Friday, March 30, 2007

Oil roylaties and income

Two stories today show how we are paying more in taxes than we should and how the rich are getting richer. The first here reports that auditors at the Interior Department were prevented from collecting revenues that were owed to the government by oil companies that drilled on federal land.
“There’s hundreds of millions of dollars, billions of dollars out there, and I don’t think we should be scared of the oil companies,” said Bobby L. Maxwell, a former senior auditor who, as a private citizen, sued the Kerr-McGee Corporation, claiming it intentionally cheated the government of royalties for oil and gas it produced in the Gulf of Mexico.

The second story here notes that the rich are getting richer.
Income inequality grew significantly in 2005, with the top 1 percent of Americans — those with incomes that year of more than $348,000 — receiving their largest share of national income since 1928, analysis of newly released tax data shows.
. . .
The new data also shows that the top 300,000 Americans collectively enjoyed almost as much income as the bottom 150 million Americans. Per person, the top group received 440 times as much as the average person in the bottom half earned, nearly doubling the gap from 1980.

Perhaps we at Albany Catholic are getting jaded, but do you think there is any connection between allowing large corporations to avoid legitimate payments to the government and the large salaries their executives receive? Or between having the rest of us make up the difference in lost revenue and the fact that we are falling behind in income?

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Thursday, March 29, 2007


Here’s some interesting news on a new sanctuary movement, as reported in the Los Angeles Times:
Construction crews at Our Lady Queen of Angels are putting the finishing touches on a controversial new addition to the historic downtown Los Angeles church: living quarters in which to harbor an immigrant family facing deportation.

The 188-year-old parish, also known as La Placita, is among the first churches in the nation to pledge participation in a new sanctuary movement expected to be launched in late April as a faith-based effort to help undocumented families and to press for immigration reform.

"Here, we're taking our concerns about the nation's broken immigration system to a new level," Father Richard Estrada said this week as he stood in the church's second-floor storage room, above the altar, that is being converted into housing.

"Families broken by broken laws, and churches broken by it all," Estrada said. "You hear about it happening in churches across the city."

Inspired by Elvira Arellano, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who has taken refuge at a Methodist church in Chicago since August to avoid deportation, leaders of the first sanctuary movement in 25 years are interviewing hundreds of prospective candidates for refuge and dozens of churches willing to accept the legal risks of taking them in.

Advocacy groups, including Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice-California, Interfaith Worker Justice and the New York Sanctuary Coalition, are asking each participating church, synagogue and mosque to provide refuge for one or more illegal immigrants.

To be eligible, an undocumented immigrant must be in deportation proceedings, have a good work record and have children who are U.S. citizens by birth. They must also agree to undergo training to overcome their fear of public exposure and articulate their cases at news conferences and public gatherings.

Albany Catholic thinks the rest of the article makes for interesting reading.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Free trade, revisited

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a front page story on free trade, and one proponent’s realization that it is not what he thought it would be.
For decades, Alan S. Blinder -- Princeton University economist, former Federal Reserve Board vice chairman and perennial adviser to Democratic presidential candidates -- argued, along with most economists, that free trade enriches the U.S. and its trading partners, despite the harm it does to some workers. "Like 99% of economists since the days of Adam Smith, I am a free trader down to my toes," he wrote back in 2001.

Politicians heeded this advice and, with occasional dissents, steadily dismantled barriers to trade. Yet today Mr. Blinder has changed his message -- helping lead a growing band of economists and policy makers who say the downsides of trade in today's economy are deeper than they once realized.

Mr. Blinder, whose trenchant writing style and phrase-making add to his influence, remains an implacable opponent of tariffs and trade barriers. But now he is saying loudly that a new industrial revolution -- communication technology that allows services to be delivered electronically from afar -- will put as many as 40 million American jobs at risk of being shipped out of the country in the next decade or two. That's more than double the total of workers employed in manufacturing today. The job insecurity those workers face today is "only the tip of a very big iceberg," Mr. Blinder says.
. . .
Some critics are going public with reservations they've long harbored quietly. Nobel laureate Paul Samuelson, whose textbook taught generations, damns "economists' over-simple complacencies about globalization" and says rich-country workers aren't always winners from trade. He made that point in a 2004 essay that stunned colleagues. Lawrence Summers, a cheerleader for trade expansion as Clinton Treasury secretary, says people who argue globalization is inevitable and retraining is enough to help displaced workers offer "pretty thin gruel" to the anxious global middle class.

Others are finding the debate moving closer to positions they've had for years. Ralph Gomory, International Business Machines Corp.'s former chief scientist who now heads the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, says that changing technology and the rise of China and India could make the U.S. an also-ran if it loses many of its important industries. Harvard economist Dani Rodrik says global trade negotiations should focus on erecting new barriers against globalization, not lowering them, to help poor nations build domestic industries and give rich nations more time to retrain workers.

Albany Catholic suggests you read the rest of the article here.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Pope Benedict XVI and Oscar Romero

Catholic News Service reports that Pope Benedict XVI recalled the assassination of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar A. Romero and prayed for the many missionary martyrs of recent years.
Speaking at his noon blessing March 25, the pope noted that the previous day marked the 27th anniversary of the slaying of Archbishop Romero. The March 24 date has been chosen for fasting and prayer for all missionaries who have given their lives for the faith.

"These are bishops, priests, men and women religious, and laypeople, cut down while fulfilling their mission of evangelization and human promotion," the pope said.

"They are a hope for the world, because they show that love of Christ is stronger than violence and hatred. They didn't seek martyrdom, but they were ready to give their lives to remain faithful to the Gospel," he said.

The Vatican said 24 missionaries, most of them priests, were slain in 2006. Eleven were killed in Africa, the continent with the highest number of missionary deaths.

All well and good, until we get to this:
Archbishop Romero was shot and killed in 1980 as he was celebrating Mass in a San Salvador hospital chapel. After El Salvador's 12-year civil war, a truth commission found that a group of army officers and rightist businessmen planned the archbishop's murder.

Archbishop Romero's sainthood cause has been under study at the Vatican for several years. Sources have said the Vatican is satisfied that the archbishop's writings, homilies and speeches were free of doctrinal error, but a remaining question is whether it was the archbishop's faith or his politics that led to his assassination.

Excuse us, but Bishop Romero's faith led to his politics, and all of us should have such faith, and such politics. Albany Catholic thinks there are those in the Vatican who will never accept anyone who might be considered to have even the remotest link to liberation theology. Shame on them.

The entire CNS story is here.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Catholics in Cyberspace

Elizabeth Benjamin of the Albany Times Union posted the following on the paper’s website today:
The New York State Catholic Conference is claiming responsibility for 30,000 e-mails sent to Gov. Eliot Spitzer and state lawmakers since March 19 that express support for the governor's proposed $1,000 tuition tax deduction for independent, out-of-district and religious schools.

Some 10,000 people responded to an action alert on the conference's Web site, each of whom clicked to send a message (see below) to Spitzer.

The top five legislative recipients, according to the conference, were:

Sen. Mary Lou Rath, R-Williamsville: 531.

Sen. Dean Skelos, R-Rockville Center: 437.

Sen. Craig Johnson, D-Port Washington: 383.

Sen. Serphin Maltese, R-Queens: 380.

Sen. Andrew Lanza, R-Staten Island: 362.

The text of the e-mail follows:

"This year's proposed 2007-2008 State Budget adds a record $7 billion in additional funds to public schools over the next four years. The proposed budget also provides a modest yet historic tax deduction for families working hard to pay tuition. This tax deduction is a matter
of fairness."

"All parents, regardless of income, should have the opportunity to select their child's school, including a religious school. I urge you to help all children in all schools by fighting to include the Tuition Tax Deduction in the final State Budget. Please let me know whether I can count on you to stand up to the special interest groups."

The link is here.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Gerald Grinstein

Readers ofthis blog know where we stand on the issue of "executive compensation," the pay that goes to CEOs and other high ranking corporate leaders that is well in excess of what is just. USA Today this week carried the following editorial on this sbject, and it appears there is some good news for at least one company. It carried the headline, A refreshing refusal.

Bankruptcy is never pretty. It forces employees to accept cuts in pay and benefits, and sometimes lose their jobs. It forces creditors to accept a fraction of what they are owed. It dumps massive liabilities onto the taxpayer-backed Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. And it leaves shareholders holding the bag.

It is even more distasteful when insiders use the bankruptcy process to enrich themselves, as happened last year at United Airlines. Some 400 executives walked away with 8% of the newly reorganized company in the form of restricted shares worth about $ 400 million. (They originally wanted 15% of the company.) CEO Glenn Tilton, a relative newcomer to United and the airline industry, got shares worth more than $40 million. This bounty was made possible in part by pay cuts in the range of 10% that United workers had agreed to.

All of which is why the decision by Delta Air Lines CEO Gerald Grinstein to forgo the $10 million he would be due under a restructuring plan at his company is all the more commendable. Grinstein said Monday that his money should go to scholarships and hardship assistance for struggling employees and retirees.

Grinstein, 74, who is set to retire this summer, gave voice to something that has been painfully obvious to shareholders recently. Executive compensation, he said, has "gotten out of control" and become a "salary derby." His decision, along with Delta's more reasonable plan to have 1,200 executives share 2.4% of the new company when it emerges from Chapter 11, could help to keep the United deal from becoming an accepted standard.

The business of executive self-enrichment can take considerable creativity in the airline industry, which has been beset by big losses and languishing stock prices. So it's not surprising to see some executives try to use the reorganization process to line their pockets. But it's refreshing that at least one airline CEO has recognized it as unseemly — and has provided a welcome antidote to unfettered greed.

Find this article at:

Albany Catholic commends Mr. Grinstein. We have a new favorite air carrier.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Praying at the convent

It may be snowing in Albany tomorrow (Friday), but we want to pass along this invitation from the Sister of Mercy:

In a world torn by violence, terrorism and war:
The Sisters of Mercy
Invite you to join us
to pray in solidarity
with those who are in Washington, DC
protesting the war
on Friday, March 16th
at 7:00 pm
In the Chapel of
the Convent of Mercy
634 New Scotland Ave., Albany

(Across from St. Peter’s Hospital)

You are encouraged to fast on this day to whatever extent you are able and feel called.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Writing tax law

The good people at Mother Jones blogged about David Cay Johnson and his recent article on taxes:
David Cay Johnston is one of the few people in the United States who's exposing the American tax code for what it is: backwards socialism. As a Pulitzer Prize-winning tax reporter for the New York Times, Johnston has, over the past nine years, uncovered the inner workings of a system that coddles, aids, and abets the rich in their various attempts to get out of paying taxes, forcing the upper-middle, middle, and working classes to pay for government on their own.

As Johnston showed in his book, Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich—And Cheat Everybody Else, few people have really closely examined the intricate loopholes, devices, dodges, and shelters that allow corporations and superrich individuals to pay shockingly little in taxes.

Johnson’s article in Friday’s Times reports:
The Internal Revenue Service is asking tax lawyers and accountants who create tax shelters and exploit loopholes to take the lead in writing some of its new tax rules.

The pilot project represents a further expansion of the increasingly common federal government practice of asking outsiders to do more of its work, prompting academics and other critics to complain that the government is going too far.

They worry that having private lawyers and accountants draft tax rules could allow them to subtly skew them in favor of their clients.

“It’s not the fox guarding the hen house; it’s the fox designing the hen house,” said Paul C. Light, a professor of political science at New York University, who studies the federal work force.

You can read the rest of the story here.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Bulletin inserts about the war in Iraq

Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good has prepared a bulletin insert for the month of March regarding the Church's perspective on war and peace issues. They invite you to help distribute this insert in your parish.

You may download the insert by clicking here.

Please ask your pastor or parish office to place it in the bulletin. If this is not possible, your pastor can provide you with guidance on appropriate ways to distribute the March insert, such as handing out copies after Mass.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

School of the Americas

School of the Americas Watch sends the following Legislative Action alert:
On June 9, 2006, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) introduced an amendment to the Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill that would have cut funding for the SOA/WHINSEC. While the amendment failed by a 15 vote margin, the close vote indicated the power of grassroots lobbying to influence key leaders in one of the most conservative Congresses in recent memory.

Thirty-five Representatives who opposed the amendment lost their seats in the 2006 mid-term elections, heightening the prospect of closing the school with a vote in the 110th Congress. The bill, which will have a new number assigned in late March, is expected to be re-introduced this Spring.

We still have a long way ahead of us and we ask that you continue to support our efforts to close down the SOA/WHINSEC by keeping up the pressure on Congress and urging your Representative to co-sponsor Rep. McGovern's bill to suspend training at the SOA/WHINSEC.

You can learn more here.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

On the national level . . .

An article in The National Law Journal notes that states are abolishing the death penalty (even as some New York State Legislators seek to restore it here).
A perfect storm of problematic executions, wrongful convictions and recent court rulings against the practice of lethal injection has led a growing number of states to challenge the death penalty through lawsuits and legislative action.

Adding still more to the momentum are a public backlash against the cost of capital cases and the development of more effective defense techniques, such as mitigation specialists who humanize death row inmates.

Eleven states have halted some or all executions -- including Florida and Maryland in December -- and more lawmakers have been speaking out against the death penalty.

Last month alone, Maryland's governor urged legislators to replace the death penalty with life without parole, North Carolina's governor said executions should be halted until issues surrounding lethal injection are solved and Montana's Senate voted to abolish the death penalty.

Court decisions have also continued to come down, such as a Delaware judge granting class action status on Feb. 22 to all death row inmates based on a case challenging lethal injection. Jackson v. Danberg, No. Civ. 06-3000-SLR (D. Del.). "It's probably the strongest momentum since the death penalty was reinstated in the mid-1970s," said John Holdridge, director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Capital Punishment Project, which advocates against the death penalty.

There is more, much more, to read here. However, reading is not enough. We need to contact our State Legislators and let them know we object to the restoration of capital punishment in New York.

Sins of the Fathers

America’s involvement in Central America’s liberation struggles of the 1980s continues to reverberate in the region, as noted in this article:
After three Salvadoran congressmen were waylaid and killed on a road in Guatemala last month, it did not take the authorities long to find the culprits: they were Guatemalan police officers, and their unmarked police car had a tracking device that proved they were at the scene.

They quickly confessed, saying they thought their victims were drug dealers, and were sent to a maximum-security prison.

It is a measure of the weakness of the crime-plagued Guatemalan state that what happened just four days later remains something of a mystery — aside from the indisputable fact that the four who confessed ended up dead.

The police and the interior minister say that rioting gang members inside the prison shot and stabbed them. But other inmates and their visitors that day say a group of heavily armed men in military garb and ski masks made their way through seven locked doors and executed them, with no interference from guards, removing any possibility that they could identify co-conspirators.
. . .
Human rights advocates and opposition politicians have taken the two sets of killings as proof that criminal gangs have corrupted Guatemala’s national police force and that groups of officers are operating like drug syndicates, robbing and killing competing dealers.

The squads of rogue officers, human rights experts and others say, are in a sense an outgrowth of Guatemala’s long internal conflict. Some former military officers who came of age during the bloody counterinsurgency operations of the 1980’s are members of the new rogue squads, according to human rights experts and opposition politicians. They say other members are younger, but have adopted the old practices of assassination and terrorism to combat crime and, sometimes, to line their own pockets.

“The truth, I think, is the problem comes from the end of the armed conflict, when the state tried to protect itself against rebels,” said the editor of La Hora newspaper, Óscar Clemente Marroquín. “When the war stopped, the apparatus kept operating the same way but now it doesn’t protect the military. Now it protects organized crime.”

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Death penalty news

We received the following Action Alert regarding the death penalty in New York State:

Assembly Bill 6007 would create a quick fix to get around the decision of the Court of Appeals for murders of police, correctional officers and for acts of terrorism. New Yorkers by prefer life without parole over the death penalty by a margin of 20%. We have learned that the death penalty costs more than life without parole, risks executing innocent people, is not a deterrent, and prolongs the anguish of victims families.

In a little over a year, 11 innocent New Yorkers have been released from prison with evidence they were wrongfully convicted. That fact alone speaks volumes about the flaws in our state’s criminal justice system. Why open the door to a nightmare???

This bill is pointless grandstanding. The following Assembly members are sponsoring the bill and have chosen to ignore the facts and the wishes of New Yorkers. Please let them know how you feel.

O`Mara, Townsend, Calhoun, Burling, Oaks, Cole, Alfano, Bacalles, Ball, Barclay, Butler, Conte, Crouch, Duprey, Errigo, Finch, Hawley, Kolb, McDonald, McKevitt, Miller, Molinaro, Raia, Reilich, Tedisco, Thiele, Walker

This bill is being advanced by Republicans in the Assembly. All Republican Assembly should be urged to oppose it.

Albany Catholic would suggest that all Assembly members (regardless of party affiliation) be urged to oppose it.