Friday, August 19, 2016

Sherman Park: The Days After

The recent “incident” in Milwaukee’s Sherman Park area sparked three emotion in me: sadness, anger and happiness.

The sadness came from empathy with the area’s residents.  The loss of property and injuries were one thing.  The terror and fear caused by a mob out of control in the night’s darkness was just as bad.  And the aftermath in the community continued the fear and apprehension. 

Anger came from the fact that so little was done prior to the event.  Milwaukee has lost large numbers of good paying jobs and an adequate transition support for those who lost these jobs was not provided.  The general area around Sherman Park  (I still wish someone in the media would say what they mean by “Sherman Park  area”) has experienced lower and lower household incomes.  The area has become increasingly black.  The newer “globalization” of the economy and older racial segregation have combined for a one two punch.  And I remain angry that there is little I can do about these two major drivers of the outbreak near Sherman Park, only being able to nip around the edges and those who could help have done little.

And then there is happiness—in a perverse way.  I have long anticipated an incident and my expectations have been confirmed.  All of the economic, political, and social factors point to a situation that would only need a catalyst to set off a riotous event.  While the exact time and place were not predictable, an event such as this predictable. Given the time in which we live, that the incident was sparked by police action was somewhat expected. (We still only know that a black man with a gun was shot by the police; the details of the incident are still a week later unclear.) 

In a not so perverse way, this event also brought out and brought together the business, political, law enforcement, religious and foundation community to seek to improve things—if only for a short time and, I fear, not to address the causes. At least we can expect a few things that might improve the lives of the people of the area.

My sadness, anger and happiness remain—and fortunately a little hope.

George Gerharz is the former director of the Social Development Commission in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Working Catholic: Jealous Crabs by Bill Droel

All ethnic groups experience a tension between the old world and the new world. First generation immigrant parents, for example, are distressed when their children prefer social activities among their schoolmates over family gatherings. The children are angry because these obligatory family events occur every weekend. Daughters say their parents are over-protective; parents say their daughters have succumbed to the worst of U.S. culture.

Sam Quiñones profiles Chicago restaurateur Carlos Ascención Salinas in Antonio’s Gun and Delfino’s Dream (University of New Mexico Press, 2007). Salinas arrived here nearly 40 years ago. He took a job in one of the restaurants of a regional pancake chain. He saved some of his earnings and he studied his workplace. Salinas eventually opened his own taquería, and then a few more. Salinas also assisted many other Mexican-Americans to start their own business. Today, Chicago features hundreds of these family-operated taquerías. There is one, for example, out the back door and then just across the alley from my home and then a dozen more within another four blocks.

Along the way Salinas and others had to sort out what was healthy in his old world culture and what was of no use in the U.S.  In Quiñones’ excellent book, Salinas repeats a version of the oft-told crab story. The fisherman, it seems, had no lid on his bait bucket. Another angler comes by: “Aren’t you afraid the bait will escape?” “No,” replies the first. “These are Mexican crabs. Whenever one gets too high in the bucket, the others drag it down.” (This story, by the way, has been told about Italian crabs, Pilipino crabs and even Catholic crabs.)

To be a success in business, explains Salinas, it wasn’t enough to learn about food distributors or about wage and hour regulations. He had to learn the soft arts; how to work in a pluralistic environment. In Mexico there is envidia, a jealousy embedded in the culture. There is an expectation that one gains status by trash-talking anyone who is further ahead. Envidia can even include sabotage. Salinas knew that envious behavior had to give way to cooperation for success in the U.S.

Quiñones tells us that Salinas preached teamwork “without envy and backbiting.” He shared his knowledge and made loans to others interested in starting a business. The loans “weren’t that important,” says Salinas. It was “recognizing the strength of unity, this support, backing each other up, this confidence we all need… We have to break the pattern of those famous crabs.”

Not everything from the old world should be forsaken upon arrival in the U.S. Research shows that parochialism actually aids assimilation. A strong family network gives children a nourishing harbor in our individualistic, often rootless culture. The seemingly old world ethnic family has resources more valuable than those in a superficial culture that is fixated on the vacuous Kardashians and the talent-deficient Miley Cyrus.

Every ethnic family struggles with this: What belongs to private life but is not useful in conducting public life? What is healthy in the home-based culture and what is dysfunctional there? Sorting through these matters is difficult. It helps to have a business leader like Salinas, perhaps a considerate foreman, maybe an Anglo pastor in one’s Mexican-American parish (or in a Polish-American parish), maybe an involved teacher. Thousands upon thousands of immigrants to our country have made a way from poverty to success by using one culture to create the next.

Droel edits a free newsletter about faith and work: NCL, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Working Catholic: Idolatry by Bill Droel

David Cloutier teaches Catholic ethics at Mt. St. Mary’s University in Maryland. The students give a skeptical “oh hum” to the unit about Catholicism’s sexuality teaching. However, the unit on property and consumption is met with shock, outrage and even offense. “They seem to believe that so long as [something] is gained through work, any property is theirs to enjoy as they please,” Cloutier writes in The Vice of Luxury (Georgetown University Press, 2015). 

All private property, Cloutier says, comes with a social mortgage. Wholesome and fulfilling economics is not about the art of the deal, but at a profound level it is about making a gift. Genuine economic freedom, Cloutier asserts, “means a commitment to reciprocity.”

Cloutier makes his argument through the old categories of virtue and vice. He has a tough job, your Working Catholic blogger suspects, because college students no longer frame their thinking in such categories.

Luxury, Cloutier forcefully persists, is “vicious and sinful.” It not only degrades the individual but, contrary to opinion, it is not good for the economy. Cloutier’s message is not restricted to the pretentious Trump family. The vice exists in nearly all income groups. “The lure of luxury permeates the ordinary spending and experiences of middle-class [North] American life,” he explains. Luxury is not this or that object. Nor is it “an occasional slippage.” It “is a disposition.” It is a spell that comes over society as a whole.

Christian ethics struggles to assert its alternative to the vocabulary of our dominant individualistic or utilitarian ethic. In our culture, for example, the phrase hard-earned money automatically justifies buying lotto tickets, joining a handbag-of-the-month club, judging some people to be the undeserving poor, thinking that tips to a waitress are optional and more.

Drawing upon Catholic sacramental theology and Catholic social doctrine, Cloutier attempts an alternative language about consumption. Though ascetics can be admired, he does not call the majority of Christians to “radical renunciation.” At the other extreme, he does not favor a materialistic majority that washes things over with a little Sunday piety. He suggests “a genuinely sacramental worldview in which the spiritual is participated in via the material.” That is, nearly all objects are holy, though not in themselves, but as analogues of God’s creation and redemption—presuming a disposition toward grace not a disposition for luxury.

Cloutier uses a Catholic principle called universal destination of goods. He also recommends Pope Benedict XVI’s talks and writing on “the culture of gratitude.” Both of these intriguing themes need popular rendering.

Put it this way: Gratitude is one disposition. “Thanks for the new day.” “Thanks for this coffee.” (A slogan that your blogger believes in after the third morning cup.) “Thanks for our beautiful country.” Every sincere expression of gratitude implies a giver, someone beyond the self. Gratitude makes each and every thing relational. “Thanks to the fair trade farmers and to the electric company for this coffee.” “Thanks to our 18th century patriots, to our service personnel and to all those involved in civic groups for this beautiful country.” “Thanks mom and dad, now departed, and thanks to God for this new day.”

Earned through hard work for my free use is another disposition. But no job, no country club membership, no private jet and no object can fulfill this disposition’s expectations. Objects that have only material significance automatically rust and disappoint. This hard work disposition eventually becomes resentment. Evidence? Donald Trump.

Objects can give life if they signify a relationship. With gratitude they automatically become little sacraments.

Cloutier’s book with its 20-page bibliography and 15-page index is not for a popular audience. It assumes some familiarity with Catholic philosophy and theology. It contains too much jargon and engages in a tad too much moralizing. But the book’s message is quite important and the message deserves a respectful hearing among a wide audience. Is Cloutier perhaps preparing a booklet edition?

Droel edits a print newsletter on faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629). 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Fourth Amendment and Justice for All

   In March (1933) the Nazis awarded themselves new powers to arrest suspects and search homes at will.  
Sarah Bakewell, At the Existentialist Café, Other Press, N.Y., 2016, p. 75.

Comment:   The presidential election this year is crucial for the advancement of the cause to achieve a legal base for justice – justice for all.  Whom will the new president appoint to the Supreme Court?   Consider a Bill of Rights issue, the fourth amendment to the Constitution and the analysis of William C. Snowden, a public defender in New Orleans.  (Bill Lange)

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America – Search and arrest warrants:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated,  and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and persons or things t be seized.”

Warrantless Strife 
by William C. Snowden

   This used to be the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.  After the United States Supreme Court decision in Utah v. Streiff it is unclear what protections against unlawful, warrantless and suspicionless stops by the police remain in place.

   Edward Strieff was walking out of a house that was under police surveillance due to a tip suggesting the home was involved in drug activity.  This was not a tip about Mr. Strieff but about the structure he was walking out of.  Without seeing when Mr. Strieff entered the house, without seeing a hand to hand transaction, and without seeing anything else to suggest Mr. Strieff had committed, was committing, or was about to commit a crime, a police officer stops and detains Mr. Strieff.  Up to this point, the majority of the Court agrees the officer did not have reasonable suspicion – what is required under Terry v. Ohio to stop Mr. Strieff.  But upon running Mr. Strieff’s name as the result of the unlawful stop, a traffic warrant is discovered, he is placed under arrest, and the drugs found on Mr. Strieff are declared lawfully seized – despite the initial stop being unlawful.

   Constitutional scholars critiquing this opinion may call it a “slippery slope.”  They are wrong!  We have slipped off the cliff – free falling into an abyss where the police are able to stop you without a valid reason then justify the stop if they find you have a completely unrelated warrant.
   The expression “do not rob Peter to pay Paul” parallels police who are committing a crime to solve a crime.  But now, as stated by the strongly dissenting Justice Sotomayor, “the Court today holds the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights.” (If you have not already, read Justice Sotomayor’s dissent immediately.)  The Fourth Amendment used to be a safeguard against police and prosecutors reaping any “evidentiary benefit” of unlawful searches.  Today that safeguard is no longer in place.

   When reading the opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas, one can envision how the police will abuse this exception to the protections of the Fourth Amendment.  The police are now given an incentive to stop more people on the chance they have a warrant which will justify the stop.  This is particularly concerning in minority, low income communities, and communities with large immigrant populations.  This case of Utah v. Stieff posed a unique opportunity to bring back some strength protecting our civil liberties; instead, it has weakened it for the empowerment of police abusing their authority.  
William C. Snowden 
Attorney at Law 
Public Defender Office 
New Orleans, Louisiana

Comment:   I asked Attorney Marc Christopher for a response from the point of view of an immigration attorney.  Marc represents clients from the Workers Center, Voces de la Frontera in Milwaukee, WI.  (Bill Lange)

A Responce

   Despite popular belief, we do not live in a democracy, which is ‘rule by the majority,’ but rather a republic, which is ‘rule by law.’ Our Constitution, more specifically, our Bill of Rights sets forth protections of individual liberties. By design, these protections were created for people who are at opposition with the majority—or do not have the political power to protect themselves. Two hundred thirty years of history demonstrates that the Bill of Rights often protects individuals that look different, speak different, hold differing religious views, lack economic resources and education and, perhaps, unfamiliar with our culture and systems of governments. 

   My law practice is focused on Immigration and immigrant rights. Immigrants, perhaps more so than any other category of people, consistently fall into these categories I mentioned before. Right now states (see Arizona) are passing laws which allow officers to ask for immigration documentation upon being stopped by police—if an illegal stop is no impediment to a law enforcement fishing expedition—the 4th amendment no longer applies to our immigrant population.  


Marc E. Christopher

Christopher & De León Law Office
1578 West National Avenue

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Working Catholic: The Undeserving Poor? by Bill Droel

Too many people seem too sure about the causes and the cure for poverty. I hear it in the barbershop, at my favorite lunch spot and frequently at the bar. “If only they would get a job and quit living off my hard-earned money.” The adjectival hard-earned is always used.  I also hear: “My family made it on their own. Why can’t those people?” Plus other riffs on the same theme.

These longstanding complaints are not confined to barroom banter. They are part of public discourse. Elected officials, foundation executives, talk-show hosts and others routinely make a distinction (maybe not in those exact words) between the deserving poor and the undeserving poor. By popular opinion, for example, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (which everyone calls food stamps) is an undeserved handout while Medicare and Social Security are—here’s that phrase again—hard-earned benefits.  

Have the poor always fallen into these two categories? Or is the distinction something new?

We will soon celebrate the 500-year anniversary of the great Protestant Reformation. Along with the significant improvements it made to Christianity, the Reformation created unintended consequences.  Prior to the Reformation Christian love or caritas looked upon the poor as worthy in and of themselves. They were not despised but assisted to the degree Christians were able to do so. At the same time, please note, the poor of long ago were not romanticized. The poor who made appearances in the New Testament, for example, were not held up as exemplars of virtue.

After the Reformation sympathy or humanitarianism replaced nonjudgmental caritas. This is a subtle shift that hardened into the distinction between deserving and undeserving. It solidified in our country in the 1850s as the poor became synonymous with immigrant Catholics. The orphan trains sponsored by humanitarian groups in New York serve to illustrate the newer approach. Many children wandering the streets were taken-in by an aid society and placed in “a healthier environment” with a rural family in the Midwest. The aid society judged the child’s natural family to be unfit, particularly because it was assumed the natural father (probably Irish-American) drank beer and/or whiskey. The Sisters of Charity and other Catholics in New York tried to retain the older approach: Avoid making judgments; open urban orphanages that kept the child in proximity to the natural family. (Babe Ruth in Baltimore was one example.)

The term Protestant approach or Protestant ethic in this blog is not the same as Protestant religion as practiced in a Methodist or Lutheran church. Nearly everyone in our country, including the Catholics, is Protestant in how they understand poverty, its causes and its remedy. Congressman Paul Ryan, for example, says that he thinks about poverty using Catholic social philosophy. Ryan might devoutly worship in a Catholic church, but his ideas about poverty are not traditional, old-school, mainstream Catholic ideas.

Do some people cheat on their food stamp application? Of course. Are some people who receive assistance lazy? Of course. Are some of those who appear at the door of a parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Society simply con-artists? Of course. Does a St. Vincent de Paul volunteer have a duty to use donated money and food wisely? Indeed, yes. Does a parish volunteer have a fiduciary responsibility to turn away someone who repeatedly asks for help and yet who looks like, with a fresh haircut and a clean shirt, could get a job? That is a tough call for a real world Catholic.

Droel edits a free newsletter on faith and work for National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629).

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

125th Anniversary of Rerum Novarum – On the Condition of Labor

   It was a beautiful summer afternoon for a picnic with neighbors, but we were all troubled.   The discussion was about the horrible police shootings of the past year, the sniper attack on police in Dallas, and complaining about the Roman Catholic Church saying nothing about it.  A Unitarian – Universalist friend, whose church is trying to do something commented, “I was brought up Catholic with the social encyclicals – what has happened to the Church?”   But there is a Roman Catholic response, quiet and isolated.  The director of social ministry at St. John’s Cathedral in Milwaukee has made a call for discussions on race.  Also a recent vigil at the Cathedral in remembrance of the LGBT people murdered in Orlando, Florida, showed a ray of hope for a community whose official doctrine on gays causes social confusion, tension and concern. 

  The comment about Catholic Social Teaching was poignant and surprising to me.  Who, other than a few ‘professional Catholics’ knows about Catholic Social Teaching?  Bill Droel in this blog has pointed out that this year is the 125th anniversary of the first modern social encyclical, Rerum Novarum. I haven’t seen mention anywhere else.

   Rerum Novarum – On the Conditon of Labor (1891), was both condemned and praised for stating that workers had the right to organize.    The capitalist industrial revolution had forged a society of death, illness and desperation for workers.  Catholic leaders such as Bishop von Ketteler of Germany, Cardinal Manning of England, and Cardinal Gibbons of the U.S. saw the need for a Catholic defense of the poor.    
   Looking back, the encyclical could be faulted as chauvinistic and authoritarian, but it is the basis for a prescription to achieve peace and justice. Subsequent encyclicals have progressively fortified the hope for a just society.   Fundamental to Rerum Novarum is the principle that each and every human person has transcendental value. The integrity of the person is confirmed with the recognition of everyone having the ability to make moral choices and to cooperate with others to make a better life. The poor are included as a special concern.

       …it is in the power of a ruler to benefit every    order of the State.
       And amongst the rest to promote in the highest degree the    interests of the poor; and this by virtue of his office, and without   being exposed to any undue interference - for it is the province of the commonwealth to consult for the common good. #26 

This is in stark contrast to the liberatism of the time based on the utilitarianism of J. S. Mill (1806-1873) "the greatest good for the greatest number" which leaves out the marginaized - those forced into poverty and those relegated as social outcasts. Liberal morality refers to David Hume (1711 - 1776) who thought that morality was simply the customs of a particular time in history which leaves us mired in repeating the same mistakes over and over.

The obvious conclusion after reading Rerum Novarum is – the death and destruction caused by poverty is morally wrong. Random, violent acts cannot be justified in the name of the economics, the “greatest good for the greatest number” nor in the name of law and order. So, what do we do about this?

The social encyclicals show a progression from Rerum Novarum, but Pope Francis’ analysis and rhetoric has brought a new dimension of awareness (concientización in the language of Liberation Theology). His language is personal and relevant - no matter if it is about climate change or income inequality. He is an advocate of justice, as previous popes, but he underlines another dimension of law and justice. Francis, in his declaration of a Jubilee Year of Mercy, defines mercy as; “…the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life.”

Recognizing humanity in each other is the path to a concrete understanding of what Leo XIII calls, “the common good.” Political activism to achieve the “common good” is more realistic and practical when it is sanctioned and explained in the language of Pope Francis.

Let us consider a quote from John Allen’s article on Pope Francis in a 2016 special edition of Time magazine.

America is the mother ship of free-market global capitalism that Francis, history’s firsts pontiff from the developing world, routinely excoriates as ‘savage’ for fostering an ‘economy that kills,’ denouncing it as responsible for a ‘throwaway culture’ in which whole categories of human beings are regarded as disposable.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Working Catholic: Fashion Statement by Bill Droel

Some philosophical and religious traditions look askance at fashion. Eastern religions, for example, focus on the transitory nature of the material world. They advise us not to get infatuated with appliances, jewelry or one’s wardrobe. Gnostic philosophy, which has at junctures influenced Roman Catholicism and other expressions of Christianity, says appearances are a deceptive illusion. Some strains in evangelical Christianity are unimpressed with art because only a direct relationship with God is important.

Being an Irish-American Catholic, I carry around an analogical imagination. That is, in my tribe God is mediated through the world’s beauty and order, particularly through God’s primary analogue, other people. Nature, artifacts, responsive institutions, plus architecture, music, film, novels and even fashion can dispose me to God’s grace.

This column won’t at first ring true to anyone who knows me because nearly my entire wardrobe is off-the-rack from outlet stores. Nonetheless, I take notice of a student or neighbor who has style, a look, or flair—maybe an unusual hat, a colorful scarf, or a sport coat that seems to match the personality. These touches, at times, briefly reflect the divine to me. In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel, The Idiot, a character says, “The world is saved by beauty, if at all.” That seems right to me.

Catholicism is in favor of fashion, though with an urgent caution. There is no place for the exploitation of designers and models, including on the so-called reality TV shows. Similarly, the sweatshop conditions in the apparel industry must give way to international labor standards.  

Bill Cunningham (1929-2016), the longtime fashion reporter for New York Times, brought his Catholic faith to bear in his work, though implicitly. Cunningham himself was no fashion plate. He usually wore a blue jacket with large pockets. Into his 80s, Cunningham peddled a bicycle around Manhattan. He never owned a TV; he didn’t go to movies. Yet society types and models were pleased whenever Cunningham drifted into a party or a show. Cunningham never sampled the hors d’oeuvres nor even took a soda at any of the galas. “I just try to play a straight game, and in New York that’s almost impossible to be honest and straight,” he once said.

Upon return to New York from his service in the Korean War Cunningham took newspaper writing assignments about fashion. He added a $35 camera to his reporter’s notebook. By the late 1970s he was full-time and soon developed a popular “On the Street” column.

His idea was that fashion is not just patterns and material in a studio. I went to “the shows and the streets to see how people interpreted what designers hoped they would buy,” he once said. He found out that ordinary New Yorkers in their own way create fashion. Cunningham came to believe that fashion is all around. He spent many hours on the streets looking for a stylish accessory or a unique outfit. On the street, he said, “you find the answers you don’t see at the fashion shows… My whole thing is to be invisible. You get more natural pictures that way, too.”
Fashionable does not mean expensive. It is about a person’s confidence and their consciousness of the world around them. We are saved by beauty.

Cunningham’s humble lifestyle attuned him to the beauty of all God’s creation. One of Pope Francis’ major themes is the priority of experience over ideology or abstractions. Cunningham once explained his approach to work in words that echo that theme: “I never go out with a preconceived idea. I let the street speak to me.” Seek beauty and it will find you.

Trivia contest: Who was the world’s first fashion designer? 
Hint: Genesis 3:21.
Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a free newsletter about faith and work.