the world has a wolf by the ear

The first green shoots of the coming spring should be breaking the ground right about now in Missouri. By the middle of next month, crocuses, grape hyacinths, bells of the valley and daffodils will provide a vibrant annual sign of renewal and hope in the...

The first green shoots of the coming spring should be breaking the ground right about now in Missouri.

By the middle of next month, crocuses, grape hyacinths, bells of the valley and daffodils will provide a vibrant annual sign of renewal and hope in the heartland of the United States. This, however, belies a deep feeling of unease afflicting not only that region, but our whole continent and the rest of world at the moment.

Earlier this week some 900 kilometres to the west of Missouri in Denver, Colorado, President Obama signed his US$787 billion stimulus bill into law. His administration’s desire is that this will somehow staunch the loss of jobs, home foreclosures and collapsing trade figures that are among the signs of the deepening economic crisis that dominates the news.

In a effort to offer transparency to a jaded citizenry, a website was almost simultaneously launched. provides information and timelines on the actual spending.

Some polls point to a profound loss of confidence that this dramatic measure to jumpstart the national and by extension the global economy has not reversed. Are more fundamental issues, rooted in a profoundly disordered system, being glossed over by this landmark bailout? Can trying to maintain the institutions and corporate structures that have thrived under a flawed economic regime be the answer?

“I take it for granted that the present question is a mere preamble – a title page to a great tragic volume.” John Quincy Adams prophetically wrote these words in his diary at the time of the Missouri Compromise in 1820. This was prior to his tenure in the White House as the sixth president of the United States.

Adams was referring to controversy then swirling around the admission of the territory of Missouri as a state. The dispute centered on slavery. National political power was roughly divided between pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions. If the citizens of Missouri had their way it would be admitted as a slave state. This would upset the delicate political balance.

Slavery underpinned the burgeoning plantation economy of the southern states. By the mid-1800s, 75 per cent of all domestic slave labour was involved in cotton production. Cotton in 1830 accounted for 41 per cent of all US exports. This figure grew to nearly 60 per cent by 1860. Northern banks, shipping interests and textile mills were deeply involved in this system.

Legislators cobbled together the Missouri Compromise. Missouri would be admitted as a slave state, but this would be balanced in Congress by the admission of Maine as a free state as well. The politicians of that day expediently dealt with the problem. But it only papered over a divide that eventually, a little over a generation later, would tear the country apart.

President James Monroe ratified their solution on March 6, 1820.

“(B)ut this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment, but this is a reprieve only,” wrote Thomas Jefferson to a Massachusetts’ congressman, John Holmes, a month after the Missouri Compromise came into effect. “(A)s it is, we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go, justice is in one scale and self-preservation in the other.”

The USA survived and prospered mightily after the demise of its slave-based economy. Our current global economic system has disastrously widened the gap between rich and poor, failed to address critical environmental and resource depletion issues and as well continues to witness the expenditure of more than trillion dollars a year on arms.

All this contributes to our greater collective insecurity. Should we be propping up this system at all? Isn’t fundamental change needed? Now is not the time for compromises that maintain the status quo.

Namaste Notes

Saturday, February 21 – On the Saturday of Souls Orthodox Christians pray for the dead.

Sunday, February 22 – Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time. A suggested reading is Mark: 2: 1-12.

Monday, February 23 – The Hindu festival of Maha Shivaratri honors the marriage of Lord Shiva to the Goddess Parvati.

Tuesday, February 24 – Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras ends a customary carnival time prior to the long Lenten fast. Pancakes are often served.

Wednesday, February 25 – Since the 7th century Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the 40 day period leading up to Easter. Traditionally it is a day of fasting and abstinence.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact

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