Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Attacks on religion, liberty by Robert P. George  and Katrina Lantos Swett: “It is both ironic and tragic that in this season of universal goodwill the Christian communities of the ancient Biblical lands should find themselves in grave danger. Let us stand in solidarity with them today, and let us rededicate ourselves to the cause of protecting the religious liberty of men and women everywhere.”

Which Policies Reduce Income Inequality? by Laura Tyson: “President Obama has made significant progress combating income inequality. Under his leadership, the federal income tax system has become more progressive, and Obamacare is the most progressive social-insurance program since Medicare and Medicaid began in 1965. But there is far more to do. Raising the minimum wage is the right next step.”

The Church in 2014 by Michael Sean Winters: “The pope will continue his focus on the poor and challenge those of us in the affluent West to re-think our assumptions about economics and the good life, and he will continue to articulate this concern as key to evangelization. And, I suspect he will continue to tone down the culture wars. The difference in 2014 is that while last year we had symbolic and rhetorical steps in this direction, in 2014 we will see concrete acts and decisions, putting structural, organization flesh on his priorities.”

Changed, Not Ended by Julia Walsh: “I am not worried about changes in religious life; I am excited. I trust that God is up to something amazingly good. I believe that God is helping religious life evolve to meet the changing needs of society. I pray that we will have the courage and freedom to let go of anything that slows us from moving into God’s hope-filled future. I am glad I will be with sisters, strengthened by the legacies, traditions and prayers of our elders. Thank God, by grace, we are in this together.”

In China, one in five children live in rural villages without their parents by Washington Post: “More than 61 million children — about one-fifth of the kids in China — live in villages without their parents. Most are the offspring of peasants who have flocked to cities in one of the largest migrations in human history.”

Yes, You Should Talk Politics With Your Family by Anna Sutherland: “Family life is not always peaceful, but in a world of instant gratification and echo chambers, it’s a healthy check on our self-centeredness, our egos, and our confidence in our own ideas.”

Archbishop Kurtz on the new pope by Greg Hillis: “When it comes to the implications of Pope Francis’ message for himself, Archbishop Kurtz hears the pope saying to him and to all clergy: ‘Don’t become distant from the people you serve. Find ways to hear people, to visit people… The Holy Father is not asking us to see the person from a distance. He’s asking us to be close up.’ And indeed, the archbishop said, it is this accompanying of the person genuinely and lovingly that has to come before all else, because ‘if there is not that attempt to seek to accompany, then there will be no credibility.’”

Syria’s children suffer, and the world just shrugs by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon: “The world has devoted a great deal of diplomatic energy to securing Syria’s chemical weapons. It has yet to do the same for securing Syria’s children.”

Out of jobs, out of benefits, out of luck by David Frum: “People who can’t work still must eat. Americans in distress have a claim on the rest of the nation. Extend unemployment insurance. Sustain food stamps. While we’re looking for a new deal, at least quit deluding ourselves that the old deal is still operable. It’s not. It has passed on, from everywhere except our increasingly outdated memories.”

The resurgent progressives by EJ Dionne: “You might summarize the revived left’s basic gripe with this question: Why was it so much easier to spend public money on rescuing financial institutions than on rescuing families caught in a cycle of unemployment, collapsing incomes and foreclosures?”

Listening to the Founding Fathers by Michael Gerson: “The broad purposes of the modern state — promoting equal opportunity, providing for the poor and elderly — are valid within our constitutional order. But these roles are often carried out in antiquated, failing systems. The conservative challenge is to accept a commitment to the public good while providing a distinctly conservative vision of effective, modest, modern government.”

States make moves toward paid family leave by Washington Post: “The moves on the state level, advocates say, are a sign that people are tired of waiting for Congress to act to bring workplace laws dating to the 1930s, when a majority of mothers were at home, in line with a modern workforce, in which a majority of mothers work.”

Rocky Mountain High? by CNS: “Denver Police Chief Robert White said in late December that his staff will not actively enforce bans on recreational smoking in public, adding to some parents’ fears that the murky situation will become a legal free-for-all.”

Don’t Fall for Misdirection: It’s about Homelessness, Inequality, Unemployment and Poverty not the Debt

As I drove home last night, slowly moving down the Van Wyck Highway Service Road, I watched as an older homeless man weaved through traffic begging for help. I pulled out what cash I had accessible but he moved over to the next lane – I did not know how to signal safely for him to come over. Then the red light turned green and suddenly traffic began to race. Car after car trying to make the light and get home – and I watched in my rear view mirror as this despondent older man froze, turned slightly and stood on the white line as cars whizzed by on either side of him.  I prayed that he would be safe.

Everyone is breathing a sigh of relief – an immovable faction of the House Republicans were not able to completely undo the union and with it the global economy. And yet, on one level they have won. They have successfully made sequestration the new normal, successfully forced the conversation to the lowest level possible – keeping the doors open and the bills paid. How does one undo the devastating effects of sequestration on the poor, vulnerable, and marginalized when keeping government open at all is on the table?

In August, The Atlantic ran an article on the drop in homelessness that had occurred since 2000. Due to effective and financially supported government programs, we began to make great strides in combating homelessness.     While lauding the progress, Stephen Laurie questioned why it is that homelessness was declining and no one was bothering to tell that story:

They are unlikely to have much power in an age of austerity and there seems to be little recognition or reward to be gained for politicians by serving the homeless.

As quietly as homelessness has fallen, so too it will go up quietly – without major intervention.  The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that sequestration cuts from homelessness programs are set to expel 100,000 people from a range of housing and shelter programs this year. That’s nearly one sixth of the current total homeless population. Far from gently raising the homeless rate, it would undo a full decade of progress.

Unless the 2014 budget remedies some of the change coming to housing services in the second half of this year, the homelessness rate will soon rejoin other bleak indicators of economic recovery. The President can make a public plea for increased assistance for remarkably well-functioning homelessness initiatives. Congress can act to save the surprising success story of Bush era and stimulus programs. The general public can advocate for the vulnerable within their community.

But first, we have to notice what we’ve learned to ignore.

I do not see significant evidence that we will learn to notice what we’ve learned to ignore before it is too late. Yet, I’d like to parse out two important points in this analysis that are a bit more complicated – first, the decline in homelessness and second, the fragility of that progress and the persons these numbers represent.

Nationally, homelessness has declined significantly; however, the data is largely pre-sequestration and homelessness varies so greatly by state that the national homelessness data is deceptive.  Some states are seeing sustained reduction; my home state of New York, however, has seen a 10% increase in homelessness.

In addition, family homelessness and the number of children who experience homelessness is on the rise: around 239,000 families nationally experienced homelessness in one night in 2012.

New York City is now at a ten-year record high spike in homelessness. 21,000 children sleep in NYC shelters each night.  According to the Coalition for the Homeless, 

the number of homeless New Yorkers sleeping in emergency shelter each night has passed 50,000 – a 61% increase since Mayor Bloomberg took office in January of 2002.  The number of homeless children is now over 21,000 per night, also an all-time high.

– Child homelessness continues to surge:  In January, an average 11,984 families, up 73% since Mayor Bloomberg took office, and 21,034 children, up 22% from a year ago and 61% from 2002, stayed in shelters each night.

– Length of stay now over one year:  With few affordable housing options, the average length of shelter stay for families with children is up 10% to a record 375 days.  Families without children averaged a whopping 484 days in shelter.

In 2009, those numbers were 38,000 a night and 12,000 children.

If you survey reports on homelessness, the bulk of the funding combating homelessness comes from federally allocated funds. Programs that were initiated as part of the recovery effort are all subject to cuts under sequestration. We cannot allow the framework of the debate to be determined by those who just effectively brought the government to a halt for more than two weeks.  The issue is not abstract; it is not an ideological debate about the size of government. It is an identity crisis – who do we want to be as a nation? As a community? Do we stand for human rights or not?  Will we demand an economic structure that works for all and not just a few?

The homeless man weaving through traffic for enough money to buy dinner does not have political clout, he does not make political donations – but he is a human being with equal dignity. His physical vulnerability and desperation were so great that he was literally standing in the middle of racing cars desperate to be noticed, simply to count as human. Pope Francis repeatedly warns us about the evils of our throwaway culture. Taking a stand must begin with a refusal to throw away our neighbors, and we must begin to see those who it is so easy to ignore, to blame, and to pretend are simply numbers.  Amidst the relief that the government has reopened we must remember the real issues we need to focus on: inequality, unemployment, poverty, and homelessness.  The measure of a society is how it treats the least among us, and on last night’s 11 o’clock news Sen. Ted Cruz went on record refusing to rule out another shutdown in the new year. This certainly provides considerable evidence for Pope Francis’ indictment that the developed world runs from solidarity.  The questions is: will we continue to run or will we make it “our word”?

Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Why the world doesn’t take Catholicism seriously by Matthew Warner

“We need an army of saints willing to live a radical life for Christ and others. Saints are compelling. Empty words and prideful lectures are not.”

A Mother’s Day plea to stop equating adoption with abandonment by Nina Easton

“Adoption should be an empowering option for young women in crisis, knowing that the people around them — family, friends, church — will respect their choice.”

To the Class of 2013: Resist Simplicity By Stephen L. Carter

“Simplicity is the enemy of serious thought, and serious thought is what this world desperately needs. And if we Americans find ourselves unable or unwilling to take the time to think deeply, then some wiser, more serious, more reflective culture will supersede ours. And our defeat will be entirely deserved.”

Proposals abound for a ‘Franciscan reform’ of the Vatican by John Allen

“In broad strokes, most observers believe Francis wants to accomplish at least three things:

  • Greater coordination among the Vatican’s departments, which notoriously can operate like independent fiefdoms and occasionally work at cross-purposes.

  • Greater collegiality in decision-making, including a Vatican that does a better job of listening to the voices of local churches around the world.

  • Greater transparency in the mechanisms of governance, perhaps especially in terms of financial administration.”

Central African Republic bishops: Christians subject to pillage, rape by CNS

“Islamist rebels who have taken over Central African Republic are targeting Christians and their churches, and the population is “living in permanent anguish,” said the Catholic bishops’ justice and peace commission.”

Pope: Unemployment, slave labor go against God’s plan, human dignity by Carol Glatz, CNS

“The problem of unemployment is ‘very often caused by a purely economic view of society, which seeks self-centered profit, outside the bounds of social justice,’ he said, marking the May 1 feast of St. Joseph the Worker during his weekly general audience.”

Pope at Mass: Christian joy far from simple fun by Vatican Radio

“Christian joy is a pilgrim joy that we cannot keep ‘bottled up’ for ourselves, or we risk becoming a ‘melancholy’ and ‘nostalgic’ community. Moreover, Christian joy is far from simple fun. It is something deeper than fleeting happiness, because it is rooted in our certainty that Jesus Christ is with God and with us.”

The Mind of Francis: Capitalism, Jobs & Globalization by Thomas Reese

“He noted that the church is not only against communism but also ‘against the wild economic liberalism we see today.’ In Latin America, ‘liberalism’ describes what we in the United States would refer to as economic libertarianism.”

Pope Francis and the Reform of the Laity by Father Roger Landry

“One of the wild grapes that flows from the vine of clericalism, the future Pope said in El Jesuita, is a hypercritical spirit that leads some Catholic priests and faithful to expend most of their energy censuring others inside and outside the Church rather than seeking to live and share the joy of the Christian faith.”

It’s Not Women Who Should Lean In; It’s Men Who Should Step Back by James Allworth, HBR

“As I read, I wondered: why is it the women who should be copying the men? Why can’t it be the men who could be well served by taking a page out of an entirely different book: that of the very women Lean In is advising to change? What it is about women that men could emulate to make our workplaces, our families, and our society in general a better place?”

Parents as Stewards: Rejecting the Commodification of Reproduction by Dana Dillon, CMT

“Happily, Catholic moral theology offers a vision that makes sense of this reality. These children, it would remind us, are persons, possessing absolute innate dignity. They are not commodities to be acquired for the benefit they provide. They can never be reduced to an expression of others’ choices, not even the choices of those who play a part in their conception.”