Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Poetry for peace?

John Dear SJ, in his column On the Road to Peace, writes about Denise Levertov, one of the leading poets of the century, friend of Thomas Merton and Daniel Berrigan, Catholic convert and outspoken anti-war activist.
These days, as the U.S. bombs Iraq and Afghanistan, funds Israel's occupation of Palestinians, ignores the starving masses from Darfur to Haiti, and maintains thousands of nuclear weapons, we need the wisdom and consolation of Denise Levertov to inspire us.

It all boils down, she says, to "the imagination of peace":

A voice from the dark called out,
"The poets must give us
imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar
imagination of disaster. Peace, not only
the absence of war."

An axiom applicable to every warmaking culture -- one of its first losses, the imagination. No one can conceive of a world without war, poverty or nuclear weapons. But poets like Denise Levertov restore our vision. They open our minds to imagine an imponderable world, and push us to announce that vision, and make it come true:

The choice: to speak
or not to speak.
We spoke.
Those of whom we spoke
had not that choice.

Drawing on Denise's inspiration, we too can speak out against war, poverty and nuclear weapons and hope stubbornly for a day in which all might live in peace.

As we like to say, you can read more here.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Empire’s Dark Side

The Wall Street Journal published a summary this week of an article on the costs of imperialism.
Even if economists and historians have discovered that imperialism has had global benefits, the benefits don’t match the harm it causes, argue economists Christopher J. Coyne and Steve Davies in Econ Journal Watch.

Messrs. Coyne and Davies single out as typical of the pro-empire argument a recent paper in the Journal of Economic History that showed how bond markets across Latin America flourished after Theodore Roosevelt established that the U.S. would intervene militarily if a country defaulted on its debt.

However, they point out that along with a public good like regional stability, U.S. military intervention can also create public bads. Using a historical index of democracy, they find that very few of the nations where the U.S. intervened militarily in the past 100 years developed democratic institutions. Five years after an intervention, only 28% had a viable democracy, and only 36% had one 20 years after.

The authors say this poor success rate, even when considering positives such as short-term stability, shows how military interventions have downsides such as worse instability later on and client governments focused on keeping the support of the U.S. government, rather than on domestic growth.

There is a lot more to read here.

Monday, January 29, 2007

R.I.P. Father Drinan

With sorrow, we note the passing of Father Robert F. Drinan.
The Rev. Robert F. Drinan, a Jesuit who served in Congress for 10 years until stepping down in response to a papal order, died Sunday. He was 86 and lived here in housing for the Georgetown University Jesuit community.

A university statement Sunday night said Father Drinan had recently been ill with pneumonia and congestive heart failure.

An internationally known human rights advocate, Father Drinan represented Massachusetts in the House of Representatives for 10 years in the 1970s, stepping down only after a worldwide directive from Pope John Paul II barring priests from holding public office.

You can read more here.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Government arrogance

The newspapers bring us two stories today on government arrogance, first in Albany and then in Washington.

The Albany story reports that members of the state Assembly are in a snit because the screening panel set up to select candidates for state Comptroller did not anoint one of their own. One Assemblyman said the process yielded “questionable results,” apparently because Assembly members believed the fix was in to tap one of their pals rather than a qualified outsider. You can read more here.

The second story involves Maher Arar, a Canadian Arab who was spirited by U.S. agents to Syria and tortured there after being falsely named as a terrorism suspect. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the victim
criticized the United States for its refusal to accept the exhaustive Canadian inquiry that found Arar was an innocent man. Public resentment in Canada has swelled this week over U.S. officials' insistence that Arar should remain on its "watch list" of potential suspects, as well as the testy comments of U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins, who said Canada had no business questioning who was on the list.

The United States has never acknowledged it made a mistake in the Arar case, which has become one of the most public embarrassments in the U.S. practice of "extraordinary rendition" of suspects to other countries for interrogation and imprisonment.

The rest of that story is here. Albany Catholic urges you to contact your elected representatives to express your outrage. You can find a link to the right.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Pigs and workers

Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pork producer, was in the news twice today: for how it treats its pigs and for how it treats its workers.
The world's largest pork processor said on Thursday that it would phase out confinement of pigs in individual gestation crates over the next decade, a move animal welfare advocates said would end one of the cruelest practices in the agriculture industry.

The processor, Smithfield Foods, which raises sows at 187 farms in eight states, said it would replace individual metal cages with pens where the sows would be housed in groups, allowing more mobility.

Animal welfare activists praised the move. "This is perhaps the most important moment in animal welfare in the agribusiness sector in 50 years,"” said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States.

The Humane Society and others have long criticized the use of gestation crates. The sows spend up to three years continuously reproducing -- much of the time confined in stalls where they cannot turn around --— before being slaughtered. Veal cows are confined to two-foot-wide crates for four months and then slaughtered. Hens spend about a year laying eggs in "“battery cagesÂ" --— where they do not have room to flap their wings --— before they are slaughtered.

But the confinement of breeding pigs to two-foot-by-seven-foot metal cages "“is the most intensive and longest that any animal in agriculture is subjected to," Mr. Pacelle said.

Animal welfare groups have successfully pressured universities and retailers like Whole Foods and Ben & Jerry'’s to ban the practice of buying eggs from companies that confine hens in battery cages. But the groups have had less success in the United States in persuading meat processors to change their practices.

The rest of the story is here.

Then there is this:
An immigration raid at a huge North Carolina pork-packing plant provoked protests yesterday from union officials, who said the company, Smithfield Foods, had collaborated with the authorities searching for illegal immigrants to discourage its workers from organizing.

The dispute arose after Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested 21 workers on Wednesday morning at the plant, in Tar Heel, about 80 miles south of Raleigh. The workers, 18 Mexicans and 3 Guatemalans, were in this country illegally and will be deported, immigration officials said.

Smithfield executives said the immigration agents informed them on Tuesday that they would be coming to question the immigrants. They said they had been working with the immigration agency since July to verify that the 5,200 employees at the plant had legal employment and immigration documents.

Dennis Pittman, a Smithfield spokesman, said the arrests caused no disruption at the plant, one of the largest pork factories in the world, which processes as many as 32,000 hogs in a day. "There were no helicopters or buses or even anybody in uniforms," Mr. Pittman said. "It was done in an orderly, professional fashion."”

He said the raid was not related to a bitter standoff that began more than a decade ago between the plant and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which is seeking to represent the workers.

Gene Bruskin, an organizer for the union, said the company had started to cooperate closely with immigration authorities after a walkout by immigrant workers last summer. "“My concern is the company is using the immigration issue to manipulate this long fight over workers'’ rights,"” Mr. Bruskin said.

And the rest of that story is here. Can anyone say "Boycott"?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Conservatives Blame America First?

Eric Alterman, a Senior Fellow of the Center for American Progress and the author of six books, writes a popular blog, “Altercation,” at He also write a column titled Think Again. The latest one is Conservatives Blame America First, Again.

Rejected by the American people at the polls in November, the long, wagging finger of the far-right is still shaking all over. Its most recent manifestation arrives in the form of Heritage Foundation “scholar” Dinesh D’Souza’s new book, The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left And Its Responsibility For 9/11, which lays the blame for the attacks of 9/11—and for the extremist Islamist threat—squarely on the shoulders of the American left (explicitly including, I am proud to say, yours truly).

In other words, D’Souza blames America, and Americans, for the terrorist attacks of 2001. He writes that bin Laden did not attack the United States “because of U.S. troops in Mecca,” or because of America’s alliance with Israel, but instead because the American cultural and political left “has fostered a decadent American culture that angers and repulses traditional societies.”

Specifically, he writes, “the cultural left [that’s me] and its allies in Congress, the media, Hollywood, the nonprofit sector, and the universities, are the primary cause of the volcano of anger toward America that is erupting from the Islamic world.”

Nice work if you can get it. Alas, it involves forgetting the fact that bin Laden himself has said “We fought you because we are free ... and want to regain freedom for our nation. As you undermine our security we undermine yours,” and that “it had not occurred to our mind to attack the towers, but after our patience ran out and we saw the injustice and inflexibility of the American-Israeli alliance toward our people in Palestine and Lebanon, this came to my mind.”

As you may recall, conservatives’ tendency to try to exploit the tragedy of 9/11 to score political points against their domestic political adversaries is as old as, well, 9/11 itself. This blame-America-first mentality on the part of right-wing critics is hardly anything new. We saw the first stirrings of this attitude on September 13, 2001, when Jerry Falwell literally couldn’t wait for the fires to go out in Lower Manhattan and the smoke to clear at the Pentagon before he told the nation what al-Qaeda’s real motivations were: “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays, and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way...I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.’” He said this on fellow televangelist Pat Robertson’s show, “The 700 Club,” and Robertson agreed, adding, “Jerry, that’s my feeling,” and “Well, I totally concur.”

You can read more here.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Abbé Pierre

The New York Times today published the obituary of Abbé Pierre, a famous Frenchman of whom most of us have never heard.

Abbé Pierre, who in the 1950s as a gaunt priest with a crook-handled cane and a profoundly persuasive passion mobilized France to attend to its homeless, then kept pressing his crusade until he became known as the country’s moral compass, died yesterday in Paris. He was 94.

The cause was complications of a respiratory infection, said Martin Hirsch, president of the organization Abbé Pierre founded, Emmaus.

“Friends! Help!” Abbé Pierre cried out during lunchtime news in the Paris studios of Radio Luxembourg on Feb. 1, 1954. It was a cruelly cold winter and the priest said a woman had been found frozen to death on the pavement of the Boulevard de Sebastopol clutching her eviction papers. He also told of a frozen baby.

Within minutes, volunteers began to appear at a relief center, and soon 200 people came with automobiles to search for more victims. Thousands of blankets, tons of clothes and millions of francs were donated. The government, which had previously turned down Abbé Pierre’s pleas for emergency housing, quickly promised 12,000 dwellings.
. . .
Television viewers in 2005 voted him the third greatest French person of all time, after de Gaulle and Pasteur.

You can read more here.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Eat that frog

Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy is a book for procrastintors. We had planned to write about this on January 1 in a discussion about New Year's resolutions but we, well, procrastinated.

The basic premise of the book is that to be more productive, you have to find out that one task that you need to do which will make a difference (and not the task that you feel like doing) and take steps to do it right away with urgency.
Here is a summary of 21 ways to stop procrastinating and getting more things done faster:

1. Set the table: Decide exactly what to do. Write down goals and objectives.
2. Plan every day in advance: Think on paper. Every minute spent in planning can save 5-10 minutes in execution.
3. Apply 80/20 Rule to everything: 20% of activities account for 80% of results. Always concentrate efforts on those top 20%.
4. Consider the consequences: Most important tasks and priorities are those with most serious consequences. Focus on them.
5. Practice the ABCDE method continually: Prioritize tasks from A - most important to E - least important to make sure you always work on the most important task.

You can read more here. Do not delay.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Minimum wage goes to Senate

By now you may know that the House passed a minimum wage bill and sent it to the Senate, so we thought a little discussion of the issue might be in order.

Over at dotCommonweal there is an interesting dialogue on Catholic social teaching and the minimum wage. You can read it here.

The New York Times had in informative article last week on two towns on either side of the Washington/Idaho state line and how the change in minimum wage resulted in . . . well, you can read it here.
Okay, here is a hint:
Nearly a decade ago, when voters in Washington approved a measure that would give the state's lowest-paid workers a raise nearly every year, many business leaders predicted that small towns on this side of the state line would suffer.

But instead of shriveling up, small-business owners in Washington say they have prospered far beyond their expectations. In fact, as a significant increase in the national minimum wage heads toward law, businesses here at the dividing line between two economies --— a real-life laboratory for the debate -- have found that raising prices to compensate for higher wages does not necessarily lead to losses in jobs and profits.

NETWORK, the Catholic social justice lobby, has more here:
NETWORK supports a "“clean"” minimum wage bill (one without offsets or other amendments) as a first step toward a living wage for all.

Passage of a "clean"” bill will be more difficult in the Senate, as members are likely to continue attempts to attach tax cuts to a minimum wage increase.

In 2006, for example, the Senate attempted to tie a reduction in the estate tax to a rise in the minimum wage. NETWORK opposed the repeal of the estate tax because it would (from 2012 -– 2021) transfer nearly one trillion dollars (accounting for interest payments on the debt) to the wealthiest 2% of Americans. This would result in less funding available to meet the needs of families living at the economic margins, and it would jeopardize adequate funding for healthcare, nutrition, education and child care programs.
. . .
The federal minimum wage is $5.15 per hour, as it has been since 1997 --– even as inflation has dropped buying power by twenty percent. A family of three with one member working full time at the minimum wage lives below the poverty threshold. Twenty-seven states have increased their state minimum wage, most having added a cost-of-living-increase. Yet, an increase in the federal minimum wage continues to be debated in the House and the Senate.

The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007 would provide the first minimum wage increase in ten years. During this same period, Congressional salaries have grown by $28,500, and the average salary of CEOs of S&P 500 companies rose by over 400% to $14 million per year.

Finally, did you know the following?
CEO's at top companies will make more before lunch on January 2, 2007 than their minimum wage employees will earn all year.

It takes the average CEO, 2 hours and 2 minutes to earn $10,712. The CEO of Fortune 100 companies earn $10,712 in 1 hour and 16 minutes.

It takes the average minimum wage worker 52 forty-hour weeks (2,080 hours) to earn $10,712.

You may want to read more here.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

A quote

From the latest issue of National Catholic Reporter:
A lot of religious people ... think our job is just getting people to heaven. I think everything is fine in heaven. It’s down here where it is not right.

-- Anglican Bishop Geoff Davies, director of the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute

Thursday, January 04, 2007

My party left me

Many people who describe themselves as Reagan Democrats are fond of repeating the Gipper's statement about the Democratic Party, i.e., "I did not leave my party. My party left me." To which we offer the following:
According to research undertaken by political scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal, in the early 1970s, the voting records of those in the political middle of the House Republican delegation were approximately as conservative as Congressman Steven LaTourette of Ohio, whom the Almanac of American Politics termed as having "the most moderate voting record of Ohio's Republican members." Yet 30 years later, in 2003, the anti-tax group the Club for Growth contemptuously labeled LaTourette a "Republican in Name Only" for his insufficient fealty to conservative causes. What was once the party's center had become its far left, as the average Republican congressman of the early 2000s was now 73 percent more conservative than his counterpart of the early seventies. In the Senate, the move rightward proved even more pronounced. The median Senate Republican was approximately twice as conservative 30 years later, as represented by Pennsylvania's Rick Santorum, a man who, before his 2006 defeat, famously compared gay Americans to practitioners of polygamy, incest, and bestiality.

A smart way to health?

With a new Governor and a new legislative year, New Yorkers may be able to see some action on issues like education and health care, which combine for an interesting article here.
James Smith, a health economist at the RAND Corporation, has heard a variety of hypotheses about what it takes to live a long life — money, lack of stress, a loving family, lots of friends. But he has been a skeptic.

Yes, he says, it is clear that on average some groups in every society live longer than others. The rich live longer than the poor, whites live longer than blacks in the United States. Longevity, in general, is not evenly distributed in the population. But what, he asks, is cause and what is effect? And how can they be disentangled?

He is venturing, of course, into one of the prevailing mysteries of aging, the persistent differences seen in the life spans of large groups. In every country, there is an average life span for the nation as a whole and there are average life spans for different subsets, based on race, geography, education and even churchgoing.

But the questions for researchers like Dr. Smith are why? And what really matters?

The answers, he and others say, have been a surprise. The one social factor that researchers agree is consistently linked to longer lives in every country where it has been studied is education. It is more important than race; it obliterates any effects of income.

Year after year, in study after study, says Richard Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging, education “keeps coming up.”

And, health economists say, those factors that are popularly believed to be crucial — money and health insurance, for example, pale in comparison.

Dr. Smith explains: “Giving people more Social Security income, or less for that matter, will not really affect people’s health. It is a good thing to do for other reasons but not for health.”

Health insurance, too, he says, “is vastly overrated in the policy debate.”

Instead, Dr. Smith and others say, what may make the biggest difference is keeping young people in school. A few extra years of school is associated with extra years of life and vastly improved health decades later, in old age