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January 2005 Archives

January 10, 2005

American Catholics Respond to the South Asia Disaster

With casualty estimates having surpassed 100,000, the December 26 disaster in the Indian Ocean has led to an international outpouring of aid pledges. Governments have taken the lead, with Japan having pledged $500 million, the Bush Administration a planned commitment of $350 million, and other nations small and large contributing to a balance currently estimated at $2 billion.

Catholics have taken a leading role in driving private philanthropy, with Catholic churches across America having taken up special collections this past weekend to support work by Catholic Relief Services (CRS). In total, CRS has committed $25 million this week to recovery efforts in the twelve affected countries of South Asia. With 4,000 committed staff in 94 countries around the world, CRS should be a source of pride for all American Catholics, and indeed all Americans, in their efforts to address the combined consequences of war, poverty and disease among the world's poorest citizens.

In a statement circulated this week, CRS President Ken Hackett said, "I am overwhelmed and deeply touched by the immediate and magnificent outpouring of generosity shown by donors from around the world. The response proves that we do live in a global community bound by compassion and an inspiring solidarity. The needs are still tremendous but I am inspired by those of you have found it in your heart to make such vital donations. I hope you will read the donor stories on our website so you will get an insight into the true goodness of the humanity. Thank you."

When natural disasters of this magnitude occur, many of us feel helpless to respond individually in a meaningful way. We applaud the willingness of the Bush Administration to rise to the occasion on our behalf. The USS Abraham Lincoln and a convoy of ships have arrived to provide supplies and logistical capabilities, in addition to airlifts from a US military facility in Thailand. The Administration cannot be faulted for its initial underestimation of the relief needs brought on by the gargantuan earthquake and resulting tsunami.

Nonetheless, it is worth reflecting for a moment on our government's response to the incredible need in South Asia through the lens of our national commitments in Iraq, and our responsibility for the parallel suffering there. Estimates from last October by researchers at Johns Hopkins and Columbia Universities estimated that more than 100,000 Iraqis had been killed to that point as a result of Mr. Bush's invasion of Iraq. This places the Iraq War in the same ballpark as the South Asian tsunami in terms of the magnitude of the total casualties inflicted, with both situations imposing incalculable emotional suffering on the affected populations.

The Administration's current stated commitment to relief in South Asia, which Mr. Bush indicated this week would be expended over a period of years, represents slightly more than two days' worth of the current American expenditures in Iraq—a stunning $1 billion per week, or more than $150 per year for every child, man and woman in the United States. The major difference of course is that most of the money in Iraq is leading to the infliction of more suffering and more animosity, while US Ambassador John Negroponte sits on $18 billion in allocated but unspent Iraqi relief funds. This is a striking study in contrasts, with the US Military being exploited on the one hand by a civilian authority to wreak havoc in Iraq, and on the other hand demonstrating its unalloyed capacity to accomplish good in the Indian Ocean basin.

By this standard, the comparatively small amount being dedicated by governments around the world to the assistance of more than five million affected people in South Asia will nonetheless be welcome as emblematic of what collective action can do to help desperate people reconstruct their homes and livelihoods. We as Catholics have an opportunity to encourage our government to do more, in part by writing with thanks and encouragement to Mr. Bush (president@whitehouse.gov). We also have an opportunity to donate directly to relief efforts being carried out by Catholic Relief Services, by going to this link: http://www.catholicrelief.org

January 20, 2005

A time to remember that for which we stand

Mr. Bush's inauguration is an occasion for introspection for most soulful Democrats. So much passion and so much money invested in bringing some civility back to our country, and now so much triumphalism to suffer as the Republicans once again take office.

But as Catholics and Christians, we are no strangers to adversity. The earliest Catholics risked their lives for what they believed. We are called now only to persevere in fighting the tyranny of the present moment. The Administration continues laying the groundwork for a perpetual military presence in Iraq, no matter how many people may be killed in the process, and we must fight it. News stories emerged this week about plans to undermine the government of Iran militarily, and we must fight this reliance on the use of force as the first resort to conflict resolution.

On the economic front, a new CBS/NY Times poll shows 50% of Americans have bought into Mr. Bush's lie that Social Security is in crisis today because of a shortfall that may or may not happen 50 years from now. Meanwhile, the Administration prepares to permanently extend tax cuts heavily weighted to the top 1%--money that will largely come from a Social Security surplus, headed toward $3.5 trillion, disproportionately built up with our payroll taxes. For all the tax-cutting ardor on Capitol Hill, you'll never hear a Republican advocate cutting payroll taxes for the working poor. Job insecurity is as great as ever. Disposable income for working Americans is declining. The number of people without health insurance will continue to climb as health costs soar unimpeded.

A self-deluded 43% of respondents said they thought most abortion would be illegal by the time Mr. Bush leaves office, even as the statistics show a sea change toward more abortions under Mr. Bush after years of declines. Here in Massachusetts, our governor has sought to reinstate a death penalty that has so many safeguards that virtually no one would ever qualify for it—thus a purely symbolic use of state-sponsored death, and to what end?

As Catholic Democrats, in solidarity with our Bishops, we will stand ardently opposed to those who seek to kill a few convicts as a balm for the collective guilt over violence in our society. We will search for ways to fight abortion that actually prevent abortion, without further dividing our society over the question. We will fight efforts to impoverish the elderly by cutting their Social Security. We will seek new solutions to care for those with illness as Jesus urged us to do, and to protect our environment. We will fight to end the holocaust of preventable disease in the developing world. And we will tell truth to power as Mr. Bush seeks to install the apologists for his killing and torture in Iraq in new positions of authority in our government.

A voice cries out in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord. What other choice do we have? Fortunately, God has given us the gift of one another, and a deep-seated call to answer.

January 24, 2005

Holding accountable those who say they follow Christ

Imagine someone saying that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was his favorite philosopher, and then watching that person unilaterally launch a war that would kill scores of thousands of people and consume hundreds of billions of dollars that could have been used to cure preventable disease abroad, insure the uninsured, and lift millions of unemployed out of poverty. The sad truth of our American life today is that everyone recognizes that Dr. King stood for non-violence, but the words of Jesus--"love your enemies"--are largely forgotten by the powerful among us. How indebted we are today for the message of Dr. King, who attributed his single-mindedness to his discipleship for Christ. May the same be true for us as we fight to prevent the next war being planned by our current government, as documented in a new story published this week by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker magazine (http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?050124fa_fact).

An editorial appearing on Martin Luther King day in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune emphasizes this message in a beautiful way (http://www.startribune.com/stories/561/5187690.html):

"I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King tried to love somebody. I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question.... I want you to say that I did try to feed the hungry. And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity...."

From the Rev. Martin Luther King's sermon, "The Drum Major Instinct," originally delivered Feb. 4, 1968

With programs, services and marches today, this nation honors the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. primarily as one of America's greatest civil and human rights leaders. His "I have a dream" and "content of character, not color of skin" remarks will be oft-repeated as reminders of the kind of America we still strive to be.

Yet as this country remains engaged in a questionable war in Iraq, it seems fitting to also remember King the antiwar activist -- one of the first national leaders to courageously speak out against the war in Vietnam. Surely, if King were alive today to celebrate what would have been his 76th birthday, he would make the same arguments against the Middle Eastern conflict that has taken thousands of Iraqi and American lives.

During the last years of his life, King was a strident opponent of American militarism and once said that "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today is my own government." He also said that a nation that continues to "spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom."

Although President Bush is a born-again Christian and advocates "faith-based" social programs, he still plunged headlong into an unjustified (and many argue immoral) war. Bush's government can find billions to wage armed conflict, but can't find a way to fully fund special education or its own ambitious K-12 education plan. And now it is trying to weasel out of the federal commitment to a Social Security safety net for elderly citizens.

King, and other peace activists of his time, would lament that the lessons of the Vietnam War and of the war on poverty have fallen on deaf contemporary federal ears.

So today as we remember King, celebrate his life, work and the progress made based on his efforts, consider what remains to be done on his goals of eliminating racism, poverty, hunger, unfair incarceration, discrimination and inequities in education, housing and employment.

And don't forget his dedication to peace. On that topic his words of several decades ago ring true today: "Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate."

Saturday, October 21, 2017

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"Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.

"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

"On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics."

First Inaugural Address, President Barack Obama



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