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Ways of the World

Carol Stone, business economist & active Episcopalian, brings you "Ways of the World". Exploring business & consumers & stewardship, we'll discuss everyday issues: kids & finances, gas prices, & some larger issues: what if foreigners start dumping our debt? And so on. We can provide answers & seek out sources for others. We'll talk about current events & perhaps get different perspectives from what the media says. Write to Carol. Let her know what's important to you:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Remembering Our Friends on World AIDS Day

This coming Saturday, December 1, is the annual observance of World AIDS Day.  On this day, my home parish will celebrate at a memorial service the life of one of our members who passed away on November 18.  Bob was HIVpositive, but, miraculously, he did not die of AIDS; he had a form of lung cancer which itself had been in remission for several years.  He is the second person among our congregation who has lived for years with the HIV virus, but been successfully treated with anti-retroviral medications.  Bob, almost 71 years old, had participated in clinical trials for the HIV meds and was the subject of medical journal articles following his lung cancer treatment; he bragged that he was down to "1 pill a day" to keep the HIV at bay.  The other gentleman, named Michael, lived to 79 and died suddenly of a heart attack while walking down a street in Munich, Germany.

In their memory, and to lift up HIV/AIDS patients everywhere, we offer these two prayers.  The first, "For a Cure" is original to the National Episcopal AIDS Coalition, found at .  The other, "A Prayer for Remembering" is adapted currently by NEAC, but it happens also to be one we were given many years ago by someone who took it from a Jewish prayer book to be offered by those grieving the loss of loved ones who had taken their own lives.  These prayers are available on the NEAC website in a form suitable for reproduction as prayer cards to be distributed.  Find them here: .

 A Prayer for a Cure
 Oh Blessed Lord Jesus Christ, whose Name alone under heaven is given for health and salvation, enlighten those researchers, scientists, and technicians who seek a cure for AIDS and its related conditions; be present with them in their perplexity and, at last, prosper their efforts with such success that those who were without hope may rejoice and those who were considered dead may be raised up; who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.
 A Prayer for Remembering
In the rising of the sun and in its going down,
we remember them.
In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of the water,
we remember them.
In the opening of buds and in the rebirth of spring,
we remember them.
In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer,
we remember them.
In the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of autumn,
we remember them.
In the beginning of the year and when it ends,
we remember them.
When we are weary and in need of strength,
we remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart,
we remember them.
When we have joys we yearn to share,
we remember them.
So long as we live, they too shall live, for they are a part of us,
and we remember them.

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

New Yorkers Offer Hands-On Help After Sandy

In normal times, one would hardly use the word "community" to describe New York City.  Everyone is coming and going, and outside their own immediate family and neighborhoods, it's hard to perceive a sense of personal connection.

But these days, after Hurricane Sandy, are hardly normal for huge chunks of this place.  New Yorkers, negating the previous paragraph entirely, are coming out of the woodwork to help others all around the City.

We told you last Saturday that our neighborhood had been spared.  There are some downed trees.  But otherwise, we're almost totally unscathed.  We are all very grateful and we say that to each other on the streets.  We're also expressing this gratitude and commensurate distress for others in quite tangible ways.  A synagogue a couple of blocks from here was possibly the first to put out signs about collecting nonperishable food, cleaning supplies and flashlights and batteries to distribute in damaged areas.  When my roommate and I delivered a load to them, we found that the people accepting the items and stacking them neatly by category weren't even members of that congregation, but just volunteers in off the street.  Churches, including my own, local real estate offices and some stores are also collecting; some have put boxes right out on the sidewalk.

Two examples speak strongly to us.  A nearby area of Brooklyn called "Red Hook" is right down by the harbor; indeed, the new ship Queen Mary 2 docks near there when it comes to New York.  But the area was badly flooded in the storm surge.  Houses there are generally small and residents are real "working class" folks.  Damage is devastating.  But the outreach to them is extraordinary.  The youth group at St. Bart's Church in Manhattan is filling bags of toiletries for the residents of an assisted living facility there.  St. Bart's is in Manhattan, which is in the Diocese of New York, but Red Hook is in Brooklyn, which is in the Diocese of Long Island.  No matter those boundaries; the kids of the big Manhattan parish are reaching out to those people in need here in Brooklyn.[1]  Another group helping in Red Hook are some of the Occupy movement demonstrators.  Let me say that again: another group helping in Red Hook are some of the Occupy movement demonstrators.  Our local Brooklyn Press newspaper explains that their informal network got going on this fast, before even the Red Cross arrived.[2]  And they're doing whatever kinds of work will be useful at this time.

We ourselves put up my roommate's sister one night from her New Jersey suburb; that area is not near the water, but she'd been without power over a week and wanted a warm bed and hot, home-cooked meal.  Fortunately, her electricity came back the next day.  Numerous other "refugees" from waterfront communities are staying in this building and elsewhere in our complex.  Some of the oldest, most beloved neighborhoods near the sea have been destroyed and lots of people have lost everything.  "Homelessness" takes on a new meaning, compared to what we usually think of here in this city.

We also hadn't thought particularly about businesses in a hurricane.  Small stores, yes, but major institutions are also badly hurt.  Some office buildings in the Wall Street area are still closed since they are still without power.  These include the headquarters of AIG, the American International Group, a beautiful 70-story Art Deco structure.  Also 120 Wall Street, which houses the headquarters for numerous non-profit organizations.  Hopefully these will be back up soon.  In Brooklyn, we mention three well-known names badly flooded, torn apart inside and also without power: Nathan's Famous hot dogs on Coney Island, famous for the annual hot dog eating contest.  The posh River CafĂ©, down on a pier in the East River under the Brooklyn Bridge; their website says they have no idea when they'll reopen.  And in the Red Hook area, the Fairway Market, right on the harbor in a Civil War-era warehouse.  So well known, it's a "destination" for shoppers from all over the City, and a major commercial anchor for all the small businesses in the neighborhood.  They are still throwing away ruined food and bent up shelves, and they expect to be down for three months.

Finally, our Geranium Farm colleague Debbie Loeb, over at "Hodgepodge" writes there today about her experience in her New Jersey town.  She has more trees down and her power has gone off and on and off again.  Typical.  See her blurb:

Whew!  A hurricane hit New York City full blast.  As we said last week, we repeat shamelessly now.  Donate something yourself.  Episcopal Relief and Development,, the Diocese of Long Island,, and the Red Cross,   Millions of us will thank you!

[1]The Priest-in-Charge at St. Bart's is Buddy Stallings, known to us on the Geranium Farm.  See his offerings under "A Few Good Writers" .  Buddy went to St. Bart's from a church on Staten Island, an area also really awfully harmed in the hurricane.  He mentioned to us that he was able to send some "chunks of money" donations there.  The parish is also running a special soup kitchen ministry for those who need it.

[2] .  Accessed November 10, 2012.  

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Taxes and the Rich after the Election

Back in August we offered here a long, fact-based discussion of taxes paid by income groups.  That material, from Congressional Budget Office tabulations, shows that the top 20% of income earners paid 87.5% of total federal income taxes from 2002 to 2009.  This portion, covering the years following the Bush tax cuts, was a larger share than the 78.8% of taxes that group paid during the Clinton years when tax rates were higher.

Now, I know this fact, and you readers have lately been apprised of it.  But most people don't know it or evidently believe that what the "rich" pay is not enough, whatever share it is.  A Pew Research Center survey taken in late July found that 58% of Americans believe that "upper income" households pay less than their "fair share".  Even 52% of "upper income" people believe their own group pays "too little".  The survey lets participants place themselves into income groupings, "upper", "lower" and "middle", and define their own sense of "fair share" or "too little" or "too much".  So all of this is subjective and meant to indicate people's qualitative impression.  Only 26% of all participants said that upper income people pay an appropriate amount of taxes.[1]

We found this survey report by Googling on the phrase "resenting the rich".  We've been working in recent months on issues of inequality and the American middle class, and we hope to have a great deal to offer about that sensitive topic in weeks to come.  It has taken on greater importance since the Presidential Election, which seems to have turned noticeably on questions of inequality and class differences, among other factors.  The Pew survey shows that, among numerous other aspects of people's impressions, they believe the rich are more likely to be greedy (55%) and less likely to be honest (34% versus just 12% who say the rich are more likely to be honest).  What an indictment!  What a difference from a generation or so ago, when the rich were held in higher regard.  We'll talk more on this in subsequent articles that explore demographics, jobs, the financial sector and other possible sources of change in social position and attitudes toward it.

Most immediately, the issue of taxes and the rich will impact the work in Washington on the fiscal cliff, the huge federal budget deadline we talked to you about just three weeks ago.  President Obama and House Speaker Boehner both commented Friday, November 9, on this fiscal cliff, and the President announced meetings this coming week with Congressional leaders and business leaders to begin the necessarily fast work to meet the year-end deadline.  Today,  as we prepared these remarks, we looked at various press reports of Obama's and Boehner's statements.  The Wall Street Journal's account sounds fairly conciliatory.  According to them[2], both gentlemen seem to say that rates on high-end taxpayers can stay the same if deductions for them are cut so they wind up paying more tax. That would be constructive, if it is really so.  But we watched Obama's public statement Friday afternoon live in front of an audience in the White House East Room, and he sounded to us pretty staunch in raising rates for those with incomes above $250,000.  A Los Angeles Times story described the scene that way as well.[3]

So we're still on tenterhooks.  And this tax item is only one in a list of other taxes and spending features that must be dealt with.  Will Washington gets its act together over this?  One can hope, but right now, it still has to be just hope.
[1]Kim Parker, "Yes, the Rich Are Different".  Pew Research Center: Pew Social & Demographic Trends. .  Published August 27, 2012.  Accessed November 9, 2012.


Saturday, November 03, 2012

Scattered Thoughts Following Superstorm Sandy

My own neighborhood is almost totally unscathed by this massive storm, which lets me be slightly philosophical and reflective about it.  Here are some observations.

The neighborhood I live in is called Brooklyn Heights.  It is well named.  We are on bluffs over the New York Harbor.  We thus never flooded, our power was never off and on our whole enormous apartment complex grounds, only two trees blew down.  Just a few blocks away, down the hill by the waterfront, the "DUMBO" area was part of the City's "Zone A" mandatory evacuation area, there was extensive flooding and power was in fact out for several days.  How fortunate are we?!

New York City can be creative in devising alternate means of transportation.  By foot is popular, and the foot traffic over the Brooklyn Bridge walkway reminds me of the 1980 transit strike, when that was the way many of us got to work for a good number of days.  In addition, the brand new Barclays Center basketball arena didn't feature basketball this week, but has instead been a bus terminal.  Steady streams of MTA buses have shuttled people into and out of Manhattan from there, which has been the last stop on all the major subway lines.  They built the Center near an existing rail transportation hub to encourage that means of coming to games instead of driving.  Who knew this would be its first use instead of sports event attendance!  [As this article was being written service on some of the major subway lines was restored.  Hurray!]

People around us are in tough shape.  Any of you out there anywhere, please donate.  Episcopal Relief and Development is a fine place to start: .  The first check box covers the Hurricane Sandy fund.  Note that ER-D also supports relief work in Haiti, which is still rebuilding from its 2010 earthquake and suffered again in the first days of this storm.

ER-D helps communities, but not churches directly. Those must be handled by the churches themselves or in some cases, their diocese.  My own Diocese, Long Island, has a quick form for churches, people and communities in Brooklyn, Queens, Nassau and Suffolk Counties of New York:; see the donation item under "The Latest".

Other dioceses' home-pages have lists of supplies and volunteers needed.  For instance, see New York: .  Staten Island is in that Diocese and is among the most damaged places.

No list of donation opportunities would be complete without the American Red Cross.  A couple of days ago, we got email from one of the Presidential Candidates, and I thought, how on earth could they ask for money right this second?  But they weren't asking for it for their own campaign.  They wrote an appeal for and a link to the Red Cross.  I liked that.  We include that special group here too:

Getting Priorities in Good Order
Speaking of sports, we had to agree with New York Mayor Bloomberg Friday night, when he finally cancelled the annual New York City Marathon.  Holding the race anyway sounded on Tuesday and Wednesday like a good, uplifting idea.  But as the week wore on and patience wore thin among folks waiting in gas lines and shivering in chilly houses, it felt less and less like the right thing to do.  Sure enough, Friday evening, after the Mayor's announcement of the cancellation, we saw the President of the organizers, the New York Road Runners Club, explain that all the bottles of water and blankets accumulated for the runners' use during and at the end of the race would go to the storm victims.  Of course!  Isn't that a much better use for them at this moment?!  Some aspects of this mega-disaster remind us of 9/11, and if the Marathon had come just a week after that, it probably would have raised people's spirits in a positive way.  But now, with Sandy, we're still just at the beginning of recovery.  Too many people remain in mixed and tenuous circumstances to face that kind of City-wide, daylong distraction and absorption of optional resources.  So Bloomberg did a good thing.  Hopefully all the runners will understand and feel with us.

In another instance of putting priorities in the right order, we read with interest about a Budweiser beer brewery in Atlanta that has stopped canning beer just now.  They are canning water instead and shipping it to the New York area, 1 million bottles of water.  Their regular retail distribution system can easily get the cans around to numerous locales where people need it.  Among other disasters when they have done this, they also sent water to San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake.

Then, there's an election Tuesday.  A lot of places won't even have power by then.  Some polling places have been entirely destroyed, especially along the Jersey Shore.  What can be done? reports that army trucks and National Guardsmen will be assigned to those locations; they will have big signs saying "VOTE HERE!" and makeshift booths will be installed in the trucks and paper ballots will be utilized.  Hey! you know, whatever works to help people cast their votes.  Officials in each of the three states most involved, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, have asserted that their states will be ready for Election Day, whatever it takes.

Electric Power and Other Power
Finally, at home, if you don't have power, how can you cook?  In your wood-burning fireplace, of course.  See this lovely commentary in today's eMo by the Geranium Farm's Chief Farmer, Barbara Crafton, on how she baked bread in her fireplace.  Barbara points out that electric power is only one kind of power we possess, and the loss of it hardly means we have lost all power to do everything . . . .

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