Thursday, June 21, 2012

Writing Letters to the Editor and to Congressional Members

So the energy thing really has me going. Sand mining continues apace in this area of Wisconsin. New mines are being sought, developed and opened faster than most of us can even begin to keep up with. Town and County boards are unable to understand the ramifications of the projects they approve, and believe what representatives of the industry tell them. There will be new jobs, they say. It will actually improve the roads because there will be a bigger tax base. There are no health implications. These are all suspect kinds of statements, because there is little to no evidence that mining of any kind improves much beyond the corporate bottom line. I am going to explore in much greater depth the water implications of sand mining because it's hard for me to believe that using millions of gallons of water that then sits in holding ponds is "a good thing." In fact, I suspect it may be a very Bad Thing.

I went to a workshop recently about writing effective letters to the editor. I intend to take the sand mining issue, especially the water implications as my focus for a while. I hope to be able to get some letters to the editor in both larger and smaller newspapers in the next few months, so that people will think more critically about allowing these kinds of mining operations to take place without many safeguards in place, without making the mining corporations pay for all the damages to air quality, water resources, and the lives of citizen-taxpayers living in the vicinity.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Starting Again - New Direction

I have not posted on this blog for some time. However, recent events in my region of Wisconsin have sparked my concerns for the land, water and people of this special place on the planet. Our State has now suffered under a regressive political party that has reduced the income of thousands of people to put wealth in the hands of a few members of the 1%. Our environmental quality is being degraded due to lack of enforcement of environmental regulations, to the growth of sand mining activity in our area, and to the lack of protections for air and water quality.

I am a Catholic Christian, definitely in my senior years. I am a woman who, at the beginning of my working life, worked as a planner in antipoverty agencies, regional planning agencies, and in policy and budget planning for a State health care financing bureau. For the last 16 years I have worked as a psychotherapist and I've also been a spiritual director for the last six years. I care deeply about people, individually and collectively, and the planet we all inhabit. I believe that the Creation - all of it - is sacred, because it is loved by God.

Humans emerged from the dust of the earth.  We have the life of God breathed and breathing in us. We have a special place in this world, having the capacity to comprehend, reflect upon, and live in awe in this awesome universe/multiverse. We do not have the right to destroy other people, other species, the land, the air, the water. To do so is not only a mistake, it it is evil.

We have the sacred privilege to know and love God, (the "God of our understanding," as they say in AA). We have been enjoined by spiritual leaders of all religions to love "our neighbor" whomever she or he may be. We have the joyful responsibility to tend and care for this earth. I am devoting this particular blog to exploration of the human mission here on earth, as described above, i.e., love for God, neighbor (everyone), and the earth. Much of what I write will relate to what is happening here in west central Wisconsin. I will look at how the love of God, love of neighbor and care for earth is being reflected (or not) in what happens here, and in the responses of various individuals, groups, policies and political alliances to unfolding events. I will make suggestions about ways to better show, tell, and expand such love. I will bemoan what appear to me to be failures and celebrate when I see examples of care and creative response.

Here are some of the kinds of issues and events that concern me most at this time:

  • how people with greater needs are treated, especially those people with mental illness, addiction, chronic physical illnesses
  • what happens to people with few financial means
  • the sand mining issue, especially as it relates to water quality, public health, people's livelihoods and their ability to enjoy their own homes and land
  • health care access for people of few means, limited or no health insurance, and significant needs, while the health care systems engage in an "arms race" of competitive building programs that raise health care costs for all
  • glorification of greed, selfishness, and wealth (old name was Mammon)
  • trivialization of the dignity and potentials of people, focusing on superficialities
  • the ugliness and noise of too much of everyday life 
  • increased destruction of habitats for other species, landforms (hills, rivers, creeks), and environmental beauty
  • increased yearning on the part of many for more beauty, meaning, love and kindness, as well as connection with others and with the natural world, especially with the "plant people," the "bird people," and the "four-leggeds."


Sunday, May 15, 2011

A New Focus

A few weeks ago I realized quite clearly that global climate change generated by human activity was the issue of our time. I began some serious reading about global warming and its consequences back in January and February. I also observed my own reactions to this reading. I learned that I could only read so much before being overwhelmed with feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and deep sorrow. Then, for several days I would avoid. Then I would feel guilty and avoid the issue for a while longer.

In early April, I picked up a new book at the local library on an impulse. The Moneyless Man: A Year of Freeconomic Living, written by Mark Boyle, is a fascinating and hopeful story of a man who clearly accepts that both global warming and peak oil are here, will have increasingly profound effects on every aspect of human life, and that drastic human action is required to mitigate the consequences. What impressed me most about the book is the amount of creativity and discipline Mark Boyle exercised in his year of living without money.  His commitment to maintaining connections with friends, family, and his broader community and to experiencing fun in the process of getting his message out to the world inspired me. I was particularly interested in what he had to say about the transition movement.

Reading the book led me to having a conversation with my friend, Sondra, who has had some contact with people in the transition movement in the Twin Cities. I was reminded that she had given me a name of where to get the book, The Transition Handbook: From oil dependency to local resilience, by Rob Hopkins. I had not followed through, and wanted to get from her once again the name of the fellow who had the books for sale at a reduced price. Coincidentally, she was just about to go to a meeting of the Twin Cities group that next weekend. She was able to pick up a copy of the book, and I am now reading it. I find I'm reading it slowly, too. There is so much to think about, and assimilate.

I'm still struggling with some feelings of overwhelm and desire to avoid thinking and feeling about the pincers of global warming and peak oil, but also sense a growing willingness to be with these thoughts and feelings and not go into denial about what is happening. At the same time, there is within me a growing sense of hope and curiosity about how we - all humanity - will face these incredible challenges and use the creativity, optimism, intelligence, capacity for empathy and resilience that we can mobilize as a species. Two things stand out for me right now: the transition movement and permaculture.

As my reading, talks with people and little home experiments progress, I'll report on them. Right now, it's back to reading the next chapter in The Transition Handbook.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Comparing Budgets, Apples and Oranges

Politicians often compare a state or federal budget to the budget of a family. They say that just as households can’t spend more than they earn, neither can governments. But really, the comparison is not a good one.

First, look at the income side. A family’s income comes from wages (selling the family members’ labor), from sales of goods or services, and/or from payments provided by some other entity, a trust fund, a Social Security check, or disability insurance check. The sources of family income are limited to earnings, inherited or earned wealth (money-capital that earns money), or payments from other sources, such as government or insurance. Families also pay taxes on their income, at different rates depending on the source and kind of income.

The income of state or federal governments is dissimilar, because they have power to levy taxes to pay for their activities. States and the federal government also receive payment in fees, leases, and some sales.

Now, look at the expenses side. Families spend money on a variety of goods and services to support the lives and values of the family members. Their lives depend on having adequate food, water, shelter, heat, electrical service, clothing, transportation, health and medical care, education, and some forms of financial insurance.

Governments traditionally spend money on infrastructure, schools, roads, bridges, water and sewer, railways and other forms of public transportation, buildings to house their operations, public parks, preservation of natural resources, regulation of various activities, and provision of the common defense. In addition, governments provide social insurance, that is, income and payments for the health and wellbeing of those who are too young, too old or too sick or disabled to provide these for themselves.

A family budget has to balance income and expense, and each family has limited ways of doing this. At times, in order to save the life of a family member, a family incurs debt. The heart bypass operation is a success, or the accident victim is saved, or the cancer is defeated. Yet, the financial cost was horrendous, far outstripping the family’s resources. With good luck, the family is able to pay back the debt. With bad luck, say … the family member died, the debt incurred obviously didn’t just go away. The family has lost an earner, can’t pay the debt, and, eventually the family loses its house, has to try to find rental housing, and cannot even find a bankruptcy lawyer.

Governments on the other hand, have more latitude in balancing income and expenses. While they can incur debt, they also have the option to raise taxes. Government decisions about when to incur debt and when to raise taxes, and in what manner, are a matter of policy, not necessity. When a government leader states that cutting expenses is the only way, the necessary way to balance a budget, he or she is lying or mistaken.

What is often missed in discussions comparing family and governmental budgets is the issue of who provides the necessary finances and who benefits from the spending. In the case of family budgets, who finances the family is a matter of decision by the adults in the family. Such decisions depend on available employment, family circumstances and family values. Children are not expected or able to provide family income, in most instances. On the expenditure side, it is the family members and those others with whom they decide to share who benefit.

In the State of Wisconsin, the governor puts together a budget document that identifies the sources of revenue, and allocates expenditures. This document stipulates who will pay how much in taxes and fees. It also determines who benefits in the form of salaries for state employees, contracts for services with corporations or individuals, transfers of funds to local governments, and/or direct payments to or on the behalf of individuals, corporations and public agencies. The Legislature then considers the budget, holds deliberations on its provisions, makes changes to it, and finally, votes in a state budget.

Government budgets are moral documents. Political decisions guide the allocation of dollars for both taking in revenue and expending state dollars. In our case, these policy decisions are meant to be a reflection of the values, priorities and vision of the people of the State of Wisconsin.

We expect of families that their primary values will be the preservation of the lives of the individual family members and of the family as family. We expect of families that they will do their best to support, raise and educate their children, and care for their elderly, ill, or disabled members. We expect of families that they will do their best to live within their means. Yet we also have embedded in public policy the understanding that no individual and no family can do it alone for a lifetime. Families are bound together in a multitude of relationships with people outside of the family. There is a social dimension beyond that of ‘family.’ Part of that social dimension is that when families are having trouble, we provide them with assistance, support and encouragement.

We expect of our State of Wisconsin government that its primary value will be the preservation of the lives and wellbeing of the citizen residents of the state. Other values include the preservation of the quality of the land, soil, water and air within Wisconsin’s borders, the maintenance and expansion of necessary infrastructure – both physical and social, and the cultural diversity and creativity of communities within the State.

Unremarked in many of the discussions about budget balancing is any discussion of business and financial capital. Businesses are usually established through indebtedness, through borrowing capital owned by others. Businesses earn money through the sale of goods and services to individuals, other businesses and governments. Businesses routinely incur additional debt. Businesses, too, operate on the basis of values and priorities. Their values include: maintaining the existence of the business by making enough income to stay in business and paying back their debt; providing an income to the owners/workers; and making a profit, generating additional money to spend or invest in business expansion, investment in other business, or to lend at interest. Business budgets project earnings and allocate money for business operations, debt repayment, and payments to owners (investors, stockholders).

Many businesses are more like families, small-scale, located in a relatively small geographic area. Some businesses are more like governments, covering large geographic areas and a multitude of activities. Some businesses are beyond governments in scale, having budgets whose income and expenditures are global in scope and that affect the lives of, literally, billions of people.

Local, small businesses are understandable to most of us, simply because they operate more like our family households. However, global corporations that can sway or topple governments are not so understandable. Over the last 40 years corporations have become global in scope, moving much of their manufacturing capacity and operations overseas to use cheap labor. Global corporations have played a huge role in supporting repressive governments around the world to keep a passive and powerless workforce available to them. They have also swayed the United States government through lobbying and other uses of influence to engage in economic destruction of the financial viability of governments in Latin America, Africa and Asia by convincing those governments they needed huge projects funded by loans. The loan money was then spent to hire U.S. based companies such as Bechtel, Halliburton, Xe, and so forth. The people of those countries lost land, community cohesiveness and traditional freedoms. (Documented in David Korten’s book When Corporations Rule the World, and John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.)

In addition, there has been a massive redistribution of wealth in the United States, as global corporations moved away from “expensive” U.S. unionized labor to areas where unions are prohibited and labor is cheap. One result of this is that in the United States, the wealthiest one percent owns/controls more than one-third of the total wealth of the United States. In the last 15 years, the upper five percent increased its income, while the lower 95% saw its income decline relative to the upper five percent. (See the website, http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/02/income-inequality-in-america-chart-graph)

What is happening in Wisconsin is that global corporate enterprises are swaying our State government, through their contributions to politician who will act in their interest and not in the interest of the resident citizens of the state. In addition, lobbyists for such corporations are constantly at work, not to mention social contacts, on golf courses, in clubs and at parties where no lobbying reports need be made. Global corporate money is endangering Wisconsin families for their own corporate profit and purposes, not for the public values we hold, the life, safety, health and wellbeing of our citizens. Global corporate money has written the proposed State budgets, put right wing legislators in power, and threatens our democracy.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Political Struggles

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The political situation in Wisconsin continues to intensify as Governor Walker and the Republican leadership in the State Senate and Assembly dig in. They now have passed what are surely unconstitutional measures to compel the 14 Democratic State Senators to return to the Senate so there will be a quorum and their pro-business, pro-wealthy budgets can be passed at the expense of people on Medical Assistance, the public employees, and the environment. This situation is brought to us by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to equate money with free speech and corporations as people. Thus, the image above. Corporations are not people, and money is not speech.


I am increasingly concerned about my State and my nation. Real living people are being harmed by governmental decisions taken by Republicans in Congress and in the states. Decisions about cutting services to people who are poor, the ill and the disabled, in order to protect the already massive incomes and wealth of the top 1% are just plain wrong. Our governments should be by the PEOPLE, for the PEOPLE, and of the PEOPLE. The PEOPLE are the point, not the corporations or only a tiny percentage of the people.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Universal Declaration of Human Rights - Article 8

Article 8.

    * Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

This is tricky. How does it get decided what is a "competent national tribunal" for determining an effective remedy for someone being held as an "enemy noncombatant," having been snatched from their own country, and then transported to some other country, or into some kind of "no man's land." There needs to be a court of highest appeal.  A person who has been caught up in a raid because a fellow national identified them as a terrorist to an occupying army needs to be able to appeal to a court that is not part of that occupying army's country.


Processing suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees at Camp X-Ray at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, January 2002. (© AFP / Shane T. McCoy)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Universal Declaration of Human Rights - Article 7



Article 7.

    * All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

The following defines equal protection under the law. It is: n. the right of all persons to have the same access to the law and courts and to be treated equally by the law and courts, both in procedures and in the substance of the law. It is akin to the right to due process of law, but in particular applies to equal treatment as an element of fundamental fairness. The most famous case on the subject is Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) in which Chief Justice Earl Warren, for a unanimous Supreme Court, ruled that "separate but equal" educational facilities for blacks were inherently unequal and unconstitutional since the segregated school system did not give all students equal rights under the law. It will also apply to other inequalities such as differentials in pay for the same work or unequal taxation. The principle is stated in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution: "No State shall…deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

In this and other countries, (see comment from November 1st blog post) equal protection is at best something that is paid lip service. In fact, women, minorities, refugees, the poor, and those who are very ill or disabled do not have equal protection before the law. For example, the racial composition of prisons in the United States would indicate that people of racial minority status are more often charged, convicted, and receive harsher sentencing than those who are of caucasian origin. In the U.S., people who are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered face discrimination in the military, are not allowed to marry (in most states) their partner, and face job discrimination if their GLBT status becomes known.

In many countries, First Nation peoples are discriminated against. And, in many parts of the world, women are not entitled to the same degree of education, and human rights as are men. Almost everywhere, as a wise man once told me, "poverty is a crime" and is punishable by misery, illness and even death, while those who are wealthy are respected, receive health care, live longer and are treated better in their legal systems than those who are poor.