we were so smart

An intrepid reader sent us a dispatch from with the following line:
Yesterday the House Republicans decided to prioritize Paris Hilton's economic concerns over those of her maid's.

And here we thought we were being original in our last post. The e-mail link here goes to this story, posted yesterday morning, which does not contain the reference to Ms. Hilton:
At the same time, conservatives began crafting a compromise measure to revive the estate tax repeal, which died in the Senate last week. As the New York Times reports this morning, “Though billed as a compromise, the measure would cost about three-quarters as much as full repeal of the estate tax.” Estimated cost over 10 years: $280 billion.

It’s hard to find words to express the outrage of these actions. It’s not simply that the policy process has gotten off track. It’s that a key purpose of government has been turned upside down, and done so with apparent impunity.

Instead of seeking ways to address and ameliorate the unbalanced growth which characterizes this economy, they’re exacerbating the problem. Instead of a small, overdue boost to low-wage workers that would help them reconnect, just a bit, to the growing economy, they want to shovel even more of the benefits of our prodigious productivity growth to the top of the wealth scale.

There’s a word for this: shameless. And shame on all of us if we sit back and watch it happen.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Saving Paris Hilton

Last week we defeated efforts to repeal the estate tax in the Senate, but now the House seeks an equally damaging reduction to the estate tax. We expect this bill to be voted on this Thursday, June 22.

The "Permanent Estate Tax Relief Act of 2006" (H.R. 5638) will radically cut federal revenue and increase the deficit. With permanent exemptions and drastically lower taxation rates, the damage caused by reduction is nearly equal to that of repeal.

Excuse us momentarily for misplacing our Christian charity, but why don’t they call this the “Protect Paris Hilton Act of 2006" or the “Save the Spoiled Brats Act of 2006?” Why is there so much concern about saving the assets of the very rich and so little about helping the working poor?

Tell your representative you oppose H.R. 5638, because it does not express our values! Take action here.

World Refugee Day

It was yesterday and we missed it.
Throughout their long and daunting journey from oppression and persecution to asylum and protection, and eventually to a place they can call home, refugees show incredible strength, courage and determination. Their journey is a dangerous and arduous one and every day spent in exile is a day too long.

But in every step of their journey refugees carry with them an unshakable, unrelenting hope. By hanging on to their hopes for basic survival, sustenance and protection, and for the chance to one day rebuild their lives, refugees defy all odds. As the UN Refugee Agency we continue to be impressed by the tenacious hopefulness of refugees which, in turn, motivates us to leave no stone unturned in the fulfillment of our mandate, to protect them and to find durable solutions to their plight.

On World Refugee Day, we ask you to remember the millions of refugees under our care who are trying to pick up the pieces of once-peaceful lives. As different as they are from each other, one thing connects them all: hope for a better future and a chance to restore lasting peace to their lives.

Help us keep that flame of hope alive!

It is not too late to learn more here.

An important link

We’ve added a link to the Action Alert section of the New York State Catholic Conference. You will find it on the right side of our home page; scroll down past the Profile and the Links sections to find the box Contact Your Legislators. Just type in your zip code and away you go.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Hurricane help

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Task Force has called upon the Catholic Church Extension Society to coordinate a Parish Partnership Program to assist the parishes in the Gulf Coast dioceses that were affected by the hurricanes.

This program will provide a clearinghouse or central point of contact for connecting these Gulf Coast parishes with parishes across the country that wish to help in the process of recovery and rebuilding -- whether it's a one-time gift, or a long-term commitment.

In the months that have passed since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast region, 273 parishes in 106 dioceses across the country have joined Catholic Church Extension Society's Parish Partnership Program to establish partnering relationships with parishes that suffered severe damage.

To learn how you and your parish can help, go here.

South Dakota and abortion

Cynthia Gorney writes in The New Yorker about South Dakota House Bill 1215, which was signed into law in March. The law, which calls for a ban on abortion, except in cases where the life of the mother is threatened, was designed specifically to challenge Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that declared that abortion must be legal in every state.

Gorney discusses her article, the law, and the future of the abortion debate in the United States in an online Q. & A. here:
It is often said that these issues are straw men, that the Republican base does not feel drastically different from the Democratic base, and that abortion is mainly an election-time lever—like gay marriage—to get evangelicals to vote. Does the national Republican Party really want this fight?

My first response is that I don’t think it’s appropriate to equate right-to-life sentiment with the movement against gay marriage. I believe that the latter is a political diversionary tactic. People care about it but not that much. The right-to-life movement is quite different. It’s made up of people who genuinely believe that millions of babies have been murdered because of a Supreme Court decision thirty-three years ago. If you really believe that to be true, then your motivation is profound. The volunteers who staff these organizations accept this premise and believe there is something so terrible about it that they have to devote their lives to it.

On the other hand, the Republican Party has numerous factions, ranging from strongly pro-choice Republicans who say that interference by government is inconsistent with social conservatism to more opportunistic Republicans to who believe that this issue is a political organizing tool. Right-to-life organizations in this country were primarily inspired by and organized by the Catholic Church for about the first ten years of the issue, from the time that states started changing their laws, in the late sixties, to around the late seventies. That’s not to say that all right-to-life people were Catholic, but the Church provided the most effective communication and organizational vehicle. In the late nineteen-seventies, there was a concerted effort to use abortion as an organizing tool to bring Christian evangelicals into the political fold. Political leaders realized that the evangelicals were an enormous constituency and that the way to persuade them to agree on issues like taxation and foreign policy was to attach social beliefs, chief among them opposition to abortion. Republicans may always have been opposed to abortion, but that’s when it became part of the Party identity in the way that we know it to be now.

I don’t profess any expertise on insider Republican politics, but I agree with the people who say that, in many ways, the overturning of Roe v. Wade would be a loss for the Republican Party. It’s much more useful to hold up the decision as a spectre. It serves their interests better. If Roe were overturned, it would change things in very unpredictable ways. There are some states where the prospect of being able to vote an abortion ban into place would bring out lots of Republicans, and others where opposition would galvanize Democrats. Again, this is part of what’s so interesting. I don’t think we really know, despite the huge stack of polls, how most people will really react when they’re not just talking theory but considering creating a law that would directly affect the life of their mothers, their sisters, their daughters.

Let's do lunch

Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al Hussein, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to the United Nations, will discuss The Evolution of the United Nations in International Affairs on Thursday, June 29, from 12:15p.m. – 1:30 p.m. at State University Plaza, Board Room, 13th floor, 353 Broadway in Albany.

Prince Zeid will discuss steps to enhance the United Nation’s effectiveness in taking and implementing policy about international criminal justice, reform of peacekeeping, and capacity to meet the significant international challenges of the twenty first century.

The talk is sponsored by the State University of New York Center for International Development. The CID Speakers’ Forum seeks to share the insights gained through its work and to promote discussion with the larger university community.

Contact Mark Baskin at SUNY/CID for additional information. Phone: 518-443-5261 or e-mail:

More information on the talk is available here.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Looking for work?

The Catholic Alliance for the Common Good and Pax Christi USA, with Catholic Alliance organizational partners, are launching a multi-year field organizing effort to promote the Catholic commitment to the common good, found at the heart of the Catholic social tradition. The purpose of the ‘Called to the Common Good’ field organizing program is to communicate the message of Catholic social teaching in local and regional media and at the parish level in order to inspire responsible civic engagement.

Primary Responsibilities include:
- Identify, build, train and resource a network of diocesan leaders who can promote the common good Catholic message within their communities and organize volunteers to accomplish this.

- Develop, cultivate and strengthen relationships with diocesan offices and parish ministries throughout the assigned organizing region, where applicable.
- Assist in facilitating media work at the state and local levels.

- Work with the organizing team to develop resources for dissemination focused on the common good Catholic message.

- Work with the organizing team to develop strategies for educational outreach on Catholic Social Teaching and policies which further the values of Catholic Social Teaching.

Learn more here.

Good advice

Catholic News Service reports here that Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick warned the U.S. bishops last week that "the intense polarization and bitter battles of partisan politics may be seeping into (the) broader ecclesial life of our Catholic people and maybe even of our (bishops') conference."
On polarization within the church he said: "We are called to teach the truth, to correct errors and to call one another to greater faithfulness. However, there should be no place in the body of Christ for the brutality of partisan politics, the impugning of motives, or turning differences in pastoral judgment into fundamental disagreements on principle.

"Civility and mutual respect which we must witness are not signs of weakness or lack of commitment, but solid virtues which reflect confidence and faith.

"We don't fit the partisan categories," he continued. "We are not chaplains of factions, but rather builders of genuine unity reflecting the truth of our faith and the diversity of our community. People can divide up the work, but they shouldn't divide the church."

The task force was heavily criticized in some U.S. Catholic quarters for its insistence that there can be no hard-and-fast national rule forbidding Catholic politicians from receiving Communion if they adopt public policy stands that are in opposition to church teaching on fundamental moral issues such as abortion or euthanasia or same-sex marriage.

Instead, the task force said it is up to each bishop to seek to educate and persuade Catholic politicians on church teachings in such areas and to make case-by-case pastoral decisions whether certain members of their diocese should be told not to present themselves for Communion.

Cardinal McCarrick said his role on the task force was one of the most challenging he faced in nearly 30 years as a bishop.

"This is not about one election or one campaign," he said. "It is about how we as bishops faithfully fulfill our responsibilities as moral teachers, as caring pastors and as leaders of the Catholic community within a democratic and pluralistic nation."

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Global Climate Change

Elizabeth Kolbert, a staff writer for The New Yorker, writes about global warming here:
Since 1992, U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide -- the chief cause of climate change -- have continued to rise more or less at the same rate. Even as the Japanese and the Europeans have pledged to cut their carbon dioxide production, President George W. Bush has blocked all attempts to impose emissions limits in the United States. The administration has gone so far as to oppose the efforts of states, such as California, that are trying to reduce emissions on their own.

To the extent that the administration has offered any explanation for this contradiction -- promising to avert dangerous climate change on the one hand, blocking attempts to curb emissions on the other -- it's to assert that the uncertainties about climate change make action premature. Thanks to the nature of global warming, this ostensibly cautious approach actually amounts to the worst sort of recklessness.

The climate system is highly inertial; it takes several decades for changes already set in motion to become apparent. Scientists probably won't be able to determine just what level of greenhouse gases will trigger, say, the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet until that level has been exceeded.

But as anyone who has ever tried to push a stalled car can attest, systems that are hard to get moving also tend to be hard to stop. Although it sounds reasonable to argue that we ought to wait for certainty before taking action, if we do, effective action almost certainly will become impossible. Once we know for sure that the ice sheet is in danger of disappearing, it will be too late to reverse the process.

In an April 2006 statement on Global Climate Change, the Office of Social Development & World Peace for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states:
In their June 2001 statement, Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence and the Common Good, the bishops note: “Although debate continues about the extent and impact of this warming, it could be quite serious … Consequently, it seems prudent not only to continue to research and monitor this phenomenon, but to take steps now to mitigate possible negative effects in the future.” The statement also calls for a less polarized public debate and more focus on the global common good. The bishops call for thoughtful dialogue that relies on the political virtue of prudence. Prudence is not simply a cautious and safe approach, but rather a thoughtful, deliberate, and reasoned basis for taking or avoiding action to achieve a moral good.

Specifically, USCCB supports strong U.S. leadership and advocates for much greater assistance to the developing nations, particularly in providing economic development aid to enable poorer countries to adopt state-of-the-art technology. The centerpiece of USCCB’s efforts on climate change will be to focus attention on the needs of the poor as they will suffer disproportionately from the potential impacts of climate change. The bishops also call for greater emphasis on energy conservation, the development of renewable and clean energy resources, and assistance to industries and workers displaced during the transition to new and more benign energy production.

The entire statement is available here. So, what are you doing to help solve this problem? Writing a letter to your editor, or your Senator or Congress person? Researching the problem on-line? Talking about it with your family and friends?

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Sign up now

Professor R. Kevin Seasoltz, OSB will present a lecture, “Liturgy & the Moral Life,” July 13 at 7:30 p.m. in the Pastoral Center, 40 North Main Avenue in Albany. Tickets are $10. Because seating is limited, you should make your reservation now. For more information, call 518-453-6760 or e-mail
This lecture will explore the connections between the celebration of the liturgy, the moral life of Christians and their social consciousness. It will also reflect on the contemporary moral and social values set out in the liturgy and their presence or absence in the moral and social consciousness of contemporary American society.

Kevin Seasoltz is a Benedictine monk of Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. For twenty-five years he was on the faculty of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Then he became the rector of Saint John’s Diocesan Seminary in Collegeville. At present he is a professor in the School of Theology-Seminary in Collegeville. For twenty years he has been the editor of the liturgical journal Worship. In 2001 Worship received the Michael Mathis Award from the University of Notre Dame. Last year Father Kevin received the Berakah Award from the North American Academy of Liturgy. His recent publications include A Sense of the Sacred: Theological Foundations of Christian Architecture and Art.

The lecture is sponsored by St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry, together with the Diocesan Office of Prayer and Worship and the Continuing Education for Clergy Committee.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Innocent? Guilty? Does it matter?

David R. Dow, a law professor at the University of Houston, and the author of "Executed on a Technicality: Lethal Injustice on America's Death Row," writes here that death penalty opponents are too focused on the nightmare of executing an innocent man as a tactic to erode support for capital punishment in America.
Innocence is a distraction. . . . most people on death row did what the state said they did. But that does not mean they should be executed.
. . .
In 98 percent of the cases, however, in 49 out of 50, there were appalling violations of legal principles: prosecutors struck jurors based on their race; the police hid or manufactured evidence; prosecutors reached secret deals with jailhouse snitches; lab analysts misrepresented forensic results. Most of the cases do not involve bogus claims of innocence . . . but the government corruption that the federal courts overlook so that the states can go about their business of executing.

Church statements on the death penalty can be found here.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Is the death penalty important?

A friend at New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty sent us the following, which we pass along without comment.
Dale Volker, the Senate's main proponent of the death penalty, vowed during last year's floor debate to hold public hearings on the death penalty during the current legislative session to counter what he characterized as "disinformation" presented during the Assembly hearings. Yesterday, when Sen. Eric Schneiderman reminded Sen. Volker of his pledge, Volker responded by saying that the Senate had "a lot of other important business" to deal with this year. It must be a sign of the times when even Dale Volker considers the death penalty to be less important than many other issues!

Embryonic death?

A philosopher in Britain suggests that the rhythm method of contraception may increase the risk of early embryonic death.
Luc Bovens, a philosopher at the London School of Economics, argues in the Journal of Medical Ethics that couples who try to prevent pregnancy by avoiding sex during the woman's most fertile time of month may be more likely to produce embryos that do not develop or implant in the womb.

If this is correct, he writes, then "millions of rhythm method cycles per year globally depend for their success on massive embryonic death."

Those who worry about early embryonic death should be as concerned about the rhythm method as they are about other forms of contraception, like Plan B, and about embryonic stem cell research, he asserts.

Dr. Bovens's article has drawn swift response from abortion opponents in the United States and the United Kingdom, many of whom are proponents of natural family planning, an outgrowth of what was once called the rhythm method.

These critics have taken aim at Dr. Bovens's analogy between early embryonic deaths that may occur because of the timing of intercourse and losses that may result from the use of contraception. They have also questioned the assumption that embryos conceived on the fringe of a woman's fertile window are less likely to be viable.

Fertility experts say that there is little evidence to support this assumption but that there are some indications it may be valid.

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Coddling murderers?

The Associated Press reports that the state Senate has passed a bill to re-instate the death penalthy in New York:
The state Senate's Republican majority on Tuesday accused Assembly Democrats of acting to "coddle murderers" after it effectively ended an effort to revive New York's death penalty.

"I don't for the life of me understand the majority over there in the Assembly, how they feel that they should coddle murderers instead of stepping up and protecting the innocent," said Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno.

The right honorable Senator should know that the Catholic bishops, probably all Democrats as obvious from their right-to-life stand, as well as our late Pope, another leftist agitator, opposed the death penalty. As St. Anthony Messenger noted in an editorial last year:
Our bishops have been calling for an end to the death penalty for 25 years, “out of a commitment to the value and dignity of human life.” Shortly before the death of Pope John Paul II, who also pleaded for an end to capital punishment, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) launched a new campaign. “Our Catholic teaching on the death penalty is both clear and complicated,” explained Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, D.C. “The Catholic Church has long acknowledged the right of the state to use the death penalty in order to protect society. However, the Church has more and more clearly insisted the state should forgo this right if it has other means to protect society.”

The rest of the editorial is here.

Lessons in peace

Jordan Carleo-Evangelist writes in today’s Times Union about Seamus Hodgkinson, a former resident of Belfast, who won Anne Frank award for creating a visiting student program at Doane Stuart for teens from Northern Ireland.
"You can't just wish peace. You can't just wish violence away," Hodgkinson said in a recent interview at the hilltop private school at Albany's extreme southern end. Turning his idea into a reality was the challenge, much like the work needed to create Doane Stuart, which school officials call the country's only successfully integrated Protestant and Catholic school.

The rest of the article is here.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Timothy's Law

The New York State Catholic Conference is asking for your help.
The 2006 legislative session has only a few days left. Please take action today to see that Timothy’s Law is enacted before the legislature ends its business for the year. This important legislation would establish that coverage for mental health and chemical dependence services must be on par with physical health benefits under insurance plans. The Assembly has overwhelmingly passed Timothy’s Law (A2912A/Tonko) but to date the Senate has not acted on it.

Health insurance plans and health maintenance organizations frequently limit access to behavioral health services by restricting the number of visits and/or requiring higher co-payments than required for access to general health services. The case of Timothy O’Clair, a Schenectady boy who committed suicide in his home after not getting adequate mental health treatment due to lack of coverage, clearly illustrates the ultimate cost that barriers to treatment can exact.

You can take action here.

Call us patriotic

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg suggested to college graduates Saturday that nothing is more patriotic than questioning the government and "challenging it to live up to the democratic ideals."
"We all have to get together in this country and stop this right now and stand up to those who would demagogue," he said. "There is nothing _ absolutely nothing _ wrong with criticizing our government, on any topic, and challenging it to live up to the democratic ideals. It is not unpatriotic. In fact, what could be more patriotic?"

Aides say Bloomberg was not referring to a specific leader or issue, but rather an overall atmosphere where dissenting opinions are shut out.

You can read the entire article here.

Another Catholic blog

Karen Dietlein Osborne at The Evangelist writes about blogs:
When Rev. Dennis Tamburello, OFM, fires up his computer and writes in his blog, he wants to spur dialogue, increase education and bring a Catholic perspective to topics.

"Some people think I'm too Catholic; some people think I'm not Catholic enough," he said, regarding reader reaction to his new blog.

Father Tamburello, a professor of religious studies at Siena College in Loudonville, was tapped by the Albany Times-Union to write a religion blog alongside other religious leaders, including Imam Ahmed Kobeisy, director of the Islamic Center of the Capital District in Schenectady, and Rabbi Scott Shpeen of Congregation Beth Emeth.

The rest of the article is here. The link for Rev. Tamburello's blog is here. (We are familiar with that "too Catholic/not Catholic enough" feeling.)

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Our tax dollars

James M. Odato of the Times Union writes about “the political piggy bank” that legislators use to fund their pet projects and how they refuse to tell us how the money is spent:
Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver refuse to let anyone know how lawmakers are spending hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money.

Since April, the two powerful politicians have rejected all requests to disclose the names of legislators who arranged some $340 million in appropriations of the public's money in recent years for thousands of pet projects, grants and gifts.
. . .
The special appropriations, called "member items," have become a secret piggy bank for Bruno and Silver. As leaders, they decide in private how to spend $170 million the Legislature routinely inserts into the state budget each year for themselves and their 210 colleagues. They add another $30 million for Gov. George Pataki to use as he wishes.

The rest of the story is here. Perhaps it is time for the voters to retire both Mr. Bruno and Mr. Silver. Consider it an act of bipartisanship.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Summer retreat

Pyramid Life Center is offering a retreat entitled Responsible Citizenship in the Kingdom of God on Earth with Father Armand Mathew, OMI, on July 21 - 23. Cost of the retreat is $120. Here is a brief description:
An ongoing reflection and conversation on justice and peace ministry in the context of responsible citizenship. We are called to be carrier's of Christ's peace and agents of justice. The focus will be on how to be effective in these ministries in today's fractured and wounded world. Fr. Mathew is the Director of the Center For Civic Engagement at the University of Texas at Brownsville/ Texas Southmost College.

The relevant links are and

Friday, June 09, 2006


The Senate rejected efforts Thursday to repeal the estate tax, but supporters promised to try again. On Monday, we told you that NETWORK, the Catholic social justice lobby, opposed repeal of the tax because
. . . we believe tax and spending decisions are fundamental statements of what we value as a nation. Elimination of, or reductions to the estate tax will benefit a small percentage of wealthy people while damaging human services which are needed by many Americans.

Thanks to those of you who took the time to call your senators and asked them to oppose this proposal.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Death penalty news

New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty reports that the State Senate will vote on reinstatement of the death penalty early next week.

The Senate will vote on two bills. One is for broader reinstatement of the death penalty (S2727) and the second is for reinstatement of the death penalty for the intentional murder of a police officer, peace officer or correctional official (S6771).

Recent developments in New York include the exoneration of Douglas Warney, convicted of a Rochester murder he did not commit. Mr. Warney has a borderline IQ, is subject to delusions and his conviction was apparently based on a confession that was manipulated and coerced by investigators. He served 10 years before DNA evidence proved him innocent. His case shows that New York's criminal justice system is not immune to the kinds of error that have led to wrongful convictions in other states.

Moreover, there is no provision in the proposed reinstatement bills that would exclude people suffering with mental illness from execution. The New York Times recently wrote about a Texas man, facing imminent execution despite clear evidence that he has a long history of mental illness and insists that Texas is working in
cooperation with Satan to execute him as a way to keep him from preaching the gospel. In New York, as in other states, potentially mitigating evidence of mental illness has been kept from juries at the insistence of the defendants.

Learn more about what you can do here.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Buy this ticket

The Times Union reports here:
Jewish Family Services of Northeastern New York will honor Sister Maureen Joyce at its annual banquet on Sunday at Congregation Ohav Shalom.

Joyce, chief executive officer of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany since 1990, worked closely with JFS in the creation of an innovative program to provide services to help older adults deal with health and age issues while remaining in their homes and community for as long as possible.

Of course, we also love her for another reason:
Joyce also helped establishing a public policy education network on political responsibility and advocacy for the poor.

JFS' award celebration will begin with a cocktail reception at 6 p.m., followed by dinner and a discussion on interfaith initiatives. Reservations are $75 per person or $150 per person and $250 per couple for the honorary committee.

The synagogue is at 113 New Krumkill Road. For information, call JFS 482-8856 or go to

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

More on the estate tax

You can read some startling figures on financial disparity and the need for the estate tax here:
The United States is the most inequitable advanced nation in the world. Every year since 1996 the top 1 percent has garnered more income than bottom 100 million Americans taken together. Wealth ownership is even more concentrated than income. Indeed, it is literally feudal: The top one percent of wealth holders owns roughly half of all financial and business wealth. The top 5 percent owns almost 70 percent of such wealth. In 2003 the top 1 percent alone received 57.5 percent of all capital gains, rent, interest and dividend income—up from 37.6 percent two decades earlier. A recent analysis by The New York Times and Citizens for Tax Justice found that 43 percent of the Bush dividend tax cuts went to taxpayers with incomes greater than $1 million, who make up a mere 1/10th of 1 percent of all taxpayers.

As we told you yesterday, you should tell your senators to vote NO on repeal of, or change to, the estate tax this week. Call your senators today toll-free: 1-800-459-1887.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Time to take action

NETWORK, the Catholic social justice lobby, writes:
This week the Senate is expected to vote on repeal or reform of the estate tax. NETWORK believes that this tax is beneficial to our society as a whole, and therefore we oppose changes to its current form. Tell your senators to vote NO on repeal of, or change to, the estate tax.

Call your senators Tuesday toll-free: 1-800-459-1887.

Tell them we believe tax and spending decisions are fundamental statements of what we value as a nation. Elimination of, or reductions to the estate tax will benefit a small percentage of wealthy people while damaging human services which are needed by many Americans.

Another source tells us, here:
It doesn't matter if you are liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. There is no possible excuse for doing what Congress is poised to do this week: Abolish the estate tax.

The federal government faces a future of expanding deficits. Thanks to the baby bust and medical inflation, spending is projected to rise by nearly 3 percent of gross domestic product by 2030, a growth equivalent to the doubling of today's Medicare program. What is the dumbest possible response to this? Take a source of revenue and abolish it outright.
. . .
The nation faces rising inequality. Since 1980 the gap between the earnings of the top fifth and the bottom fifth has jumped by almost 50 percent. The United States is by some measures the most unequal society in the rich world and the most unequal that it's been since the 1920s. What is the dumbest possible response to this? Identify the most progressive federal tax and repeal it.
. . .
For most of the past century, the case for the estate tax was regarded as self-evident. People understood that government has to be paid for, and that it makes sense to raise part of the money from a tax on "fortunes swollen beyond all healthy limits," as Theodore Roosevelt put it. The United States is supposed to be a country that values individuals for their inherent worth, not for their inherited worth. The estate tax, like a cigarette tax or a carbon tax, is a tool for reducing a socially damaging phenomenon -- the emergence of a hereditary upper class -- as well as a way of raising money.

Legislative session

As the State Legislature heads towards the end of its session, there still are issues that need to be addressed. The New York State Catholic Conference has action suggestions at its website, by clicking the Take Action button on the home page. Please check it out.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

School of the Americas

We had some browser problems that now seem to be corrected. We apologize for the lack of postings for the past two days. Now on to the news.

SOA Watch is an independent organization that seeks to close the US Army School of the Americas, under whatever name it is called, through vigils and fasts, demonstrations and nonviolent protest, as well as media and legislative work.

This week, the week of June 5, Congress will vote on an amendment to close the SOA/ WHINSEC. Rep. McGovern (MA) will introduce an amendment to the Foreign Operations appropriations bill to cut funding for the SOA/ WHINSEC:
We expect a close vote and need as many people as possible flooding the offices of the House of Representatives with calls in support of a YES vote on the amendment. This is it! And it's the people power of our movement that will get this amendment passed!

Go here for more information.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Evangelist

Here is a story from this week's Evangelist:
In competition with Catholic newspapers across the U.S., The Evangelist has won five national prizes for excellence in journalism.

The awards were handed out at the annual convention of the Catholic Press Association, which represents Catholic newspapers and magazines.

Do people have any idea what a wonderful newspaper we have in this diocese? It gets awards every year. Every year. That is an incredible accomplishment. We have read diocesan papers in other parts of the country that serve mostly as ways of getting the local bishop’s picture in print. Here, we have a real treasure that provides interesting articles, great photography, and valuable information.

It has been said that the value of any diocesan paper is in inverse proportion to the number of times the bishop’s picture appears in it. Bishop Hubbard’s picture does not even appear on his monthly column, so by the aforementioned standard, it has great value, which it does. We always are amazed to talk to local Catholics who say either they do not get The Evangelist or get it and do not read it. What a waste.

Death and taxes

Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, writes here about the estate tax, also known to some as the death tax:
According to the biblical prophets, the greatest moral offense of poverty is the inequality that often lies behind it. When poverty abounds and the wealthy refuse to share their prosperity, God gets mad. If the congressional leadership has its way, American inequality is about to take a giant step forward with their efforts to destroy or gut the estate tax - an effective measure to combat inequality that has been working for 100 years.

Sometimes, there are public policy choices that simply make no moral sense. When a nation is at war, when deficits are rising at record rates, and when everyone knows that even more budget cuts are coming that will directly and negatively impact the nation's poorest families and children, you don't give more tax breaks to the super-rich. But that is exactly what the administration and the Republican leadership are strenuously trying to do. And with the latest Census Bureau income and poverty report showing that the poverty rate has gone up for the fourth straight year, the moral offense is compounded. There are 37 million Americans now living below the poverty line, 4 million more than in 2001. That includes 13 million children.
. . .
Repeal supporters have cleverly changed the language of the debate by calling the estate tax "the death tax" and claiming that it mostly affects family farmers and small businesses who are unable to pass their farms and businesses along to their children. That is simply not true. To put it less delicately, they are lying to cover up the fact that the estate tax mostly affects their richest friends. The tax affects only the wealthiest half of 1 percent of Americans - estates with a net value of more than $2 million ($4 million for couples). That is exactly what this tax was supposed to do when it was introduced in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt (a Republican, remember) to counter the European practice of passing on enormous wealth from generation to generation, thereby encouraging aristocracy.

Follow the link to find out what you can do.