Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Jesuits across the Country Call for Immigration Reform with a Path to Citizenship

Jesuits Stand with Immigrants: the Jesuit Letter in Support of Immigration Reform
Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam
Dear Mr. President and Members of Congress:
We, the undersigned, support the call by the Catholic Bishops and the Provincials of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in the United States for comprehensive immigration reform. In our schools, at our parishes, and through our social ministries, we have experienced the failures of our current system with tragic consequences for individuals, families and communities. This is not the America we desire. We can and must do better.
As a community of faith, we stand with our Bishops and the Jesuit Provincials calling for these essential principles:
  A path to legalization that ensures that undocumented immigrants have access to full rights. It is time to allow undocumented workers to leave the shadows and enjoy the daylight they have earned, through their contributions to our economy, by normalizing their immigration status.
  A legal employment structure for future workers that protects both migrants and United States workers. We need to create legal pathways that respond to labor-market realities in the United States to ensure that there is a safe and economically sustainable migration flow to satisfy the needs of the U.S. economy for both skilled and unskilled workers.
  Expedited family reunification and emphasis on family unity for all immigrants. Keeping families intact is essential to human fulfillment and social stability. The current visa backlogs must be addressed and sufficient visas should be made available across the socio-economic spectrum to ensure an orderly and timely reunification of family members.
  The need for due process and humane enforcement of our immigration laws. Those migrating in search of work to sustain themselves and their families have a right to be treated justly and humanely.  We seek uniform national standards for all detention facilities, the timely and fair adjudication of cases, and enforcement efforts that respect human dignity and aim to keep families and communities intact.  Those in detention should be kept in reasonable proximity to family members and attorneys.
  Development assistance and fair competition with developing countries. To reduce the number of persons forced to migrate due to a lack of economic opportunities in their home countries, we must adopt international development and trade policies that will foster sustainable economic development in the countries from which migrant flows are the greatest.
These principles provide the framework for a comprehensive immigration reform that is fair, just and humane. The time has come to reform our immigration laws so that our nation will once again shine as a beacon of hope, tolerance, and welcome to our world.
(Signed by more than 200 Jesuit communities, schools, volunteer groups, and outreach organizations. The full list is at http://www.jesuit.org/index.php/home/jesuits-men-for-others/immigration/immigration-sign-on-letter/

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Friday, September 20, 2013

Pope Francis with Humility, Friendly Tone and Humor Sounds New Note for Church!

Pope Francis with Humility, Friendly Tone and Humor Sounds New Note for Church! 

Read the full interview here 

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Fr. Bellafiore, S.J.: 10 Ways to Revitalize the Catholic Church

10 ways to revitalize the Catholic Church
By I. Michael Bellafiore, Published: September 10 at 8:22 am

Reform is afoot in the Vatican. Pope Francis has tightened the reins on the Vatican bank, worked through a grueling visit to Brazil, named a new secretary of state, and  is now busy preparing for the October meeting of cardinals who will advise him on how to breathe new life into the Catholic Church.
The new pope’s agenda is simple: spread the good news of Jesus Christ in a freer and more convincing way. Christ stated the church’s mission very plainly: “Go out and make disciples of all the nations.”
Here in America, Catholic parishes need to take measures to better carry out this mission:
1.  Parishioners and clergy must take responsibility for evangelization. The church is not a spiritual McDonald’s whose success largely depends on its managers, the clergy. Paraphrasing President John Kennedy’s call to service, “Ask not what the church can do for you, but what you can do for the church.” Evangelicals and Pentecostals have much to teach Catholics in this regard. Polls show Catholics stayed away from church because they were ignored, slighted, or scandalized. Sometimes they misunderstand church teaching.  They need to know that they are missed and that the door is open for them.
2.  A priest in France has attracted people to packed Masses largely by spending six hours every night in the confessional. (He also wears priestly garb on the street so that those who want a priest know where to find one.) Clergy here need to recommit themselves to the sacrament of confession. They must be available at convenient times for more than a perfunctory half-hour before Saturday evening Mass.  Frequenting the sacrament themselves, priests can awaken in their parishioners the need for repentance and conversion.
 3.  A pope once said that one good catechist is worth a hundred outstanding preachers. Yet there are wealthy parishes that expect directors of religious education to work as unpaid volunteers! Catechism needs to be taken more seriously as a ministry. In many parts of the world, the minister whom Catholics see the most is their catechist, not their pastor. Parents must be willing to be trained and work as catechists. More adult Catholics must also take responsibility for handing on the faith. This also includes shouldering ministries that care for the least, such as visiting the sick.
4.  Catholic colleges and universities believe unequivocally that it is an honor to be Catholic, and need to be demonstrably evangelical. The people who are often proudest to be part of Catholic education are in fact non-Catholics: Protestants, non-Christians, and even atheists.
5.  More clergy and religious need to regard the church’s teaching on sexuality and family as good news. It is part of the Gospel, and not something to be ashamed of.  Granted, it must be done with tact and understanding. But it must be done, with the confidence that is part of the saving truth given by Jesus Christ.
6.  Pray. A Protestant pastor in Carthagena, Colombia, is organizing 3:30 a.m. prayer rallies in the streets where violence, poverty, and prostitution reign. Catholics here could even do the same in neighborhoods where indifference rules. The world has just finished a day of prayer and fasting for peace. Friday is still a penitential day even though Catholics are not required to give up meat. The U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference issues weekly intentions for prayer and fasting. These calls can make for powerful spiritual kindling.
7.  Catholic social teaching is an essential consequence of the Gospel, which means we must be involved in the public square – as Catholics. With enough prayer, sacrifice, advocacy, common sense, and sheer grace, Wall Street might cease being a casino; and likewise, civic leaders, public unions, and bondholders might be able to find agreement in the worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression.
8.  Pope Francis rightly warns us of the evil afoot in this world. Religious liberty is being threatened daily in the West, while 200 million Christians worldwide are in mortal danger because of their faith. Catholics must become more aware of the plight of our brothers and sisters abroad.
9.  At the same time, we must forgive and pray for our adversaries. Recently, the parishioners of one of the many churches burned in Egypt wrote on the wall of their church that they forgave their enemies and would pray on their behalf to God, who is love. That’s Gospel!
10.  Remember that being Catholic in America, or anywhere, means we can rejoice and trust Christ’s admonishment, “be not afraid.”
Father I. Michael Bellafiore is a Jesuit priest and instructor in theology at The University of Scranton.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Rich Get Richer. 2012 the Rich "R" Richer than ever....


The Rich Get Richer Through the Recovery

The top 10 percent of earners took more than half of the country’s total income in 2012, the highest level recorded since the government began collecting the relevant data a century ago, according to an updated study by the prominent economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty.
The top 1 percent took more than one-fifth of the income earned by Americans, one of the highest levels on record since 1913, when the government instituted an income tax.
The figures underscore that even after the recession the country remains in a new Gilded Age, with income as concentrated as it was in the years that preceded the Depression of the 1930s, if not more so.
High stock prices, rising home values and surging corporate profits have buoyed the recovery-era incomes of the most affluent Americans, with the incomes of the rest still weighed down by high unemployment and stagnant wages for many blue- and white-collar workers.
“These results suggest the Great Recession has only depressed top income shares temporarily and will not undo any of the dramatic increase in top income shares that has taken place since the 1970s,” Mr. Saez, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote in his analysis of the data.
The income share of the top 1 percent of earners in 2012 returned to the same level as before both the Great Recession and the Great Depression: just above 20 percent, jumping to about 22.5 percent in 2012 from 19.7 percent in 2011.
That increase is probably in part due to one-time factors. Congress made a last-minute deal to avoid the expiration of all of the Bush-era tax cuts in January. That deal included a number of tax increases on wealthy Americans, including bumping up levies on investment income. Seeing the tax changes coming, many companies gave large dividends and investors cashed out.
But the economists noted that the trends looked the same for income figures including and excluding realized capital gains — implying that the temporary tax moves were not the only reason the top 1 percent did so well relative to everyone else in 2012.
More generally, richer households have disproportionately benefited from the boom in the stock market during the recovery, with the Dow Jones industrial average more than doubling in value since it bottomed out early in 2009. About half of households hold stock, directly or through vehicles like pension accounts. But the richest 10 percent of households own about 90 percent of the stock, expanding both their net worth and their incomes when they cash out or receive dividends.
The economy remains depressed for most wage-earning families. With sustained, relatively high rates of unemployment, businesses are under no pressure to raise their employees’ incomes because both workers and employers know that many people without jobs would be willing to work for less. The share of Americans working or looking for work is at its lowest in 35 years.
There is a glimmer of good news for the 99 percent in the report, though. Mr. Piketty and Mr. Saez show that the incomes of that group stagnated between 2009 and 2011. In 2012, they started growing again — if only by about 1 percent. But the total income of the top 1 percent surged nearly 20 percent that year. The incomes of the very richest, the 0.01 percent, shot up more than 32 percent.
The new data shows that the top 1 percent of earners experienced a sharp drop in income during the recession, of about 36 percent, and a nearly equal rebound during the recovery of roughly 31 percent. The incomes of the other 99 percent plunged nearly 12 percent in the recession and have barely grown — a 0.4 percent uptick — since then. Thus, the 1 percent has captured about 95 percent of the income gains since the recession ended.
Mr. Saez and Mr. Piketty have argued that the concentration of income among top earners is unlikely to reverse without stark changes in the economy or in tax policy. Increases that Congress negotiated in January are not likely to have a major effect, Mr. Saez wrote, saying they “are not negligible, but they are modest.”
Mr. Saez and Mr. Piketty, of the Paris School of Economics, plan to update their data again in January, after more complete statistics become available.

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Tom Edsall. Can Government do anything about Inequality?

Can the Government Actually Do Anything About Inequality?

Thomas B. Edsall
Tom Edsall on politics inside and outside of Washington.
For a moment, let’s forget the central debate of our political period — how much of a role government should play in our lives — and ask a different question: can government policies counteract inequality in any meaningful way?
Four political scientists – Adam Bonica of Stanford, Nolan McCarty of Princeton, Keith T. Poole of the University of Georgia and Howard Rosenthal of New York University – take this issue head on in their paper, “Why Hasn’t Democracy Slowed Rising Inequality?” published earlier this year in Journal of Economic Perspectives.
During the past two generations, democratic forms have coexisted with massive increases in economic inequality in the United States and many other advanced democracies. Moreover, these new inequalities have primarily benefited the top 1 percent and even the top .01 percent. These groups seem sufficiently small that economic inequality could be held in check by political equality in the form of “one person, one vote.”
Bonica, McCarty, Poole and Rosenthal argue that politics can be an effective tool to restore economic fairness — that  government can, and should, correct imbalances the market produces, providing for those who cannot compete, ensuring opportunity for those who can and blocking those who would appropriate to themselves what the authors see as an excessive share of our national prosperity.

The four political scientists offer five “possible reasons why the U.S. political system has, during the last few decades, failed to counterbalance rising inequality”:
  • An intellectual and ideological shift within both political parties toward “acceptance of a form of free market capitalism which, among other characteristics, offers less support for government provision of transfers, lower marginal tax rates for those with high incomes, and deregulation of a number of industries. Financial deregulation, in particular, has been a source of income inequality.”
  •  “Immigration and low turnout of the poor have combined to make the distribution of voters more weighted to high incomes than is the distribution of households. Turnout, of course, can also be influenced by legal and administrative measures that make it relatively costly for the poor to vote.
  •  “Rising real income and wealth has made a larger fraction of the population less attracted to turning to government for social insurance.”
  •  “The rich have been able to use their resources to influence electoral, legislative, and regulatory processes through campaign contributions, lobbying, and revolving door employment of politicians and bureaucrats.”
  •  “The political process is distorted by institutions like gerrymandering that reduce the accountability of elected officials to the majority. Other political institutions, including a bicameral legislature with a filibuster, combine with political polarization to create policy gridlock, which in turn inhibits efforts to update social safety nets and regulatory frameworks in response to changing conditions.”
The authors produce a number of graphics to support their claims. Figure 1 shows a positive correlation between the share of income going to the top 1 percent and the level of polarization between the two political parties in the House of Representatives.
Figure 1
Fig. 1The Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenue Service Fig. 1
Figure 2 shows the growing dependence of Democratic candidates on contributions from donors in the top 1 percent of the income distribution. These contributions have risen from 5 percent of the money donated to Democrats in 1980 to 25 percent in 2012:
Fig. 2The Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenue Service Fig. 2
In the interest of promoting debate, I ran the questions raised by the Bonica paper — “do democracies have the capacity to remediate massive increases in economic inequality” — by a number of experts, including Isabel Sawhill and Gary Burtless of the Brookings Institution; Andrew Fieldhouse and Benjamin Landy, policy analysts at the Century Foundation; Sean Reardon, a professor of education and sociology at Stanford; Austin Nichols of the Urban Institute; Daron Acemoglu, an economist at M.I.T.; and Leslie McCall, a sociologist at Northwestern.

Let me organize the responses under five topic headings:

To what degree is growing inequality a result of political decisions or of economic and demographic trends?
Fieldhouse contends that Bonica and his colleagues
oversell the relation between public policy and income inequality – the political sphere influences the playing rules for the free market, but U.S. income inequality growth is, at the core, being driven by very strong market forces for much longer than U.S. income inequality has been in the public discourse.
Looking at the issue from another angle, Acemoglu makes the case that the authors spend too little time on what he sees as the most important reason that political solutions are not likely to work:  the global economy has become even more competitive. Capital is internationally mobile, and corporations and their owners will move to other countries when faced with what they see as excessive taxes and regulatory burdens:
With the technological changes and the more globalized economy we live in, the cost of stemming the rise in inequality has also increased. A cross-country perspective shows this very clearly. Several European countries, including Germany and Sweden, which have well-functioning democracies and strong social democratic parties, have also reformed their labor market and product market institutions, leading to greater inequality over the last two decades. A cross-country perspective also indicates that the factors the paper mentions can at most be a portion of the puzzle.
The rise of inequality in Scandinavian social democracies, according to Landy, suggests that explanations based on phenomena unique to the United States, like the disproportionate influence of money in political campaigns, are inadequate:
Globalization and changes in technology have been a boon to owners of capital, allowing them to decrease their labor costs, boost productivity and, in many cases, replace workers’ jobs entirely.
Sawhill also argues that “income inequality is growing for reasons that have little to do with politics,” including “changes in household composition, more single parents, like marrying like, and wage inequality produced by the increased demand for well-educated workers and the failure of the supply of educated workers to keep pace.”

Would raising marginal tax rates significantly lessen inequality?
I found no consensus on this.
Fieldhouse contends that
tax, transfer, and regulatory policy can and should push in the right direction, but it would take large political forces to keep from exacerbating inequality; halting let alone reversing market-based inequality growth of the past three decades would require policy actions beyond the conceivably viable.
Fieldhouse notes that politically untenable policies include the adoption of full-employment monetary and fiscal policies — in other words, a massive jobs program requiring a large expenditure of tax dollars is not in the offing.
In contrast, Nichols of the Urban Institute makes the case that Bonica and his colleagues underestimate “the central importance of taxes” in fueling inequality — because they fail to recognize how much cuts in capital gains rates over the past 25 years have enhanced the wealth of the top 1 percent and especially the top 0.1 percent.
McCall, author of “The Undeserving Rich: American Beliefs About Inequality, Opportunity, and Redistribution,” suggests that liberal interest in raising top rates is a political miscalculation.  She argues that survey data show “the public has never really been oriented toward fixing inequality through taxing the rich or especially spending on the poor.” Instead voters want what she calls “market-based redistribution,” which translates into “good jobs with fair pay.”

Intellectual capture of political elites and the political and financial power of the affluent.
There was significant agreement among those I surveyed in support of two key points in the Bonica paper: that leaders in both political parties have come to accept free market ideology without question and that the affluent have used their control of money and other resources to wield excessive power over policy making. Fieldhouse writes that “political capture by the elites,” particularly with respect to the “capture” of centrist Democrats by high finance, “played a big role in financial deregulation, which in turn has greatly exacerbated income inequality growth.”
Acemoglu asserts that “the role of lobbying by the very wealthy and large corporations has truly become a huge liability for American democracy over the last several decades.”
To Reardon, “the current dominant cultural narrative about the market and efficiency and fairness and equality” is crystal clear: “it goes something like this: America = fairness/opportunity = individual freedom = free market.”

Democratic intra-party conflict.
Landy emphasizes
the split within the Democratic Party in the late 1960s between “traditional,” blue-collar Democrats and the more radicalized New Left. The Democratic Party’s newfound focus on women’s rights, gay rights and affirmative action alienated a substantial number of older, white liberals. The modern-day coalition of social conservatives and the business community would not be as strong as it is without that schism, which allowed the Republican Party to breed resentment by racializing what were formerly working-class economic issues.
Fieldhouse, in turn, maintains that Democrats have “done a better job promoting ascriptive identity policies and politics than those of general social welfare in recent decades.”

Lack of confidence in the government.
Nichols, without specifically naming the Democratic Party as the source of the problem, touches on what might be called the “confidence gap.”
He contends that “a virtually unprecedented rise in inequality since 1986 could be addressed with higher tax rates. Yet most of the bottom 99 percent does not support dramatically raising taxes on the top 1 percent.” Bonica et al, in Nichols’s view, do not address “the main reason for that phenomenon — which I suspect is a deep distrust of how the federal government makes spending decisions.”
A paper by Josh Bivens and Lawrence Mishel of the liberal  Economic Policy Institute, in the same issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives, asks if “the increase in the incomes and wages of the top 1 percent over the last three decades should be interpreted as driven largely by the creation and/or redistribution of economic rents” or “simply as the outcome of well-functioning competitive markets rewarding skills or productivity based on marginal differences.”
Bivens and Mishel define “rent” as income “in excess of what was needed to induce the person to supply labor and capital,” and they assert that much of the income of the top 1 percent has little to do with productive economic activity and could be taxed away without harm to the economy.
Others writing in the same issue of the journal believe that taxing or otherwise limiting the wealth of the very rich can harm productivity.

N. Gregory Mankiw, an economist at Harvard who was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the George W. Bush administration, writes that
My own reading of the evidence is that most of the very wealthy get that way by making substantial economic contributions, not by gaming the system or taking advantage of some market failure or the political process.
In “It’s the Market: The Broad-Based Rise in the Return to Top Talent,” Steven N. Kaplan of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and Joshua Rauh, of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, argue that talent is unequally distributed through the population and that this is reflected in the inequality of rewards. They suggest that
One explanation that has been proposed for rising inequality is that technical change allows highly talented individuals, or “superstars,” to manage or perform on a larger scale, applying their talent to greater pools of resources and reaching larger numbers of people, thus becoming more productive and higher paid.
Malcolm Gladwell’s explanation for inequality in “Outliers: The Story of Success” bridges, to some extent, the arguments of left and right. He makes the case that it is hard work – famously, 10,000 hours of hard work – that leads people to gain abilities that then result in the acquisition of disproportionate resources. Gladwell notices, however, that a remarkable degree of good luck is needed to realize the gains from even well-honed skills.
Superstar lawyers and math whizzes and software entrepreneurs appear at first blush to lie outside ordinary experience. But they don’t. They are products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy. Their success is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky – but all critical to making them who they are.
Gladwell adds this twist to the debate:
It is those who are successful, in other words, who are most likely to be given the kinds of special opportunities that lead to further success. It’s the rich who get the biggest tax breaks. It’s the best students who get the best teaching and most attention. And it’s the biggest nine- and ten-year-olds who get the most coaching and practice. Success is the result of what sociologists like to call “accumulative advantage.”
Inequality appears to liberals and many others to be palpably wrong. But conservative and liberals often find themselves in agreement that inequality in and of itself may not be the issue — it’s the way it is deepening and spreading and the small size of the group to whom the benefits are accruing that worries people most. Inequality exists in democracies and non-democracies alike; it clearly stems from multiple causes. But “the question for public policy,” as Greg Mankiw puts it, is “what, if anything, to do about it.”

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Sunday, September 01, 2013

Prayer for Peace in Syria from USCCB and CRS

There are alternatives to bombing.  Cut off Assad's credit with banks.  Blockade Syria.  Is the only response bombs?  We can practice non-violent responses to Assad's atrocities. - Fr. Rick

God of Compassion,
Hear the cries of the people of Syria,
Bring healing to those suffering from the violence,
Bring comfort to those mourning the dead,
Strengthen Syria’s neighbors in their care and welcome for refugees,
Convert the hearts of those who have taken up arms,
And protect those committed to peace.
God of Hope,
Inspire leaders to choose peace over violence and to seek reconciliation with enemies,
Inspire the Church around the world with compassion for the people of Syria,
And give us hope for a future of peace built on justice for all.
We ask this through Jesus Christ,
Prince of Peace and Light of the World,
Petition: For the people of Syria, that God may strengthen the resolve of leaders to end the fighting and choose a future of peace.
We pray to the Lord…

[This prayer is from Catholics Confront Global Poverty. . . , a collaborative effort of USCCB and Catholic Relief Services.]