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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Catholic Nuns Speak Truth to Power on Health Care Reform and Abortion

American women religious in concert with the Catholic Health Care Association were the coalition the US Conservative Democrats in the House of Representatives eventually listened to when they voted on March 23rd, to pass the long overdue health care reform legislation.

An April 16, 2010 article in the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) tells the story about how the Catholic Health Care Association aligned with women religious and lay groups to educate the US Congress about the need to pass Health Care Reform.

Meanwhile, the American Bishops appeared fixed on including the most restrictive anti-abortion language imaginable in the bill. Rather than focus on the bill's badly needed reform measures, the Bishops pushed, instead, for even more restrictive language than is already included in federal Medicaid law.

Thankfully, the voices of persuasion and reason prevailed with the Conservative Democratic legislators who were ultimately convinced to vote in favor of the reform. This Catholic coalition victory also puts women religious into the arena of being politically influential. These intelligent women rose above the useless bickering about how restrictive the "restrictive" abortion language should be, while keeping their focus on supporting the common good in the bill.

A quote in the NCR from a "prominent theologian" said the Bishops thought the health bill should be defeated because they wanted to be the sole moral arbiter on complex legislative issues. They did not appear to be so worried about the common good.

A coalition of Pro-Life Women Democrats who proved they were able to work collaboratively with Pro-Choice legislators is really good new-news. These women added clout to their spiritual and political networking. By combining their compassion with their life experiences, they convinced the word-smithing skeptics of reform to think less about abortion language and more about the needs of the uninsured, the under-insured and those whose lives depend on receiving quality care, regardless of their abilities to pay.

Meanwhile, American Bishops continue their focus on the Republican party as the only way to reliably enforce the government's policy position against funding abortion.

Women religious like Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Services who is a member of the National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, spoke truth to the power of the American Bishops. It was the right thing to do.

Campbell is identified as a long time legal advocate for the poor. She and the coalition prevailed in the health care reform vote. They are to be congratulated for standing tall, by supporting the common good.

American Bishops should also congratulate the coalition, but I have not heard a peep out of them. Nonetheless, in their positions, they don't worry about where their personal health care insurance is coming from. They don't pay emergency room bills if their children become critically ill in the middle of the night. Bishops have never turned away from a drug prescription counter because they couldn't afford to pay the price of the medication. Our American Bishop's should take every opportunity to become attuned to the needs of common people.

Whether one is pro-life or pro-choice, health care problems are faced by thousands of Americans during every hour of every day. Abortion is the not our nation's biggest health care problem. Yet, access to quality and affordable care is a right we all deserve.

I hope the Catholic Coalition who helped pass health care reform keeps on growing. There are certainly hundreds more problems in the world to fix for the common good.

American Bishops, on the other hand, need to be non-political and more collaborative. It's how Health Care Reform, with politically astute Catholic Nuns in support, finally became law.

Comment from Caroline in Virginia: This article is good Julie. If ever there was a group of women held down by a male organization, these nuns have finally added their influence to health care. Caroline

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Our Florida Tax Money - Following Judy Woodruff

Maybe Uncle Sam could put a big purple dot on every tax dollar my husband and I paid this year. It would be great to find out how many dotted bills show up in Florida.

Judy Woodruff of PBS Newshour provided superb journalist news by following the tax debate in Florida, a state where lots of our tax money flows to keep the economy vibrant.

Let's count Florida's Military bases. A website www.usmilitary.about.com says there are 7 US Navy Bases, 6 Air Force Bases and 11 Coast Guard bases in Florida. In contrast, there are soon to be zero military bases in Maine but one Coast Guard Station is left standing in South Portland.

Therein is my point. If Uncle Sam put a purple dot on my tax dollars earned here in Maine, it would be interesting to see how many of the bills would wind up at a military base in Florida.

Tea Party activists and the conservative Republican Senatorial Candidate Marco Rubio are angry because they say the state's Governor Charlie Christ is too liberal because he had the graciousness to thank President Obama for the stimulus money.

Florida's stimulus money includes my tax money. I want to thank Governor Christ for thanking President Obama for using my tax money to help Florida.

Now, for Tea Party people who complain about Governor Christ's honesty, please do the American tax payer a favor and raise your hand if you or anyone in your family has a job related to Florida's 24 military installations?

Ahhh, yes, I thought so - thank you for being honest hand raisers. Your hands are too many to count. I suspect there's even a margin of error in the reticence of those who held back their hands. In fact, Florida's economy would sink like an untethered off shore oil refinery if the US military was not evident everywhere.

My husband is a retired US Navy Veteran and we use the military facilities throughout Florida when we vacation. Thank you Florida for making our vacations affordable by using our Maine tax dollars to support your state's military installations.

Tea Party Tax Dunkers should learn how government works before criticizing their governor, who is honest with President Obama about the positive impact of the stimulus money and other tax revenue put to use in Florida.

Following PBS journalist Judy Woodruff's coverage of Florida's tax debate helped to restore my confidence in responsible investigative news reporting. I thought this kind of interview-journalism was loosing ground to "gotcha" news or tabloid headlines. Woodruff'sr coverage was especially impressive when hosting a town hall style Q&A with Christina Romer, Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers in President Obama's administration. Woodruff ensured that all the questions were validated. Most important, the questions were answered. Audience questions facilitated by Woodruff allowed Romer to debunk some Tea Party myths. For example, Romer politely responded to one question from a lady who asked why the recently passed health care bill was rammed through Congress (a typical Tea Party Urban Legend)? Romer answered with a smile while calmly informing the questioner about how the health care reform bill took a full year to be debated before it was voted on. It was polite discourse, of course, but a dunk for the Tea Party's ill informed rhetoric.

But, about our Florida Tax Money.

Tea Party advocates want to reduce or eliminate government spending. Rather than demonstrate for television with their overwhelmingly white faces, they should, instead, ask Governor Christ to please send me a refund on my tax return.

Meanwhile, these Baggers who fight taxes should be prepared to take our tax dollars by standing in unemployment lines while watching Florida's economy implode like an inflated tea bag bursting inside a cup. In fact, our Florida tax money keeps the state's Tea Party activists economically afloat.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Governor Baldacci's Meat Sauce Recipe

Several online and personal responses were received about this blog. Thanks to all the feedback received!

Maine's gorgeously unseasonable warm spring weather brought out multitudes to sample Governor Baldacci's famous Italian spaghetti meat sauce recipe at Portland's Italian Heritage Center. Wednesday evening's dinner was also a recipe for success. It was a totally successful benefit to support Preble Street Resource Center, a homeless shelter and soup kitchen serving the neediest people in the Portland, Maine community. Governor Baldacci and many of Maine's key political leaders added special ingredients to the evening by busing dining tables. Administration officials worked while the Governor served spaghetti to hundreds in the quarter mile long buffet line. Apron wearing volunteers beamed smiles of joy to the many hundreds who came together for the purpose of helping Preble Street.

As a political recipe, the evening was cooked to perfection!

Preble Street suffered an unexpected blow to its current financials when Bishop Richard Malone of the Portland Diocese announced the Catholic Church was pulling more than $17,000 of support from the poverty program. The Bishop's caustic decision was made because the Preble Street administration supported the same sex marriage ballot question during the November 2009 election. Although the Diocese of Portland won the referendum election which overturned the same sex marriage law (which, by the way, Governor Baldacci signed earlier last year) the Bishop, nevertheless, took action against Preble Street which was listed among the coalition members that supported the law. As a recipient of Diocesan money, Preble Street had signed a contract which precluded it from taking such a position.

Unfortunately, the poor people served by Preble Street were the brunt of the Bishop's precipitous decision.

My husband and I attended the benefit dinner because we simply couldn't believe our Roman Catholic Bishop of Portland would cut funding to a poverty program to make a political statement.

Dinner supporters saw the Governor wearing jeans and a t-shirt while serving a hearty scoop of spaghetti with meat sauce. By serving spahgetti, Governor Baldacci provided executive presence to the charitable mission of Preble Street. In the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, the Governor and those who wore aprons to assist the dinner guests demonstrated service to the poor.

Thankfully, the Governor's spaghetti dinner was entirely focused on the charitable purpose of the benefit. We enjoyed terrific food with friends from all around Maine.

Governor Baldacci's family's meat sauce recipe was delicious. It's probably the same recipe served for many years to patrons at the family's Mama Baldacci's Restaurant in Bangor. I hope the Governor will continue to share last night's recipe for supporting the common good. Like in the movie "Big Night", about how an Italian restaurant returned to its cultural roots, the governor's meat sauce recipe brought attention to the purpose of politics - which is to serve the public good.

Response from John SJ: Dear Julie,
Although I am saddened by Bishop Malone's withdrawal of funds form Preble Street, as I witnessed the good that it has done, I also recognize the pressure that he was under. Aboot two weeks before the Campaign for Human Development collection took place, some vicious e-mails went out from some Right to Life groups saying that the bishops had sold out to the abortionists and the gay rights movement because some of the groups that CHD funds went to supported the possible choice of abortion and gay marriage. A couple of very involved parishioners forwarded these attacks to me and asked if the allegations were true. I sent the inquiry on to the Diocese. They sent back a reply that the Campaign for Human Development had made pointing out some of the inaccuracies in the attack, but also saying that the campaign would withdraw funds from those groups that did not follow the guidelines that the funds came with.
One of the main attack groups is the Family Research Council which often seems to act as a front organization for neo-conservative Republican politicians. It is sad for their position, except for the protection of the unborn and the rejection of homosexual marriage, is often opposed to Catholic social teaching. They confuse many good Catholics.
You may share these comments if you wish.
I would have loved to have tried the Baldacci spaghetti sauce.
Peace in the Risen Lord Jesus,
John, SJ

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Friday, April 09, 2010

Coal Mine Media Disasters Compound Tragedy

Twenty-nine coal miners working in the Massey mine in Naoma West Virginia are now confirmed dead as a result of a potentially preventable explosion of methane gas inside the mine. We assume these explosions are preventable given the safety checks expected to protect miners from these deadly incidents.

My father worked in a Pennsylvania coal mine when he was in high school. My grandfather expected his son to be a coal miner for the rest of his life. But, my grandmother told him to run away from home rather than stay in Shenandoah Pennsylvania where his only fate was to be a coal miner. "Leave home Jack", she told him. So, at 19 years old, he did.

My father ran away to become a hobo hitch hiker during the Depression, living in box car trains until he wound up in California. Once settled in California, he took advantage of free education to become a master electrician. Still flat broke, he helped business people to rig their electricity around the meter box so they could cheat the electric company for free service. He earned $100 cash rigging these wires. It was enough cash to buy a train ticket back home to Pennsylvania without hitch hiking. He never worked in the coal mine again, thanks to his mother's advice. Instead, he became an electrician at the Sparrows Point Bethlehem Steel Plant in Maryland.

Mine disasters are tragic. Stories of personal loss about people who cannot run away from home are tear wrenching. Compounding the tragedies are the media glitches the management of these mine fiascoes cause. Mining bosses won't face up to their shortcomings by preventing methane gas explosions. It appears the Massey mine was riddled with safety violations, but media reports say is was cheaper for the company to pay $168,000 a year in violation fines rather than pay to fix the problems.

Mining families are faithful to their communities knowing every day the risk their family members take when they enter work in the coal mining industry. Even the few miners who manage to run away from home rather than work in the mines find their earning potential outside of mining is limited. Mining pays good wages for those willing to work in such a high risk occupation.

Coal miners know their risk of death or disability is increased compared to other occupations. Nonetheless, miners and their families cannot assess how unscrupulous the mining management can be when it comes to minimizing the risk of death by methane gas explosion.

It seems to me the safety risks in coal mining are something the miners are willing to take. What they don't deserve is unscrupulous management of the mines for the sake of profit. Does it seem strange to see West Virginia's Governor Joe Manchin speaking to television media about how the rescue efforts are progressing for the victims of the Upper Big Branch mine accident? Management has not been so available.

Massey CEO Don Blankenship has used social media sites such as Twitter.com to communicate about the disaster. He isn't seen on television.

"Pray for the families and the rescue workers," he tweeted. "First thing that comes to mind is the dignity, compassion, understanding, and expressions of the miners' families."

What about safety?

Perhaps it's time for coal miners to go on strike until stricter safety measures are enforced and violation fines are meaningfully implemented.

Indeed, my grandmother spoke for every mining mother and wife when she said, "Leave home, Jack".

Names of some victims of the Upper Coal Branch mine methane gas explosion reported in the media:
Steven J. Harrah
Benny Ray Willingham
Carl "Pee Wee" Acord
Deward Allen Scott
Robert Clark
William R. Lynch
Jason Atkins
Joe Price
Mike Elswick
Ricky Lane

Check out this link for a story about Massey Energy's risk management policies:
http://tinyurl.com/y6kjn8a

http://www.opednews.com/articles/Massey-Energy-Bought-Worke-by-Dave-Lindorff-100409-283.html

Comment posted by Bill Brennan of Virginia:
"This is a wonderful column. Miners can't strike, however, if they can't get organized. Massey has a reputation as a union busting company that will spend any amount to rid itself of employees with a bent for organizing.

Run away young man or woman is still the best advice."

Bill

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Monday, April 05, 2010

President Obama - Cashing in Joy in Maine

Maine Democrats were beaming with joy when President Barack Obama spoke during his April 1st visit to the Portland Expo sports arena. Sparked with energy generated from the crowded Expo, the president gave a charismatic speech to enthusiastic supporters of the newly passed heath care reform bill. Republicans, on the other hand, probably wished the President's visit was an April Fool's joke because their politically dour mood could not dissuade the exuberance generated by the President's uplifting speech.

Kait Roe of Portland said it was remarkable to see so many Maine people come out to support President Obama. "I am honored to be a part of something which includes this man. He is intelligent, eloquent, thoughtful and funny. Most of all, there is no mistaking his love of this country. Additionally, he is charismatic. If he hadn't gone into politics, he could have made a mint (of money) as a preacher- he is that powerful a speaker," she said.

President Obama carries joy with him like an amulet wherever he goes. His joy transcendes the negativity people try to stir up around him. His joy is contagious - you can see it emanate from his wife, his children and to everyone he speaks with. Even the antagonistic Fox-News reporter Bret Baier could not stifle smiling while he interrupted the president during a pre-health care vote televised interview.

Nonetheless, Preisident Obama's charisma seems to bounce off the kryptonite door Republicans have closed solidly against him and his progressive agenda. It's like President Obama is a political Superman who can bounce joy like radio beams off of tall buildings but cannot penetrate the dense Republican kryptonite minds.

I happened to be in an Augusta, Maine restaurant on Thursday April 1st when President Obama came to speak in Portland. I overheard a group of Republicans at a nearby table speak about heading home to hide in their hot tubs so they didn't have to listen to President Obama speak. (True story!) How selfish! President Obama is the leader of our country. I thought Republicans believed in the US Constitution which gives our President authority over the entire country. They preferred to hide in a hot tub when a great orator and leader came to give a meaningful speech.

I don't understand this Republican aversion to all things Obama. They appear to live every political day as obstructionists. This is not helpful to our country - it doesn't promote freedom. Republicans who hide in hot tubs to avoid hearing President Obama speak are living the proverbial cliche, "either lead, follow or get out of the way!"

They are doing all three. They lead themselves away from engaging in bipartisan progress. Like lemmings diving over a cliff, they follow each other to obstruct President Obama's agenda. Finally, they get out of town when President Obama tries to build consensus for the most comprehensive health care reform our nation has seen since Medicare.

If President Obama could transmit his joy into gold coins, those who appreciate his magnanimous leadership would surely be weighted down by the richness of his words.

Democrats who share President Obama's joy have a responsibility to carry the richness of his words to Republicans who are blocking his agenda. If we could cash in joy for tax credits, we might even entice hot tub soaking Republicans back into the light of believing we can, together, build a better United States of America. Maybe Republicans would understand and support President Obama if they could find a cash rebate in sharing his joy.

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Friday, April 02, 2010

I Apologize on Behalf of the Pope



Penitence was reluctantly offered from the outset when the litany of Roman Catholic Church sexual abuse scandals and cover ups were disclosed several years ago. As a practicing Roman Catholic, I am horrified to learn about the numbers of these criminal acts perpetrated by priests who should have been fired rather than protected by bishops around the world. Nonetheless, I am defending the overwhelming majority of priests who have never been involved in the scandals. Unfortunately, innocent priests and parishioners like me are suffering the consequences of the Vatican's mishandling of the entire scandal.

Today was the worst of it when the Vatican, on Good Friday, allowed a senior spokesperson to compare the criticism of the Roman Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal to the Holocaust against the Jews. I apologize for this offensive comparison. This and other miscalculated statements are exposing the incompetence of Vatican officials. Rather than fixing the mess they've created, they are launching the Church into a communications abyss the likes of a magnetic black hole. Each church misstatement appears to propel the church into an abyss from which it may never recover its equilibrium.

Expressing inappropriate defensiveness rather than penitence raises the suspicion of guilt. It confirms the perception that practically all church officials, especially bishops, were guilty of the daunting sexual abuse cover up.

Perhaps the centuries old requirement of priesthood celibacy contributed to the sexual misconduct and criminal behavior of some unscrupulous priests. I believe the church should change this man made rule. Priest should be allowed to marry prior to ordination.

Modern research appears to confirms that celibacy is not the cause of criminal sexual behavior, but a change in the man made celibacy rule, in my opinion, would demonstrate a willingness to move forward. Right now, anything proactive would at least change the conversation.

Certainly one Roman Catholic woman like me will not change how the Church responds to the sexual abuse scandal. I cannot save the bishops of the world. But, I can apologize to everyone - Gentiles and Jews, for how the Vatican offensively compared the response to the sexual abuse scandal to the Holocaust.

I am sincerely sorry.

Response received from Susan from Maine: We’re all having a hard time with how the institution that sheltered the perpetrators has become the so-called victim of public criticism. What did the church expect? They need someone to manage their community relations…

Susan

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