Monday, June 27, 2005

Father knows best....

Holy Family Catholic Church, in the Tower Grove South neighborhood, celebrated their last Mass today and is off to the auction block.

For an institution that prides itself as a shepherd, the Archdiocese has certainly paid little attention to the interests of its flock. Citing financial difficulties, the St. Louis Archdiocese has closed thirteen churches and consolidated many of the remaining parishes. Countless catholics in the city fought to preserve their parish; some succeeded, like St. Pius V on South Grand Blvd, some didn't, like Holy Family.
Holy Family Church
Holy Family Church

Numerous groups came together to offer solutions to the fiscal problems, most of them centered on the idea that the Archdiocese and ArchBishop Raymond Burke are thinking too short-term. The population in the city is beginning to stabilize, More and more affluent and younger individuals and some young couples are moving into the city. Many are moving into areas like Tower Grove South. Instead of touting the stabilizing affects the parishes have had on many neighborhoods in the city and the community social aspects a neighborhood church can offer, they have instead turned away many dedicated followers and have shuttered the doors on opportunities for growth.

Many of the catholics I have talked to all recognize that some form of restructuring was necessary, but cited the lack of real community input as well as some short-sighted assumptions as a significant source of anger and resentment directed towards the Archdiocese. Some of those most involved in fighting the closings said they felt the decisions had already been made and that parishioner input was mostly perfunctory. It took them a great deal of effort to even make the changes that were recognized in the final plan.

In the end, the situation was a nearly typical example of bureaucratic inertia combined with a paternal "we know what's best" attitude. The Archdiocese has dashed the faith of many dedicated followers who spent many hours trying to find solutions to the very real problems faced by the Catholic Church in St. Louis. The Archdiocese has also wasted a fantastic opportunity to tap into the new growth occurring in the city. Despite the cries against the "secularization" of modern society, people are still looking for community and faith, something the local parish and parish school offered.

Like the fight over St. Stanislaus in North St. Louis, the parish closings demonstrates a ham-fisted handling of difficult situations, the seeming callousness with which the Archbishop and the Archdiocese seemed to handle the troubles only rubbed salt into the wound.

The only positive outcome from this situation may be that the groups that coalesced to save their parish from the green eyeshades of the Archdiocese will remain connected and develop a stronger community, one that demands the Archdiocese deal with its followers as people, and not as numbers on a page.

- Murphy

Friends of Billy...

Mona Lisa over at Fired Up Missouri makes a great catch.

"I was a little boy and I'll never forget it," Clinton said. "I've loved him ever since." Graham, 86 and frail, referred to Bill and Hillary as "wonderful friends" and offered up some unsolicited personal and political advice, suggesting that the former president should become an evangelist and leave "his wife to run the country."

Hmmm . . . does that sound like an early endorsement to you? I'm sure Bill O'Reilly and the fundies will insist on an apology.

- Murphy

Monday, June 20, 2005

The final night of the Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis. It was a perfect evening to finish out this season's run. The Tempest was on stage but unlike the last time we tried to go, the sky did not threaten rain. Once again the performances were excellent and the production itself did a great job by fitting it all into one set. Sometimes it seems companies get distracted by the props and backdrops and forget that, usually, the simpler the better.

The Tempest was a play I was unfamiliar with and despite my rusty Elizabethan English, after the first scene or so my ear adjusted enough that it seemed natural.

They announced at the end of the performance that the festival broke its previous record with 47,000+ people attending the performances over almost a month-long run. They also announced that next year will feature one of the most popular of Shakespeare's plays, Julius Caesar. Although as my girlfriend mentioned, the Shakespeare in the Park series seems more suited to comedies. Lots of families come out for an evening's fun and the comic relief characters in Shakespeare's comedies and romances are perfect for keeping some of the younger kids attention. I doubt Caeser will hold the restless one's attentions as long as one of Shakespeare's jesters can.

- Murphy

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Matter of convenience...

Many of the recent Republican calls for a withdrawal timetable often include a version of the soundbite, "It's their country and it is time for the Iraqi's need to take responsibility for their future." While I agree with the idea that the Iraqi people are ultimately responsible for their future, at this point the United States has a responsibility to assist the people of Iraq. Some valid reasons for toppling a regime such as Saddam's do exist (though none were central to the Bush administration's argument) so the damage incurred could be seen as justifiable.

If the sequence of events in post-invasion Iraq had followed the administrations optimistic assumptions and not the critics predictions, the U.S. would be perfectly justified in simply packing up and pulling up stakes. However, the lack of planning for dealing with the insurgency, infrastructure destruction, civilian casualties, in-fighting between political factions and generally re-establishing some form of normalcy for the people means that the administration still bears a heavy burden and owes the Iraqi people a great deal of help.

The recent Republican statements questioning the Bush administration's statements leading up to the war are welcome. However, statements simply calling for some arbitrary timeline are more likely to reflect increasing public dissatisfaction with the progress in Iraq, which is at 59% (CBS News/New York Times Poll. June 10-15, 2005.).

Calling for a withdrawal of troops without acknowledging the debt the administration owes the Iraqi people is dishonest.

The question of withdrawing troops is difficult. To ask men to risk their lives to salvage a program that was founded on deception is not defensible. To leave the Iraqi people to the depredations of the insurgent forces in the country is also failure.

The war was not defensible based upon the administration's now discredited reasoning, however, once the administration invaded they had a responsibility to follow through on their actions with the appropriate amount of support as well as the appropriate amount of political sensitivity. Rebuilding the country was never included in the initial planning. The administration's stated contempt for "nation building" should have been an indication that the post-invasion process was going to be far less successful than pummeling the already decrepit Iraqi military.

The legislators that were so gung-ho in supporting the President's invasion of Iraq owe the U.S. military and the voters a frank and open examination of the failures that led us to the point where we are, according to commanders on the ground, in an inevitably deteriorating.

Calling for the Iraqi's to take responsibility for their shattered country without acknowledging our responsibility will achieve nothing and let those who failed to take reality into account in their planning off without consequence.

- Murphy

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Laura Rozen has an article at the American Prospect's website describing her investigation into the soon-to-be-released book by Rep. Curt Weldon, Countdown to Terror. Weldon seems to have recently read the book Charlie Wilson's War (about Rep. Wilson's (D-TX) efforts to lead a covert war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan) and thought he to could run his own freelance intelligence work. The problem is, Weldon's source has already been discredited and U.S. intelligence has been diverted by his efforts.

Weldon apparently thought he could gain some political play out of being the Congressman with the secret Iranian source and would be the one to expose Iranian-backed efforts against the U.S. Too bad the CIA already issued a burn notice on his source, the Iran-Contra arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar, and the information he did have was quickly and thoroughly discredited.

Weldon was on Meet the Press this morning, but I unfortunately missed it. Doubtless he will get some political traction from this, but hopefully his efforts will be exposed for the bungling they are

- Murphy

The new "bio" craze goes to far...

Mayor Slay is touting the release of a new product co-produced by St. Louis-based Solae, a leader in soy research. The product is a soy-based yogurt, Bioplait.

While I am in favor of anything that brings potential growth to the city, the name has to go. Who wants to eat, Bioplait? It sounds like something you need a prescription for.

- Murphy

Friday, June 10, 2005

Bad information...

Before running out and grabbing a copy of the sure to be talked up book Countdown to Terror: he Top-Secret Information that Could Prevent the Next Terrorist Attack on America... and How the CIA has Ignored it by Rep. Curt Weldom (R-PA), be sure to read Laura Rozen's assesment of its validity. Laura identified the source behind Weldon's book, the creatively named "Ali" back in April, a former Iranian commerce minister, Fereidoun Mahdavi, who is a close associate of Manoucher Ghorbanifar, the arms dealer deeply intwined in the Iran-Contra deal. Rozen spoke with Mahdvi who admitted that most of his information was from Ghorbanifar and he simply acted as the vessel. Laura has spent a good deal of time and effort following the paths of folks like Ghorbanifar and others in the world of foreign policy and intelligence.

Rozen's breakdown of the book is an essential foil for all those who are trying to hype up Weldon's book.

- Murphy

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Who will bring it up?

Despite the health care industry's enormous role in the economy, there has been little serious attention given to the rising costs and falling coverage by the administration with the exception of programs and laws that benefit few besides the affected companies bottom lines.

Health insurers and health care companies need to make their processes more transparent to justify their exponentially increasing rates. Administrations need to justify their own policies that not only disproportionally effect the neediest, but will remove an essential foil to the increasingly opaque and monopolistic health care industry.

A service as essential as health care falls into the range of the public good, just as we protect the essential position of a free press and access to the courts, the government needs to protect citizens' access to efficient and affordable health care.

Expanding coverage through versions of universal health care has been suggested by many, but until we can find a way to deal with the twin problems of rising rates charged by insurers as well as the entrenched antipathy towards a government role in the health care industry, the possibility of any form of efficient and broadly available health insurance is slim to none.

Here in Missouri the rising costs have pushed more and more families to seek some form of assistance in covering their bills, assistance that is become more and more scarce as the Blunt administration slashes programs that provided assistance and coverage for those who need it. The governments are attempting to change the system completely in order to make it as difficult as possible to return to previous levels of coverage. In fact, Medicaid will be eliminated completely by 2008.

Business interests are beginning to wake up to the economic realities of the current health care problems. Driving home the essential economic importance of affordable health care is where the attention should be focused.

The cuts made in Missouri are expected to cost the state 10,000 jobs and $700 million in economic activity (I recommend reading the whole report for a full understanding of the impact). This following a period in which the health care industry was the only industry that grew during the recent recession.

The current actions by the Blunt administration echo attitudes in conservative administrations around the country. The moves are made for ideological reasons despite their assertions that fiscal solvency is all they are interested in. Their actions will cost Missouri money, jobs and perhaps even lives.

- Murphy

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Sqeeze play

The New York Times has a story about the Department of Education raising the bar on who can receive financial aid and at what level.

The argument is basically that better economic times are ahead and so the families can bear a greater portion of the costs of college education. The problem is that the economic forecasts tend to be more optimistic than not and actually penalizes single-parent families more than two-parent families.

NY Times' Analysis

Given the esteemed position education and increasing opportunity for more Americans has in this administration's rhetoric, it leaves one to wonder where the leadership is on this. Higher education degrees hold the place that high school diplomas once held. Forcing families to bear increasing amount of the cost saddles them with additional burdens and leaves them even more vulnerable to unexpected crisis and the rising costs of other necessities such as the nearly exponential rise in medical insurance rates.

The idea behind financial aid is to provide greater opportunity. If the economic forecast is as rosy as is being predicted, shouldn't that lead to greater income for the government as well, thus allowing them to reduce or eliminate the raise?

- Murphy

Friday, June 03, 2005

Truth? What do we care about truth...

Wired magazine's online site, Wired News, has a story describing one patient's outrage at a Florida politician using her situation to oppose stem-cell research.
A spinal-cord patient has charged that Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Florida) used her image without permission and misled Congress and the public by suggesting that her case offers evidence that adult stem cells can help severely injured people walk again.

Susan Fajt, who suffered a spinal-cord injury in a car accident in November 2001 that left her with little sensation from her chest down, e-mailed Weldon, who is also a physician, on Wednesday detailing her complaints and requesting an apology.

She believes Weldon's comments and his use of her image gave patients and lawmakers, who were about to vote on a bill that would approve funding for embryonic stem-cell research, the false impression that adult stem-cell therapy can cure spinal-cord injuries.

"This poster is of a young lady who was paralyzed for years and had an adult stem-cell transplant," Weldon said that day. "She is able to stand up."
Fajt received adult stem cells from her nasal passage in an experimental procedure to improve her paralysis. While Fajt has since had some limited improvement, no one is sure if it was due to the stem cells or not.

Fajt supports research in all areas of the stem cell field and is angry that she would be used in such a way.
"If Weldon wouldn't have used me and said a cure is going to be found with adult stem-cell research, embryonic stem-cell research may have been federally funded," Fajt said in an interview.

This is yet an addition example of the anti-intellectual and anti-science tendency in the conservative community and the lengths to which they will go to deny the facts to the voters and the people.

At the very least there are complex issues that must be addressed but they require absolute clarity and complete access to the facts involved. The conservatives in this country place ideology over facts to the detriment of us all. Most of them demonstrate little to no understanding of the issues or what is at stake.

Here in Missouri we have had to deal with the return of creationism in schools, deceptive teachings in sex education as well as the continuing debate over stem cell research.

Much of the stem-cell debate does lie in the realm of the ethical, but using deceptive practices to further your cause does nothing to improve our understanding of the issue.

But is it even possible to debate ethics with those who deny facts that disagree with their world view?

- Murphy

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Oil and the Economy

Kevin Drum has been doing a good analysis of the "Peak Oil" question (the point at which oil production begins to decline due to declining available supplies in the ground) that looms over the global economy. It's a multi-part series, but his most recent post on this topic makes the most important point for both conservationists, economists and world leaders.

His basic point is: We may not have hit peak oil yet, but production has maxed out. The major oil-influenced economic shocks come not from high prices, but from sudden price spikes. Since there is little to no excess capacity left in the world, the market is more susceptible to price shocks than ever before. Even small shocks can trigger disproportionate effects due to the lack of wiggle-room that was previously provided by Saudi Arabia's enormous (now nearly maxed out) production capability.

As he points out, no one knows for sure if the peak is already here or if it will take until 2035 or later to arrive. However, increasing volatility is inevitable and given the large role oil plays in the global economy, we can expect nasty surprises. Unless we plan for it. As Kevin points out, the economies can survive high oil prices, and they may even spur innovations to develop more elastic alternatives to oil. Market forces are able to take care of this, but we must begin taking it seriously and begin planning for higher prices.

Some thought also needs to be given to India and China's rapidly growing demand. It will quickly surpass U.S. demand and keep climbing.

- Murphy

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

I missed this editorial in the Post-Dispatch the other day, but it hits on two important topics: the potential real estate bubble and the growing national debt. Even better, they link the two together. Some have drawn attention to one or the other, but the two are linked.

Both Americans and the nation are in debt up to our eyeballs. A population willing to rack up debt to pay for its consumption is not likely to spend much time worrying when their government does the same. However, eventually bills come due.

We talk a good game when it comes to fiscal responsibility, but the truth is that we rarely follow our own advice. The economy runs on consumption which is financed by debt (home equity loans, credit cards, etc.), the government also runs on debt (treasury bonds continuously purchased by Asian central banks). The question is...what happens when we get behind or the creditors are no longer willing to extend their credit? For individuals it means bankruptcy and years spent trying to get out of the hole (before the current Congress changed it, individuals could write off certain amounts of debt, now it never goes away). For the nation it means a recession.

Previously we all strived to save money, both individually and nationally, now we have a miniscule savings rate and an administration that has tossed off the goal of achieving surpluses. We may be able to get by on this path, as long as the line of credit continues. If something were to destabilize things, however, we may find ourselves looking up out of a very deep hole.

- Murphy


Joe Mannies of the Post-Dispatch has a story examining the similarity between the Missouri Republican Party's fight over stem cell research and the national debate among Republicans.

Also of interest in the story is the shifting weight in the state Republican Party, away from St. Louis and back to the more rural parts of the state. Until recently, many of the top Republicans were based in the St. Louis area.

- Murphy