Category: Humanity

Theft Is Always Wrong But….

By , April 17, 2014 5:49 am

When Moses came down from the mountain he had with him the tablets with God’s ten major ordinances – the Ten Commandments. The most important, of course, was that God’s people were to worship Yahweh faithfully and honestly, but down the line a bit there was the one that we now call “VII” – Thou Shalt Not Steal. We all know that stealing is wrong. To intentionally take something that is the private property of another person, is almost in cases a moral evil. I say in almost all because there are certain circumstances which would allow a person to make quick decisions in order to survive; for example, food when faced with hunger. In general, it is always wrong to steal.

But some kinds of theft are worse than others. Walking into a liquor store with a handgun in order to empty the cash register is theft and if you don’t get killed, you certainly can go to jail for a long period of time. You may not understand this but there is a certain honesty in that kind of theft. You have money, I want it and if you don’t give it to me, you are going to get hurt!

However, let me tell you of a worse kind of theft. Put yourself in the executive offices of a fast food place. It doesn’t matter whether it is McDonald’s or Wendy’s or Burger King. You see the hourly charts coming in reflecting that Gene Jones or Raul Martinez worked 52 hours at the minimum wage. No one can actually survive on that in an urban setting. Why should those two guys who sweated for so many hours get so much money? We will just say that he worked 40 hours cutting him out of overtime. Stealing from the poor is, in my opinion, the very lowest form of theft!

A few weeks ago the United States Department of Labor announced the results of a survey indicating that the scope of wage theft in this country is stunning. The practice of stealing wages, commonly called “wage theft”, is a national epidemic. It eats away at the livelihood of already underpaid workers. Eighty percent of surveyed fast food workers experienced off the clock violations, meaning that they were required to work without pay before punching in and after punching out. Forty-eight percent who worked more than 40 hours in a week did not receive overtime pay. Wage theft has ramifications beyond the employees who are cheated. We suffer when wage theft becomes a way of doing business. Law abiding businesses can’t compete with wage cheats who shave their operating costs by breaking the law. The less money that wage earners bring home, the less money they have to spend on basics, such as food, clothing and household necessities depriving local businesses of much needed consumer dollars and hampering our economy. When that happens everyone loses.

The Department of Labor has studied and documented that this heinous crimes. Now let’s give them the charge of cleaning this utterly cruel form of theft up as quickly as possible.

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The Struggle Continues

By , April 14, 2014 5:42 am

The other day, I commented on how wonderful it was to see four former presidents joining President Barack Obama in celebrating the great civil rights progress that was made in the 1960’s. America was changed, the United States is a better country but the struggle for true equality regretfully is far from being over.

I was delighted to see a statement in the Austin American Statesman on the fact that the struggle needs to continue. An article was coauthored by the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus and they touched briefly on very serious issues that still must be addressed. They state that as Texans:

“We rightly demand a fair system that provides meaningful freedom and opportunity for each of us….

“Instead we see a fixed system that consistently puts well-connected millionaire donors and corporations ahead of middle class working Texans. We still a school finance system that is so unfair and inadequate that most Texas school districts are compelled to sue the state over it.”

“We see a sustained attack on health services, women and the poor, along with efforts to revise history, whitewashing the record and ignoring the plain fact that Texas leads the nation in its percentage of uninsured residents.”

“And in clear echoes of 50 years ago, we see repeated efforts to make it harder for Texans to exercise the most fundamental right of all – the right to cast their ballots.”

The senators are very correct in pointing out that so much still needs to be done. I certainly hope and pray that Texans will continue to work for a more just and equitable society.

Onward through the fog.

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The Importance of Values

By , April 8, 2014 5:06 am

Houston in the 30′s

I grew up in a church that was in many ways very different from what it is today. When I was a child the neighborhood was less than fifty years old and relatively prosperous. Since then, it has gone on to what seemed to be decaying and sliding off into a high class slum, but then gentrification arrived and the Houston Heights bounced back. Its greatest advantage was that the center of the Heights is only three miles from downtown Houston. With Houston spreading itself to being more than one hundred miles wide in any direction, living in the Heights has become a tremendous advantage and the prices responded accordingly.

A house could be purchased in 1905 for $6,000 and lived in for about 110 years. The house would become run down but if a new roof, central air conditioning and good landscaping can be added, that little house can be picked up for a bargain price of $700,000.

All Saints Parish, which served the Heights, built a magnificent church in 1927 and was able to maintain a good school until the 1960’s. The staff was fairly simple – a pastor, assisted by two younger priests, eight Dominican nuns in the school and a janitor. There was no business manager, no secretary and no parish council. It was a very simple world. The faith was strong and passed powerfully from generation to generation. Few women worked and the men themselves were carpenters, brick layers, truck drivers with an occasional insurance salesman thrown in. Hospital rooms cost $15.00 a day and doctors made house calls. White Oak Bayou ran behind our house and when we came back from the movies on Saturday we could all play Tarzan or the Lone Ranger without spending a penny. Milk was delivered on wagons and the garbage was collected in enormous blue wagons pulled by mules. That is in my lifetime folks! . It was a wonderful world but it is gone.

There were lots of problems in the ‘30’s, money being one of them on almost everybody’s agenda. I don’t kid myself by saying that everybody was gloriously happy but overall things were stable, calm, life had meaning and balance. When I was nine year’s old I was taught values in various fora. One was the parish church where a wonderful old German priest from Westphalia held forth with at least occasional references to hell’s fire. But my mother and he held a common value system. When we kids got to the school it was again the same system. If I had gone to a public school, even there the same values would have been proclaimed. When I went over to the Yale Theater on Washington Avenue the movies would pretty well concur with what I had heard at church and school and in the family.

That is not the way it is today. We are a nation bereft of generally accepted values. I know we are so free to pick and choose as to which one we will accept and be guided by. Today we struggle in a society that is tragically conflicted in every direction and we are paying a price for it. The Church is weaker in the society than it was in the ’30’s but has an even greater responsibility to try and convince, first ourselves, and secondly, the larger society, that a society without unified, sustainable, good moral values is doomed to destruction.

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Is Apple A Bad Apple?

By , April 7, 2014 5:53 am

Green America, located in Washington, DC, is a wonderful organization and helps most of us with its vigorous vigilance over health problems about which many people are not aware. Green America has just come out with a very strong criticism of Apple, Inc. Green America asserts that Apple is showing a reckless and dangerous disregard for human health. The organization asserts that Apple’s supplier factories in Asia expose its workers to chemicals like benzene and n-hexane causing their workers routinely to develop debilitating nerve damage and leukemia. Green America then asserts that if the employees receive any medical attention at all, they are likely to be sent to hospitals that are controlled by the factories. Their symptoms are then ignored or downplayed. They can be denied proper care and the whole scandal is covered up.

Green America continues that what is even worse about this situation is that the leukemia that many of these workers contract is roughly 80% curable in the West with proper medication. Finally, the workers and their families seldom receive proper compensation for their injuries. They are frequently returned back to work or to their villages with devastating health effects that may last their lifetimes.

Green America is starting a program called “Stop the Bad Apple.” They want you and me to contact Apple and urge two concrete steps.

1) Stop the use of benzene and other dangerous chemicals in their smartphone supply chain as a first step to ending labor abuse in the electronics-manufacturing sector.

2) Create a fund to pay for the medical treatment of Apple factory workers harmed by handling benzene.
Green America asserts that these problems can be resolved by Apple diverting $1.00 from each phone sold into this program. They assert that Apple generated profits of over $37 billion dollars just last year and are currently sitting on an estimated $146 billion in cash and marketable securities.

Green America is not boycotting Apple itself. Life without a cellphone is becoming to be very difficult, but at least with the huge profits of this giant corporation there needs to be a greater sense of justice for the people who are laboring to produce our cell phones.

This approach to bad advertising for large corporations has proven to be successful. Remember the abused employees in Nike factories in Asia? Hershey’s, Proctor & Gamble, General Mills and Home Depot chose to transform the way they did business, rather than suffering from the charge of injustice and exploitation of the poor. Green America says that you and I can make the difference. Let’s try.

You can support and learn more about the Bad Apple campaign at Why not send a note of encouragement to Green America as well. You can contact them at: Green America, 1612 K Street, NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20006, 800-58-GREEN,

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Moving Faster in Texas

By , April 3, 2014 4:44 am

About 25 years ago, I had the opportunity to travel with the Bishops of Texas to a wonderful part of France, the area around Lyon. When the Catholic Church in Texas was getting started in the 1840’s, ‘50’s and ‘60’s, the first bishops and most of its priests were from this area and we should all be grateful to those early missionaries. There were many aspects of that trip that made strong impressions on me. There were about 22 of us and we visited four villages to celebrate Mass in the birthplaces of the first two bishops of Galveston-Houston and one in what is today the Archdiocese of San Antonio. The little local paper ran a headline saying, The Texans are coming – the Texans are coming! It was a wonderful experience both for the villagers and for the Texas Bishops.

Most of those impressions were, of course, of a religious nature but I was also in awe of the fast trains! Remember, this was 25 years ago but the trains were already moving at 225 mph. We got from Paris to Lyon very quickly.

Fast trains have been used a great deal both in Japan and other Western European countries but not in the United States. Efforts have been made to develop them in California but they have not been successful. Now there is a great deal of talk about bringing fast trains to Texas. Austin sits in the middle of the great Texas triangle of Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. Those cities represent more than half of the population of Texas. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could get back and forth to any one of them in less than an hour?

I am not in the railroad business and I don’t travel very much anymore, but I would love to see Texas lead in the competition for high speed rail.

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Solitary Confinement in Texas

By , March 27, 2014 5:10 am

The State of Texas has the largest prison population in the United States and possibly the largest in the world. At the present time there are approximately 123,000 persons in the prison system of the TDC.

It is tragic that so many of our citizens find themselves at odds with the laws of our country but, of course, it is also a fact that from time to time people are convicted unfairly or receive inordinate incarceration sentences. That is the human condition and while we should always be sensitive of the need to improve the prison system, there is one thing that I would like to bring to your attention today.

Can you imagine that 7,100 of our fellow citizens are sitting in solitary confinement? These prisoners are allowed out of their cells for one hour a day for exercise but those other 23 hours they are starkly alone. Have you ever been in a hotel room when you are caught there in-between planes? It is boring, boring, boring. Remove the window, take out the television set, take those pictures off the wall and you would find that this hotel room turns into a real prison. But that is alright. Your plane will leave in three hours and you can get out of the hotel.
Not so the prisoners. They spend hour after hour of timeless, boring days looking at those walls. This is a cruel policy that has been born out of the birth of the need to control possibly violent inmates. It may very well be that in this case or that case such punishment is required. But 7,100!

Happily, prison systems all over the country are finally beginning to realize the destructiveness of solitary confinement. These states, such as New York, Colorado, Washington and Mississippi, have set up new policies and have dramatically dropped the number of the so incarcerated.

One aspect of this is really frightening. Each year, in the State of Texas 1,200 inmates are discharged directly from solitary confinement and released straight to the streets without some type of orientation or rehabilitation. This is really dangerous. If they are too dangerous to be freely allowed to move around the prison, how can they be released straight to the streets?

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High Unemployment Continues Tragically

By , March 25, 2014 5:20 am

The other day, the New York Times put out a story that looked ever so positive and optimistic. The headlines read “Employment Close to a New High” and the paper pointed out that 116 million Americans are employed in the private industry. That is good news but the leaders of this country are not paying enough attention to the fact that long-term unemployment, meaning being unemployed for more than six months, is tragically high and virtually nothing is being done about it.

It is wonderful that so many of us have jobs but millions of our fellow citizens continue to struggle in vain. Full employment should be a mainstay of public policy but it is hardly discussed in the halls of Congress. This is made all the more tragic by the fact that there is so much work that needs to be done. Our highways have been poorly maintained and hardly expanded at all. Thousands of bridges in this country are in disrepair and the state and national governments continue to fail to fill positions that are sorely needed, especially in our schools.

I would love to see the bishops of the United States take up the issue of full employment and constantly remind the general population that 7% or 8% of joblessness should not be seen as a cold statistic but a reflection of the fact that hundreds of thousands of us are suffering. The whole nation needs to be concerned and be willing to do what is necessary in order to move the whole country forward, not just those who are lucky enough to have jobs.

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Faith, Courage and Joy

By , March 21, 2014 5:17 am

The other day I wrote about the question as to whether or not sadness and joy can co-exist. The answer is that they certainly do. Sadness is an emotional response or reaction to one or more of life’s difficulties and usually when those problems are solved, sadness evaporates. But joy is a permanent relationship. I am of course referring to Christian joy.
Several weeks ago, Father James Martin S.J., editor of America magazine, wrote an excellent article on the subject. It is particularly important for understanding Christian joy.

“First let me distinguish joy from happiness. Unlike happiness, joy is not simply a fleeting fleeing or an evanescent emotion. It is a permanent result of one’s connection to God. While the more secular definition of joy may be simply an intense form of happiness, religious joy is always about a relationship. Joy has an object and that object is God. The ultimate response to the Good News is joy, one that is lasting and endures even in the midst of difficulties.”

And who does not have difficulties? We all have problems. We all face crises at one time or another, we all get tired and occasionally at least discouraged. The Gospels clearly tell us that Jesus experienced overwhelming sorrow. When he learned of the death of his friend he broke down and cried. Jesus experienced the full range of human emotions and so we must assume that Jesus laughed. The Gospel of Luke, speaking of the Garden experience, used the word agonia and says that Jesus’ tears fell on the ground as in drops of blood.

For successful living, adults require a wonderful blend of faith, courage and strength. We should not attempt to avoid every possible problem. Sometimes it is easier to address them face on rather than wishing that they would go away.
Back to Lent! This is a time to evaluate our efforts to develop in these necessary virtues. We need to deepen our awareness of our faith in the presence of Jesus, and we certainly need courage and strength to move forward. Good Friday is coming but beyond that is the Resurrection. Let us go forward.

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The Agony of Waiting

By , March 19, 2014 5:05 am

About 15 or 20 years ago I began to notice an expression that soon became very common. “We want to have closure on this thing.” “We can’t seem to have closure.” I certainly know what the speaker is talking about and it is a very important point. When we have problems, when there have been conflicts or when real or imagined tragedies take place and we do not know the final outcome, it is painful and frustrating. Now we are seeing a terrible example of that.

I am writing these words in my office and they may not be put in front of you for two or three days. By that time the world may have answered the awesome mystery of what happened on Malaysian Flight 370 two weeks ago. Two hundred and thirty-nine people were on that plane. That means thousands and thousands of family members, extended family, friends and co-workers. As I write this no one, no one, knows what has happened and the suffering of the waiting is agonizing.

Maybe by the time you read this we will have had closure on Flight 370. Whatever that result will be I feel saddened that I am sure it is very bad and evil. If the plane with all of its passengers has been destroyed, we need to prayerfully remember not only those who lost their lives but remember as well their loved ones who suffered agony in waiting without closure for so many days.

We have had many problems with passenger flights and terrorism over the last 25 years, but this is certainly a new situation. Is it going to be unique or is this going to be symptomatic of a new way to frighten and terrorize the developed world? I am sure that before too long we will know.

This whole situation points to our agonizing vulnerability. Science, technology and modern economics have created an unbelievably efficient and exciting world, but it is a world that is very vulnerable and we are all passengers on it. Regardless of the news between now and after you read this, I hope that we are all praying together for the passengers of Flight 370.

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It Is Not That Simple

By , March 18, 2014 5:20 am

The evening news and the morning papers are all trumpeting the tension and danger surrounding the Crimean situation vis-a-vis Russia and the Ukraine. Western Europe and the United States are solidly united in their opposition to what is seen from the perspective of the West as a territorial grab by Russia. But is it all that simple?

Despite the intimidating presence of Russian soldiers, I think it is overwhelmingly obvious that the majority of Crimeans would rather live as Russians than be an uneasy minority in the much larger Ukraine.

This is a time for calmness and prayer. I am not a historian but I have read my share of the history of the West and, like anybody else who has done the same, I am very conscious that wars frequently begin either by accident or by serious misjudgment on the part of one party or the other. The First World War is an example of the former and the invasion of Iraq certainly documents the latter.

This battered world needs peace. In my lifetime the amount of suffering, agony, destruction, oppression, death and every other source of pain has been simply unimaginable. We really have no idea how many people actually died due to the Second World War. Most people say somewhere between 40 to 50 million humans lost their lives between September 1939 and May of 1945. In the Iraq War more than five thousand wonderful young Americans lost their lives; twenty thousand were wounded. The Iraqis themselves lost tens of thousands more. Tragedy builds on tragedy.

Leaders in every country have got to continue to strive and work to come up with a better way to run this battered planet. Together let us pray for peace.

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