Monday, September 29, 2008

Military Spending

Dear friends,
I get the newsletter for the FCNL, which is the Quakers'-- the Friends'--- newsletter. They ask the very good question about whether the military budget actually DOES support our troops. They mention that since 2001 the military budget has doubled. The number of active duty troops has grown by 40%. Less than 25 percent of the dollars are committed to the support of military personnel, and many are outside the war zones. In contrast, the spending on weapons procurement, R&D, and military construction has more than doubled. Buying new weapons has increased 10-fold since 2004.
The biggest military contracts are Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, BAE Systems, Northrup Grumman, and General Dynamics. Lockheed reported more than 42 billion in revenue in 2007, about 91% is from Pentagon budget. It also reported 21.4% return on investment to its shareholders. The government typically offers a "cost-plus" agreeement to the contractors-- no matter how much the costs of the manufacture rise, a certain profit margin is guaranteed.
To put this in perspective, if the same federal dollars were spent in nonmilitary fields such as health care, education and mass transit, the Friends analysts estimate that 50-130% more jobs would be created than those supported now by these contracts. They say it would be even greater if the money were spent on "green solutions" to climate change. Also, the money is NOT being spent for the troops who put themselves in harm's way, or their families.
We need to press the Congress to address these problems more effectively.
Sincerely, martina

Immigration Issues

People are not like tumbleweeds, coming and going across the border. They put down roots and have families, and wait to bring their families here. None of the people who came up here to work can ever go back to their home countries, because there is no living wage, no work for them, no worker’s rights, no health insurance there. The pressure of economies which have huge unemployment rates and very low standards of living make them unable to go back. Once they get a job here they have to stay, and keep sending money home for their expanding families, until they can afford to bring that family up here. The economic pressures are severe, and unremitting. They also no longer socially fit into the society there, when they have gotten used to the society here. Many of the immigrants who come cannot read or write in Spanish. They have limited vocabulary, and a 2nd or 3rd grade education. They will need several years of remedial education to equal a high school graduate here. There are huge statistical references to the inability of minimum wage earners to ever afford a home; and the children of these families are going to suffer the effects of unstable childhoods. Meanwhile, their labor threatens our high school graduates with cheaper workers, who will do jobs for less pay than will sustain a family here. We have not been able to get the Congress to raise the minimum wage.
Our society is being destabilized by the loss of jobs with benefits. Two generations ago, our grandfathers fought for health benefits, minimum wage, and a wage that would support a family; and over the years, we have gained disability benefits, maternity leave, pensions, insurance and health care support. Currently we are quickly losing that support. If anyone wants to return to the kind of lives our great-grandparents lived, without security and buffers, keep voting for the Administration’s policies. Catholic social justice policy has always (in this century) supported the rights of the poor to these buffers. It is one of the reasons those workers from abroad wish to come here.
Can we extend the American workers’ rights and standard of living to the severely disadvantaged folks who want to come here in desperation, looking for jobs? I believe we will severely weaken the polity by extending the economic benefits without the participatory democracy which won those rights and benefits. Participatory democracy depends on education!
If we care about family life, we should not be in favor of policies which bring in more immigrants, leaving whole towns fatherless in the disadvantaged countries. If we believe we owe social services and education to our own citizens first, we must have a care about the amount of charity we can give, paying attention first to the justice demanded of us.
We CAN help the people in disadvantaged countries immensely, by forcing our government to make better treaties. Treaties can enforce environmental protections and worker benefits. The treaties can demand of multi-national corporations and corporations formed within those countries that they give their workers a minimum wage, appropriate for families to live on in that economy; and that the worker’s rights are protected. By spelling out the worker’s rights in the treaty, we effectively create better laws in that country.
Attention to the common good should include building a sustainable economy and society. Most of the immigrants who come soon have children here, and the children are American citizens. We need to focus on the idea that immigration is not just about single people, but families. And the needs of families for healthcare, education and housing need to be considered in forming a just immigration policy,

health care reform

Dear friends,
I would also like to say that I think the Obama health care platform is a good one. I believe there are three really important reforms built in to it--
1) no "pre-existing health care exclusions"
2) allowing everyone to be part of the government-sponsored plans
3) allowing Medicare (CMS) to get discounts for pharmaceutical products for their huge numbers of patients
This will actually drive the actuarial pool to realistic numbers, and drive down costs. And by not allowing everyone out of the employer-based insurance coverage, we will not allow balkanization, and increased rip-offs from the insurance industry. McCain's plan has the potential to let 60 million people out from employer-based coverage, with no replacement. It has been shown that when people have to pay more, they will forego preventive medicine, and end up with more medically advanced conditions. And it would allow the insurance and pharmaceutical industries to run away with the store even more than they already are.
love, martina

The Catholic Vote

To the Editors,
The New Yorker
from Martina NIcholson, MD

In reading Peter Boyer's article, I believe it would be helpful for people trying to discern what many Catholic voters are hoping for, to consider that for more than 40 years we have been undergoing the social change wrought by more and more effective contraception. Catholics have been statistically using family planning to the same extent that other groups do. "A consistent ethic of life" which makes a woman have the right and obligation to choose life, but not have that right preempted by the legal system, fits most women within the faith. Humane Vitae was a great cry for the protection of marriage and family life; but many pastors and theologians feel the refusal to accept contraception was a strategic error which will ultimately need to be rectified.
Catholics have been taught that relationality, (as in the relationship between Jesus and Abba, the father), is the most important criteria for ethical discernment, and that the great gift of the cross was the forgiveness of sins. Marriage and family, and child-rearing needs to be supported. Peter Boyer seems to miss the main point, which is to reduce the number of abortions by providing adequate contraception, family planning counseling, better resources for women in crisis pregnancies, and truly compassionate care for all women of reproductive age. Reproduction is only one of the many gifts we have been given, and we are called to balance all our gifts as stewards of God's creation.
Martina Nicholson, MD

The Greatest American Woman for the Job

Dear friends,
I have really thought a lot about women, and "the shadow"-- what Jung called the side of us we don't want to face, and how Sarah Palin fits that. But also CIndy McCain does not represent the best image of American womanhood. And in her willingness to fight to the finish, I think Senator Hillary Clinton also forgot an important facet of the way women can best help and serve the nation.
I think the best woman we have right now to show ourselves and the world what a great American woman can be is Michelle Obama. The fact that she is in a good and stable marriage, to a man who calls her "the love of my life", and who is trying to be a good father and responsible husband really matters to me. She is well-educated, well-spoken, physically fit, and healthy. She is a good mom, whose girls say the thing their mom and dad most dislike is "whining". Also, she is a working mom. I think she is good-looking, but not a beauty pageant person or a Barbie doll-trophy wife. She can identify with the middle class parents struggling to bring up children, and to balance work and family life. She has strength of character, and enthusiasm, and sparkle.
Instead of focusing on how much we dislike Palin, I think we should be focusing on what an asset and great woman Michelle Obama is. And also, what great skills and insight Joe Biden will bring to the White House team.
Concentrating on the positive will get us further than embittered diatribes against what we don't like.
With great hope that we will prevail,

Friday, September 19, 2008

I find this time so straining. I just read the Pax Christi newsletter, and found this profoundly disturbing piece of news:
1% of the population owns 33% of the wealth. The bottom 90 % of Americans split 30% of the wealth. In spite of a 20% rise in productivity since 2001, only 2% real wage increase. CEO ratio to worker's wage was 431/1 in 2006. Not since 1890 has there been such a split between rich and poor, with a shrinking middle class. ( quoted from John Rausch) As many as 58% of Americans would like to belong to a union, but the employers have made it impossible for most work-places to get union protections in place.

new poem


(for Sandra Alcosser,
after reading her poem “Feeding the babies”)

Yes, the topknots quiver,
As the little darlings see the ladies,
In their red hats and purple scarves
Coming toward them.
The old ladies are full of smiles,
And the babies are happy
To feel wanted,
Hoped for,
Loved again and again,
Throughout the long sunny days;
Before and after naps.

She says this has taught her something
About the mothering instinct—
How, even when we are old,
We want to curl our lives around a baby,
Put food in its mouth,
Coo to it,
Carry it around in our hearts,
Worry over its well-being.

And the difficulties of dancing with a partner
Increase with age.

Our new puppy
Sleeps downstairs in the sun on the porch,
While I sit here writing and reading.