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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Wiki Nation

One of the most popular internet sites, as I sure most or all of my readers know if Wikipedia. (if not see: http://www.wikipedia.org/) Wikipedia, the online, cooperatively written, encyclopedia is remarkable in that, though almost anyone can write or edit it's articles, it has been proven to be more accurate than Encyclopedia Britannica.   This in spite of some saboteurs now and then.  It seems that the multitude of willing volunteers corrects mistakes, accidental or deliberate, and finds references for undocumented items, much more efficiently than a single expert. Wikipedia is a horse built by committee that does not look like a camel, but in fact like a fine Arabian steed.

Yesterday my post dealt with ways to create a society that was simultaneously more egalitarian and freer.  I dealt with big ideas like  subsidiarity, communitarianism, etc.
(see http://roominhouseblues.blogspot.com/2010/11/some-ideas-on-greater-equality-without.html)

Today I wanted to focus on a way of cooperating, the Wiki idea.  In a sense it's a very old idea, the idea that many hands make light work.  The idea of distributing the labor. But reframed with --I will leave it there for you, part done, and some of you can finish it.  The idea of a project that   can be contributed to at any time from many sources.  It's the wonder of the computer age and cybernetics that this is possible.

It may be possible that certain parts of our economic and political organization can be done this way.   Perhaps we can engage in cooperative trading organizations with a multiplicity of suppliers using the computer network.  The application of Wiki to Time Share organizations might be interesting.  Wiki is ultimately an application of the principle of subsidiarity.  Well reader--any ideas on this?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Some Ideas on Greater Equality without State Intervention

I have been considering systems of economic and political thought that stem from Catholic social teaching and try to apply it.  In Rerum Novarum Pope Leo the 13th talked about the need to create greater social equality without extending the power and responsibilities of the state beyond it's proper role.

  This proper role was not well defined, but it is clear that Pope Leo say in state socialism the dangers of too much state control over individual human beings and accelerated class conflict.  He did not, I think, have a libertarian view, although it would not be irrational to read that into the document.  But I think the fact that the emphasized that the state did have a proper role runs contrary to libertarianism.

 He did say that the poverty and suffering of the workers needed to be alleviated and that greater access to production and property on the part of the workers was needed. It is from this that the idea of distributism, redistributing  capital power into the hands of ordinary working people. The mechanism for this is often unclear.

One of the ideas of distributism is subsidiarity.  Subsidiarity (fr. subsidiarius, Latin) is the idea that every power that can properly be distributed downwards should be.  That is each thing should be done by the lowest competent authority.  But this is not libertarianism, because it still relies on authority.  It does not focus on the individual. Rather it focuses on greater locality.  More community organizations, more local government, more authority to the branch manager, the local council, etc.

At the same time Pope Leo said that the organizations of workers had a legitimate role in protecting the workers.  From this notion the Catholic labor movement was born.

Another leg in the stool so to speak is the idea of communitarianism.  Communtariaism, an idea found the the Catholic Worker movement especially places emphasis on the value of social networks and of positive rights which are guarantees to certain things.

The question is how to apply all of these idea together. To simply build a society of small artisans, small farmers and small shop keepers has definite limitations. The less the government intervenes to protect "the little guy" the more larger capital will out compete or outmaneuver small producers and owners.  The more the government intervenes, the more economic organization falls under government control.

Here are some ideas, unfinished and under developed for the most part but bearing in mind the need to decentralize and create greater equality.
 
1) the old idea of municipal socialism has worked well in the Northwest --for instance Seattle City Light, which has very lower utility rates. This is decentralized in the sense of local ownership and control, responding to local voters and officials. It can work for certain enterprises that lend themselves naturally to it.

2) Producers co-operatives.  These are of two kinds --one like the farmers co-operatives where each farmer is independent, but they jointly own granaries, certain equipment perhaps, certain distribution contracts, etc.  The other is of something owned by everyone who works in it, each having voting rights, like a shop that owners all of it's tools collectively.

3) Consumers cooperatives.  These work well sometimes for retail consumption driven enterprises, like grocery stores.  They have been used for health care, but few health care cooperatives remain because the large insurance companies out competed and dominated the market.

4) Co-op housing.  Kind of like Condos with a more community spin.

5) Land Trusts.  These can be used to protect small farmers or to provide housing.  Small farmers can band together and own a large section of land, protecting it from being sold or used for non-agricultural purposes. Then each farmer in effect holds a lease for his section of land, and owns his buildings.  A housing trust occurs when each person owns there home and controls there yard, etc but they collectively own the land.  It allows land to be protected for housing and housing to be more affordable.

6) Union ownership of an enterprise.  This can be almost like state ownership of an enterprise, or it can be different.  Where local management is by the union local, or a small union owned factory is concerned, it is like a workers or producers cooperative.

7) Buying clubs.  These are like miniature food cooperatives.  A buying club is a few household, people who live in the same neighborhood, who join together to buy natural or supermarket quality food in bulk from a warehouse or a cooperative distributor.  Then they meet in a garage, a basement, or a church room to distribute the food according to the orders and payments people have made.  There exists the possibility of purchasing other things, like clothing, together if the group is large enough for that, but still small enough to be run by volunteers.

8) Time Banks or time share organizations are local networks based on the idea of people getting paid back for one hour or labor with one hour of labor.  It socially equalizes us.  A doctor, a writer, a plumber, a gardener, a domestic worker works for someone in the network and receives credits for the number of hours worked.  They they cash in the credits with another member of the network.

There could also be forms of guild like cooperation by small artisan type businesses and various networks of small hi tech businesses that may also help protect the little guy from large capital.

We also have to take social responsibility through volunteering to run food banks, hot meals, houses of hospitality, homeless shelters, etc on a local community or church sponsored basis, as the Catholic Workers did.

Catholic Social Teaching Prayer Slideshow

Odds and Ends

I'm going to start tying together short items once in a while as odds and ends. Some of the comments may not be strictly on the main points of this blog, but I'll try not to stray too far. If you leave comments after these items please indicate which item you are responding, if it isn't obvious.

Please pray for a little boy named Yohannes (John) is a hospital in Portland.  I bumped into his Father, Fiasal, whom I know from Blessed Sacrament, both the parish and the food bank.  Fiasal was trying to get up the money to go down and see his some, and cannot rest until he sees him.  Yohannes is about to have a Leukemia transfusion.

I hope that all of you had a great Thanksgiving.  I am told, and take as an article of faith, that hot gravy covers a multitude of sins.

This just in from the Consistent Life Newsletter:
"Brother David Buer, OFM, “the Friar to the homeless,” received the National Peace Award from the Secular Franciscan Order.  Brother Buer was a speaker at CL’s San Francisco Conference some years back.  He urges bringing the poor, the homeless, and the migrants into our circle of love.  He has established Poverello houses to serve the homeless in several cities and has set up cooling centers where homeless people can escape the oppressive summer heat of Arizona."


Whispers in the Loggia has a great new term for the Black Friday crowds: Flash mob.  See http://whispersintheloggia.blogspot.com/2010/11/black-friday-flash-mob.html 

The squirrel that I talked about in a previous post (http://roominhouseblues.blogspot.com/2010/11/feed-without-measure.html) is probably going to get fat.  I have been giving him two slices of bread a day but for Thanksgiving I gave him three.

 And speaking of yesterday, while having coffee at the Tulley's I finished the whole of the New York Times crossword puzzle. Thank you to the smart people with the lap top at the table next to me who helped with three words.  I was going to need to call my Dad, who finishes it almost every day,   if it weren't for them.  Speaking of crosswords, does anyone know Yoko's maiden name?

After going to the food bank at Blessed Sacrament I decided to treat myself, something I haven't done much of lately.  I stopped at the University District, I Love New York Deli to get there Recession Special breakfast sandwich ($1.99 plus tax) and a small coffee ($1.00 plus tax, include refills.)  The serve was nice, two people asked how my sandwich was, and it was good.  The atmosphere is very New York if you want that.  They say business has been good (maybe the economy is picking up!)

There address:

5200 Roosevelt Way NE
(between 52nd St & 53rd St) 
Seattle, WA 98105
Neighborhood: University District


If any of my Seattle friends want to take out a unemployed Seattle blogger for coffee, especially for his big 60 birthday Sunday, just go ahead and fill in the comment section blank...


Finally I had a piece of pumpkin cake I got from the food bank when I got home. It was very good.!

Welcome to Readers from St. Blog's Parish

I've been getting a lot of new readers from St. Blog's Parish,http://stblogsparish.com/ along with old readers from my Facebook friends, Mark Shea's Catholic and Enjoying It! http://markshea.blogspot.com, Scriptural Rosary http://scripturalrosary.blogspot.com and several other places.  It's no secret that a large number of my readers are Catholic, which I am myself, but are are welcome, devout atheists included.  Fr. Daniel, my pastor at Blessed Sacrament always says we need a welcoming parish.  I am trying to write a welcoming blog.

Please feel free to leave comments after articles,even comments from the peanut gallery, it's open comment here. I have a Dorthy Day edge as my friend Mark Shea observed, and if you don't that's okay, we have to engage in a lot of respectful dialog to build a sense of community. But remember, of course, Dorothy Day is Servant of God, 1st leg up on canonization, and while she didn't want to be called a saint so that she could be pigeon holed and dismissed, she's one leg up on any of us.

There is one aspect of the Catholic Worker tradition that I hope all of you observe, the tradition of the round table, that we must exchange comments to build community.  In Catholic social teaching community is very important.  In fact the whole concept of liturgy depends in part on it. We gather together.  A priest doesn't celebrate mass alone. Jesus said, "Where two or more of you are gathered, I will be there."

C.S. Lewis said we read so that we know we are not alone.  I say we write so that others will know they are not alone. So please consider leave a comment so that myself and all my readers shall know they are not alone. Thank you.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Thanksgiving Recipe

Years ago, at the top of the 1960's and the bottom of the 1970's, when I was living in Santa Cruz, California, there was there an organization called a food conspiracy.  There wasn't really much to this food conspiracy.  It was the shadow side of small neighborhood food co-ops that ran out of people's garages,  churches, etc.  Under this style food co-op, buying clubs, someone would get a order list from each member in the neighborhood, based on what was available to buy in bulk, and money from each member.  Then they would meet together to fill the orders.  On the shadow side, some of the Peace and Freedom Party types would let people know about places they could get free food.

The big suppliers of free food for the food conspiracy were the huge piles of brusell sprouts piled up between the beaches and the growers fields along the north Santa Cruz County coasts.  Really I don't think anything illegal was really going on; the growers didn't care if you took the surplus sprouts.  It just gave an aura of revolutionary conspiracy to the whole matter, a dash of romance.  Santa Cruz had a lot of romance and some revolution in those days.

Brusell sprouts were ubiquitous in Santa Cruz county, a leading growing area for them due to the salty, sometimes foggy, usually sunny and moderate coast. Once when I was at the beach with my friend Dave Foster and his brother we had a bottle of wine and some baby cabbages from the pile.  We meet Asian farmworkers, I think Filipinos who perhaps only spoke Taglog. They definitely did not speak English but food has a common language.  They were cooking rice and fish.  We added our veggie and wine and all of us had a feast together.  Maybe that is a sort of conspiracy to break bread together, I don't know.

Later, in the mid-70's I meet my friend Betty A. Carey, of whom I have already written.
(see these posts:
http://roominhouseblues.blogspot.com/2010/11/green-bullets.html
http://roominhouseblues.blogspot.com/2010/11/more-on-betty-carey.html )

Betty, as I have previous noted, loved brussell sprouts even more than I do and she called them, curiously, green bullets.  I have never heard this vernacular nomenclature for the green pygmy heads from anyone else before or since.

Today my plans have changed and I am eating at home, giving me a chance to try a recipe in Betty's honor. I was going to my brother's house, but foul weather has changed plans. Fortunately I have someone to try my cooking on, and I will let you all know if he survives.   My friend and roommate Scott left for a family dinner, giving me the opportunity to feed the homeless guy that Scott has been helping.

So I am going to share my recipe with you  and you let me know also, if your guests survive.

Betty A. Carey Green Bullet Goulash

Steam 1lb of brusell sprouts until tender.
Sautee 1/4 of a red onion, one can mushrooms, or fresh mushrooms, a jar red bell peppers chopped (or fresh, the sprouts and one half lb of shredded pork until ingredients tender and well mixed.

Happy Thanksgiving for everyone except the turkey and God Bless.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Artworks of Mercy

Creative Quotations from Dorothy Day for Nov 8

Have an Interview, Pray for Me

My dear and faithful readers, I have a job interview.  It's part time and would be compensated by housing in return for services ( evening checking, etc at a hotel accommodation for  out of town patients for a hospital) with an opportunity to make money doing cleaning and small repairs occasionally.  It's a job I would like to do, although it has no benefits and I'm not even sure how it will affect my unemployment check.  But if I have housing/utilities and food from the food bank and at least partial unemployment every week, I can last until I get a day job with benefits.  I could take a part time day job to last until full time work opens up.

Each human being is entitled to a job provided a decent living wage and benefits compensation, and it is hoped that this job will in someway fulfill their vocation (Vocare, call) from God to go forth to mankind and do his work.  This job represents an opportunity to serve the ill while still writing in the day.  I will update you  on the interview.  God Bless and have a happy Thanksgiving

A Thanksgiving for Immigrants

"You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt. " Ex 22:20.

Ex 22:20 is the first of many places in the bible where kind treatment of immigrants is commanded by God or his prophets.

Tomorrow we will celebrate a feast that began when a group of illegal immigrants (I prefer undocumented worker because I have never head an undocumented worker call themselves an illegal immigrant, but they  didn't have a document issuing authority back in the day) ran out of food in their new home.  The legal and lawful residents of the place, the locals, the natives, whatever you want to call them, brought food to these poor immigrants.  Together they broke bread and gave thanksgiving.  This was the first amnesty for undocumented workers.

Perhaps tomorrow, when we start our thanksgiving meal, we can remember all those immigrants working in the margins of America, in food processing, farm labor, the restaurant trade, etc who labor to bring us the food we eat.  And give thanks to the Lord for their labor.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Reminder on Catholic Teaching

Some people, both those who oppose the Catholic Church or are somewhat quarrelous with her teachings, and those who think they can substitute there political agenda for the full scope of her teachings think the church has nothing to say to the problems of the poor or unemployed.

I was reviewing tonight  an Apostolic Letter of Pope Paul VI, Octogesima Adveniens from 1971 which can be found on the Vatican webstie, http://www.vatican.va

"18. With demographic growth, which is particularly pronounced in the young nations, the number of those failing to find work and driven to misery or parasitism will grow in the coming years unless the conscience of man rouses itself and gives rise to a general movement of solidarity through an effective policy of investment and of organization of production and trade, as well as of education. We know the attention given to these problems within international organizations, and it is our lively wish that their members will not delay bringing their actions into line with their declarations."   

He then went on to denounce Malthusian economic reliance on artificial contraception as a subsitute for such action and as an evil afflicting married couples. It is not my purpose within the context of this article to explain or defend the churches teaching on that, but to point to the first matter.  

Catholics, liberal or conservative, in this age of economic uncertainty, have an obligation to apply the churches teaching to the problem of unemployment.  Today workers in both developing and developed nations are suffering from a growing global crisis.  Our first moral obligation in the situation is not to the finacially well off who may be concerned with finacial policies, defcits and taxes, but to the suffering workers and the poor. 



Helping Farmworkers for Thanksgiving

Turkey Day is almost upon us, and perhaps it's time to think of those who grow most of our food.  No, not the small farmer.  The America where most food was grown by small farmers is long past.  Rather the farmworker.  Sometimes when I say my table grace I include thanking God for the labor of those who grow our food.  Without the farmworkers effort we would suffer in this country, and yet  most often we forget them.

In the 1960's and early 70's the farmworkers were a popular cause, and the organization that represented more of them that any other, the United Farmworkers Association, then headed by Caesar Chavez, was especially popular.  They used direct field organizing and community organizing to reach farmworkers and boycotts or informational picket lines to involve  the general public in winning contracts and improved conditions.  For a while the future for farmworkers looked bright.

But now it seems we have forgotten them again, which seems to me a sign of ingratitude towards God, who provided the farmworkers to us as a means of our obtaining our daily bread. The Epistle of St. James specifically mentions the suffering of field workers and warns the wealthy they will be held accountable for it.

I receive email from time to from the United Farmworkers Association and I usually find ways to support them, which these days, since I am unemployed, does not include money.  Perhaps you are in better shape and would like to help them.  If you are, click here to donate.

https://secure.ufw.org/page/contribute/coachella

To find out more about the UFW click here:

http://www.ufw.org/

And remember to include the farmworkers in your grace this Thanksgiving.

Election Spending


Public Citizen reports that in the recent elections , not counting official party committees, 308 groups report spending money on the elections.  And yet only 166 of these groups told us anything about their funding, only 27.1% of campaign expenditures being disclosed out of their $266.4 million spent.  Do you get the feeling the elections were bought?

Ireland Forever

Ireland, after much resistance, has finally applied for a bailout of over $100 billion for her banks.  The bailout will come partially from the European Union and partially from in IMF.  Extreme austerity measures will be required as terms of the loan.

Although Ireland's banks were no longer as financially stable as they had been prior to the 2008 world wide financial crisis, Ireland said for a long time that she did not need the same kind of bailout that Europe gave Greece   Although the mortgage market in Ireland had taken a similar nose dive to the American market, the government budget was balanced.  In fact she had already taken severe austerity measures, a 7.1% cut in the budget which had slowed down her economy, driven up unemployment, and hampered her recovery, much as similar measures in Portugal were doing.
Ireland's hope was that with a balanced budget the rest of Europe would look with favor on her, and continue to treat her banks with favorable conditions.  But European banks tightened credit terms, leaving Ireland no other choice than a bailout.

Now Ireland will be required to raise her corporate income rate, raise personal taxes, reduce unemployment and welfare and other government budgets.  The result, predictably, will be further depression of the Irish economy.

What is going on in Europe is that Germany and France, and the Central European banks are forcing austerity measures on the rest of Europe, claiming that they worked in France and Germany.  In fact it could be said that they did less harm in France and Germany because of various factors that limited layoffs there and made stimulus less needed.  The austerity measures and the bailout terms are not for the sake of the small European countries, but for the sake of the big European banks, who are seeking profits at the expense of Greece, Ireland, and other countries.

Effectively, at least for a time, Ireland has been re-colonized by France, Germany and England.  Her national sovereignty has been trampled on by the bankers.

More on Betty A. Carey

I wrote about Betty in the early post Green Bullets, which I will link to below.  In light of the unemployment today I wanted to add a little more about Betty's experiences in the depression.  Right now we have over 9% unemployment in this state but notices are being given to people on extended unemployment benefits that those are being phased out.  My own experience is that I am getting no work even from applying for one day jobs on top of my applications for permanent work.

Betty told me about being a child in Santa Clara during the depression.  Her Father was a union carpenter who worked steadily out of the union hall until the depression hit. Suddenly there was no work, and no money in the house.  Everyday he would go out to the union hall, or elsewhere to look for work, and everyday he came back with no work and no money.  this situation lasted until Roosevelt's New Deal reforms started creating more construction opportunities in California's Santa Clara Valley.

Right now Congress has voted against extending emergency unemployment and the new Congress coming in wants to cut whatever meager stimulus programs are out there.  And yet many of us are already experiencing what Mr. Carey experienced in the 1930's.

To see the early post click here:

http://roominhouseblues.blogspot.com/2010/11/green-bullets.html

Teach for America

Teach for America is an organization founded because of a startling statistic--that only 10% of children living in poverty will graduate from college.  It's the real no child get's left behind program, because committed teaching is the only way that children will have an equalization of their opportunity to go to college --not rote memorization of test answers. Teach for America sends people to teach in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the United States.

Right now there are over 7,000 teach for America teachers, most of them recent college graduates who are still finishing teacher course work, but took a crash course on basics.  Others are already professional  teachers who choose to dedicate two years to teaching in poor areas.

Right now my niece, Sarah is one of the Teach for America student in New Orleans.  Here students are from nearby housing projects. She reports that not only are they poor, but universally they experience violence in their lives.  Many of the students in her school act out in aggressive ways.

The premise that the Bush administration put forward is that somehow the inequality in educational opportunity was happening because schools were ignoring the basic course work or teachers were not ready to teach it.  And that this could be fixed by standardized testing to make all students learn exactly the same thing.

The reality is that first, committed teaching and educational resources must be addressed.  Punishing schools for not doing well on standard tests actually further denies opportunities to children in poor areas.

Second poverty itself must be addressed, along with the drugs, gangs and broken families that make students act out in violence or threats of violence. One of the things that Dorothy Day taught is that poverty itself is a form of violence. And violence coming into the class room denies the educational opportunity to students.

I hope that teach for America grows and that it is accompanied by renewed and intensified community organizing  in the areas surrounding those schools to alleviate the poverty and violence.

Dorothy Day - a Short Film

Entertaining Angels - Trailer

More on Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day and the Catholic Workers movement did not approach the social problems of our society as materialist philosophers, but rather as followers of the Beatitudes of Christ.  Dorothy said repeatedly that she completely agreed with the teachings of the church, and it is for this reason that today she is Servant of God.  Although efforts are being made to canonize her, she always said, don't call me a saint.

Dorothy said that not everything about our social problems should be handled by the state.  Citing papal teachings on the matter, she said that subsidiarity needed to be used, dealing with problems on there lowest level.  She saw unions, cooperatives, credit unions and other non-governmental institutions as an important part of helping solve societies problems and cited Martin Buber to the effect that the state should be a web of communities.  That is that each community at each level should provide for the needs of people


I will be posting some U-Tube interviews and features on Dorothy Day on this blog. 
But here is one that I can't post, about Dorothy Day as a Catholic Anarchist and why she wasn't an advocate of state socialism.  Jusat paste this into your window and it will take you to the right place on U-Tube. 


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tG2wJ6ho8yc



Dorothy Day Documentary: Don't Call Me a Saint

Friday, November 19, 2010

Etc. Jobs

My readers may have noticed that I have not posted much on my blogs for a week, and now I am rushing to make up for it.  This is a consequence of my struggles with unemployment and I owe my faithful readers some explanations, and some details of my activities for the week.  

When you are unemployed you struggle against discouragement, irregular schedules, changes in activity and energy levels.  All this last week I have been busy trying to find work on two levels.  On one level there is my full time work job search, the official search which I log for potential reporting to unemployment.  I must do at least three job search each week, but I have been doing usually many more.

The other job search is the search for temporary or one day jobs accompanied with getting other resources, like food, for survival.  Most of this temporary job search I have been doing through a feature on the job section of Craig's list called Etc.  That's all the jobs that don't fit the other sections, and usually they are shot term or one day jobs, which, if I got them, would be reported to unemployment to adjust my payments for that week.  I have been applying to everything from answering research questions to one day flyer posting jobs. I have even been temped, just for the heck of it, to apply for the egg donor jobs. Not that I would actually donate eggs if I could.

My job search has involved many hours on the computer, just as my writing does.  Most positions take about an hour to apply for, not counting checking your email later.  The short term ones are, of course, easier.

Checking my Facebook page and personal emails, reading the daily news, cooking food, going to my mail box,
 cleaning and, praying, reading the Bible going to mass occupy more of my daily schedule.  Because of the variety of task, varying in length and intensity, my schedule gets thrown off.  I get tired some days, or make choices of my time that change things.  I have no obligations expect to apply for three jobs, apply for my benefits fulfill some commitments to activities at church and survive.  Everything else seems optional and yet it is all needed.  My laundry has been piling up for over two weeks, so I am doing it today. Last night I couldn't sleep until late in the night and other days I eat at odd times. I am reminded how much we structure our lives around our jobs.

Last Sunday I taught a class on Catholicism and Poetry at the Adult Education  after church.  I had been preparing for it for weeks and I had several readers, so that I did not have to read each of the poets.  I felt a sense of purpose and fulfillment aside from my employment situation in doing this and in doing work on a film series at Blessed Sacrament parish. Suddenly, after the class was over, I felt exhausted and I tread water all week, doing a lot of job search, but little else.

The restoration of a personal schedule and a positive contribution to society are ongoing concerns for me. Pr4ay for me dear readers, not just for my job search, but for my lifestyle.    I hope to stay on top of my blogging and the CD reviews I am doing for Victory Music in the coming weeks, while finding some work, permanent or temporary.

From Both Sides Now!

If seen both sides of the helping the poor.  When I was quite young and just out of my parents home I had a brief period of counter cultural poverty, living on Vitamin C etc. Later I was a social activist, first organizing tenants  and later low income workers.  During long period of my adulthood, until I was 43, I did not adhere to my childhood faith, and did not see what the Catholic Church had to offer the poor.  I relied on materialist philosophers like Marx to guide me.

At 43 I decided to return to my faith and I left California to go back to my childhood home of Seattle.  I believed, correctly, that the place I was raised could serve to nurture my return to faith.  I sought restoration of relations with family members and with familiar places, and the intellectual life of what had always been a great city. I found a Dominican run parish were preaching of truth fit my intellectual temperament.

 Later I realized that even if a materialist philosopher describes the problem well, and even if they are right sometimes, they never deal with the problem of sin and death.  If we read the Epistle of St. James we find that the problems of wealth and poverty are precisely problems of sin and death.  St James warns the wealth that there wealth corrodes and they will be punished for how poorly they have paid the field hands.  Then he warns the poor not to get bitter and to hope in heaven.  He never tells either of them not to seek justice in this life though.  For St. James our moral actions have serious consequences, and our faith is judged by them.

Last week I pondered this and pondered that once again I have hit a low point  I I stood waiting in a food line at Blessed Sacraments food bank.  As I went  and got some groceries, I said hello to the parish volunteers I knew so well.  I had on many occasions helped the St. Vincent De Paul program feed people through a Sunday meal program, just as I had also helped at the Family Kitchen as the Cathedral Kitchen was known when the Catholic Workers ran it.

I thought about how now I am on the other side of the food line.  How none of us are completely safe and secure at any point in their life. At any point we can lose our jobs, our homes, our health.  I have heard it said that the average American is only 3 meals away from being hungry.  That's a bit of hyperbole and maybe irony, since in this country many of us have eaten three meals more than we should have recently. But still it points to the fact that our security is an illusion.

As I went out of the parish hall were the food bank was held, someone who new me from the morning preparation of the Sunday meals saw me and said , "Hey, when are you going to come back and help us on Sunday mornings?"

To Save or To Spend

These days we here quite contrary things on the economy.  We are told that with the massive deficits, personal and business debt today, Americans need to spend less and save more or we will never restore economic health.  Then we are told that the economy is dead in the water because consumer spending has slowed down and that we must spend, spend, spend to get it going again. Which should do?

Both!

That's right, both.  The most serious problem we are facing is not the national and personal debt.  Nor  is the lack of consumer spending.  as serious as each of those problems are, they are symptoms of a greater problem.  The growing disparity of wealth and income.  The middle class is shrinking, the poor are getting poor, even the rich are often losing ground to the wealthy few. Income, property and saved wealth are concentrating in fewer and fewer hands.

By itself this is problem.  The economy exists to serve people, not the other way around.  We will never have economic health so long as most people do not benefit from economic activity.  No recovery that leaves most people worse off than before the recovery is economically healthy.  But that is the kind of recovery we are being offered, if any.  No we need a recovery were more people own homes, more people have jobs and more people have rising wages and benefits. If those who have wealth still benefit, so be it. But never at the expense of basic human needs like a decent home, health care, food for the family, education, etc.

So what do I propose?  I don't have a complete economic proposal ready made, and bow to many ideas that others have.  I do see the need for jobs programs, restoring the social safety net, protecting education and health care, and rebuilding our infrastructure.  I also see the need for many local economic initiatives. And private stimulus as well It see the need for prudent spending on both levels.  So how do we do this.

One step is to change the incentives of our tax structure.  I am suggesting that the poor and the moderate income get more tax advantages for saving, into retirement accounts, home purchase accounts and education accounts.  Above the lower middle income, those deductions would be reduced, and over $250,000 they would go away.  A different set of deductions would come into play over $250,00.  Deductions for spending., Spending by hiring, spending on machinery for factories and businesses, investments in infrastructure bonds and everything else we need the wealthier to spend on to stimulate the economy.  If they don't spend it would be heavily taxed for the needed social safety nets, infrastructure development, and deficit reduction.

This will tend to create greater income equality after tax deductions and  later, after job and infrastructure creation and safety net restoration.  At the same time the lower income would be secured by bank accounts for needed things like housing and retirement.  Our economy would be stimulated by the spending of the wealthy.  Unemployment would be reduced.  And we would have tax revenues to pay the deficit.

A Modest Proposal to Not Eat the Low Income Home Buyer

One of the tragedies facing many Americans right now is the loss, or potential loss of there home and everything they have invested in buying the home. In the popular imagination this is largely due to people who were not qualified being allowed to buy homes, but the reality is much more complicated.

Many of those who got the dangerous sub-prime loans were qualified for prime loans without the difficult balloon payments.  Often there credit was fine, but the bankers could make more money on selling the sub-prime loans.  The consequences of the balloon payments have taken there homes and ruined there credit ratings. Others were barely qualified and cajoled into taking larger loans to by more expensive homes  

Many people with prime loans, who formerly were economically secure, have lost there jobs or substantial portions of there income and as a result are now behind on there payments. If unemployment stays at over 9% there will be more people still waiting in the wings for this sad turn of events. 

If all of the above were not bad enough, along comes the home equity loan crisis, brewing right now.  If you think were have hit bottom, hold on for second bottom.  The Home Equity mess is just begging.  Under the home equity scheme, secure home owners were told they could turn there homes into ATM's, borrowing against a future rise, because under the new Capitalism, no balloon will ever again burst and you can pay it off  from the increasing value of your homes.  Just now many home equity loans, including one for members of my family, are coming due. Like the balloon payments on sub-prime loans, if you can't refinance and don't have a large bundle, it's bye-bye time to your mortgage.  

In the back drop of this were are hearing more and more that owning your home isn't such a good idea anyway, unless you are really well off.  Forget the American dream.  It was for suckers anyway.  

What has happened is that the bankers who used to hold on to your mortgage, now repackage it and sell it like reground sausage.  After some of it starts to go bad, they repackage it again in other financial markets. In the end your home is owned by people who don't know you, don't care about you, and are about to lose there shirt themselves.   

But lets take a closer look at that.  An economic and political theory called Distributism suggests that both modern capitalism and state socialism are wrong.  Both systems tend to concentrate ownership of businesses and by the way, housing. The wide spread ownership of homes in the US post World War II was due to interventions in the market including the deductibility of mortgage interest from taxes, government help for  the construction industry, GI loans, low interest low income home loans, etc.  Opportunities were created.  Strictly speaking, this doesn't neatly fit with distributism, because it does require some government intervention, but it also spreads ownership to more people.  Aquinas said property was a good thing, because it provides protection for us.  Now many are losing that margin of protection around them. 

What I think were need to do is not throw away the ideal, but re-examine how we do this.  How can we preserve and increase homeownership while reducing economic risk?

First of all, under a principle called subsidiarity, everything should be as close as possible to the local.  The government and the corporations need to shift from the concentration of power to it's distribution. That means going back to the old way of doing mortgages.  If fewer get made at first, at least fewer will be lost.  

Then we need a new way to get homeownership to the low and moderate income.  Several mechanisms can be looked at.  One could be land trusts, were land is set aside for such housing and in effect you own your home but the community controls the land.  This can be used to keep the cost of that land low, some the house will cost less.  It's a sort of cooperative ownership combined with individual ownership.  

Another means is for the government to extend the same kind of tax benefits for accounts that low and moderate income people would have to save for down payments on houses that they currently extended to certain retirement accounts.  This will allow a high percentage of the home purchase to be made by the down payment and make the risk safer, because the monthly payments will be lower. 

Finally consumer regulations will be needed to keep banks from pushing people into loans that aren't good for them.  That would be a proper function of government-- we can't each check the fine print of such complicated instruments, but experts can.  

These may be incomplete and possibly flawed proposals.  I hope some of you have other ideas so we can begin a dialog to develop better proposals. 

Santa Gets Republican Coal In His Unemployment Stocking

Yesterday, while Republican leader Bonner accused the Democrats of playing politics with unemployment benefits, the Republicans blocked extension of those benefits. Perhaps the Democrats are, but the Republicans definitely are.  The benefits extensions are due to run out December 1st and the Democrats tried to fast track the passage, which requires a two-thirds vote.  That failed because the Republicans insisted on paying for it by taking unspent money from the stimulus funds.  Unspent doesn't mean not committed, so programs already planned for the remaining funds would have to be cut off. With nearly one in five Americans either unemployed or under employed we are being asked to choose between unemployment benefits and creating more jobs. The Democrats will try again after the Thanksgiving break, but on the slow track or attached to another bill.  It will probably get through eventually, but I doubt it can pass by December 1st.  If your benefits are about to expire, Merry Christmas.

In the past, whatever there differences on fiscal policy and other matters, in high unemployment times both major parties pulled together to provide help to the unemployed.  Now, defeating Obama two years from now is more important that food on the table of the unemployed now.  Sad state of affairs.  Let's find common ground.  Cheers for the Republicans who did vote for the extension, too bad there weren't more of them.

Consistent Life

One of the organizations I support is Consistent Life.  They are a coalition of pro-life groups that see the pro-life question in an entirely different context.  To be pro-life you must be pro-peace,  and in favor of a seamless garment of life as Pope John Paul said.  They courageously oppose the death penalty, torture and support social justice to give quality to life, coupled with opposition to abortion.  It's opposition to violence in all it's forms.  The victims of violence in America are people in the margins, be they a crime victim, someone sitting on death row, or the totally innocent child in the womb. To find out more about Consistent Life go to there website:
http://www.consistent-life.org/

Health Care in America or Elsewhere

One of the sad aspects of losing your job in America is losing your health care.  But having insurance in America is no guarantee that you will be provided optimal health care.  My friend Wendy Leclezio, while dying of ALS had to spend time on the phone arguing with her health insurer, precious moments that could have been spent with her children.  Her husband Louie returned home, where health care is free and here is a link to his story of this.
http://lleclezio.blogspot.com/2010/03/mr-president-obama-us-health-care-vs.html

Friday, November 12, 2010

Get it Right

Dear reader I do the best to produce a quality blog for you, but I thought I should warn you I face a severe handicap.  I am in fact orthographically challenged. That's right dear reader, run for that dictionary. My first hint here is that it is the second most common meaning  found in most dictionaries I am concerned with here.  Yes, that was the one that caused the greatest pedagogical concern.  I take some relief in the fact that Edgar Allen Poe was also so challenged and in his day there was little relief for the affliction.  Today of course, we have automatic orthographic correction features that call to our attention standard orthography.  That's right, I use non-standard orthographic, and not always deliberately.  When I do this it deliberately it may be a form of neologism (now you really need a dictionary, right?) or it may be a orthographically induced form of flash tongue (thieves' Latin or peddler's French) . Remember reader, if it's not in the dictionary try you thesaurus. Actually my disability is so severe that I had already had several orthographic seizures while writing this, and have relied on automatic orthographic notification and correction each time. My great fear is that one of the seizures will look so much like the normal state that the correction will not occur.   Who first noticed that I had orthographic seizures?  My second grade teacher, Ms. Speling.  

Financial Reform

Both middle income and low income Americans have been abused gravely by our financial system.  Our financial sector has grow from 20% to 30% of our economy, causing huge national debt, a roll coaster on the investment markets and a growing burden to the majority of Americans as our financial tycoons figure out how to take money borrowed from abroad and turn it into profit on our backs.  One of the best things our recent Congress did is pass a financial reform bill.   Now there is a Americans for Financial Reform Coalition asking for use to fill out a survey to advise them on what financial regulations to press for.  Please follow the link and take a minute to fill out the questionnaire.
http://ourfinancialsecurity.org/

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Good Turn

I've been writing about the tough time that I and people in this country are having right now, but I'd like to post a little bit on something good that happened today. I have a lot of books in storage over in Ballard at Magnum Self Storage.  I have been a customer for a long time.  Today I went over there because I want to post some of my books on line for sale, so I  got a batch to take home.  Some interesting books I might add --like a rare Upton Sinclair first, a Jack London first, a Hans Christian Anderson first, a set of Ibsen in Norwegian, etc.  Now is the time to make that storage locker pay for itself.
When I was done I was talking to the owner and told him of my situation.  He said "We will give you a free month to help you out.  You are a good customer.  Besides you sent us a customer once."   That kindness has made the rest of my day better.  Remember always, kindness.  We are all brothers and sisters under the sky.

Phil

I keep reflecting on the last time I saw Phil Grega. I boarded a Metro bus in downtown Seattle and he was riding on it. As we started talking I said, "You don't look so well."  He said he felt sick.  He asked me to pray for his family, that he worried about them.  Then he had to get off the bus.  Less than a week later I heard he had just died.
A couple months before he had been up to my house to watch a movie with me and he had as usually indulged in the junk food.

Phil was a very intelligent person but when he talked he wandered.  He couldn't keep total control of the direction of his speech. It was often a guessing game determining what he meant.

His forehead had a large dent in it.  Over the years I had wondered what had happened to Phil, but I only gradually found out his story.  Phil was always just part of the crowd at church and I was always afraid to ask specific questions about his condition.  He often came to movie nights I held at my house for some of my friends from church.

Phil always invited people to events with him --especially plays.  I was usually too busy, but I finally consented to go here Boris Godunov at  the Opera with him.  Just like at movie nights, during the opera Phil would nod off, then wake up a little later.

A few weeks before he died Phil had a job interview.  It turns out that Phil had been an engineer before an accident that left the dent in his skull and disorganized his speech due to the injury.  But when Phil wrote, his communications were crystal clear and filled with insight, especially on technical subjects.  He had gotten the interview based on his resume and email, but lost the job because of his verbal communications. He remained in the margins as 'disabled."

But Phil was actively involved in civic life in Seattle.  He was involved in the P-patch organization, which provided garden space on unused lots and space throughout Seattle to those who had no garden space of their own.  He was very active at Church with the St. Vincent De Paul Society.  He was also very active in transportation issues with the city, attending  advisory committees on transportation and city council meetings, staying abreast of all the issues with Metro bus system and the projected monorail and light rail systems.  the local politicians new that Phil had a hard time talking a straight line.  They also new that he was one of the best informed members of the public on the issues. When they didn't understand him, they knew Phil would clarify later by email.  As Phil said "I'm a policy wonk."

Once Phil offered me the Mayors email address.  I jokingly asked, is that he office email or his personal one.  His personal one Phil said.  And he wasn't kidding.

As I said he was a member of the crowd at church, but he didn't always walk with us when we would go someplace.  If several of us were walking somewhere Phil would take off and in a few minutes pop up in front of us from a side street.  You see, he was humble in outward appearance, but in fact he was really a sort of superman.  Phil, it seems, new were the wormholes were hidden and he could beat us there every time.

 Phil died suddenly and I never could find out what was wrong, I heard the flu, a heart attack, the effects of both. His relatives organized a rush funeral, about 48 hours from his death, at 7 Am in the morning, wanting to get it over with.  Most of them had left the church years before and that is why he had asked me to pray for him. The word went around by phone and email through the St Vincent De Paul society and in his social circles.  I quickly asked for the morning off from work and prepared a little obituary that I email out.  I printed more copies for the funeral.  The brother of a friend of his worked for the Seattle Times, as a transportation writer, and new about Phil's civic involvement.  He wrote an obituary for the Times. the funeral was packed at 7 Am with Phil's friends, and all day, after the obituary, the local politicians were calling the church saying, "If I had known I would have been there."

In the years since his death every once in a while I remember Phil, and remember my promise to pray for his family.  I fire up a little pray, knowing that Phil is praying much more for them than I.  then I reflect on how often when we don't know what is inside someone, we devalue them.  If only that engineering firm had known what was inside Phil.

Writing the Occasional Obituary...

I have, enjoyed in my life writing the occasional obituary, interviewing the public or private figure for a newspaper, or doing the occasional biographical sketch of someone I new or wished I had known.  These writings are an opportunity for a journalist to step back from the dry facts of the day and look at the human beings that really matter.  Did not Jesus say that even the hairs on your head have been numbered?  So often in blogging or journalism we look at the 'issues' and 'events' as those those were the most important things, the stuff of history.  But for God, who is so high above our ways, it is the human hearts and minds that are important.  As I am going to be writing about the margins of society as the primary focus of this blog, I will endeavor to put the human face on the situation by writing about people who lived in those margins, or figures who were exemplary for their efforts at social justice.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Job Fair Blues

Yesterday I went to a job fair, highly touted on the Work Source Website.  The advertisement for it showed about fifty different logos of companies that had attended previous years with no list of who would be there, but saying it was in the Northwest Rooms at the Seattle Center.  When I got there I discovered it had shrunk to one room, and one of the smaller ones at that.  Take away the interview tips table, the educational opportunity and the military recruiters there were a handful of opportunities.  I talked to Xfinity-Comcast but when I tried to locate the jobs on their website I couldn't locate them.  Then there was a staffing agency I will sign up with later that has some good temporary and temp to hire opportunities.

It seems that in spite of the claims that we have come out of the recession most companies are not doing aggressive hiring.  If they had a need for people they would be at the job fairs, and there websites would be properly updated.  there is only marginal improvement in the employment situation indicated by some hiring this last month, but with manufacturing still weak and housing flat, the engines of the economy are not working.  Perhaps it was because of this that there were few people at the job fair.  They knew what I was learning --better to hit the phones or computer or network a little to find a job.

What is Real and What is Not

Yesterday I was waiting for the bus and saw graffiti on the curb.  It's author, perhaps in despair or in bitterness had written, "Love is not real" in twisted black letters.
I began to think of the state of mind of this unpoet (by which I mean he had no poetry, he was a rejector,  not a maker of beauty). I speculated on his history and his intent. Was he unlucky in love, or had he been unlucky enough to confuse desire with love? Was he rejecting Eros, playful love alone, or was he rejecting the entire moral code of society and God in one single scrawl.
Pope Benedict wrote in a letter to mankind, a papal encyclical of how love can begin with the erotic love and as a couple grows more deeply into that love, raising children and becoming friends and life partners, that love can grow into a generalized love for all mankind and for God.  So if Benedict is right, and I believe him to be so, then it does not matter at what point in the continuum of love our unpoets rejection was made.
No what matters is his grasp on reality.  Or rather, his lack of grasp on reality.  As a song asked in the 60's --what is real and what is not?  Apparently, this is not a matter of universal agreement.  For some the world of wealth and power is what is real, and for others the real world is one in which a different law applies.
I have been doing a study of the Book of Exodus for the last several weeks, the latest segment of bible study conducted in the parish where I go. Reading Exodus slowly and carefully under good tutelage, a story of these two realities emerges.  In one reality the powerful hold the Hebrews in bondage, as servants, for economic gain, and will not let them go.  Moses argues for the freedom of his people and warns what God will do.  God reveals his power to both the Egyptians and the Hebrews and shows that he, and not the idols of Egypt is the only true God (i.e. the true reality).  Eventually the Hebrews are freed, with sellers regret later on the part of the Egyptians.
Fleeing, they Go into the desert to Mt Horeb (later named Sinai) where Moses had met God in a burning bush.
They have been called out and freed  both from something and for something.  When God has revealed his love of them, and in return he wants something.  He wants them to follow a law that is founded on love.  Later in the bible Jesus will sum up the entirety of the law given them at Mt. Sinai in two laws: To love God with all your heart and a second like it, to love your neighbor as yourself.  
Thus the new reality that the Hebrews have found is a reality based on love.  The entirety of this understanding of  reality proceeds from love.  God is love says Paul later.  We are taught  of the Trinity, based on the Epistles that There was the Father who loved the Son and the Son who loved him, and the love that existed between them was the Holy Spirit.
This is the heart of my revolutionary vision of society.  I want to free us from the delusion in which there is no love.  I want to free us from the bitterness and despair that we mask with the pursuit of wealth and power.  I wan us to go out of the Egypt into a desert, a pure place, where we can know love.  For you see, even if our society were perfectly just, which it is not, we would still need love.  Love is the begging and the end and the foundation of that justice.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Do You Dream Hal?

We have entered an age of the automated job search, where most of our job search is done by computer, without the aid of human contact. We search job boards, Work Source office lists, online want ads and company web sites for jobs to apply for and apply not in person, over even over the phone, but by internet or email.
In entering the application process  for a prospective employer we made be told that the application process will take fifteen minutes.  Then for a job that pays less than ten dollars an hour, we have filled out an online application, attached our resume and references, take a quiz as to our ethnic identity and gender, as though any restoration of equality was intended, fill check off proof ability to work in the United States, okay a credit check, fill out a questionnaire about every place we have lived in the last ten years, and then take a half hour personality test designed to ensure our suitability for the job, weed out quitters and covertly weed out those inclined to unionize.And also to weed out older applications by asking questions about high school.   At the end we receive and automated acknowledgement  that we have endured the obstacle course, and are told not to call, and we wait in isolation from the human encounter for word of a job interview.
We have encountered a process that, while actually making our job search process longer and more difficult shields managers and HR employees from unwanted human encounter.  Shields them from having to look into the face of someone that reminds them of the person they fired or laid off the month before.  We look at the prospective employer through the glaring face of the computer, and they look at us only through it.
Do computers dream, Hal? There are dreams on the other side of the computer.  The dream of the unemployed worker who seeks his daily bread and validation of self in a glaring computer screen.  On the other side of him is someone dreaming of a economic world without challenge or hardship, one in which his company prospers, so he does.   We are no longer able to reach across to touch each other and begin to turn the economic wheels again.  We have to find ways around the computer screens.
Maybe when we look into these glaring screens, we need to search for the face of Christ, bloody and suffering for us on the cross, wearing his crown of thorns  We need to see the suffering of humanity were we are not seeing humanity at all. .

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Insanity, Madness, and the Family

My life has been touched by the suffering of the mentally ill.  My mother suffered severe mental illness and was committed to Western State Hospital in Washington State.  A coma induced by insulin shock treatment caused some permanent brain damage, yet the depression lessened over the years.  She is still alive in a nursing home.
My paternal Grandmother suffered from bipolar disorder (before it was given that name) and kept going off her medications. Sadly, she committed suicide rather than continue in a depressed state. I had read some of the works of R.D Laing, especially "Insanity, Madness, and the Family" who was an advocate of using the small group home, the trusting carrying community, as a form of treatment for mental illness.  I had often dreamed of someday being a part of a community dedicated to this.
When  I returned to the Seattle area after many years in California, seeking a return to the church I had left when I was quite young, I became involved in a group called Agape Outreach, which ran small group Christian homes for mentally ill adults. I saw first had the healing effects of community that Laing had talked about, couple with the healing effects of prayer and scripture. I lived with mentally ill adults, which is what God was calling me to at that time, and formed lifetime friendships with mentally ill adults.  I saw combined many of the teachings of community that Dorothy Day talked about, the ideas of progressive psychotherapists and the faith walk of Christians.  Not a preplanned combination --it's just what happened naturally.  I don't know that the groups leader, Pat Dennis had ever heard of R.D. Laing, until I mentioned him one day.  But she had proved him right.

While a Christian faith is not guarantee  that there will be no behavioral issues among the mentally ill, I saw a diminishment of those issues.  One day I deliberately left a twenty dollar bill in the living room.  Had I left that out in a house with several non-Christian roommates, or even with certain Christians, I would not have found it there the next day.  And yet the next day it was there, sitting in the living room for all to see.

Today in this country we need to respond to the problems of the mentally ill, providing them adequate housing and resources for treatment.  I believe we should look closely at the small group home as a way of treating the mentally ill, and teaching them practical living skills.

Please pray for those who suffer those mental and emotional problems.  It is a terrible burden to have the mind and heart haunted.  

More on What I Believe

I have no finished solution, no absolutes for fixing societies problems, because I believe that man cannot do anything good without dependency on God.  But I do have views are similar to what Dorothy Day actually believed and experiences like her's.
Dorothy, before she converted to the Catholic faith,  wrote for leftist and communist publications and thought that Marx had the answer.  While she was closer to an agnostic than an atheist, she definitely did not look to God for guidance.  After her conversion she stated categorically to a communist friend that she believed in all the church taught.

She believed, as Aquinas taught, that there was a role for property in protecting people, a role for the State and a role for non-state actors.  She followed in her own fashion, G.K. Chesterton.   Chesterton sought a economic system of greater equality through the distribution to economic power.  More Capitalist not less he said, where more people would own or share in owning small enterprises.  The state was needed to protect this more than run socialist enterprises.  But Dorothy believed in more community, that we were trying to build the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. Dorothy believed in ideals of Marx, but did not believe in the class struggle after her conversion.  Nor did she believe in the all owning state.

I have no objections to government ownership of enterprises when they can do more to protect and help people, like utilities, railroads and municipal bus systems. and I like Washington's State owned liquor stores because the state ownership reduces drinking, provides the employees a good wage and puts money into  the state coffers with little or no corruption.  I also believe in the emergency management  or ownership of industries by the government --like the brief share of ownership the government had in GM, which it has already sold.  It helped get GM going again for the consumer and the worker.
I most of all, though, like the producer and consumer cooperatives, credit unions, union owned businesses and similar organizations.  These stay independent of large government and the big corporations and directly serve ordinary people.  I would like to see a large percentage of the economy involved in these.

I also think as a nation we need to restore our badly frayed social safety net.  We are for instance raising retirement age, which forces more people into the labor market. At the same time pension funds and other non-government retirement programs are falling apart across the country.  Fewer employers are matching the 401 K retirements they established to replace defined benefit pensions. Welfare recipients have a fixed number of years on welfare now, regardless of the economy and unemployment.  Educational opportunities for young Americans are diminishing.  Food banks are overtax, while food stamps are less than they used to be.  More and more of the disabled are facing rejection when they apply for SSI.  These and other parts of the safety net need to be looked strengthened.

I also think as a nation we have let our infrastructure fall apart, our manufacturing base leave the country, our leadership in education and technology slide.  The government, our intellectuals and our technological elites together with our business and labor leaders need to join together for the good our the country to fix these problems.

Further I think the disintegration of the labor movement is harmful to the people of the country.  Our labor movement, while sometimes engaged in harsh battles or sometimes under less than honest leadership, the general purpose of the labor movement is the welfare of it's members and all the workers of the country.  The labor movement gave us the weekend and the 8 hour day and a rising standard of living.

Let me make clear here that I am not arguing a heavily ideological program.  These are ways of moving towards the concern for the poor a nation and a people are supposed to have, according to the Old Testament prophets.  But  am not pushing the program of one party or another  or moving away from pragmatic compromise and dialog.  . Most of all, as I said in my first blog, America needs to find her soul by looking in the eyes of the poor.  Practical and immediate concern as a matter of social justice and love is what I am most concerned with.

I also think that as a nation we have committed to much of our resources to war and global domination, rather than internal development and global cooperation. We are still the wealthiest nation in the world, one of the largest and most populated nations, a great nations with many natural resources, and technological advantages. We need to utilize those advantages wisely and compassionately.

At the end of the day, nothing we do on this earth, for the earth, is as important as our spiritual lives.  God is the kindest employer.  His benefits and payment or greater than any we can every receive from any capitalist or socialist employer or even by our own hands.  His is the way of justice, mercy and love.  It is against his love that we must measure our social actions and to his love that we must always return. Work as though everything depended on us, but pray as though everything depends on God, because ultimately it does.

Healing the Wounds

America is not only ignoring the problems of her poor, her mentally ill and others in the shadows, but she is increasingly fracturing into small interest groups that are pitted against each other.  One emerging group is American Muslims, who have grown tremendously in numbers in my lifetime.  As a Catholic committed to interfaith dialog I feel compelled to speak on this and to ask people to pray for interfaith understanding. 
Where I go to church at Blessed Sacrament on Sunday November 21st our Adult Education program will be hosting a group of visiting Muslims for just such dialog.  If you are a Catholic in the Seattle area you can find out more at the Blessed Sacrament website, under adult education:

Friday, November 5, 2010

Social Justice Film Picks

Dear Reader, a more mundane post this time, less poetic and less sweeping. I simply wanted to give you my picks for films that touch on the subjects at hand in this blog.  These are not necessarily the "best films" but are the ones appropriate to the issues at hand.

1. Wall Street.  This film shows what has been wrong with run away capitalism in the post Vietnam War America.
2. Sugar Can Alley. French with English subtitles, from the caribean island of Martinique.  The story of a boy growing up living by the cane fields, living with his grandmother, who is determined he will rise above their poverty through education.
3. Our Daily Bread.  One of the New York Times 10 best films in 1934. A depressions ear look at attempts at Utopian community.
4. Of Mice and Men, from the Steinbeck novel.  A look at the dreams and hopes of those who labor as farmworkers.
5. Enron, The Smartest Guys in then Room.  A documentary on the canary in the mine that was ignored, leading to our present situation.
6. There Will Be Blood. A more brutally honest film about greed even than Wall Street. Staring Daniel Day Lewis. Brilliant.
7. Fleabag. A rare documentary on an old hotel for the destitute.
8. The City, or La Cuidad.  Three shots together about the problems of hispanic immigrants in the United States.
9. Entertaining Angels.  A dramatization of the life of Dorothy Day, of the Catholic Workers.
10.Grapes of Wrath, the winner of 2 Academy Awards in 1940. From Stienbecks novel with Henry Fonda.  An enduring classic.
11. Matewan.  By director John Sayles, about the struggles of coal miners.
12. Jean de Florette. French in subtitles.  A film G.K. Chesterton would have loved because it shows that equality and rural property are not necessarily opposed.  A case for distributist economics can be made from this film.
13. Manon of the Spring.  The sequel to the preceding film.
14. Amistad. A great film about the aftermath of a rebellion on a slave ship in the middle passage.
15. Salt of the Earth.  The only film every blacklisted in the United States. About a strike in a New Mexican mining town in 1953.
16. The Wobblies, a film about the first major industrial union in the United States, the IWW.
17 Francesco. With Mickey Rouke.   A film about St Francis, which I include here for it's scenes of St. Francis caring for the lepers
18. Molakai.  A film about Fr. Damien caring for the lepers.
19. On the Nickel.  About down and out alcoholics in LA's skidrow.
20. The Long Walk Home.  A film about the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
21. El Norte. A great film about the struggles of undocumented workers.  I first saw it in a roomful of undocumented workers who appreciated it very much.

If you want to know more about what this blogger thinks about film go to my arts blog, Notes, Jots, Flicks at
http://notesjotsflics.blogspot.com/

I hope some of you have your own picks , especially films about the unemployed about the Catholic take on social justice. Please post suggestions in the comments. Thank you.

Feed Without Measure

It is November outside among the trees, and the trees have pushed off their leaves like young expected to fly.  And though they flutter and twist in the wind, they fall into huge, dead piles.  Unfortunate children!
I have a chunk of dark rye leftover from the last food bank visit. I put it outside for the squirrel.  Monday when I turned my back the squirrel was opening the package of tortillas.  I waged my finger at him and he moved back 3 feet and stood up. I looked at him and gave him two tortillas.  I have been feeding him since.  Fortunate child!
I went to the food bank, waiting in a line for it to open.  It was a diverse line, black white, Asian, Hispanic.  Immigrant and non-immigrant. My thoughts drift back to my first encounter with hunger in America.  I was almost 13.  I had been watching TV news and reading the newspaper, paying attention to the civil rights movement.  When I saw the civil rights demonstrators mistreated on television-that was the first time I cried for anyone but myself.  Black people I learned, were not only discriminated against, but they were poor.  I learned from the nuns that we should love the poor.
And then the poor were there.  The children that lived up the street--one boy my age, Catholic, but in public school--and his younger siblings.  Their father, I think, drank up the paycheck.  He didn't earn enough for several children and his wife had left.  The kids visited me because they were hungry and I feed them. They were all thin and there house had little in it.  I knew that hunger was real.
As I waited in the line I sang to myself, "The Lord hears the cry of the poor, blessed be the poor."   In the late afternoon I went to the evening mass.  I rejoiced when I went to the temple of the Lord to pray.  I rejoiced because here there was no judgement.  My poverty was not the lack of money, or a job, but that I stood in need of the love of God. I stood in the communion line and I ate the body of Christ and drank his bread and received without measure his love.  I was satisfied and without hunger and wished for a world were we feed each other without measure or reservation.  Thank you God, I am a fortunate child!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Green Bullets



Betty A. Carey was a person like the just plain people people that were there in Santa Cruz before the surfers, hippies, and hippies brought subcultures that didn’t depend on hard work, the students brought the antiwar movements and bedroom community dwellers from Silicon Valley jobs brought bigger money.   She was a person when there were lots of oakies looking like somebody  out of a New Deal photograph collection or Let us Now Praise Famous Men. And lots of Italians who came with fish filled boats.  And very old people who came with loaded memories and wanting a social security affordable place.  She was there before the house sharing students and the speculators strangled the cheap rents.

Betty A Carey was ordinary and odd at the same time.  She lived a special home for people who were ordinary and odd at the same time -- a big old “retirement home” near the beach and boardwalk, filled with people who “had to take there medicines”. 

Santa Cruz, in those days, still made more money from agriculture than from its university. And tourism was what passed for big bucks there.

It was nestled on the north side of Monterey Bay, about 70 miles south of “The City”, San Francisco.  Stretching up that often foggy coast beside the highway, were beaches and brussel sprout fields.  In the south part of the county, by Watsonville, a wide variety of crops feed the canneries, but up on the Santa Cruz end the baby cabbages were king.   Cannery and waitress jobs sufficed to pay the then low rents

I had moved to Santa Cruz in the mid 60’s at age 13.  I was following my father who had picked the place because he had spent weekend there when he was stationed in San Francisco during his Navy tour.  There had been a training going down the coast then.  By the time I got there it was gone, but the incoming university students and the overflow from the Santa Clara valley were beginning to lift this retirement and tourist community. I was introduced to a new way of living in California.  In Seattle I had been living with my Grandfather for so long I thought all vegetables except salad vegetables were grown in cans.  Now I discovered things like broccoli and pygmy heads.

By the time I was a young adult I had already left a string of causes and candidates behind myself.  I had the makings of a good struggle bum.

I fell in with a crowd that was organizing domestic workers, especially those who cared for the elderly through government funded programs.  Betty had had a worker at one time, and she had once done domestic work.  She was more traditional in here thinking than the organizers, but she liked our program.  She began coming down to the office to help.

Betty usually wore a loose shift and had large grey curls of hair.  Her feet and legs were often puffy from fluid retention.  While here mind and dressing habits deteriorated her wit did not.  She could sneak up on your mind with a sharp and sly comment.

Perhaps there had been another Betty Carey once, although I personally thought the mold had been broken, but she seemed determined to assert her uniqueness.  When we went to  the county supervisors to complain  about there handling of  the program of domestic car for the elderly she got up to speak.  She let them know, as she had all of us that she was Betty “A” Carey.  “That’s Betty with an ‘A’ Carey”, she said.

In the 1970’s Betty was still a Roosevelt labor Democrat.  She had grown up in nearby San Jose during the depression 30”s.  She talked of who her father was a union carpenter making a decent living when the depression hit, and then suddenly there was no work.  He would go out every day and come home again without having found work. Days, then weeks and then months passed without work and there was no money. After a while there wasn’t any hope of work.  And you were hungry. 

Then Roosevelt started the WPA, The Works Projects Administration and suddenly there was work.  And hope.  Her dad started working again.

Betty believed in unions because they had provided for her family growing up.  She believed in unions as a way of life, and a cornerstone of democracy. She had some respectful differences of opinion with those who thought of the labor movement as class struggle for political power.  Because, you see, Roosevelt had saved us. 

One thing always made Betty very happy for a least the 24 hours.  You see Betty liked to eat—potatoes, chicken gravy, pastries, salad.  But if they had served her favorite for at the retirement home she was sure to talk about it when she showed up the next day.  Green bullets she would say. 

“They served green bullets yesterday at the home,” she would explain fully.  Then she would laugh with glee.  Green bullets freshly steamed, known to no one else by that name.  After all didn’t we all call them pigmy heads, baby cabbages, brussel sprouts, the finest and daintiest member of the cabbage family?

Betty was a lot like the people in the “Let us Now Praise Famous Men” by James Agee and photographer Walker Evans.  Ordinary.  Famous only if and when praised. 

But Betty bore the dignity of being ordinary especially well.  I can see her now walking slowly in her sandaled feet, a blue pattern shift rippling a little in a gentle warm Santa Cruz beach breeze, her knees old and rounded and her legs swelled, curls uncombed, looking like a queen of the ordinary and odd. 

What Will Save America

I live in an America outside the box of success. I am not uncontaminated by the contents of the box.  It spills over on us who are poor.  For 13 years I have worked as a parking attendant, outside the accepted definition of success in America. I harbored my faith in good, my love of books and arts, my dreams for the future, my past as a community organizer in my heart. My dreams, my past, my faith, the things I loved conflicted--stormy conflict sometimes.  And yet I remained of good cheer and equanimity.  My standard of living began to erode as the costs of my needs grew and when my hours were cut.  And then I lost my job.

For over a month I have been unemployed.  I am in greater fear now than before.  I am in a country that has forgotten her poor, her unemployed, those losing their houses, but has not forgotten those too big to fail.

When I first lost my job, after 13 years, I entered a dark hole.  In the dark hole I could not see America, I could only see fear.  Slowly I found my way out of the dark hole.  Now it is time to look at America and why this is happening.  I intend to be a voice from the margins telling honestly what I see. I have lost everything except my voice and my eyes.

When I rode the bus to work, as our economy began to disintegrate, and the price of gas rose, I saw how the buses became crowded, knees and elbows,  body parts eyes, ears, sounds, smells, dreams, hopes, fears, poverty and the not so poor cramming together, riding  crammed together for lack of alternative.

For years I had told everyone that there is no boom that cannot bust and that the housing market, when it fell at last, would take America spiraling downwards.  Few listened. An artificial prosperity grew up in the America of the first decade of our  new millennia.  Unemployment was higher than early in post World War II America.  The American Century was over.  Wages stagnated, the careers of the middle income stagnated.  The social safety net frayed and began to break. Homelessness grew.  But investors were on a spree.  Now they are on a spree again, but they are slow to bing us along even part way.

We have a new Congress.  A Congress whose priorities are getting the tax break for the wealthy, cutting government programs and repealing legislation.  They say this will help.  They believe that the cure for an America like that of the Great Depression is the free market of the 1920's that preceded.  Perhaps the economy will move on again and pick up some.  Or perhaps the monetary measures of the Fed will provide CPR to it.  If not, hello Grapes of Wrath, and hold on for the hard slide down the hill.

I spent years in my life trying to save an America that did not love her poor without the help of God.  My heart was dark and unhappy, but I refused to admit I was unhappy.  Now I am an aging old warrior who has found God, but is seeing sorrow and suffering spreading across his America.  I pray for help from Dorothy Day, Servant of God, a not yet fully canonized saint who in founding the Catholic Workers in the 1930's with Peter Maurin saw God in the face of the poor.  And she never forgot what she saw.  Look into the eyes of the poor America.  That, not the tax breaks for the wealthy is your salvation.