...the rest of the world went on without a Thanksgiving celebration. So to catch you up, here's a wonkish analysis of where the Obama-Netanyahu struggle stands. It is written by an Englishman, so it should be read with a grain of salt. On the other hand, he has an optimistic take on what Obama (and Kerry) might pull off in Middle East diplomacy.
...Bibi-watchers are focused now on how the Israeli leader will play the next six months, in which the Geneva agreement will either blossom into a lasting accord or break apart. But it prompts another question: what will be the impact on Israel's conflict closer to home? Could the breakthrough with Iran somehow presage a breakthrough between Israelis and Palestinians? The wisest bet would be on no....
But there's another, riskier bet to make. It says that Obama now has momentum in the Middle East, using diplomacy to solve problems previously deemed soluble only through military action. Perhaps it's true that he stumbled on a remedy for Syria..... And now there is Iran....
Intriguingly, Obama's policy of restraint found a supportive echo in the Israeli securocracy: it was the loud, sometimes public opposition of current and former military and intelligence chiefs that made it all but impossible for Netanyahu to contemplate air strikes against Iran. It turns out that it was the fruit of a deliberate, planned effort by Washington, patiently creating what one anaylsis calls a "United States lobby" within the Israeli security elite. Now established, there is no reason why that same US lobby could not be mobilised to pressure Bibi again – this time on the Israel-Palestine track.
For those of you interested in the libertarian "Tea Party Catholic" spin on Evangelii Gaudium, here's a short talk by Robert Sirico, accessible on the Acton Institute website:
Thank you for some insightful comments. Here's another short contribution, followed by a call for your input. I'd like to continue the conversation, albeit in a slightly different vein.
Many of you are familiar with the Cardinal Newman Society. Some of you mentioned it in your comments. In an article from the CNS website entitled "Colleges Need Better Measures of Catholic Identity, Study Finds," I found this claim:
“Catholic families should be able to hold Catholic educators accountable, with meaningful information,” said Patrick J. Reilly, president of The Cardinal Newman Society, which commissioned the study. “That requires research that assesses whether students at Catholic colleges are growing in the Catholic faith—and not some undefined spirituality.”
Parents holding Catholic educators accountable? What would this look like, exactly? How would it affect the process of intellectual inquiry and instruction? What about academic freedom? I'm happy to hear from students and parents, but this is really directed to Catholic educators: What are your thoughts about being "held accountable" by "Catholic families"?
(the CNS article can be found here: http://www.cardinalnewmansociety.org/CatholicEducationDaily/DetailsPage/...)
Every year, the National Catholic Register comes out with a Catholic identity list. Some of these schools are considered "New Catholic Colleges," some are not. What makes a school authentically Catholic? According to the NCR, at least some of these features:
- The university president takes an "Oath of Fidelity"
- The majority of trustees are Catholic
- Theology professors have the Mandatum, and take the "Oath of Fidelity"
- "Advocates" of stem cell research, euthanasia and abortion are excluded as recipients of honorary degrees and as commencement speakers
- Co-ed dorms are banned
There are currently 37 colleges and universities on the list, which can be found here: http://www.ncregister.com/site/article/catholic-identity-college-guide-13/
What do you think about the list? Is it good for Catholic higher education, or not?
Andrew Sullivan flags this piece from Mike Dwyer, headlined “My Complicated Relationship with Catholic Education.” It’s not about what’s taught or what isn’t, or about how best to instill in children values and traditions given insufficient weight in a secular culture. Instead it’s about what many education stories seem to be about these days: Money, the divide between the educational haves and have-nots, and the emergence of a separate class of students whose parents can afford annual tuitions approaching or exceeding $20,000 per year.
The once erroneous perception that a Catholic education was only for the well-off has now become a reality. What does this mean for a faith with deep roots in the middle class? Whereas parochial schools were the norm for most Catholic children a half-century ago, will there be a day when American Catholics become sharply divided among the haves and have-nots, with a private education being the wedge? I don’t know what the future holds for us, but right now is a time of great change for Catholic education and it remains to be seen how things will play out.
Raising two children in New York City has presented no shortage of challenges when it comes to selecting how they should be schooled; cost was a significant factor but so was belief and commitment to public education, and we were lucky enough to have landed in a district that was just beginning to see big improvement when my older child entered kindergarten. Over the years we’ve made (and continue to make) significant contributions, almost entirely in time volunteered; but these days, more and more fellow parents make significant contributions in treasure, and the effect is being felt in ways that do not always comport with my sense of what public education is supposed to mean. The calving off of some public schools into de facto private collectives funded by wealthy parent-teacher associations is to me a particularly troubling trend in public education.
Friends and fellow parishioners have made other, and understandable, choices in terms of educating their children – some selecting Catholic schools and others opting for well-known prestigious non-Catholic private schools, with prices topping $30,000 a year in some cases (and even higher in others). I can’t challenge their decisions; they’ve done what they feel is best in their situations, and having gone through it myself I’m aware of the difficulty of it, the weighing of variables and the sacrifices required. But it can make for interesting conversation around the dinner table. In trying to impart to our kids a sense of being attuned to the needs and differences of others, of the importance of the lived and experienced over the purchased and "consumed," the topic of their friends’ schooling sometimes comes up. Education – public, Catholic, non-Catholic-private – as an economic marker is something that even they are becoming aware of.
Will the sky fall? Chicken Little: Thank you for asking, Apparently not for 6 months. Check back in June.
UPDATE: 11/24 An agreement between the P5+! was reached. President Shimon Peres of Israel welcomed it: “the success or failure of the deal will be judged by results, not by words,” and he called on the Iranians “to reject terrorism” and to stop the nuclear program and the development of long-range missiles.
“Israel, like others in the international community, prefers a diplomatic solution,” Mr. Peres said. “But I want to remind everyone of what President Obama said, and what I have personally heard from other leaders: The international community will not tolerate a nuclear Iran. And if the diplomatic path fails, the nuclear option will be prevented by other means. The alternative is far worse.”
PM Netanyahu does not agree with Peres or Obama, on the merits of the interim agreement. And perhaps many in the U.S. Congress will second Netanyahu. But scuttling the agreement by imposing more sanctions rather than helping to control Iran's nuclear program would look like an act of revenge against Obama and Kerry for succeeding at diplomacy instead of starting a war.
Yesterday's post below:Read more
Friday marks the fiftieth anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination in Dallas. Commonweal followed, with understandable interest, the career of Kennedy from his time in the U.S. Senate through his shortened term as president, as well as his legacy and the political and legal response to his murder.
We've posted a special topic page highlighting stories on Kennedy from the Commonweal archive -- pieces that appeared from the late 1950s through the early '60s, including editorials, essays, and articles, from authors like John Cogley (himself to become a presidential campaign adviser to Kennedy), James O'Gara, and Walter Dean Burnham. Following is an excerpt from a Commonweal editorial written a year after the assassination; though intended as a commentary on the release of the Warren Report, it articulated something that many still seem to want to, fifty years on:
The nation knows better what it knew all along -- that a deranged man can do deranged things... The nation also knows that hatred combined with violence can lead to disastrous results. But if the people did not know that before the assassination, they are not likely to know it much better now; anyway, men forget. The consistent thing about Original Sin is that it is so unimaginative, ever satisfied with repeating itself. President Kennedy tried to establish a new frontier. What he needed, but was not given, was a new humanity.
You can follow this link to see our special feature: Fifty Years After Dallas: Commonweal on John F. Kennedy.
Guarded news from Geneva on the negotiations that resumed on Wednesday: there was some "hanging crepe" (look it up!) preparing for the possibility that no limited deal will be struck between the P5+1 and Iran. But I think some deal will be struck (call me an optimist).
The U.S. Congress may yet attempt to derail any deal. It is hotly contested how that happens, but don't take my word for it; Tom Friedman writes forthrightly about how it could happen.
"Never have I seen Israel and America’s core Arab allies working more in concert to stymie a major foreign policy initiative of a sitting U.S. president, and never have I seen more lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans — more willing to take Israel’s side against their own president’s. I’m certain this comes less from any careful consideration of the facts and more from a growing tendency by many American lawmakers to do whatever the Israel lobby asks them to do in order to garner Jewish votes and campaign donations." In Tuesday's Times.
Sorry to close the comments. I don't have time today to keep track of them. Maybe later!
Now featured on the website, the editors on negotiating with Iran, and the first in our special series on raising kids Catholic (more on that below).
From the editorial “The Threat of Peace”:
Iran insists that its nuclear industry is intended only for peaceful purposes. But it would be irresponsible to take Iranian promises at face value. … Still, almost by definition, most efforts to avoid war involve dealing with dangerous and untrustworthy foes. Consequently, confidence-building steps are necessary. Led by Secretary of State John Kerry, the international community has proposed an interim agreement to test the regime’s real intentions…. Prime Minister Netanyahu has been a vociferous opponent of any interim deal, claiming that if sanctions are lifted even temporarily it will be impossible to re-impose them. Netanyahu and some in Congress want the sanctions tightened further, arguing that only the harshest pressure can force the Iranians to make meaningful concessions. Given his previous objections to the administration’s Iran policy, Netanyahu’s new-found faith in sanctions is curious, to say the least. …
Diplomacy rarely succeeds unless each party offers the other a way to save face with hardliners at home. In that light, the sort of interim agreement Secretary Kerry is proposing seems worth the limited risks involved.
Also live, the first in our multipart series “Raising Catholic Kids,” in which we asked parents to discuss and reflect on their experiences in “rooting family in faith.” We’ll be posting new installments on a regular basis in coming days, and we’ll be packaging the series so that as new articles go live they’re collected all in one place. Featured today, J. Peter Nixon:
I have two children of my own now. Many parents react to perceived deficiencies in their own childhood by leaning violently in the other direction. I am no different. I have done everything in my power to give my children the deep roots in the Catholic tradition that I did not have. My wife and I have made the financial sacrifice to send our children to Catholic school, a sacrifice that will become all the more difficult as they enter (God willing!) the local Catholic high school. Both of us pursued graduate work in theology and we are deeply involved in a wonderful parish where we are active in a variety of ministries.
Aside from the investment in their education, I did not do most of these things for my children. I did them because they seemed at least a meager return for what God has done for me in Jesus Christ. But I have also tried to live my faith in a way that would make it truly attractive and credible to my children.
Every now and then I feel that it’s working.
Read the whole thing here, and remember to check back at the homepage as we post additional pieces. And as the series concludes, we’ll be featuring as an online exclusive some reflections by young people (who to some might still count as kids) on what they learned being raised in Catholic families.
When I saw that Russell D. Moore had written a long piece about the so-called Evangelical “retreat” from American politics and culture wars, I was elated.
I am updating a syllabus for a course in religion and American politics, and I hoped this would be the perfect fresh take to round out our coverage of Evangelicalism. Certainly the media-savvy and next-generation Moore, the newish President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, would help my students understand the movement better than when they read speeches by his predecessor, Richard Land.
In short, I was primed for this essay.
Sadly, it is not assignable. This 4000-word feature, authored by the most prominent official of the Southern Baptists, is composed almost entirely of straw men.Read more
When I first read the headline "Health Law Rollout's Stumbles Draw Parallels to Bush's Hurricane Response" on my phone last Thursday, I ignored it because it seemed just another in the long line of attempts to identify President Obama's very own "Katrina" (2010 Gulf oil spill, 2009 H1N1 flu, 2009 GM bankruptcy -- expanded list here). Little did I know how eager the usual suspects (really, Chris Wallace?) were ready to run with it. Jon Stewart last night reintroduced some perspective.
At approximately 10:15 pm on October 24, a Gonzaga University undergraduate answered a knock at the door of his off-campus apartment, and was faced with what he called a “homeless man” who asked for money. The man’s behavior was perceived as threatening, and so the student called for his roommate, who appeared with a loaded and drawn pistol, which he then leveled at the man. The “homeless man” fled and was apparently arrested later. After the incident, the students contacted Spokane police and campus security. Officers from campus security entered the apartment and confiscated the handgun as well as a hunting weapon. The young men were then placed on probation, since Gonzaga regulations forbid weapons on campus premises.
Those are some of the facts of the case. In a letter to the Gonzaga Bulletin (http://www.gonzagabulletin.com/opinion/article_e70d34a0-4cdc-11e3-a194-0...), Professor of Religious Studies Fr. Patrick Hartin praised the students for their conduct, and wondered whether GU hadn’t turned from a wonderland into “Dante’s Hell” because of the treatment of these young men. He followed up by saying “In the Catholic tradition, to which I ascribe, every person has a right to defend him or herself and to use appropriate means to save their lives.” Even before Hartin’s letter, college administrators had decided to reexamine campus policy on firearm possession.
Is there something specific about the Jesuit or Catholic mission of the college that should encourage or discourage a change in policy? Is this a case of self-defense? Does the Catholic tradition support the use of lethal force, as Fr. Hartin asserts? My understanding – from a blog post and discussion months back – is that at least some scholars in the just war tradition would suggest otherwise. They argue that while scripture tells us to “turn the other cheek,” one is obligated to act aggressively in the defense of innocent others.
I've thought a lot about this case. I'm interested in hearing what you have to say.
The U.S.-Israel relationship has not run super-smoothly during the Obama Administration, but last Spring when the President visited Israel things looked to be patched up. But now.....
Nathan Guttman of the Forward has a rundown on the current dispute(s), primarily over the negotiations with Iran but also the failing talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. Secretary of State John Kerry has taken the lead on these and is now the object of the usual attacks, not only by Israeli right-wingers, but our very own right-wingers (and moderate-wingers) in Congress (the well worn "anti-Semitic" has been bandied about). Congress may add to the sanctions against Iran, a move that Obama and Kerry oppose while the current negotiations continue; they resume November 20.
Of course, all of this may be papered over. Yet as Tom Friedman (surprise!) pointed out this past week, the U.S. needs to press its own interest in this matter. Friedman thinks it is in Israel's interest as well, but PM Netanyahu disagrees:
Friedman: "We must not be reluctant about articulating and asserting our interests in the face of Israeli and Arab efforts to block a deal that we think would be good for us and them. America’s interests today lie in an airtight interim nuclear deal with Iran that also opens the way for addressing a whole set of other issues between Washington and Tehran."
MORE: But then there's this account of Israeli lobbying in the Congress: "According to multiple Congressional aides, Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee are storming Capitol Hill in an effort to discredit the Obama administration's interim nuclear deal with Iran. The effort coincides with a visit by Israel's Minister of Economy Naftali Bennett, who is also speaking with lawmakers on the Hill. The campaign includes one-on-one briefings with lawmakers that provide data that strays from official U.S. assessments." Whole thing at Foreign Policy: The Cable.
Does it depends on what you mean by "know"? Stephen Walt throws out some possibilities on the subject of spying and foreign policy making.
It is hard to believe we are, given that America's foreign policy record since the end of the Cold War is mostly one of failure. And that leads me to suspect that one of two things is true. Either 1) the NSA is good at collecting gazilla-bytes of stuff but not very good at deciding what to collect or figuring out what it means, or 2) the rest of our foreign policy establishment is not very good at taking advantage of the information the NSA has worked so hard to acquire. In other words, either the NSA is not worth the money we're paying for it, or the rest of our foreign policy establishment is less competent than we thought. To be frank, I'm not sure which possibility I prefer.
As far as we "know," preventing terrorist attacks (the reasons NSA has a huge budget) has not been so glowing: the Boston marathon attackers were on the radar screens of the FBI and the Russian intelligence services. The older brother was on jihadi web-sites and on the phone to Dagestan. Did the NSA have info that could have raised a red flag at the FBI?
Space has been in the news: The Kepler telescope found five Earth-sized and possibly habitable planets oribting distant stars; scientists are able to predict the Earth is likely to be hit by more asteroids as often as every decade; and India became the seventh nation to launch a mission to Mars (four have been successful). This has us wondering – in all senses of the question – how did we end up here? And, how much has it cost?
For this Throwback Thursday we're linking to three articles from the Commonweal archives assessing the political, philosophcal, and financial implications of man’s first steps into space.
Scientist Charles M. Herzfeld wrote in 1958, a year after Sputnik and the seven other satellites soon launched by both the U.S. and U.S.S.R.:
The impact of the earth satellites on technology and the cold war are closely related. The large guided and ballistic missiles which play such a critical role in the cold war are also the tools used to launch the satellites. Thus the satellite programs have given added incentive to the expansion of the new rocket and missile industry. The development of special rocket engines, new fuels and special guidance systems is required, and because of the complexity of satellite and missile systems this demand affects large sectors of the aircraft, chemical and electronics industries.
Herzfeld contended that satellites could not be used as "launching platforms for missiles," but predicted that "some years from now satellites will be important observation and reconnaissance tools."
The expansion of the rocket and missile industry caused what John Hunt called an "Inner Space Race" in Washington. He wrote of the conflict between the Air Force and NASA in 1963 as one between "philosophies":
One philosophy, espoused by Eisenhower and officially by President Kennedy, at the insistance of the State Department, holds that U.S. rocketeering should be divided into two parts, to wit, war and "peace." The war missilery is considered useful for deterring the Russians and impressing the rest of the world with U.S. military strength. The ‘peace’ part is supposed to show off American scientific genius as superior to that of the Russian, and also to demonstrate America’s intention to build a better, brighter world with the new technologies and not just a more dangerous one.
Ronald Steel and William Lineberry wrote in 1963 on the controversies surrounding the budget for NASA:
Despite its humble beginning in the post-Sputnik year of 1959 with a $339 million budget, NASA has managed the remarkable feat of getting Congress to double its budget nearly every year until it is now asking $5.7 billion for fiscal 1964.
This proposal – along with Kennedy’s $20 billion request for the Apollo mission – was met with scrutiny.
The Kennedy Administration [had] been issuing reams of publicity handouts to justify the scientific importance of the Apollo project. The nation’s scientists have been supporting the basic goals of the space program – although not necessarily the priorities of the moon landing project – largely because of its scientific importance. They continually stress that science should be the primary consideration in the program.
If [British physicist] Dr. Boyd’s estimate [that man is a nuisance in space] is correct, and if the Apollo can be kept within its $20 billion budget, that would make our man on the moon effort add up to $2 billion for science and $18 billion for a try at prestige.
Back to Herzfeld in 1958:
Man is again extending into new worlds, and with him goes his potential for good and evil. If he has profited from his past experience, the good will far outweigh the evil, and men will formulate ethics and create institusions for the Space Age, rather than dismiss the whole challenge on a note of condemnation and ridicule.
It's worth remembering that politics used to called "the art of the possible," that men and women pursued lives of public service without ideological axes to grind. I'm thinking of this as I read Elizabeth Drew's blog entry on the recent memorial for Tom Foley, here: http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2013/nov/01/foley-memorial-decency/
Foley was my congressman growing up. I met him once and remember him as a large, kind man. He will be remembered mostly for his decency and for being the last Speaker of the House before the sea change wrought by Gingrich's Republican Revolution. If it's true, as Drew says, that Foley's memorial was an event where "nobody had to lie," one hopes that the congressional leaders assembled there would be equally honest with themselves. Their story since 1994 is one of near-constant decline reaching a profound nadir in the 113th Congress, perhaps the worst in a century and certainly one of the least popular.
In spite of having two senators (McConnell and Paul) opposed to the Affordable Care Act, the state of Kentucky seems to be making a good start at signing up people for Medicaid and Exchange-based health insurance policies.
Kentucky "is far ahead of most of the nation in signing up people: As of Nov. 1, more than 27,854 Kentuckians had enrolled in Medicaid under the law’s expansion of that program, and 4,631 had signed up for private plans through the state-run exchange, known as Kynect. The state says it is enrolling 1,000 people a day."
How has the state done it? "While most states lack enough navigators to reach all who need help, Kentucky is spending $11 million in federal money to promote its exchange, and it shows: Ads for Kynect blanket television and radio, city buses and highway billboards in Louisville."
And (lucky them) they have a Democratic governor actively promoting the state effort to sign people up. Here's the full story.
Just posted to the website, our November 15 issue.
Highlights include Jackson Lears on Diane Ravitch and education reform:
In reasserting the claims of public education, Ravitch is swimming against a strong current of conventional wisdom. Privatization is a bipartisan cause, though the word itself is rarely mentioned. George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind program and Obama’s Race to the Top, along with most of the mainstream media, have embraced the corporate reformers’ worldview in all its bullet-point banality. This view depends on a series of assertions, from general assumptions to specific recommendations. Here are the key points: Education at all levels is about training students how to succeed in a globalized economy; declining test scores and graduation rates demonstrate that schools are failing our children; poverty is just an excuse for failing schools, and great teachers by themselves can counteract its effects; teachers unions protect mediocre teachers through outdated policies like tenure; standardized tests (sold by various companies in the education-industrial complex) should be used to evaluate teachers as well as students, and teachers whose students’ scores fail to rise should be fired; a nationwide network of privately run (but publicly funded) charter schools should be encouraged as an alternative to public schools. This last is another arena of consumer choice for beleaguered parents oppressed by the “public-school monopoly.” What could be more American than that?
Also, Agnes R. Howard on the Christian response to prenatal death:
Death before birth brings a profound grief to a family. It blunts hope and forces mothers, in a very immediate, physical way, to confront death. It is a problem of public health, but also a theological problem—“Why does God let this happen?”—and a searing one in the lives of many parents and families.
Christian churches have been strong defenders of the unborn, with Catholics particularly active in opposing abortion and embryo destruction. These positions demonstrate a strong commitment to life before and after birth. But perhaps insufficient care—both in teaching and pastoral settings—has been given to the puzzle of children not aborted who nonetheless die before birth. About twenty percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage (and, given the difficulty of counting early-term loss, the actual rate is higher). Churches that locate life’s beginning at conception ought to meet these losses with gravity, both for the benefit of grieving families and for the witness to life it demonstrates. Difficult questions of science and theology stand in the way of easy answers or comfort. Yet the problem is big enough and occurs frequently enough to require more sustained attention. Churches should do a better job of recognizing this as a theological problem and offering liturgical and pastoral support to those affected by it.
....and back to the big questions, such as, When will Hispanics, Asians, etc. become white people?
John Harwood has a political memo in the Times (10/31/13) about the way in which race bubbles underneath current policy struggles, e.g., ACA, immigration, welfare. He cites polls showing that a higher proportion of whites oppose these policies than non-whites.
"Whites tend to hold negative views of Obamacare, while blacks tend to like it. Specifically, 55 percent of whites, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found this year, consider Mr. Obama’s health care law a bad idea, while 59 percent of blacks call it a good idea. On immigration, 51 percent of whites oppose legal status for illegal residents, but 63 percent of blacks and 76 percent of Hispanics favor it.... Those attitudes, and the continued growth of the nonwhite population, have produced this sometimes-overlooked result: American politics has grown increasingly polarized by race, as well as by party and ideology."
His speculation: whites fear becoming a minority. Doesn't that beg a couple of questions. How are Hispanics nonwhites? Is it because they vote Democratic? Ditto Asians? Or is everyone who votes Democratic non-white, including whites!?
It’s great reading something like Forbes’s annual power rankings, because you get article teasers like this: “There are nearly 7.2 billion people on the planet. These are the 72 that matter the most” and puffed-chest pronouncements like this, touting the methodology used in compiling the
annual snapshot of the heads of state, financiers, philanthropists and entrepreneurs who truly run the world. The list represents the collective wisdom of top FORBES editors, who consider hundreds of nominees before ranking the planet’s 72 power brokers — one for every 100 million on Earth.
Forbes measures power “along four dimensions”: whether the candidate “has power over lots of people,” the financial resources each candidate controls, whether “the candidate is powerful in multiple spheres,” and whether the candidate “actively uses that power.” By those criteria Vladimir Putin tops this year’s list, with Barack Obama falling to second and Xi Jinping, secretary general of the Communist Party of China, coming in third.
Fourth? Pope Francis, whose title Forbes helpfully lists as “pope.” His “power profile” doesn’t immediately make clear the criteria that helped Francis finish that high. But then here’s another great paragraph, again from the methodology, that sheds some light and includes an interesting juxtaposition:
Pope Francis (No. 4) is the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, or about 1/6th of the world’s population. Michael Duke (No. 10), CEO of Wal-Mart Stores, employs 2.1 million people and is the top private employer on the planet.
Thus, Forbes Dimension Number One: power over lots of people (just like Benedict, who made the top ten in previous years). As for Bill Gates, David Cameron, and Benjamin Netanyahu: all comparative weaklings. The evidence is here.