Posts tagged: United States

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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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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My Hero Retires

By , February 7, 2014 5:16 am

I vote in the 10th Congressional District of Texas but I have tremendous admiration for the Democratic Representative of the 33rd Congressional District in California. I am referring to Henry Waxman who is giving up his seat after forty years in Congress. Congressman Waxman is a short, bald-headed man. In appearance, he is certainly not overwhelming but what a great representative for his 33rd District and, in my opinion, for all the people of the United States.

Congressman Waxman was the driving force in passing laws that dramatically cut air pollution, helped reduce smoking, expanded medical coverage for the poor, reduced pesticides in food, made generic drugs more widely available, helped AIDs patients and improved regulations in nursing homes. The average congressman would have been delighted to accomplish even one of those goals during his time in office.

I always liked him but I was thrilled when back in 1994 he had the ten CEOs of the nation’s tobacco corporations under oath and questioned them about the addictive power of tobacco. All ten CEOs, under oath, declared that they did not believe cigarettes were addictive. Sadly, none of them went to jail, but Waxman won the day and great progress was made towards improving the health of the nation.

May God bless you, Henry. You will be missed.

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Mexico – Our Southern Neighbor

By , December 11, 2013 5:02 am

One of the strangest political borders in the world is the one that delineates the United States of America and the United States of Mexico. On paper, their governments appear to be very similar but that is where the similarity ends.

Americans love to travel but not everyone in the United States has the privilege or resources of vacationing in Europe. Mexico, however, is so close that if a person really wants to go there, they can do it and so tens of millions of Americans have taken their vacations in Mexico. They love the beauty of the country but most of them do not know a great deal about its unique history. You shouldn’t hold it against them because in many ways it is a very mysterious and unusual country.

Do you think that Mexico is a Catholic country? Most people think of it as being such and in many ways it is. But let’s take a better look!

Isn’t it interesting that this so-called Catholic country has laws forbidding the exercise of the Catholic faith? The Catholic Church is not free to own property in Mexico and what was formerly church property was confiscated by the Mexican government back in the 1920’s. Even today there are many hostile laws on the books against the Catholic Church. They are not strictly enforced but they are always there in case the government does not like something that the bishops are doing.

Mexico presents itself as a democracy but a single party was in complete control most of the last century. That party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), led from 1920 until about 1997. During its years of control, many of Mexico’s natural resources were nationalized, for example the oil and gas industry and the communications industry, etc., etc. While Mexico is still in the process of developing and is burdened with many internal problems, it has to be acknowledged that it is making steady progress in virtually every area of its national life. Things are beginning to change. One example of progress is that there is a very measurable drop in the number of illegal immigrants pouring into the United States. Ultimately, of course, the solution to emigration depending on complete economic development.

Mexico has had a fascinating and, to a great extent, tragic history. The natives of the country have been there since beyond the beginning of time but for our purposes, the people that stand most important in their story are the Aztecs. Based in what we call the Valley of Mexico, they had conquered roughly the southern half of the area. Then came the Spanish conquest beginning in 1519. By 1521, they had conquered Mexico City and in that first year laid out the outline for the Cathedral which, when finished, was and is one of the largest churches on the planet. The Spanish would rule until 1821 when Mexico, following the example of its northern neighbor, expelled Madrid’s control and declared itself a republic. Then would begin a period of nearly 100 years when there would be very little political stability. With the arrival of the PRI things began to settle down but the political system has never been completely steady. Needless to say, political instability has had a very negative influence on economic development.

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A Much Needed Amendment

By , December 9, 2013 5:40 am

Our Founding Fathers divided the powers of government into three separate branches and it is a system that works wonderfully well. Because human beings are involved in all three branches, from time to time adjustment is needed and that situation is before us now.

Three years ago the Supreme Court made a decision properly called Citizens United allowing unlimited corporate money to pour into our elections. Our country had resisted that threat to democracy for more than 200 years but that safeguard was swept away by a five to four decision. Now I am hopeful, more accurately I am prayerful, that we might be seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

Public Citizen is the leading entity trying to bring about a Constitutional amendment that would nullify this disastrous decision. They have gathered more than two million signatures supporting such an amendment and more are coming in every day. The president has endorsed this effort.

Five hundred cities in our country have passed resolutions calling for the amendment.

A coalition is building across the country involving nearly 200 organizations, indirectly representing tens of millions of Americans from every walk of life and they are calling for returning to the situation where elections cannot be bought. The name of the campaign is “Democracy is for People.”
Consider joining Public Citizen in this effort. Their address is 1600 20th Street N.W., Washington, DC 20009,

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Making Sense Out Of Texas

By , December 5, 2013 5:17 am

God bless Mr. Fehrenbach!

Over the years I have had many opportunities to meet people who had recently moved to Texas from other parts of the United States. They are not here very long before they become quizzical because Texas seems to them to be such a strange state and its state government seems to be especially strange.

I have advised dozens of these new friends on how to get a grip on the reality of Texas from just one book. I then go on to say that if they would like to deepen their understanding of Texas, then they should read a second book. But you shouldn’t overwork friends when they are just getting started.

The book that I recommend is always “Lone Star: A History of Texas and Texans.” The author was T.R. Fehrenbach, a man who was born and raised in South Texas and died last week.

Mr. Fehrenbach does an amazing job of describing the historical forces that swirled into, around and over Texas from the 1600’s until today. He explains, to the extent that it can be explained, the Texas mindset with its hostility to almost all authority and a buoyant self-confidence that makes Texans laughed at and the butt of jokes across the world. Texas is unique. Its history is different from any one of the other 49 states. It resources are almost limitless but not always utilized very effectively.

With the Native Americans out of the picture, the two remaining groups, Hispanics and Anglos, would, from 1836 until today, experience tense and sometimes violent relationships. Those from the south of the border held that not only had Texas been stolen from them, but the entire southwestern portion of the United States.

The Mexican American War only added to the hostility that marked this relationship into modern times.

Today Texas is experiencing a dramatic demographic change. All of us ought to observe that loosely, analyze it and endeavor to walk into the future with the best possible understanding of the environment, economic and social structures in which we are living.

After that we have to take a look at Mexico.

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Who Is Reading It?

By , November 13, 2013 5:56 am

About once a month this blog is checked to see who is out there and where do they live. I think that you would expect that many of the viewers would be in Central Texas area but we do get hit on across the United States and over a large portion of the world. For some reason, and I don’t completely understand it, there is hardly anybody in Russia checking on my views. Maybe what is more understandable is there are always steady people hitting in Italy and especially Rome!

Despite the above facts, the blog is heavily oriented towards Central Texas and the Catholic Diocese of Austin. They are very close to being the same reality geographically so I make no apology for talking about what I consider to be interesting things like St. Edward’s University on South Congress and the Historical Society which is so successful in the little German town of Westphalia about 60 miles northeast of Austin.
Knowing that people in Wyoming and Portugal are desperate for information about Central Texas, I am going to provide occasional information to help people with their vacation plans. First I want to talk to you about the wonderful little town of Castroville just a little bit west of San Antonio.

Would you like to visit Alsace-Lorraine? Save your money and go out to Castroville instead. It is a wonderful Alsatian village. The courageous settlers were led by Henri Castro and the town set up in the 1870’s. Many of the families who are there today know that their grandparents and great-grandparents had come with Mr. Castro to set up the village. They built firm structures and most of those houses are still being lived in. Admittedly, one or two air-conditioning units protrude from the sides and there is a carport where there used to be a place to tie your horses. However, the spirit of Alsace-Lorraine really perdures in this town and it is truly worth a visit. The Catholic church is marvelous and it was constructed in the 1870’s. It is very beautiful today – a solid brick stone structure.

For many years a close friend of mine, Monsignor Lawrence Stuebben, was the pastor of Castroville and he organized exchange trips between Alsace-Lorraine and Castroville with scores of parishioners exchanging visits every other year, aiming first at one destination and then rotating the next year to the other one. I honestly think that many of the people in Castroville have a better international mindset than many others in Texas.
If you plan to spend the night, please call ahead for reservations. The 150 year old hotel is delightful but it only has six rooms!

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A Disappointing Report!

By , September 16, 2013 5:35 am

Most older Americans remember with some degree of clarity that extraordinary changes took place in the United States in the 1960’s and in the decades following. The Vietnam War undercut our sense of patriotism and trust in the government. The sexual revolution challenged and frequently overturned ancient customs within our culture and traditions. A massive increase in government involvement in our lives had ramifications in every direction. The Church, like the larger society, was affected by these monumental shifts in opinion and values, and inside the Church we saw a dramatic drop off of young men and women desiring to enter into vowed religious life and ordination to the priesthood.

As far as priests were concerned, costs connected with their education and care for them after retirement could be sustained not without some difficulty, but by the basic structure of the diocese. For the hundreds of religious communities of women it was a different story. Each one was independent and at the same time responsible for itself and its members.
In the late 1980’s, it became apparent that the traditional policy of individual self-maintenance was no longer working. Fewer women were entering religious life and those who remained were elderly, less able to be employed in ministries and the costs of caring for them soared. In response to this painful issue, the bishops of the country established the Retirement Fund for Religious (RFR).

The Retirement Fund for Religious is essentially an annual collection to produce funds that will assist various communities that are struggling to maintain themselves. In a sense, it was a moderate success. Millions would be raised each year and I have the figures of 2012 when $27 million was placed into the Fund by the Catholics of the United States. I have just reviewed the annual report from the National Religious Retirement Office and it points out that 75% of the income was distributed to communities that were in pressing need. Twenty-five percent was allocated for promotion, educational and administrative expenses, along with some savings for future distributions. Together that accounted for $26 million. In a nutshell, the Fund took in one million more than it expended in carrying out its mission.

Oh, shame – shame – shame on us. Twenty-seven million dollars is less than fifty cents a Catholic, fifty cents a year to help maintain the heroic, generous, faith-filled women who built our schools, clinics, hospitals, etc. for the last 150 years. This fund should be receiving hundreds of millions of dollars each year, not fifty cents per Catholic. The dioceses should not be simply having an annual collection trying to raise this money by passing the basket on one Sunday morning but should allocate its own resources to enhance development of this program in every part of the nation. If that is not successful, then the dioceses should put a hard tax on themselves to bolster the resources of the Fund so that it can adequately handle unfunded retirement liability.

There has been progress. In 2004, the unfunded liability of the communities was $6.7 billion. Today, it has been reduced to $4.7 billion. Progress but not nearly enough.

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Immigrants and Labor

By , September 5, 2013 4:32 am

We are constantly being reminded that there are 11 or 12 million people in America who are present among us illegally. The great unifying factor among the adults is the natural desire to put food on the table for their children. This certainly calls for respect from all of us. Most of these immigrants took risks to get here and work in the shadows never knowing when they might be constrained and delivered to the Rio Grande River. Yet more respect!

This is a terrible situation and calls desperately for a humane solution. Happily, the Senate has passed an excellent proposed bill with 14 Republicans voting for it. Given the difficulties of passing such legislation, this is really an excellent proposal.

Regretfully, the House shows no sign in being willing to move it forward. They have several proposals but none include a pathway to citizenship. Note the quote from America magazine.

“Diverse interest groups have united to support and overhaul of the current system. Labor unions have joined with business interests recognizing that immigration reform will strengthen the economy. Prominent conservative activists and donors, including the Tax Reform Activist Grover Norquist, have voted support for reform. Religious groups have inspired pro-reform efforts. Polls indicate that there is an overwhelming bi-partisan support for reform including a pathway to citizenship among Americans.” (America Magazine, September 3, 2013)

Three-quarters of the undocumented have lived in this country for more than a decade and the group represents more than 5% of our national workforce. Come on House members. Let’s get real.

If you really would like to help these people in their difficult situation, why not write your Congressman and express your desire that the House would support the basic Senate Bill.

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Happy Labor Day!

By , September 2, 2013 5:50 am

Today is Labor Day! If you are at work, you are making a mistake. I’m proud of the fact that years ago, our nation decided to endeavor to honor the workers of this country who do the heavy lifting to make it what it is; to be honored appropriately.

Working conditions in most industries in the last half of the 19th century were truly horrific. Twelve hour days, six day weeks and low pay were common. Industrial accidents- tragically frequent. And no governmental program to step in and make the difference after an accident.

Roughly 100 years ago, a close working relationship began between a small and weak labor movement and the Catholic Church. You should not be surprised- most of those workers were Catholic immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe, and the encouragement of the Church- even the Pope- was a great source of strength.

Great progress has been made, and the greatest strength of our country is that a strong middle class developed, allowing average Americans to buy their own homes and give their children an education. Part of that scene is still very much with us- and yet, there are dark clouds threatening the future of America’s middle class. The union movement is virtually gone. Powerful forces have been used to cut back on wages, insurance, and retirement programs. In a number of states, they have simply been removed from the scene.

My brother was an iron worker for about forty years, working day after day, hundreds of feet in the air on an 8 inch wide steel beam. While we are drinking our coffee, there are still some minors working deep in the earth, and countless other difficult jobs that involve great physical risk. Each of us today should give some thought to these people who have worked so hard to make our lives better and more enjoyable.

God bless the workers of the United States, and may God help them across the planet as well!

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