In a church where parishes sometimes raise money by running Bingo games, leaders may well be reluctant to condemn gambling outright. A statement from the bishops of the New York State Catholic Conference about an approaching referendum on Nov. 5 to authorize up to seven full-scale casinos in the state, describes gambling, quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as “a morally neutral act.” But the statement’s analysis of the negative impact of gambling points clearly to the conclusion: Vote no. The bishops repeat the catechism’s warning that “the passion for gambling risks becoming an enslavement,” and they stress gambling’s connection to embezzlement, drunk driving and “catastrophic losses” to individual gamblers.
The United States already has 1,500 casinos in 20 states and legalized gambling of various forms in 48 states. Though casinos allegedly promote jobs, stimulate tourism and boost the local economy, in fact casino owners are often outsiders who bring in their employees from other places. Instead of stimulating business in the surrounding neighborhoods, casinos are deliberately designed to keep the players inside, with no sense of time or place. There are restaurants and shops, but no windows or clocks.
The strongest argument against casinos is that they exploit the weaknesses of vulnerable citizens, lured by a corrupted version of the American dream, in which Lady Luck suddenly delivers bags of gold. The obligation to empower those in poverty rests on the shoulders of the whole community, including government. One Christian response to poverty would be a just tax system that allows for a redistribution of wealth directed by prudence—not by slot machines.
‘Sell By’ Dates
It is not breaking news that we waste literally tons of food in this country. A recent study, however, sheds new light on one factor contributing to the estimated 160 billion pounds of food Americans throw out each year: misleading expiration dates.
According to a report published by Harvard Law School and the Natural Resources Defense Council, an unreliable, inconsistent and piecemeal system of food labeling leads to a great deal of confusion over what is safe to eat. For example, 91 percent of Americans occasionally (and 25 percent always) toss products that are past the “sell by” date, a label that helps retailers control inventory but, according to the report, offers consumers “no useful guidance” after purchase.
In a country where one in six people face food insecurity and many more lack access to healthy, fresh meals, throwing away perfectly edible food is not acceptable. As the report’s authors suggest, the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture should exercise their authority to set clear, consistent standards to inform consumers about food quality and safety. Better regulation alone, however, will not get food to those who suffer hunger. Creative solutions are needed to tackle the twin problems of waste and equitable distribution. One plan is the Daily Table, a market that a former president of Trader Joe’s plans to open next year that will prepare discarded but otherwise wholesome food from grocery stores and sell it at steeply discounted prices in underserved “food deserts.” Initiatives like this should be multiplied.
Just War for Oil?
In a speech to the United Nations on Sept. 24 President Obama said the organization has “made a difference” in eradicating disease, providing education and establishing peace, but that the international community “has not matched the scale of the challenge” in Syria. Mr. Obama reiterated his belief that a military strike against the Assad regime was a meaningful way to enforce an international ban on chemical weapons.
The president also took the opportunity to outline U.S. policy in the Middle East and North Africa. His first claim: the United States “is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region,” including “the free flow of energy from the region to the world” because “a severe disruption could destabilize the entire global economy.”
This threat of military force against other nations again raises questions (and red flags) about how the United States relates to the world community and views resources that lie within others’ sovereign borders. Is military force, which produces great suffering through human casualties and the destruction of essential infrastructure and the natural environment, ever justifiable for the purpose of securing natural resources? Not to mention the question of who benefits the most from those resources. At an interfaith peace gathering in Rome on Sept. 30, Pope Francis said peace is so difficult to achieve because “one finds it difficult to move out of the narrow horizon of one’s own interests in order to open up to a real and sincere encounter” with others. Such an encounter, especially with the most vulnerable, might help the United States re-evaluate its core interests and the most appropriate means to achieve them.