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A Visit to The Museum of Feelings

Two blocks from the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan on a plaza facing the East River, behind a gleaming mall, sits a temporary museum. Or that is what Glade, a brand of SC Johnson, is calling it. The Museum of Feelings is housed in a small building with shifting colored lights projected on its white walls. Tuesday night, its opening night, a young man in black clothes ushers confused people inside or makes them wait at the door when it becomes too crowded.

The subway advertisements for the Museum promise only a URL, a street address, and the dates the exhibit is open. If your curiosity is sufficiently piqued by these ads or the Facebook event and you visit, the first thing you are cued to do is to create a MoodLens — a “living, emotional portrait that changes to reflect feelings,” the page explains. If you click “Get Started,” your computer’s built-in camera will photograph your face and with another click, your computer’s microphone can pick up your voice. This data is collected along with the weather in your current location and the “general feelings on social media in your region” to calculate your mood.

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Saudi Arabia and Pakistan: Favorite False Friends

Kaitlin Campbell has just posted links to the new issue of Commonweal (December 4), with a sobering and remarkably direct critique of U.S. policy toward Pakistan and Saudi Arabia that you are unlikely to read in the MSM. I hope all the political junkies here will read it and comment. False Friends by Vanni Cappelli.

Black Millennials & the Racial Wealth Gap

Mel Jones writes in the Washington Monthly about an issue I and many of my peers are familiar with: how to pay off student debt and other bills in a not-so-great economy, yet somehow build a financial foundation for the future. Her experience, however, is fundamentally different from mine, in that as a person of color she must also contend with what’s come to be known as the “second” racial wealth gap—the second phase in a “financial disparity that stems from continuous shortfalls in parents’ net worth and low homeownership rates among blacks,” which, Jones explains, “works to create an unlevel playing field.”

Since owning a home accounts for over 50 percent of wealth for blacks (compared with 39 percent for whites) and since black Americans are five times less likely to inherit wealth than white Americans generally (7 percent to 36 percent), low homeownership rates among black Americans, which often are the result of discriminatory lending practices, are a large contributing factor to the racial wealth gap. In addition, Jones points out, “[T]he most recent housing bust is estimated to have wiped out half of the collective wealth of black families—a setback of two generations,” resulting in essentially an exponential setback for millennials of color.

Jones cites a recent study published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives on the dynamics of wealth accumulation that found an estimated 20 percent of personal wealth can be attributed to formal and informal gifts from family members, especially parents. But blacks and Hispanics starting their careers are not likely to get such a boost. Moreover, they’re already starting at a disadvantage, given that they take on higher levels of student debt than their white peers, “often to pay for routine expenses, like textbooks, that their parents are less likely to subsidize,” Jones writes. They also often have to work while in college, thus missing out on opportunities to connect with classmates and forge the professional ties that might help them later.

I know I wouldn’t be where I am without “formal and informal gifts from family members,” before, during, and after college. I wouldn't have been able to make decisions toward furthering my professional career if I couldn't, for example, stay on my family’s cell phone plan or receive help covering the cost of an apartment security deposit. Understanding that there are inherent long-term benefits in being able to choose career development over routine expenses is one part of understanding what in current discourse is calledprivilege.” As Jones puts it simply: “If you have to decide between paying for a professional networking event or a cell phone bill, the latter is likely to win out”:

When this happens once or twice on a small scale, it’s not a big deal. It’s the collective impact of a series of decisions that matters, the result of which is displayed among ethnic and class lines and grounded in historical privilege.

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#portesoeuvertes or #portesfermees?

Shortly after word spread of the carnage in Paris, a column by an American expat living in that city appeared on the International New York Times website. Pamela Druckerman typically writes about cultural issues, such as how French parents raise independent and interesting children largely by ignoring them.

I've long been a fan of Druckerman's witty and insightful commentary. But her column this time was somber, as she described the real-time reaction at a dinner party where she was a guest Friday night.

One paragraph, in particular, troubled me: "French people are tweeting #portesouvertes, to help people stranded on the streets. We all agree that this sounds nuts: Who would open their doors right now? The news says the gunmen are still on the loose. Police are warning people not to go outside."

I'm not about to criticize anyone's desire to "shelter in locked place" under those terrifying circumstances, nor do I imagine that Druckerman and friends ignored strangers pleading for help outside their door. But when innocents are being targeted, it seems to me that #portesouvertes is exactly the right response for anyone with the means to provide sanctuary.

In another dark time, many Europeans closed their doors to Jewish neighbors fleeing Nazi persecution. But some opened up, at risk to their own lives, and these are the heroes we rightfully honor today.

Interestingly, in a prior column (headlined "Paradise Lost") Druckerman had expressed disappointment that her beloved France hasn't done enough to accept and integrate Syrian refugees, many of whom are confined by circumstance in virtual ghettos that are ideal breeding grounds for ISIS recruits.

Globally we are in a time, and at a place, where it's morally imperative to open our doors, windows, hearts and homes to refugees fleeing some of the most barbaric villains in human history. Yet here in America we have craven Republican politicians, including presidential candidates, governors, and the Speaker of the House, campaigning to slam our doors shut. #portesfermees.

Speaker Paul Ryan says he only wants a temporary halt to admitting refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern battlegrounds, while we figure out how to keep out every last bad guy. But he knows perfectly well we'll never figure that out. Meanwhile, countless innocent refugees suffer and die.

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A Nation of Refugees (e.g. Cruz and Rubio) and Immigrants (Most of the Rest of Us, e.g. Ryan and McConnell)

Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, Chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) Committee on Migration: "I am disturbed, however, by calls from both federal and state officials for an end to the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States. These refugees are fleeing terror themselves—violence like we have witnessed in Paris. They are extremely vulnerable families, women, and children who are fleeing for their lives. We cannot and should not blame them for the actions of a terrorist organization." Whole Statement

Politico: "Christian groups break with GOP over Syrian refugees"

NYTimes: "G.O.P. Governors Vow to Close Doors to Syrian Refugees"

Catholic University's Business School Again

The problems at Catholic University’s business school run even deeper than I thought. Remember what is at stake: the business school has taken large sums of money from the unvirtuous Koch Brothers and other libertarian interests. The worry is that tainted money taints.

Now, CUA could try to deflect this criticism. They could argue that they need the money, and they will never waver in their commitment to traditional, orthodox, Catholic social teaching—the great legacy of people like John A. Ryan, whom Cardinal Turkson has been praising in recent speeches.

But CUA doesn’t take this approach. Quite the opposite, in fact. It actually attacks its critics and brags about these attacks. Look at the attached image. It is a photograph of a poster on public display at CUA’s business school. It boasts about taking large sums of money from the Kochs and the Busch Foundation. And it prominently displays an op-ed written by president John Garvey and then-dean (now provost) Andrew Abela for the Wall Street Journal, displaying the subtitle: “This Catholic university won’t cave to demands made by the liberal social justice movement.”

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The Real Problem with 'Faithful Citizenship'

At their current meeting, the USCCB is considering a new version of their document "Faithful Citizenship." Michael Sean Winters at NCR has a good commentary on the problems with the new draft, especially its reconfiguration of the previous seven headings into four and its continued misleading use of the term “intrinsically evil.” I have commented elsewhere on why discussions of “intrinsic evil” are misleading when dealing with public-policy matters. And the reconfiguration of topic headings is at least questionable. When presenting the previous seven headings in the classroom, I have always suggested that the special attention paid to the poor, to workers, and to creation are justified, since each of these represents a “constituency” that is uniquely vulnerable in a capitalist system. The bishops must lend an extra voice to those who are lacking power and therefore are vulnerable in the current system. Such a justification is consistent with other areas of concern, especially the unborn and the dying. To eliminate these headings is potentially to marginalize the already marginalized.

But the reconfiguration seems to me to indicate the deeper challenge the bishops face: abstraction. The new categories are  inarguably less specific than the old ones. Reading through the draft, one gets the feeling that (perhaps in order to produce a consensus document?) the bishops are trying to offer a presentation that resists partisan co-optation. They insist multiple times that all the issues must be considered together. In a spirit of charity, I won’t speculate about the possibility that such an insistance is itself a partisan move. However, even understood charitably, this retreat to abstraction isn’t the right way to address the existing problem. Do we really need another document that functions as a mini-encyclical or mini-catechesis on general themes in Catholic social teaching?

I wish the bishops could do something else: confront the real problem faithful Catholic citizens face in 2015. They should just say it: At this point, neither national party is acceptable, judged on the full range of teachings. Why can’t the bishops come right out and name this problem specifically? Certainly it would be easy enough for them to say that, at the national level, the Democratic party rejects their basic principles due to their positions on abortion and same-sex marriage, and that the party risks further entrenchment against the principles in the growing support for assisted suicide. But is it really any more controversial for the bishops to call out the Republican party for flagrantly ignoring basic principles of Catholic social teaching—especially on the critical and pressing issues of immigration and the environment? To be sure, these issues present real policy challenges, but to my knowledge, no one among the vast field of contenders for the Republican nomination has come out and forthrightly affirmed the basic principles of the Catholic tradition on immigration and the environment—even if they then might present policies that would be disagreeable. This is a fundamental problem with the typical use of the term "prudential judgment": what is open to prudential judgment are the merits of a particular policy approach. But the principles themselves are authoritative and should be affirmed. It would be refreshing to hear a Republican affirm Catholic principles on immigration, the environment, the right to health care, and the need for an economy that gives special attention to the needs of the poor. Again, there will still be policy differences. But in reality, Republicans reject the principles. Or at least they appear to—and if the appearance is wrong, they should be invited by the bishops to clarify their agreement on the basic principles.

Such a document would be a timely act of courage, which acknowledged the real challenges of the political world that actually exists in America in 2015. Moreover, perhaps such a document could be seen as a real challenge to partisans of both sides to admit the inadequacies of their respective positions. I do understand the instinct, when writing in our context, to write something that will be acceptable to everyone by making language more generic. But by writing a careful document reiterating abstractions, rather than addressing the actual political situation of the current two-party set-up, their words are more likely to continue the underlying partisan maneuvering (as people seek to exploit this or that abstraction for their advantage)…or to be ignored. A bold document that actually called parties to account might be controversial. But I’m pretty sure it would be less likely to be ignored.

How Far Should They Go?

Being a big fan of big government, I don't stop to ask, "Why Do They Want to Do That?"

This morning I stopped and asked when I read: "Public Housing Nationwide May Be Subject to Smoking Ban." The Dept. of Housing and Urban Development has long urged smoking bans in public housing, but it has left rule-making and enforcment to local authorities. Now the Dept. is insisting on a nation-wide ban in all public housing (New York City is cited as the biggest slacker). Is a mandatory no-smoking rule in public housing a wise move on the part of the FEDS? Would the ban be enforced in the nation's finest public house, the White House?

Another example: a school in Palatine, Illinois: a transgendered student plays on a girl's sports team and uses the girl's locker room. The school has provided a curtain behind which the student can change her clothes. The U.S. Dept. of Education argues that the school district "violated anti-discrimination laws when it did not allow a transgender student who identifies as a girl and participates on a girls’ sports team to change and shower in the girls’ locker room without restrictions." The curtain would have to go. Would the FEDS be prudent to hold off and see how local officials manage?  "Illinois District Violated Transgender Student’s Rights."

Boo Who at Yale

DotCommonweal readers may be forgiven for thinking that I’m obsessed with this topic, but events keep conspiring to focus public attention on the subject of political correctness and campus speech codes. And each time they do, I recall Jean Raber’s post to one of my earlier entries, in which she asked, in effect, What do people mean when they refer to “political correctness?”

What they mean is being amply illustrated on campuses this fall. I’ve already written about the turmoil at Wesleyan University, where students effectively sought to shut down the school paper after it ran an op-ed, written by a 31 year old undergraduate and Iraq War vet, critical of the Black Lives Matter movement. More recently I wrote about various campus dust-ups over the issue of Halloween costumes and cultural appropriation.

Now Halloween is gone, but the Boo! controversy is continuing to convulse Yale University with events politically lurid enough to have been torn from the pages of a Tom Wolfe novel. The flap began when several students at one of Yale’s residential colleges complained to their house masters about what a downer it was to receive guidelines from Yale’s administration concerning Halloween costumes. Yale undergraduates live in dorms known as colleges; the residences have live-in advisors – typically faculty members – who play an in loco parentis function. The masters at Sillliman College are Nikolas and Erika Christakis; he is a physician and sociologist, she is a lecturer in childhood development and education. After fielding the complaint from dorm residents about the Halloween costume guidelines, she sat down and composed a lengthy and conspicuously thoughtful email in which she essentially agreed with them that the University should relax and, well, let Halloween be Halloween. Speaking, she said, as a child development researcher, she asked aloud, “What does this debate about Halloween costumes say about our view of young adults, of their strength and judgment?” and argued for basing costume decisions on individual prudence rather than administrative fiat. “[I]f you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended,” her email counseled. “Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offence are the hallmarks of a free and open society.” She sent the email to residents of Silliman.

And then all hell broke loose.

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Serious Problems at Catholic University's Business School

There’s something rotten at Catholic University’s business school. When it comes to authentic Catholic social teaching, its approach seems to follow that of Seinfeld’s George Costanza— “do the opposite.”

When Pope Francis is speaking passionately about how this economy kills, excludes, and destroys mother earth, this school is taking large sums of money from some of the most unvirtuous business interests in the US—the Koch brothers and other libertarians—and then taking positions favorable to their donors’ interests. In too many instances, the gospel they proclaim is the liberating power of free markets.

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In Search of a 'Civil-Rights Republican'

Those who lived through it may find it hard to believe that Wednesday, November 4, marks just the thirty-fifth anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s election as president: All the praise, adoration, and incantatory recitation of his name in the time since make it feel a lot longer than three-plus decades. With election season underway, greater public devotions become obligatory, not only but especially when candidates debate against the backdrop of an Air Force One replica in the eponymous presidential library, where Reagan's name was mentioned forty-five times.

With the GOP’s national standard bearer having lost five out of six popular elections after Mitt Romney’s 2012 defeat, the party looked briefly into the mirror and issued a report on how to stop alienating voters it needed to win the White House. The recommendations were commonsensical and have thus been forgotten. Building walls, cutting taxes on the wealthy, demonizing Obama, demonizing Obama voters—these have much more appeal, and besides, Ronald Reagan.

Frustration with the Republicans’ continued inability to lure African American voters—their continued futility all but guaranteed in 2016—has prompted Theodore R. Johnson to offer an eminently reasonable, if less eminently realistic, prescription. Writing in The National Review, he calls for a civil-rights Republican, a national figure “strong on bedrock conservative principles as well as civil-rights protections [who] will win the support of black voters at levels the party hasn’t seen in generations.” I say reasonable, because Johnson premises his call on what the party itself might consider an inconvenient truth: “The stark polarization of the black electorate is a function of the evolution of [Republican and Democratic] stances on civil-rights protections. Period. There is no mystery here.” Republicans, he says, operate according to a fundamental misunderstanding of African Americans and what motivates their voting decisions; Republicans have accepted and perpetuated the “false narrative” that black voters support Democrats because they expect unearned benefits; Republicans “ignore history” when they point to the Constitution as a guarantor of civil rights given the failure of the 14th Amendment to “prevent the ‘separate but equal doctrine’ or statutory Jim Crow.” Johnson states that yes, voter ID laws passed in the aftermath of Shelby v. Holder have made “made voting more difficult for many blacks.” He points out that Republican attempts at outreach are “repeatedly undone by inadvisable strategic communication choices and a basic callousness about the black experience in America.” Not just reasonable, but almost bracing, in the pages of The National Review.

But realistic?

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Palestinian-Israeli Violence

J.J. Goldberg follows Israeli politics closely. In his latest column at the Forward, he examines Prime Minister Netanyahu's claims about Hitler and Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem. Netanyahu, who has since revised his remarks, originally claimed that the grand mufti gave Hitler the idea for the Holocaust. As Goldberg points out, Netanyahu's revised explanation has not exactly clarified matters. Since "today’s Palestinian leadership continues to revere Husseini and his legacy," the violence now spreading from Jerusalem is due to implacable Palestinian hatred of Israelies. IDF officers in charge of responding and controlling the violence have a different take.

Goldberg reports that "two active-duty IDF generals who are among the army’s top experts on Palestinian affairs spoke out publicly to state that Palestinian violence is driven to a considerable degree by anger at Israeli actions. One of the two went a step further, warning that only a serious Israeli diplomatic re-engagement with the Palestinians will help to quell such violence over the long term." One general specifically cited attacks by settlers against Palestinians as part of the cycle of violence now roiling the country

Read Golberg's story in the Forward before commenting.

Bishop Barron's Evolving Tolerance

Intervening on the Douthat controversy, Bishop Robert Barron has urged his fellow Catholics to recognize that the Church has always been a place of great controversy--and pleads with us all for more engagement with and tolerance of each other's ideas. In an essay entitled, "Ross Douthat and the Catholic Academy," he writes: "The letter to the Times is indicative indeed of a much wider problem in our intellectual culture, namely, the tendency to avoid real argument and to censor what makes us, for whatever reason, uncomfortable."  Nice.  Broad-minded. 

Mmm. Just for kicks, I googled "Barron" and "Dowd." And the google was not disappointed. It highlighted an essay entitled "Why It's Okay to Be Against Heresy and For Imposing One's Views on Others"--right next to a picture of Maureen Dowd. While many columnists don't write their own column titles, I think it is safe to attribute this title to Bishop Barron, since it's on his own website.

His view toward open-minded discussion is not quite the same in the older essay, at least on the surface. Barron writes: "The Catholic Church is not a Voltairean debating society; it is a community that stands for some very definite things, which implies, necessarily, that it sets its back against very definite things."

What's changed? I like to think it's the grace of office. 

Bishops of the World Unite on Climate Change

After Pope Francis asked the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace to work on an encyclical on the environment, Cardinal Turkson’s diligent-but-understaffed office scrambled to get him a draft by the end of last summer. They fully expected a release toward the end of last year. But Pope Francis sat on it. Part of the reason, it seems, is that he wanted to consult far and wide. But another part of the reason is that he always planned to issue it in 2015—to be able to influence COP21.

What is COP21? In classic bureaucrat-speak, it means the 21st annual meeting of the “Conference of the Parties” to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It was in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit when world leaders first united to address the terrifying consequence of man-made global warming. Specifically, the UNFCCC seeks to achieve “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. This has been subsequently interpreted as keeping the rise in global mean temperature to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels—the threshold beyond which disaster seems inevitable.

Since the Rio summit all those years ago, the result has been….nothing. Nada. Zilch. We’ve kicked the can down the road so many times that there’s barely any road left. In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis calls attention to this shameful inaction, this dereliction of our gravest duty. He says that by putting “national interests above the global common good”, the world is guilty of “failure of conscience and responsibility”.

He then adds: “We believers cannot fail to ask God for a positive outcome to the present discussions, so that future generations will not have to suffer the effects of our ill-advised delays”.

He is, of course, talking about COP21, which will take place in Paris in November/ December. Given the scale and speed of climate change, this is really the last chance for a serious agreement before the clocks runs out.

This is why heads of all continental associations of bishops conference—alongside the United States and Canada—have come together to sign an appeal to political leaders who will soon be gathering for COP21.

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Paul Ryan, the Right's Kind of Family Man

Mark Shields, appearing on PBS Newshour Friday night , expressed genuine respect for Paul Ryan’s desire to preserve the time he has with his family should he become, as seems likely, House speaker next week. “Admirably,” Shields said, “he wants to spend time with his children, who are in their formative and teen years.” Sympathies dispensed with, he then made the obvious observation, with a dose of sarcasm for good measure. “Would that he would extend this to all parents. And I’m sure he will, now that he’s about to be speaker.”

Paid family and parental leave, as many know, is something the Republican Party has consistently opposed. When President Obama appealed for family-leave legislation in his 2015 State of the Union address, the GOP either laughed it off with ignorant jokes about “European economies” or made their familiar noises about “over-regulation” and “federal mandates” suffocating American businesses. That line of thinking stretches back pretty far. For illustrative purposes, let’s look only to 1993, when the Family Medical and Leave Act–which mandated twelve weeks leave, unpaid, for illness and a new child–became law under the Clinton administration. “America’s business owners are a resilient bunch, but let there be no doubt, [this legislation] will be the demise of some,” predicted one lawmaker. “And as that occurs, the light of freedom will grow dimmer.” That was Republican Representative John Boehner of Ohio, whom Ryan is about to replace as speaker. If nothing else, the consistency of the messaging across the decades can be appreciated.

Ryan has not only internalized that messaging, of course, but owing to acknowledged policy prowess has perhaps more than any GOP lawmaker worked to enshrine such miserliness.

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Synod critics lack historical context

I had decided not to write about the synod on the family. There are a lot of people far more qualified than me discussing it, and—in sharp contrast with the merchants of doom announcing schism or the end of civilization—I actually don’t think it is that important in the larger scheme of things. I’d much rather let the Holy Spirit do his work, and talk about Laudato Si’, the throwaway culture, and the economy of exclusion.

Yet I find some of the recent debate perplexing. I’m not talking about the disgraceful attacks on Pope Francis by those very prelates who used to put such a high premium on loyalty to the pope, or the petty conspiracy theories. No, I’m talking about the really limited historical context on display, especially by the critics who reject any openings toward pastoral flexibility.

This lack of context stretches across both time and space. Much of the historical analysis begins and ends with Vatican II, with the world divided into “conservatives” who prioritize unchanged truth and “liberals” who prioritize mercy and meeting people where they are. This also fits neatly (too neatly) with the very western political dynamic, especially in the US. But it’s too narrow a perspective. While a lot of people are looking back 50 years, very few are looking back 300 years, to the debates about Jansenism. Seen from this broader historical perspective, the position of the “conservatives” might appear less a defense of orthodoxy than a flirtation with Jansenism—especially by stressing that salvation comes from moral rigorism and rigid adherence to rules and norms.

Is it too surprising that the Jansenist impulse is alive and kicking? Again, from a historical perspective, it shouldn’t be. Arianism survived for centuries after Nicaea. Monophysitism survived for centuries after Chalcedon. It’s not too surprising, then, that we see traces of Jansenism a mere three centuries after Clement XI’s Unigenitus! Nor is it surprising that this is especially pronounced in places like the US or Australia, areas that were once heavily influenced by the Irish Church (I would argue that what lost all credibility in Ireland was less the Catholic Church than the Jansenist caricature of it). And in the US, a lot of the most vehement opposition is coming from converts—converts from Calvinist forms of Christianity.

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Is There an End Game in the Middle East?

The wars in Syria and Yemen along with the continuing battle in Iraq between the government and ISIS have no end in sight. Attention to Russian intervention in Syria tends to obscure the tumult everywhere else. Charles Freeman, former ambassador to Saudi Arabia under the George H.W. Bush administration, offers a broad survey of the region, its history since the Gulf War, and U.S. ME policy since 1991. Here are the concluding paragraphs of his talk to the U.S.-Arab Policymakers Conference on October 15.

As refugees overwhelm Europe and both Asad and Da’esh continue to hold their own against the forces arrayed against them, the world is moving toward the conclusion that any outcome in Syria – any outcome at all – that can stop the carnage is better than its continuation.  The ongoing disintegration of the Fertile Crescent fuels extremism; empowers Iran; drives Iran, Iraq, Russia and Syria together; weakens the strategic position of the GCC; vexes Turkey; and leaves the United States on a strategic treadmill.  The region seems headed, after still more tragedy and bloodshed, toward an unwelcome inevitability – the eventual acknowledgment of Iran’s hegemony in Iraq and Syria and political influence in Bahrain, Gaza, Lebanon, and Yemen.  That is not where Americans and our Gulf Arab friends imagined we would end up twenty-five years after liberating Kuwait from Iraqi aggression.  But it is where protracted strategic incoherence has brought us.  We can no longer avoid considering whether an opening to Iran is not the key to peace and stability in the Middle East.

Whatever our answer to that question, the seventy-year-old partnership between Americans and Gulf Arabs has never faced more or greater challenges than at present.  We will not surmount these challenges if we do not both learn from our mistakes and work together to cope with the unpalatable realities they have created.  Doing so will require intensified dialogue between us, imagination, and openness to novel strategic partnerships and alignments.  There are new realities in the Middle East.  It does no good to deny or rail against them.  We must now adjust to them and strive to turn them to our advantage.

Previous efforts to discuss the ME here at dotCommonweal have not been very productive or, at points, even rational. I will open comments on Monday evening hoping that those interested will actually read Freeman's talk, "America's Continuing Misadventures in the Middle East,"  and speak to the points he makes and the issues he raises. And, of course, it can be read without any need to make comments.  

10/19: Comments open. No bullies, no trolls, no hysterics. You will be deleted.

Two New Books on Catholic Social Teaching

Just to a quick note to mention two interesting new books on Catholic social teaching on the shelves. The first is by Daniel Schwindt, and is titled Catholic Social Teaching: A New Synthesis - the subtitle is “Rerum Novarum to Laudato Si’.” I believe Daniel’s is the first attempt to incorporate Pope Francis’s vital contribution into a general treatise on the social doctrine—the publication date was June 19, a day after the encyclical was published! (Full disclosure: Daniel edited a book earlier this year called Radically Catholic in the Age of Francis; an Anthology of Visions for the Future, and I contribute a chapter.)

The second book to cross my desk is the latest by Angus Sibley, entitled Catholic Economics: Alternatives to the Jungle. It was published too late to include insights from Laudato Si’, but Sibley is always worth reading. I especially enjoyed his last book: The Poisoned Spring of Economic Libertarianism.

Bravo to both authors, and let’s hope we are entering a new springtime for authentic Catholic social teaching!

Adults Meet and Debate—like Adults

I was pleasantly surprised at how well all the Dems came off last night at their first debate.

I was also surprised to read this headline in the NYTimes print edition: Hillary Clinton Turns up Heat on Bernie Sanders in a sharp debate.

But then, in this morning's e-summary from the Times there was this: "A Nuanced Stage Fight with Several Palpable Hits."

Perhaps they are not totally contradictory (for headlines), but I thought it was an intelligent, lively debate; even Anderson Cooper did a good job. You know, the kind of political debate that adults should have. I did eliminate two candidates that I have looked at; three still in the running as far as I'm concerned. And you? Who didn't watch the baseball game!

Meanwhile Back in the Middle East

President Obama seems a bit put out by the incursion of Russian military into Syria and by the judgement of President Vladmir Putin that the U.S.-led coalition has made a mess of things in Syria. Russia after some days of bombing has made its way from what have been called moderate Syrian rebels to the edges of ISILs occupied Syria. These reports and claims remain hazy at least in the public realm, but the Russians are certainly doing something. But what? We shall see.

Putin's motives are not exactly clear, but are they as mysterious or as destructive as Washington sees them? Are all the residual anti-Russian feeling stirred up reasonably enough over Ukraine blinding Obama, McCain, Clinton, etc. to a clear-eyed analysis of what could be done to end the carnage in Syria and Iraq, a feat that the current coalition has failed to achieve.

In the meantime, this piece by Stephen Lee Myer at the NYTimes offers a coherent account of Putin's views especially about state sovereignty as background to Russia's actions in Syria.

"...At the heart of the airstrikes is Mr. Putin’s defense of the principle that the state is all powerful and should be defended against the hordes, especially those encouraged from abroad. It is a warning about Russia, as much as Syria.

“Nations shouldn’t be forced to all conform to the same development model that somebody has declared the only appropriate one,” he declared at the United Nations. The Soviet Union, he said, had once sought to export “social experiments, pushing for changes in other countries for ideological reasons, and this often led to tragic consequences and caused degradation instead of progress.”