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Archive for May, 2013

Out of nowhere this song began playing in my head yesterday. It is a tune I hadn’t heard in many years. Bruce Cockburn is one of the few folk or rock singers whose lyrics stand alone as poetry, and this mystical song is what he does best, from 1976’s album of the same name.

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Back Asswards

That is the term my grandfather used for people who get something precisely backwards.

Take, for example, Ayn Rand’s model of the “makers” and the “takers”, a model widely accepted by contemporary “conservatives”; ie, economic liberals.

The “makers” are those brilliant entrepreneurs and businessmen, the “wealth makers” and “job creators”. In this schema, these elites create wealth for everyone. The rest of us, the workers and the poor especially, are the “takers”, the leaches who exist parasitically on the abundance created by the “makers”.

This is back asswards.

The most brilliant idea and the most generous start-up cash will not turn a dime without workers to create the goods or provide the services the entrepreneur envisions. It is the worker who is the maker of wealth, a truth attested to by Karl Marx, Abraham Lincoln, and Catholic social teaching. The capitalists and speculators, the real takers, take the abundance created by the workers, give them back a pittance, and keep the rest for themselves. This is perhaps starkest in the case of Walmart, where Sam Walton’s heirs, among the richest people in the world, preside over a workforce living on such low wages that many of them receive public assistance.

But there are other ways in which it is the rich who are the takers; this, from Truthout:

Corporations Stopped Paying

In the past twenty years, corporate profits have quadrupled while the corporate tax percent has dropped by half. The payroll tax, paid by workers, has doubled.

In effect, corporations have decided to let middle-class workers pay for national investments that have largely benefited businesses over the years. The greater part of basic research, especially for technology and health care, has been conducted with government money. Even today 60% of university research is government-supported. Corporations use highways and shipping lanes and airports to ship their products, the FAA and TSA and Coast Guard and Department of Transportation to safeguard them, a nationwide energy grid to power their factories, and communications towers and satellites to conduct online business.

Yet as corporate profits surge and taxes plummet, our infrastructure is deteriorating. TheAmerican Society of Civil Engineers estimates that $3.63 trillion is needed over the next seven years to make the necessary repairs.
Turning Taxes Into Thin Air

Corporations have used numerous and creative means to avoid their tax responsibilities. They have about a year’s worth of profits stashed untaxed overseas. According to the Wall Street Journal, about 60% of their cash is offshore. Yet these corporate ‘persons’ enjoy a foreign earned income exclusion that real U.S. persons don’t get.

Corporate tax haven ploys are legendary, with almost 19,000 companies claiming home office space in one building in the low-tax Cayman Islands. But they don’t want to give up their U.S. benefits. Tech companies in 19 tax haven jurisdictions received $18.7 billion in 2011 federal contracts. A lot of smaller companies are legally exempt from taxes. As of 2008, according to IRS data, fully 69% of U.S. corporations were organized as nontaxablebusinesses.

There’s much more. Companies call their CEO bonuses “performance pay” to get a lower rate. Private equity firms call fees “capital gains” to get a lower rate. Fast food companies call their lunch menus “intellectual property” to get a lower rate.

Prisons and casinos have stooped to the level of calling themselves “real estate investment trusts” (REITs) to gain tax exemptions. Stooping lower yet, Disney and others have added cows and sheep to their greenspace to get a farmland exemption.
The Richest Individuals Stopped Paying

The IRS estimated that 17 percent of taxes owed were not paid in 2006, leaving an underpayment of $450 billion. The revenue loss from tax havens approaches $450 billion. Subsidies from special deductions, exemptions, exclusions, credits, capital gains, and loopholes are estimated at over $1 trillion. Expenditures overwhelmingly benefit the richesttaxpayers.

In keeping with Ayn Rand’s assurance that “Money is the barometer of a society’s virtue,” the super-rich are relentless in their quest to make more money by eliminating taxes. Instead of calling their income ‘income,’ they call it “carried interest” or “performance-based earnings” or“deferred pay.” And when they cash in their stock options, they might look up last year’s lowest price, write that in as a purchase date, cash in the concocted profits, and take advantage of the lower capital gains tax rate.

You can read the whole thing here.

It is clear that the real makers must become the “take backers”; that it is high time for radical action for economic democracy. How this can occur, given the widespread complacency among the working class, is not clear. The Occupy movement certainly made great strides in raising awareness  about economic disparity and corporate power, but there is much work to be done before reform can occur. Not least, the reelection of a phony populist tends to lull many; Obama’s policies, if he were named Bush or Romney, would have inspired outrage.

All we can do is whatever small part that is within our power to do, and to hope and pray for justice.

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A Third Moment

I wrote, late last summer, about the two moments that are structured into my everyday life that are always beautiful. There are always new beauties and delights as I walk; the parade of flowers, too soon to fade, the squirrels and birds, the chipmunks (I have never seen so many as this year), the changing clouds and weather. But twice a day there is foreseen and dependable beauty: when I ring a lovely set of windchimes and when I walk beneath a spreading beech tree.

To those I have added a third.

It is at the end of my route. I’ve altered my path. Instead of cutting across the street like I used to, I walk maybe thirty paces beside a pond. At least it once was a pond; it is lined with stone but by neglect has reverted to a small outlier of marshland. It is all cattails and algae. And frogs, lots of frogs.

What I like about this brief stroll is the test of spotting the frogs before they hear me and jump into the ex-pond. This is hard to do.

Then there is the swift beauty of their jump, and the satisfying “plop” when they hit the water.

All of which brings back memories.

My Uncle Gil is my late mother’s younger brother; he must be around 80 now. Twice a widower, he lives alone in northern Michigan in a house he built himself, maybe 15 years ago. He keeps bees, taps maple trees, does beautiful woodwork, grows a large garden, makes wine, and feeds the wildlife.

For though Uncle Gil, like a lot of my uncles, worked in a GM factory in Flint, at heart he is an outdoorsman. On weekends or vacation he was on the lakes, or in the woods, gathering herbs and mushrooms, harvesting wild honey (think high in the treetop, stealing it from angry bees), fishing for walleye or pike. And hunting: rabbits, squirrels, quail, ducks, deer. And bear. With a bow.

From this you may have formed an image of Grizzly Adams, but my uncle is small in stature, bespectacled. He is soft-spoken and taciturn. Unlike some of my uncles, he did not go straight from high school to the factory. He joined a Benedictine monastery, intending on being a simple lay brother. He didn’t last all that long, left and married, and in fact was alienated from the Church for decades, reconciling in his 60s. But I have always thought it a fit choice. For whatever the reason for his leaving the monastery, and for his long exile, he is a man clearly at home with silence and solitude, more at home in the forest than the city.

When I was maybe 10 or 12 Uncle Gil would take his son, Rick, and me frogging.

Now if you are unfamiliar with the term, “frogging” is the art and discipline of walking on the edge of, or wading knee-deep in, a pond or marsh, very quietly stalking a bullfrog, then very swiftly smacking him over the head with a big stick.

If you have never done this, let me tell you it is difficult. Frogs are, well, jumpy, and one must move almost imperceptibly and then very speedily deliver the blow. It requires intense concentration, sort of like Zen, except for the bopping the head part, which is more Ninja.

Needless to say, this was very satisfying to a young boy. At the end of the day we would have a bucket or two of frogs, make a fire and feast on frog legs. Yes, they taste like chicken.

I have not tried to see if I can still stalk a frog like that; I am working class, and unlike office workers I am not allowed to goof off one third of the time I am supposed to be being productive.  I don’t have time on the route to sneak up on frogs.

And I haven’t taken my own boys frogging. I do not like to kill anything anymore, and I do not relish the task of cleaning anything for eating.

Maybe we should try it, though. I’d like to see if I still have the touch.

If they want to bop frogs, though, the boys would have to promise to prepare and eat the frog legs…

 

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“This tangle of rings is an example of a higher order structure studied by Nils Baas, a joint Member in the Schools of Mathematics and Natural Sciences.”

That is the blurb on the front of a scholarly journal I saw in the mail today. It was written under the lower image, seen above. I don’t know if I will be able to understand it, but I intend to ask the professor to whom the journal was delivered if I can read the article when she is finished, as I find this image strangely beautiful and compelling…

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pope-francis_2542431bVatican City, 25 May 2013 (VIS) – Members of the “Centesimus Annus – Pro Pontefice” Foundation, which was established 20 years ago by Blessed John Paul II, were received this afternoon by Pope Francis during their annual international conference. This year’s theme is “Rethinking Solidarity for Work: Challenges of the 21st Century”.

 
In his address to them, the Bishop of Rome noted that the foundation bears the same name as an encyclical published by John Paul II on the centenary anniversary of “Rerum Novarum” and has, therefore, the Church’s social doctrine as the scope of its analysis and action. “Rethinking solidarity,” he said, “doesn’t mean questioning the recent Magisterium that, in fact, demonstrates ever more its vision and its relevance. Rather, ‘rethinking’ seems to me to mean two things: first of all combining the Magisterium with socio-economic development that, being constant and quick, always presents new aspects and second, ‘rethinking’ means going more in depth, reflecting further, to make all of a value’s worth emerge—solidarity in this case—which draws upon the Gospel profoundly, that is, upon Jesus Christ and thus contains inexhaustible potential.”
 
“The current economic and social crisis adds urgency to this ‘rethinking’. … It is a phenomenon, like that of unemployment—the lack and the loss of a job—that is spreading like wildfire in large areas of the West and that is alarmingly extending the boundaries of poverty. And there is no worse material poverty, I would like to emphasize, than that which deprives someone of earning their living, deprives them of the dignity of work. By now this ‘something wrong’ is not just affecting the southern regions of the world, but the entire planet. Hence the need to ‘rethink solidarity’, no longer as simple assistance to the poor but as a global rethinking of the entire system, seeking ways to reform and correct it in a manner consistent with fundamental human rights, the rights of all men and women. This word ‘solidarity’, which isn’t seen in a good light by the economic world—as if it were a bad word—needs to have its deserved social citizenship restored.”
 
At the end of his address, the Holy Father reiterated that the crisis is not just an economic or financial one, but rather is rooted in an ethical and anthropological crisis. “Chasing the idols of power, profit, and money over and above the value of the human person has become a basic rule of operation and a decisive criterion of organization. It has been forgotten, and still we forget, that above business logic and the parameters of the market lies human being and that there is something owed to humans as humans, in virtue of their profound dignity: the opportunity to live in dignity and to actively participate in the common good.”
 
Published by VIS Archive 01 – Monday, May 27, 2013

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Two Letters

I have always been told not to get stuck in the hospital on a holiday weekend, when anyone with seniority stretches their little vacation and you are left in the hands of neophytes.

Sure enough, as Michelle’s stay in the Summa in Akron stretched into Friday she saw a definite lapse in care. The fledging doctor (the “resident”) who was caring for her was visiting her when she noticed something amiss in her chart: he was about to assign her a double dose of insulin. He corrected this when she mentioned it.

The same resident wrote her insulin prescription early Friday evening, when she was being discharged. As it was around 7:15, and our pharmacy, a half hour away, closed at 8, we decided to fill the prescription at a drug store just across from the hospital. The pharmacist told us it would be ready in 15 or 20 minutes.

The hospital is located just west of downtown Akron, in a poor and working class neighborhood. Just after we got there the place began to fill with people; the line grew long and many in it expressed impatience.

Our 15 or 20 minutes quickly stretched into a longer wait. After about 50 minutes one of the young pharmacists apologized for the delay. “This dose- 500 milligrams- seems way too high; I am trying to reach the doctor to confirm it.”

After another long wait he said “This was wrong; the correct dose is 100 mg.”

He had written a prescription for five times the correct dose.

If the young man had rushed the order, which would have been entirely understandable, given the grumbling folks in the line, Michelle could very well have had a stroke, been paralyzed or even died.

As we paid for the drugs a few minutes later, another young pharmacist, an African American my bride had noticed being very helpful to customers, finding ways to trim their bills, apologized for the wait.

“No!” I said, “Really, you could have gotten us out of here in 15 minutes and my wife might have died! Thank God you all were conscientious!”

Needless to say, two letters will be written, one to the drug store commending the vigilance of their pharmacists, and one to the hospital, reporting the negligence of the resident, and recommending that he not see patients without supervision.

Which leaves us in a quandary; Michelle had been referred to that practice by her obstetrician, as she is considered high risk and they specialize in such pregnancies. But we sure don’t feel safe with them. It may be difficult to find a doctor to take her on this far into a risky pregnancy.

More prayers, please, and thank for those already offered.

And now we have a new reality, one with a highly regulated and monitored diet, with needles and insulin.

We were always put off by Natural Family Planning, even before the long thread on that subject which has appeared off and on here for the last two years (as well as first hand observance of friends’ experiences) led us to believe that it is highly unreliable. It just seemed too scientific and data-oriented,with its charts and thermometers and whatnot. Our temperaments are poetic and intuitive, daunted by such an approach.

But this new diabetes regimen? Makes NFP look sloppy.

Lord have mercy.

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The View from Here

Michelle’s home away from home.

An update:

Our laptop chose a most inopportune time to die, and I am finally able to steal a few minutes at the library. What we were told would be a 24 hour stay has turned into three nights, so far. The doctors are having a hard time getting Michelle’s sugar stable. Hopefully (?) she will be home today…

Will, our two year old, continues to amaze. He rarely fusses, and then is easily calmed. It helps that he has always been a Daddy’s boy; when  tiny he smiled every time he looked at me. I don’t know what I would do if he wasn’t so agreeable.

But please pray that my bride can come home; everyone from the eldest to the smallest is a bit disoriented without her, and hospital visits are no substitute for having her here.

Thanks.

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