Reflections on 2013

DSC01281The most important event this year was Pope Francis. Our time is a moment for cultural shifts, an evolution in values away from self-centeredness to compassion. With his pronouncements on economic injustice, the Pope, supported by some 80% of American Catholics, has contributed to this cause.

Another significant event was the break in the Tea Party’s vise-like grip on the Republican Party, which opens up some possibility for some progress in Congress on some issues. How lasting this development will be remains to be seen. But those Republicans who want to win back the White House saw the writing on the wall. Especially with ongoing demographic changes, the Tea Party was leading them over the cliff. So I suspect the Tea Party is history.

Elizabeth Warren qualifies for third place. Her remarkable rise to prominence, conducted with such grace and poise, is profoundly heartening. Economic populism is percolating throughout the country. Even if she doesn’t enter the Democratic Party primaries, and I hope she does, she will likely continue to have an impact, for she is giving voice to a largely unrepresented sentiment that needs to be empowered.

In March, three academics, funded by the estimable Russell Sage Foundation, released “Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans,” in which they reported that two-thirds of the general public in the United States believe “the government in Washington ought to see to it that everyone who wants to work can find a job” and 78% believe the minimum wage should be “high enough so that no family with a full-time worker falls below [the] official poverty line.”

Those numbers were not new to me. I knew that a majority hold this conviction. But its timing, and their use of the frame “see to it,” prompted me to undertake the Guarantee Living-Wage Jobs Campaign. With valuable assistance from the economist Dean Baker and the Internet strategist Michael Stein, I plan to launch that campaign early next year to encourage activist organizations to take on the issue.

I hope that this time I won’t get too excited by prospects for “success” and disappointed by apparent “failure.” I feel that I may have broken through to a new level of self-confidence, grounded in the awareness that I don’t need to prove anything to anyone (including myself). I can simply do the best that I can and let the chips fall where they may.

Writing my autobiography has helped in this regard. Reviewing my life in its entirety has helped me to regard my past efforts with greater respect.

Reading The Politics of Authenticity by Marshall Berman also helped. I now see more clearly that I am less alone than I sometimes feel, with my concerns about how the modern world fosters alienation and self-alienation, the divided self. These concerns go back to the onset of the modern age, and were beautifully expressed by Pascal and (the early) Rousseau, for example.

This book prompted me to shift my “holistic growth” focus toward enabling people to more fully “be real” and “true to themselves.” This shift will be reflected in the upcoming “The Personal, the Social, and the Political” survey.

Being so alone for so long here on the north coast of the Dominican Republic and really enjoying it has also helped. Dick Price, Esalen Institute co-founder, affirmed “moving toward increasing self-sufficiency, while drawing on support as needed.” I’m still on that path, and it feels good.

I still would prefer a deeper sense of community, remain open to that possibility, and will continue to try to find, experience, and/or nurture it. But in the meantime, I accept life.

The life force that drives evolution, or God, will prevail, even if humanity wipes humanity off the face of the Earth. And considering that there are at least one septillion (that’s 24 zeros) stars in the universe, most likely self-consciousness is alive elsewhere. So we humans are probably not as special as we think we are.

Paradoxically, being aware of this reality makes us very special. So, as Kathy Kelly’s Iraqi friend advised her, “Don’t forget to love the Universe.”

Excerpts from “The Joy of the Gospel,” by Pope Francis I

Pope Francis - CaricatureFollowing are excerpts from “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pople Francis I’s first apostolic exhortation, 26 November 2013:

In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed…. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.


Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?


Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.


While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.


Money must serve, not rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and a return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favors human beings.


The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings


The dignity of the human person and the common good rank higher than the comfort of those who refuse to renounce their privileges. When these values are threatened, a prophetic voice must be raised.


Trust in the unseen can cause us to feel disoriented. It is like being plunged into the deep and not knowing what we will find. I myself have frequently experienced this. Yet there is no greater freedom than that of allowing oneself to be guided by the Holy Spirit, renouncing the attempt to plan and control everything to the last detail, and instead letting him enlighten, guide and direct us, leading us wherever he wills.

Report: Half of U.S. Families Live on the Edge of ‘Economic Chaos’ (plus more)

cashregister-thumb-640xauto-9805Report: Half of U.S. Families Live on the Edge of ‘Economic Chaos’ 
by Imara Jones

Half of all families in the United States are poor, near poor or face economic insecurity where “one major setback in income could push them into poverty.” That’s the shocking conclusion of a report released today by The Hamilton Project.


Is Pope Francis Leaving Vatican At Night To Minister To Homeless?

…A knowledgable source in Rome told The Huffington Post that “Swiss guards confirmed that the pope has ventured out at night, dressed as a regular priest, to meet with homeless men and women.”


Is Wall Street Too Giddy?
The stock market reaches record highs as incomes stagnate. Tech companies with no revenue are valued in the billions of dollars. More analysts are seeing something unpleasantly familiar.

Are we in a stock market bubble that could soon burst?


‘TipsForJesus’ Is Leaving Thousands Of Dollars For Servers
By Mark Memmot

…TipsForJesus has been chronicling its good deeds on Instagram, saying its mission is “doing the Lords [sic] work, one tip at a time.” Gawker estimates about $54,000 has been handed out in the past several months.


Third Way’s Anti-Populist, Anti-Warren and Deceptive “Dead End”
By Richard Eskow

An almost palpable air of desperation clings to the anti-“populist,” anti-Elizabeth Warren editorial by Jonathan Cowan and Jim Kessler of the corporate-funded Third Way organization. If they’re worried, they’re right to worry. The world is changing.


Rumsfeld’s War and Its Consequences Now
By Mark Danner

A review of:

The Unknown Known
a film directed by Errol Morris

Known and Unknown: A Memoir
by Donald Rumsfeld
Sentinel, 815 pp., $36.00

By His Own Rules: The Ambitions, Successes, and Ultimate Failures of Donald Rumsfeld
by Bradley Graham
PublicAffairs, 803 pp., $18.95 (paper)


’Tis the Season to Be Food-Insecure

It is a strange and ironic truth that in the world’s richest democracy, many Americans are going to work in the morning, but they and their families are going to bed hungry at night.


Homage to the Idols of Idleness

…What could be gained from a single day set free from the clock’s tyranny, one spent wandering or daydreaming the hours away?


The Stem and the Flower

…How much emotional and psychic space should politics take up in a normal healthy brain?… politics should take up maybe a tenth corner of a good citizen’s mind. The rest should be philosophy, friendship, romance, family, culture and fun. I wish our talk-show culture reflected that balance, and that the emotional register around politics were more in keeping with its low but steady nature.


The Families We Invent

…As good as we humans are at division, we’re better still at connection.


The Pope and the Right

…This Catholic case for limited government, however, is not a case for the Ayn Randian temptation inherent to a capitalism-friendly politics. There is no Catholic warrant for valorizing entrepreneurs at the expense of ordinary workers, or for dismissing all regulation as unnecessary and all redistribution as immoral.