Posts Tagged ‘USCCB’

Confessions of a Digital Immigrant

Friday, June 11th, 2010

In this post dear readers – a post that is admittedly way l-o-n-g- overdue – I am going to begin with a profound confession: to the wonderful world of media technology in which the blogosphere is only an island in a vast digital sea, I am only a very recent immigrant. You see, I was born into probably what was the last generation that could not be considered “digital natives”: when I was a kid, our family’s idea of a video game was the original Atari table-tennis (whose on-screen ball moved so slowly from the left of the screen to the right that were the white dot that it represented to be an actual ping-pong ball, it would’ve had to defy all the laws of gravity to stay afloat), and when I went to law school, the assignments I was given had to be completed on an actual typewriter (although admittedly the electric kind with the indispensable “auto-correct function” where the tape would “magically” erase your mis-strokes from the page). I was reminded recently of my “non-native” status when a good friend of mine – who at 30 is most definitely a full-fledged digital citizen – gave me an iPod Touch for my birthday because “ it really is long past the time you should have one”. Growing up in fact, the media technology that I was regularly familiar with was fairly limited: my little black & white TV, the VCR (that’s a videotape recorder for those non-historians), cassette tape player, stereo that played vinyl albums (again for those non-historians, those flat black disk shaped objects) and of course – the radio. Of all those types of media in fact, it was the radio that was ubiquitous in my life: whether in the family room on the “stereo-system”, in my hands on my “boom-box” or later in my car, the radio was a near constant companion .It was the first thing I heard upon waking up in the morning on my stereo-alarm clock, and the last voice I’d hear before falling asleep at night, and in that fact I actually find some comfort, for you see radio is a technology that actually spans the generations: it was the technology that my grandparents used to keep updated on world events as they gathered around it during Depression and is the still what my goddaughter listens to as she travels in the car with her parents today (albeit that the signal that she listens to is delivered by satellite or MP3).

With all my affection for the medium of radio, you can all imagine my delight when earlier this year I was asked to assist our Executive Director at Catholic Charities, Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, with the JustLove Radio Program that he conducts over on the Catholic Channel at Sirius XM Satellite Radio (Sirius channel 159, XM 117 http://www.sirius.com/thecatholicchannel) every Wednesday at 1 p.m. in the afternoon. JustLove is a nationally broadcast one-hour weekly interactive discussion exploring the Catholic community’s impact on American society. It features interviews with social ministry leaders, thinkers and doers and investigates the ideas that shape the Catholic social mission and explores deeds that puts that mission into practice around the nation and the world! In the past few month, the conversations on JustLove have included: on-going discussion with staff of Catholic Relief Services on the ground in Haiti on the devastating earthquake that struck the island in January and its aftermath, the recent troop increases in Afghanistan and prospects of peace in Iraq, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the on-going struggle for comprehensive immigration reform, and the continuing tragedy of the oil spill in the Gulf. Some of the guests we have spoken to on the show have included: Cesar Chavez’s son Paul discussing his father’s life and legacy on the Cinco de Mayo show, the Rev. Jim Wallis, author and President of Sojourner’s Magazine on the moral crisis that lies behind the current economic crisis, and Richard Barnes of the New York State Catholic Conference on effective Catholic advocacy in the public sphere. Through the wonders of modern technology you can listen to some recent podcasts of the JustLove show on the web at http://www.catholiccharitiesny.org/just-love/

As you can well imagine, preparing to produce a show of this caliber is exciting and rewarding and sometimes a challenge! Each show requires quite a bit of planning and editorial preparation to create a show that is timely and coherent and which incorporates themes and topics that can help to highlight the Church’s teachings regarding the important social issues discussed. To be honest, my recent concentration and emphasis on JustLove has caused my blogging here to lag a bit (a situation some of my more regular readers have not too gently but appropriately reminded me of), but in doing some of the production work for JustLove, it has occurred to me how very similar as forms of media blogging and radio really are: the format of each – as far as technical production goes – is not too complex, and yet for all their lack of complexity each is very versatile. I was reading recently an article online at The Economist that compared radio to blogging; it said the essential similarity between each – and the reason that each succeeds as a form of communication – is that the listener or reader respectively realizes that at the other end of the technology there is someone alive – speaking or typing, taking calls or responding to comments. The author noted that the German root for the word radio is derived from the verb “Funken” – the verb “to spark” and that it is this “spark” at the other end that both readers and listeners respond to.

As a consequence of living in the digital age that we do today, thanks to our more or less continuous connection to media be it television, radio, wifi, 3G, internet, telephone or text, all of us – to a varying degree – are perpetually multi-tasking. Some of us – generally the “digital natives” at the younger end of the spectrum– are more successful at navigating these new technologies then others, but this perpetual multi-taking can take a toll even on them. In fact, in a recent New York Times article, Dr. Gary Small – Professor of Psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, is quoted as saying that the process of never ending multi-tasking can lead to a syndrome where we move from multi-taking efficiently to one where we are in a state of “partial continuous attention”. As a “digital immigrant”, I particularly need to strategize more effectively to negotiate this new terrain, and in the coming summer months that is exactly what I plan to do. Those of you who have been fairly regular readers may have noticed that I tend to be fairly counter-intuitive in a lot of my thinking, so it should come as no surprise that it is exactly as we approach the summer – just when the scholastic year begins to slow down – that I plan on picking up the pace of this blog by posting not just the “traditional” items, but also the guests, topics and conversations that take place on and around the JustLove show. My intention in doing so is not only post more regularly here (although certainly that would be a welcome outcome); more importantly, it is my hope that by posting on the topics dealt with on JustLove – with links so readers can listen to the podcasts as well – we can expose even more people to the quality information and discussion on Catholic social teaching and its impact that takes place there. In addition, I hope that some of this cross-pollination could – like all good media -  “spark” responses where readers/ listeners could post their impressions of the show, as well as topics that might interest them for future shows. I am always mindful that neither Catholic radio nor Catholic blogs would exist without the Catholic community, and so I urge you – whether you are a digital native or a recent immigrant like myself – to share your ideas and thoughts with us as we endeavor to share God’s Good News for the world over the airwaves through both sight and sound.

Of Politics and Principles…

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

As some of you who have read my previous postings may be aware, since June of this year – with the infamous mandatory switch to DTV – I have been living without a television (link). As a real news junkie, this required some behavioral modification on my part: time that was once spent watching news program after news program could now be devoted to other pursuits – reading, exercising, more formal meditation and prayer, catching up with friends, or just some nice quiet time to myself. All in all, I have to say that I really haven’t missed television that much. Still – old habits die hard, and every evening before I retire it is my practice to go on-line and check the websites of the local newspapers to see what the most recent headlines are; then, in the morning, I always wake up to the breaking news reported on the local radio station Ten-Ten WINS: as they request, I give them their 22 minutes and they “give me the world” – or at least what’s going on in it! In this manner, I am seldom surprised when I wake up and listen to the radio and hear what’s going on, because I already have an inkling of what the next day’s news will be. Surprises still happen however – and the most recent one was just about a month ago when I awoke to the newscaster’s voice telling me that President Obama was about to comment on his reception of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. I immediately straightened up – “did I hear that right?” I thought. “Surely” I thought further “they meant that the President was going to make comments and congratulate whoever the recipient of this year’s Peace Prize was”, and so I listened again and discovered that no, what I first heard was correct: that President Barack Obama had been awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize by the Norwegian Nobel Committee for his vision to strengthen the role of dialogue, negotiation and multilateral diplomacy in resolving international crises, for his goal of and work toward a world without nuclear weapons, and ultimately for capturing the world’s attention and giving people hope for a better future (link).

As I got ready for work, that news began to sink in a little more, and I have to admit that my initial reaction was one of surprise. As a person whose work is in the field of “Justice and Peace”, I have always noted with interest the accomplishments of past Nobel Peace Prize Laureates (one of my favorite T-shirts has the ironic comment “I’d kill for a Nobel Peace Prize” emblazoned across the chest!) Generally, people who win the Nobel Peace Prize do so for accomplishing some extraordinary societal change (Martin Luther King Jr., Lech Walesa, Nelson Mandela), living a life of altruism and extraordinary virtue (Mother Teresa), or some combination thereof. I admit that all of the things that the Nobel Prize Committee cited in their announcement of President Obama’s winning of this year’s prize are very good and very humane, yet arguably except for capturing the world’s attention and generating a feeling of hope in people by his election, the remainder of the reasons that the Nobel Committee gave for its selection are more the President’s aspirations, vision and goals then his concrete accomplishments at this point. President Obama seemed to realize this when he called his reception of the prize a “call to action” (link). Reaction to the President’s reception of the Nobel was pretty much mixed and predictable, based upon a person’s location along the political spectrum. One of the most astute observations, I thought, was from dissident playwright turned President Vaclav Havel, who twenty years ago this month led the people of then-communist Czechoslovakia through their “Velvet Revolution”, helping to transform their society from totalitarianism to democracy (link). The one time President of the Czech Republic, when told that President Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize, asked rhetorically if it were true that President Obama had refused to meet the Dalai Lama (himself a Nobel Peace Prize recipient in 1989) in order to curry favor with the Chinese government. When told that the President had indeed done so as part of the Administration’s new policy of “strategic reassurance” – softening criticism of China’s human rights violations to calm the fears of the nation that is bankrolling the United State’s debt – Havel, no stranger himself to the interplay of politics and principle, commented that “it is only a minor compromise. But exactly with these minor compromises start the big and dangerous ones, the real problems.” (link) Our President – a masterful politician and consensus builder who has yet to make a concrete decision as Commander-in-Chief regarding our continued military involvement in the theater of Afghanistan that he inherited – would do well to consider Mr. Havel’s sage advice as he undertakes his considerable international and domestic responsibilities.

I thought of this interplay – between politics and principle, compromise and real problems – as I read Archbishop Dolan’s October 26th blog post (link) regarding Congressman Patrick Kennedy’s comment in an interview that the Catholic Bishops of the United States were fanning “the flames of dissent and discord” by stating their intent to vigorously oppose a final bill on healthcare reform unless it specifically includes longstanding federal protections restricting abortion funding and mandates, protecting the conscience rights of healthcare providers, and providing adequate access to heath care for immigrants and the poor – concerns that Kennedy termed “a red herring”. Kennedy’s comments came on the heals of other comments in the mainstream media accusing the Church of an “inconsistent approach” to health care reform that has created confusion and led to a breakdown in understanding regarding the Church’s primary concerns (link).

If some people in Congress, the media or even the general public are confused about the Church’s stance on the healthcare debate, they really shouldn’t be if they had been paying attention. While the U.S Catholic Bishops have for decades been at the forefront of the campaign for healthcare reform, their concerns in that debate have always remained constant: as Archbishop Dolan’s blog succinctly states, “The Catholic community in the United States hardly needs to be lectured to about just healthcare. We’ve been energetically into it for centuries. And we bishops have been advocating for universal healthcare for a long, long time. All we ask is that it be just that – universal – meaning that it includes the helpless baby in the womb, the immigrant, and grandma in a hospice, and that it protects a healthcare provider’s right to follow his/her own conscience.” What some people might have become confused over may be in reading the politics of the healthcare debate – the arena where “minor compromise” is possible; regarding the principles that should animate those compromises – specifically here for the Church: health care reform that’s universal, respects human life and dignity, is accessible for all (especially the poor and immigrants) and protects freedom of conscience – there can be no compromise without risking the much bigger dangers that Havel mentions. The Church could no more compromise on these core matters – matters that run to the very purpose of providing healthcare in the first place – then Havel could’ve compromised on the principle of totalitarian rule as he pursued the goal of freedom for his people during the Velvet Revolution of 1989. So seriously, in fact, do the Bishops take these core principles that they have taken the step of asking Catholics from around the country to contact their Senators and Congressional Representatives as they put together final bills on healthcare reform for consideration in the Congress and urge them to oppose any bills under consideration that are deficient on issues of abortion and conscience, and that do not provide adequate access to healthcare for immigrants and the poor. You can send an instant message to your Congressional representatives to that effect by clicking here: www.usccb.org/action.

In the weeks to come, our Congressional representatives will be drafting and debating policies in health care reform that will – for good or ill – have an impact on just about every family for years to come. As they exercise this Constitutional responsibility, each of us has a corollary moral responsibility to learn about the bills under consideration and to remind our representatives that in undertaking those minor compromises that all political negotiation entail, that they keep their eyes on the prize of healthcare that is universal, accessible, and protects life and conscience, and that in pursuit of these goals they don’t – figuratively or literally – throw the baby out with the bathwater!

A Commodity?…like No Other!

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

 

Late summer is usually the time of year that is most dreaded by children – with the shorter cooler days and waning hours of sunlight that are the herald of the coming of the school year. When I was a child though, I was unusual – as if readers of this blog don’t already know that – in that I looked forward to the end of the summer: not so much for the impending beginning of the school year per se, but instead for the start of the “new season” on network television! For you see, I was truly a television child from a television family – I looked forward with baited breath for the beginning of the fall season to learn about the latest exploits of the “Brady Bunch” or the “Partridge Family” and too see what was happening to the “Banana Splits”, “H.R. Puffnstuff” and in the “Land of the Lost” on Saturday morning television. As I grew, I have to admit that this childhood obsession of mine had waned somewhat, but still television – now in the form of evening news programs, investigative journalism and shows on the public broadcasting network – remained an important part in my daily routine.
 
All of this now has changed drastically for me, and has changed just this summer: as all of you are aware, back on June 12th, all full-power U.S. television stations switched their broadcast over-the-air signals from analog to digital only, effectively ending all traditional – not to mention cost free – antena-only reception. Known as the “DTV Transition”, this conversion was originally mandated by Congress for the express purpose of freeing up parts of the valuable broadcast spectrum for important public safety communications (such as police, fire departments, and rescue squads), as well as allowing some of the spectrum to be auctioned to companies to be able to provide consumers with more advanced wireless services. The result: now that the DTV Transition is completed, all analog TV sets – like the one that I own – need additional equipment in order to receive over-the-air broadcast signals. Specifically, TV sets having only analog tuners need to obtain separate digital-to-analog converter boxes to watch over-the-air TV. In an effort to defray costs for consummers who may be unable to afford to buy a new television or subscription to cable, the government offered households a $40 coupon in order to off-set some – but not all – of the cost of the digital transition for analog TV set owners. If one were to analyse this DTV Transition from the perspective of our Catholic social teachings, it seems apparent that Congress in mandating the switch from analog to digital TV acted within its legitimate authority to foster the Common Good (here the allocation of the limited spectrum of the airwaves for important public safety and communications services) all the while exercising an equally necessary option for the poor vulnerable (by providing a coupon to offset the cost of conversion for those less able to bear those costs). Despite these good intentions however, the basic upshot of Congress’s action has been that for some folks – myself included – a basic commodity that was once universally available has now been premanently changed and made available only to those who have both the time and disposable income to afford the technology necessary to adapt to these changes.
 
As someone who has been adversely affected by these changes, I must say that I was less then pleased when the transition took effect and my once perfectly good television set went fuzzy forever, and yet, of course, I know that I still here have a choice: while my television veiwing was once a nightly occupation, I have to admit that I really probably have been making better use of my time in the evening that used to be consumed by television watching, and of course, to remedy my situation, all I need do is walk down to Radio Shack and buy a converter or break down and buy a subscription for basic cable.
 
Without television this summer I have been missing what is perhaps some of the best reality-based T.V. of the season – namely, the “Town Hall” meetings on healthcare reform taking place all over the country, complete with their colorful casts of citizen protestors and combative congresspeople unprepared to respond to the anger and allegations that they hear. In fact, as I read more about these Town Hall Meetings, the concerns people raised and Congress’s proposed changes to our nation’s health care system, I reflected upon some similarities between Congress’s actions in this instance and the transition to DTV. In making this comparison, its not lost on me that I’m really comparing apples and oranges: while a case – and a good one – can be made that making a change in the broadcast spectrum that will close off a sizable – and mostly lower income – minority of the population from a media source could be detrimental to the formation of an informed population in a democracy, television is not a commodity that is essential to life. Health care, on the other hand, is a commodity like no other. Although the current reform initiatives underway see healthcare as an element of our Nation’s economic recovery program – as a commodity that should be subject to market forces where competion drives innovation and delivery and where the patient is treated as a “consumer” – as Catholics we know that because health care touches upon the very life and dignity of the human person, it can’t be considered just an “economic commodity”, but instead is a fundemental human good – a necessary aspect of the overall Common Good. Because of this, both civil society (that’s you and me – individually and collectively – in Catholic social teaching “talk”) and the state have an obligation to protect everyones’ right to health care, as well as the means to take advantage of that right.
 
We are blessed as Americans that our county offers some of the best technologically advanced private health care treatment in the world. This treatment however, because of it’s quality, tends to be extremely expensive. In a way this makes sense, because health care is after all the human activity that cares for the most precious of subjects – the human person, him and herself. The way that the majority of Americans enjoy access to this vital but expensive system is through insurance, which is key to understanding how our health care system works today. In gaining this understanding, please remember – private insurance is a business: as such its driven by a legitimate profit motive. The way insurance companies turn a profit is simple: they attempt to pay as few claims as possible on the premiums they collect, and seek to avoid covering people who are likely to need care in the pool of insured that they cover.Most Americans are currently covered by health insurance in one of two ways: for those under 65, the majority receive their insurance coverage privately through their employers, those over 65 enjoy health coverage provided directly by the government in a program known as Medicare. Polls have consistently shown that a majority of Americans are reasonably satisfied with the health insurance that they currently receive, this despite the fact that the insurance industry seeks to profit off of their care. How can this be? The answer rests specifically on past action by the government protective of the Common Good: for the elderly – in 1965 Congress enacted Medicare which offered universal coverage to those 65 and older and broke the link between aging and poverty; for those working with chronic health conditions – Congress passed a law prohibiting discrimination in coverage for those with pre-existing medical conditions in any employer provided health insurance plan; for the very poor Congress enacted the Medicaid – a system of state programs that provides low-income children and some adults with coverage for necessary care. Falling between the seams in this uneven safety net of employer-sponsored coverage, Medicare and Medicaid are approximately 46 million other Americans – almost all from working families – who live without health insurance coverage often in fear of getting sick because of the financial ruin it could bring their lives, and in these harsh financial times there are many others who are simply one layoff away from the same situation.
 
It is because the burden in these gaps in coverage falls most heavily upon “the poor and the vulnerable” – those in lower income jobs in a shaky economy – that the United States Catholic Bishops Conference has for a long time advocated for genuine national health care reform – with coverage that universally protects all from conception until natural death – as a moral imperative. However, because legislation if not carefully crafted can be a pretty blunt instrument to fix nuanced societal inequities, as we pursue genuine health care reform Catholics have to be sure that in addressing the needs of the poor and the vulnerable our society does not literally “throw the baby out with the bathwater” and violate any fundemental principles regarding the life and dignity of the human person. Specifically, here this means that for Catholics its essential that any of the health care reform proposals put forward maintain existing federal laws resticting abortion, as well as incorperating current federal protections against abortion funding and mandates, and provisions for the protection of conscience rights of health care providers and religious institutions. Over the summer, the health care debate reached a critical level, and it is essential that the Catholic community speak clearly and strongly this autumn as Congress makes important decisions about the specific policies included in the legislation. There is much that is complicated about the health care debate in this country: there are several Congressional bills in progress, multiple Congressional committees involved and much information and misinformation being communicated. In an effort to help Catholics better understand the issues, the USCCB has developed a special website: www.usccb.org/healthcare that can help Catholics better understand the Church’s principles and priorities in the current health care debate as well as fundemental problems in the current bills. It is hoped that with the help of this resource, the Catholic community will be able to speak with one unified voice on what is likely the most important domestic reform legislation in a generation.
 
Advances in technology and the delivery of services, and the sometimes unwanted changes that accompany them, can be unsettling to the consummers of any commodity – especially one as central and fundemental to the preservation of human life as healthcare, but if in implementing these changes we are careful to do so utilizing principles as tried and true as the Gospels themselves, the negative reactions may only be prelude to an enhanced system that better protects the life and dignity of all.