Monday, November 28, 2011

Frank Throws InThe Towel

U.S. Rep. Barney Frank’s announcement that he will not be seeking reelection follows the signing by Governor Deval Patrick of a law creating new state congressional districts in Massachusetts, according to the Boston Globe.

In past elections, Frank has depended upon votes in his hometown of Newton and also the Democratic strongholds of Fall River and New Bedford. Redistricting deprived him of New Bedford, while the conservative towns added to the reconfigured district west and south of Boston and in Bristol and Norfolk counties would have proved difficult for him.

Additionally, Frank lost status when Republicans regained control of the U.S. House.

Frank is best known for the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act that heavily regulates business at a time when the nation is shedding jobs. Co-author of the bill, former U.S Senator Chris Dodd recently packed it in and, having pledged never to become a lobbyist, took a position as a lobbyist for the motion picture industry.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Occupy Everything

According to a recent news report, the anti-capitalist Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement has moved its operations from Wall Street, chock full of greedy financers, to Main Street, chock full of greedy merchants. This is encouraging and depressing; encouraging because the protestors have recognized a vital connection between Wall Street and Main Street, and depressing because the connection is misconstrued.

The OWS movement has refocused its ire on publically traded retailers, according to a Stop Black Friday website: "The idea is simple, hit the corporations that corrupt and control American politics where it hurts, their profits.”

Among the companies to be boycotted are:

“Abercrombie & Fitch [ANF 44.88 -0.79 (-1.73%)] - (yes, we have to stay away from Amazon, too!) [AMZN 188.99 -3.35 (-1.74%) - AT&T Wireless [ATT 27.21 0.17 (+0.63%) - Burlington Coat Factory - Dick's Sporting Goods (I was surprised, too!) [DSG-FF 27.745 -0.76 (-2.67%) - Dollar Tree [DLTR 76.61 -0.48 (-0.62%) - The Home Depot [HD 36.52 -0.58 (-1.56%) - Neiman Marcus - OfficeMax [OMX 4.25 -0.24 (-5.35%) - Toys R'Us [JPM 28.38 -1.03 (-3.5%) - Verizon Wireless [VZN 95.50 --- UNCH (0) - Wal-Mart [WMT 56.64 -0.21 (-0.37%)]”

The listing is necessarily partial. A full listing of companies that trade on the stock exchange would include, sadly, Ben and Jerry’s, the ice cream makers who sold out more than a decade ago to mega-giant Unilever. The franchise owners were concerned at the time that “the new owner would preserve the unusual aspects of Ben & Jerry's, particularly its commitment to social causes like helping the homeless and conserving the environment. Unilever maintains on its Web site that it is working to preserve clean water resources and is involved with other issues,” according to a story in the New York Times.

Slate Magazine, usually not chummy with greedy Wall Street trade traders, slammed the deal at the time as a sellout:

“It's easy to imagine that, if we could transport this deal back in time 10 years, it would have been frankly labeled a sellout, in the most pejorative sense of the term. Just a few days ago becoming a part of Unilever seemed like a distasteful option, as company co-founder Ben Cohen attempted to cobble together a counter-deal involving ‘socially responsible’ investors.”

In analyzing why “pretty much no one is going to accuse Ben & Jerry's of selling out,” the magazine hit the proverbial nail on the head:

“What has changed in the last 10 years to make such an accusation so unlikely to stick? The critical change is the evolution of the idea of ‘shareholder rights’ as something that now has an almost populist connotation. After all, a huge percentage of the kinds of people who care about "social responsibility" now own stocks. And while ‘social responsibility’ is kind of a murky term, ‘shareholder rights’ not only sounds virtuous, but is very easy to understand: You, the shareholder, have a right to see your shares go up.”

We are all shareholders now – including OWS protestors attending colleges that invest funds in publically traded companies.

Three years ago, Jon Meacham wrote an essay for Newsweek provocatively titled “We Are All Socialists Now.”  Mr. Meacham’s liberal credentials are unimpeachable. He is the former editor of Newsweek and co-anchor of PBS's new TV and web newsmagazine Need to Know. His best-selling biography, American Lion, about Andrew Jackson, was awarded the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Biography. President Jackson is the father of the modern Democratic Party whose fulminations against large banking systems more than match those of the protesting OWSs.

The central point of Mr. Meacham’s piece is that the United States has already passed over the bar:

“The U.S. government has already—under a conservative Republican administration—effectively nationalized the banking and mortgage industries. That seems a stronger sign of socialism than $50 million for art. Whether we want to admit it or not—and many, especially Congressman Pence and Hannity, do not—the America of 2009 is moving toward a modern European state... A decade ago U.S. government spending was 34.3 percent of GDP, compared with 48.2 percent in the euro zone—a roughly 14-point gap, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In 2010 U.S. spending is expected to be 39.9 percent of GDP, compared with 47.1 percent in the euro zone—a gap of less than 8 points. As entitlement spending rises over the next decade, we will become even more French… The architect of this new era of big government? History has a sense of humor, for the man who laid the foundations for the world Obama now rules is George W. Bush, who moved to bail out the financial sector last autumn with $700 billion.”

Welcome to the Eurozone. Not only is the OWS movement boycotting with a too broad brush, it is painting the wrong wall.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Father Dick

Ages ago, long before it was considered proper to call priests by their first names and when honorifics were on every child’s tongue, we called father Richard Bollea “Dick,” for he was a member of the family who, at an early age and listening to the whisper in the whirlwind, heard the call to the priesthood.

By the 1950’s, it had been common for more than century for males in a family to become priests. The families that gave their children to the church usually were large. Just before the Civil War, the Mother Superior of a convent in Boston who had faced down a mob that threaten to burn down the papists convent was a member of a large family. In a second round of anti-Catholic violence, after the nun had told the now whiskey fortified mob to “disburse immediately or the bishop of Boston,” who had the requisite forces at his command, “will push you into the sea,” the drunken mob did burn and sack the convent. They had been incited by Lyman Beecher, the father of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” a powerful Unitarian preacher who had delivered an impassioned sermon to the then sober protestants of Boston, ever aflame with ineradicable anti-Catholic prejudices, the oldest in the country, according to historian Arthur Schlesinger.

This fierce and poisonous prejudice, locked into the DNA of the nation -- in the revolutionary period, the hoi polloi of Boston regularly celebrated “pope’s day,” during which an effigy of the pope was paraded through the streets and pelted by celebrants -- had long since abated by the time Dick was shipped off to Paris, where he studied.

He was admitted to the priesthood in 1962 and, when we next saw him, bore a new honorific before his last name, Father Bollea, a title that seemed a bit cumbersome to members of his family and his closest friends. My brother Jim had married Dick’s sister, and so his friends and his now extended family called him “Father Dick,” reserving honorifics – mister, miss, missus and, in the case of nuns, sister – for everyone else at a time when even town drunks were crowned by children with their proper proletarian titles.

Father Dick’s last priestly assignment was as chaplin in Waterbury Hospital and Coordinator of the Hospital Apostolate for the Archdiocese of Hartford, where he consoled the sick and dying for many years. God, who does work in mysterious ways, had deposited my wife and me in Malta on the day Father Dick died. Owing to the fierce storm that ravaged Connecticut, in combination with my own stupidity – I had left behind my cell phone battery charger – we learned of his death only on our return a few days later. On the day Father Dick’s painful death, my wife and I had entered Saint John’s splendidly appointed 17th century baroque style co-cathedral in Valetta, Malta, a church richly adorned by the Knights of Saint John of Malta, first hospitalists and later fierce warriors. The church was commissioned in 1572 by Grand Master Jean de la Cassière as the conventual church of the Order of the Knights Hospitaller of St John.

From the Middle Ages to the present day, Malta had been recognized as Europe’s hospital. In the dark days of the Second World War, it’s world renowned hospital received and cared for allied troops crushed in the fierce gears of the bloodiest of centuries. And so it seemed appropriate, entering this cathedral, to offer a prayer and light a candle to Father Dick who, while far less favorably situated than the wealthy knights, was never-the-less engaged in the same good works.

The beauty of the cathedral was overpowering. Everywhere were gilded walls, magnificent paintings and statues of one or another Knight of Malta. The tombs in the floor where many of the knights were buried were decorated with wondrous hand crafted marble tiles that put before the viewer each knight’s narrative.

But all the splendor of the cathedral was dwarfed, even in the days of the Knights of Malta, by the small and modest Byzantine icon of the Blessed Virgin, The Philermos Madonna, said to have been written by St. Luke and housed in Malta from 1530 to 1798. It was in memory of this less resplendent holy icon that we lit a candle in the co-cathedral of the hospitaliers and said a prayer that She who receives the petitions of the poor banished children of Eve might show tenderness to a man and priest who had dedicated the last years of his life to the poor and suffering.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Perfectly Named Republican Candidate (Almost)


Steve Obstinate is running in the 4th Congressional District.

OK, I jest.