dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

dotCommonweal Blog

All over but the back-biting

The campaign trajectory of the next seven months is looking all too clear. Donald Trump will add to his denigration of immigrants, women, politicians, Europeans, muslims, etc., vicious attacks on Hillary Clinton. He will bully, badger, lie, and make fun of her. She has promised not to reply in kind. As if she could!

HOWEVER, being the recipient of several Hillarygrams over the last several days inviting me to "Play the Woman's Card, (and send a campaign contribution)" I suggest she drop that line of retort as well. [Trump having accused her of playing the woman's card and bellowing that she could never get elected otherwise, her 18-year old campaign copy writers have her replying--in kind.]

Puts me in mind of Jean Hughes Raber's come-back to "women should vote for women" several yards down on dotCommonweal:  "I've got nothing against women working together toward common goals (like world domination, making men's lives miserable, and outlawing restrictive foundation garments, the stated goals of the International Feminist Conspiracy, Great Lakes Chapter, of which I am recording secretary (JOKE)."

Hillary Clinton has to run a campaign as the last adult standing and not as the "Little Woman Who Could."

Is Business an Ethics-Free Zone?

For many if not most, the idea of a “moral economy” is a contradiction. I was reminded of this when reading some of the comments on my last blog post. The logic is straightforward: the “business of business is business”, which is to maximize profits, and as long as corporations don’t break any laws, they are not doing anything wrong. To claim otherwise would be seek perfection in a fallen world.

In my own field of economics, this perspective is pervasive. One of the first things you learn in elementary microeconomics is that consumers maximize utility and firms maximize profits. That’s just how things are. This view is summed by nicely by Branko Milanovic:

“I am thus intellectually sympathetic to the view that personal morality exists only outside economics or capitalism. I might like the guys who are nice and ethical, but when it comes to economics I really do not expect them to be so. I even very much doubt when they claim they are. I tend to see them as hypocritical. This is not in their job description.”

Milanovic makes a comparison with bobsledding—you can go as fast as you like, but you should not hit the fence. In other words, do whatever you can to maximize profits, but don’t break the law. So Milanovic refuses to condemn the behavior of the financial sector in the run-up to the crisis, because they were doing what they are supposed to do and (for the most part) not breaking the law.

Read more

Should a Catholic University take Koch Funding?

Can a Catholic university legitimately take money from the likes of the Koch Brothers? This is not a hypothetical question. Many Catholic universities are implicated. But none more so than Catholic University of America, which—in the face of much criticism—has just doubled down with another $10 million donation from the Koch Foundation.

The original partnership with the Kochs, and the subsequent criticism, predates Pope Francis and Laudato si’. If the university’s arguments were weak back then, they are paper-thin now.

Just consider how the philosophy and business practices of the Koch Brothers goes directly against the authoritative teaching of Pope Francis. I will make three points in this regard.

First, the Kochs are avid libertarians, defenders of the unconstrained free market as the best route to prosperity. This ideology is simply not compatible with Catholic social teaching. In full continuity with his predecessors, Pope Francis condemns the notion of a “deified market” or a “magical conception of the market.” His point is that an economic system underpinned by self-interest and oriented toward profit maximization is simply incapable of delivering integral and sustainable development. It leads instead to an economy of exclusion, and is deaf to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. Pope Francis stresses that working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labor is a moral obligation—and for Christians, a commandment. “It is about giving to the poor and to peoples what is theirs by right,” he says. In other words, the universal destination of goods is a reality prior to private property. I have a feeling the Kochs would strenuously disagree with this. And this is no mere prudential disagreement. It is foundational and anthropological.

Second, the Kochs are among the leading funders and promoters of climate-change denialism. In Laudato si’, Pope Francis castigates those who are focused on “masking the problems or concealing their symptoms.” “There are too many special interests,” he says, “and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected.” It almost seems like the pope is addressing the Kochs directly! Today, the stakes are especially high after the signing of the Paris Agreement by 196 nations last December. This agreement, which aims to phase out carbon emissions, was a major priority of Pope Francis. It explains the timing of the encyclical’s release, and Laudato si’ served as a moral charter for the agreement. But, almost alone in the world, the Paris agreement is being opposed by key U.S. political interests—because they are beholden to those very same vested interests condemned by Pope Francis.

Third, the business activities of the Kochs cannot be deemed ethical. In terms of assessing ethics in business, the best starting point is "The Vocation of the Business Leader," put out by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. This document is currently being updated to encompass the wisdom of Laudato si’. And Pope Francis makes a compelling point about business ethics that bears repeating in this context. He notes that businesses profit from not paying the true costs of their activities. “Only when the economic and social costs of using up shared environmental resources are recognized with transparency and fully borne by those who incur them, not by other peoples or future generations,” he says, “can those actions be considered ethical.” It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the business model of the Koch Brothers is simply unethical, period.

Read more

My Year of Teaching Saudis

It’s not often that I feel I’ve gotten out more than Nicholas Kristof. In fact, before April 20 of this year, it had never happened. But Kristof’s New York Times column that day, entitled “Obama in Saudi Arabia, Exporter of Oil and Bigotry,” allowed me to feel, for a fleeting moment at least, that my corner of northeastern Pennsylvania is not so small after all.

Kristof’s column is a polemic. “Saudi Arabia should be renamed the Kingdom of Backwardness,” he writes; it “legitimizes Islamic extremism and intolerance around the world” and “is also a wellspring of poison in the Islamic world.” These are fighting words, but alas not mere empty provocations. As any reader of the news knows, there are plenty of reasons to question whether Saudi Arabia has become a dangerous ally to the United States; and like it or not, the once-durable U.S.-Saudi alliance has become strained. (Some might say: About time! Others might be more circumspect.)

Kristof knows, of course, that Saudi Arabia exports more than oil and bigotry. What was behind my fleeting feeling of being nearly as worldly is that, over the last fifteen years, the Kingdom has also been exporting increasing numbers of students. Saudi students started arriving in numbers at Catholic institutions toward the end of the last decade. At King’s College, there were none when I arrived in 2012, then a handful in 2013, thirty or so in 2014, now around ninety, with another twenty-five expected in the fall. As total enrollment at King’s is about 1,800 students, come the fall, Saudis stand to constitute more than 6 percent of our student body—a remarkable leap in so little time.

Read more

What Lights the Political Spark

Somewhere in a shoebox holding the detritus of my youth there may still rest a signed, black-and-white photograph of Senator Frank Church, Democrat of Idaho, who lent his name to legislation related to military engagement in Vietnam and Roe v. Wade and who in 1975 led the committee investigating intelligence-gathering abuses by the CIA and FBI. But none of these had led to me ask for the portrait that would arrive in the mail, tucked snugly into an official-looking envelope emblazoned with an official-looking seal. I was only following instructions: For a middle-school social-studies class, I had to do a report on a U.S. senator, and I was randomly assigned Church. I can’t remember anything about what I might have turned in; what I can remember was that in the months and years to follow, when encountering references to Church amendments or the Church Committee, I had a clue of what was being talked about. And that, as I triumphantly remind my children, is why you do your schoolwork.

Classes in history and government may acquaint young people with history and government, but what sparks the romance with politics? My seventh-grade daughter has shown flickering signs of interest in the current presidential election, and last Wednesday attended with a friend and her parents the rally for Bernie Sanders in New York’s Washington Square Park. She came home tired and bleary-eyed, excited and talkative, with stickers and buttons and a Bernie (first name only, please) poster in the style of a Grateful Dead album cover—bought with the money she was supposed to use for food. She had gripes about the crowds and the clouds of marijuana smoke, but these were minor next to the views firmly expressed well before the event on why women shouldn’t be expected to vote for a presidential candidate just because the candidate is a woman.

From poorer soil plants can also grow. Around the time of my Church report, I remember watching (as apparently do others) an episode of the TV series Happy Days, set if you recall in an idealized version of the 1950s, in which main character Richie Cunningham defies his father to campaign for Adlai Stevenson. When Dwight Eisenhower wins, Richie and the kids—and by extension a generation—are distraught. Was it really like that? I asked my mother. The wistful solemnity with which she answered “yes” made a lasting impression. But so did watching with her, one year before, the resignation of Richard Nixon on a nine-inch black-and-white TV, and, one year after, listening to my father bemoan the failure of Republicans in Kansas City to nominate Ronald Reagan. It was up to me to make sense of it all.

Read more

Undecided. What to Do?

As a result of 23 years spent in daily journalism, it's not my way to discuss publicly who I vote for. The ethics codes at major news organizations discourage such advocacy, as they should. Fifteen years out from the newsroom, that practice sticks with me. But what I would say  is that on the eve of the Democratic primary in my state, I'm undecided between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

That was my response a few days ago when  a Sanders volunteer with the voice of a teenager called the house and asked who I was voting for.  The volunteer seemed stunned into silence for a few beats after I said, "I'm undecided." The caller didn't offer any arguments to vote for Sanders.

Indeed, after all the debates and the mass of news coverage, how is it possible to be undecided? But I am. What do do? I'll consider anything you have to say.

What Does the Sanders 'Invitation' Say About the Vatican, and Sanders?

The Vatican’s “invitation” to Bernie Sanders to speak at a conference of the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences (PASS) on Friday has sparked a range of reactions. There are those who say it’s irresponsible for Sanders to travel right after his Thursday night debate with Hillary Clinton to give a ten-minute talk in Rome, just four days before the New York primary. There are those who see in it an attempt by the (male) Catholic establishment to block the election of a woman to the White House. Some see it as an endorsement of “the Jewish progressive agenda,” others as a direct attempt by Francis to advance a leftist agenda in U.S. politics.

None of this is true, so it’s not worth the time to dispute the accusations (except the one about Francis meddling in U.S. politics; we’ll get to that). But this comedy of errors does reveal something interesting about Francis’s Vatican and its politics.

It’s clear by now that the invitation, word of which emerged April 8, didn’t come from Pope Francis, or from the Secretariat of State, or from anyone who usually invites political leaders or accepts requests for audiences. It came instead from Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo (originally from Argentina), chancellor of PASS. He bypassed Margaret Archer, its president, who was not shy in making public her surprise, saying it was a “monumental discourtesy” for Sanders to ask for an invitation without going through her office. Bishop Sorondo responded that Archer was aware of the invitation, in effect accusing her of lying.  

At some point over the weekend of April 8, somebody in the Vatican who is close to Pope Francis was told of the potential negative consequences of letting an American presidential candidate speak at the conference–a candidate who by that time had claimed on MSNBC that the invitation had come “from the Vatican” and who on ABC’s “The View” confirmed that the invitation had come from Francis, and that he would be meeting with the pope. 

It is highly unlikely that the Vatican would have issued such an invitation just as Amoris Laetitia was being released; also unlikely is that it would risk a Sanders visit distracting from Francis’s meeting with refugees and the Patriarch of Constantinople in Lesbos, Greece, on April 16. But at this point it was too late for the Vatican to disinvite him; Sanders had announced his visit publicly.

What is not unimaginable is that the Vatican did its best to dissuade Sanders from coming by scheduling him to speak at 4 p.m. Rome time (10 a.m. Eastern) on Friday, which would be just hours after the end of his Thursday night debate in Brooklyn. If it was meant as a signal—“please don’t come”—it either wasn’t received by the Sanders team, or wasn’t interpreted as such. Next, the Vatican tried to ignore Sanders and downplayed the pending visit; over the course of several press conferences, Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, never once mentioned Sanders. Only today (April 14) did he do so, officially announcing that Francis would not be meeting with the candidate.

We will see what actually happens in Rome on Friday. But for now, it’s worth considering the following.

Read more

Cause and Effect?

There’s a legal distinction between “speech” and “hate speech”—with the latter recognizing that words can indeed have consequences, whether uttered in ordinary public gatherings or during heated political campaigns. Language that encourages violence targeted at specific groups of people crosses a line. Correlation may not be causation, but it’s interesting to look at some of the comments Donald Trump has made on the stump and the incidents that have followed those remarks.

In June 2015 when Trump kicked off his candidacy for president he said of Mexican immigrants: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

In August 2015, two brothers on their way home from a baseball game beat and urinated on a homeless fifty-eight-year-old Mexican immigrant who was sleeping outside a Boston T station. After they were arrested, one said, “Donald Trump was right; all these illegals need to be deported.”

On November 22, 2015, Trump claimed that on 9/11 “thousands and thousands of people in Jersey City were cheering” when the towers of the World Trade Center came down. In Twin Falls, Idaho on December 7, 2015, the Islamic Center of Twin Falls was vandalized with the words “Hunt Camp,” the nickname of an internment camp in Idaho for Japanese-Americans during World War II. That same day: Twenty-five year old Matthew William Gust threw a Molotov cocktail into a Somali-owned coffee house in Grand Forks, North Dakota, causing $90,000 in damages; a caretaker at the Al Aqsa Islamic Society in northern Philadelphia found a severed pig’s head on the center’s doorstep; and a shopkeeper in Queens, New York, said he was attacked and beaten by a customer who said, “I’ll kill Muslims.” On December 8, officials at a mosque in Jersey City reported receiving a letter, citing Trump’s comments about Jersey City celebrations, calling Muslims “evil” and telling them to “go back to the desert.” That same day in Seattle a sixteen-year-old Somali-born boy was severely beaten, thrown from a sixth-story window, and died; his family claims his attackers were from Seattle Central College. On December 11, in Coachella, California, a mosque was firebombed while people were inside. At one of Trump’s rallies on December 14, a supporter onstage told a story about his child’s death at the hands of an undocumented immigrant. A Black Lives Matter protester interrupted, shouting “That’s why we need gun control!” As he was being removed from the audience, another supported yelled for someone to “light the motherf***er on fire.”

On March 5, 2016, a mother received a call from her son’s third-grade teacher to say he was taunted by two of his classmates who pointed out the “immigrants” in the classroom and "who would be sent 'home' when Trump becomes president." On March 10 in North Carolina, after being charged with assault for punching a protester in the mouth as he exited the rally, Trump supporter John McGraw said “Yes, he deserved it. The next time we see him, we might have to kill him." Video shows that after McGraw punched the protester, the police then threw the protester on the ground and surrounded him while McGraw returned to his seat. Trump was charged with but not convicted of inciting a riot. And on March 14, a Muslim student from Wichita State University reported that he and his friend (who is Hispanic) were attacked by a motorcyclist at a gas station who yelled “Trump, Trump, Trump” and “Make America great again! You guys are the losers! You guys, we’ll throw you over the wall!” (There is a surveillance tape.)

The candidate is currently stumping in New York, and on Thursday April 14 he has controversial plans to speak at a Suffolk County GOP fundraising event in Patchogue, New York, blocks from where in 2008 a gang of teenagers who frequently hunted and assaulted Latino immigrants murdered an Ecuadoran man named Marcelo Lucero. From there he will head to Manhattan and attend the New York State Republican Gala as a special guest. Protesters plan to be on hand.

Americans should be mindful of the right of candidates to speak. But does what seems like a cause-and-effect pattern over many months make understandable the actions of those who find incitements to violence and prejudicial rule something not only worth standing up to, but necessary to stand up to—especially when lives are being put at stake?

Cat & Mouse / Tom & Jerry

What with all the air being sucked up by the Rise and Fall of Donald Trump, we have been distracted from the Cat and Mouse game between Russia and the United State in Europe. Trump's current hope, seemingly supporting Russian President Putin, is that NATO wraps itself up and goes home. There are many facets to the cat and mouse game: Ukraine, Crimea and sanctions against Russia; Russian maneuvers in the Baltics, Sweden, etc.; Polish hysteria and Baltic angst about Russia that have brought an increase of U.S. troops and promises of more.

Paul Pillar at LobeLog points out the opaque nature of these troop deployments. "Understanding and justifying the strategy are all the more important in that there are costs.... Some of those costs involve relations with Russia. The Russians have a strong case in complaining that such a deployment violates understandings reached with them as the Cold War was ending....The understandings were further codified a few years later in a joint statement by NATO and Russia. The U.S. administration seems to be dancing around the issue of permanent deployments in Eastern Europe by using what technically are temporary rotations of troops." 

No surpise that the Russians are being equally opaque. The Northern route for ME migrants last summer was through Norway on bicycles. More recently it has been through Finalnd in rattle-trap cars abandoned on the the border when the migrants claim asylum. The shift from Norway to Finland and its recent decline in Finland has spooked the Finns and the EU:  "The intrigue flows from a growing suspicion in the West that Russia is stoking and exploiting Europe’s migrant crisis to extract concessions, or perhaps crack the European unity over economic sanctions imposed against Moscow for its actions in Ukraine. Only one of the European Union’s 28 member states needs to break ranks for a regime of credit and other restrictions to collapse."  New York Times

Who is the cat? Who is the mouse? Who is Tom? Who is Jerry?

Trump's Enablers

To what Rand Cooper has posted below on what Trump is doing to the Republican Party, add what he is doing to the media.

Nate Silver of 538 has surveyed the media coverage of Trump since he entered the Republican primary on June 16. If you've been following the campaign you suspect, and now you have proof, that Trump has gotten more coverage than any of his opponents, and received $1.9 billion in TV time alone. Silver parses out the events, the statements and the duration of media coverage that brought Trump this motherlode of free advertising. Quite Fascinating.

In his conclusion, Silver adds to this ignominy of getting "ads" on the cheap what Trump has done to the media itself.

1. "With his ability to make news any time he wants with a tweet, news conference or conveniently placed leak, Trump has challenged news organizations’ editorial prerogative."

2. "Trump also challenges the media’s notion of what it means to be “objective.” Among other things, Trump has frequently invoked misogyny and racism; he has frequently lied, and he has repeatedly encouraged violence against political protesters. As far as we’re concerned at FiveThirtyEight, these are matters of fact and not opinion and to describe them otherwise would make our reporting less objective. Other news outlets will bend over backward to avoid describing them in those terms, however."

3. "Trump has hacked the system and exposed the weaknesses in American political institutions. He’s uncovered profound flaws in the Republican Party. He’s demonstrated that third-rail issues like racism and nationalism can still be a potent political force. He’s exploited the media’s goodwill and taken advantage of the lack of trust the American public has in journalism."   Have a read: "How Trump Hacked the Media."

Ted Cruz or Pope Francis?

A group of prominent Catholics, led by Robbie George, has decided to endorse Ted Cruz for president. The case they make is a weak one. Instead of appealing to the principles of Catholic social teaching, they appeal to the American secular constitutional order. “[Cruz] will foster a culture, from the top down, that honors the Constitution,” says George. No word about a culture than honors the gospel or the common good.

How should we judge this endorsement, or indeed, any Catholic discernment of current political choices? I would argue that the best yardstick is Pope Francis’s address to Congress last September. More than anything else, this speech lays out the pope’s views on the moral principles that should animate American political life and policy choices at this particular moment in history.

If you recall, the speech was structured around the relevance for today of four exemplary Americans—Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton. Lincoln defended liberty for all. King pushed for full rights and inclusion for all people. Day worked for justice and for the oppressed. And Merton promoted dialogue and peace between peoples and religions.

Pope Francis discusses the contemporary relevance of each of these exemplars. To keep things simple, I will try to distil it into two takeaways from each (and I am simplifying—please read the speech for the full flavor). And for each category, I will attempt to assess Cruz’s positions against these yardsticks.

Read more

The Fall of the House of Neuhaus

Back in 1991, the late Richard John Neuhaus penned a now-famous op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, in which he argued that Pope John Paul II’s latest social encyclical, Centesimus Annus, represented a decisive break with the past—a development of doctrine, even. The new encyclical, proclaimed Neuhaus, was nothing less than a “ringing endorsement of the market economy.” He went on to argue that Catholics who defended democratic socialism or a “third way” between capitalism and socialism were in “serious error.” He then wagged his finger at the US bishops’ pastoral letter, Economic Justice for All, proclaiming it “unrepresentative of the Church’s authorative teaching.”

With the instincts of a seasoned politician, Neuhaus understood the importance of defining the narrative from the outset. He actually broke the encyclical’s embargo to do this, a serious ethical breach.

In this, Neuhaus had a team of supporters. George Weigel, for instance, echoed Neuhaus’s claim that this encyclical was part of a hermeneutic of discontinuity. “Centesimus Annus thus marks a decisive break with the curious materialism that has characterized aspects of modern Catholic social teaching since Leo XIII,” he opined back in 1992. There was no ambiguity: the encyclical marked a “new departure in Catholic social thought.” Ten years later, Weigel was still proclaiming that Centesimus Annus “set the social doctrine of the Church on a new path by its endorsement of the free economy.”

Michael Novak also joined the chorus at the time: “The encyclical Centesimus Annus does what many of us had long hoped some church authority would do: it captures the spirit and essence of the American experiment in political economy,” he proclaimed. “Thus Pope John Paul II has brought economic liberty…into Catholic social teaching.”

And Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute weighed in too: “Centesimus Annus represents the beginnings of a shift away from the static zero-sum economic world view that led the Church to be suspicious of capitalism and to argue for wealth redistribution as the only moral response to poverty.”

Read more

Citizen Obama

A snarling and disproportionately vocal segment of the populace will exult when Barack Obama leaves the White House in January 2017. Whether they will be correspondingly welcoming toward the new inhabitant is not known. Columnist David Brooks pre-emptively declared his nostalgic fondness for the Obama presidency in a February column (“I’ll miss Barack Obama”), and I wonder if more such admissions will be forthcoming; can you see it in the anxious faces, hear it in the nervous comments, of some of the opposition—a creeping “we didn’t know what we had it until we saw what might rise in its place” sense of impending remorse (if not doom)? Starting around 1986 and through the end of his time in office, Ronald Reagan talked about lifting the restriction on presidential term limits, even countenancing an effort to repeal the Twenty-Second Amendment. Obama has offered no such proposal, though last summer some outlets misrepresented comments he made about his hypothetical re-electability to suggest that he had. Still, with relatively comfortable victories in consecutive popular and electoral college campaigns, he’d be in strong position to run and win—especially given, well, the competition. But the people have already twice had their say, and thus in accordance with the Constitution, he will leave, after eight years of petulant Republican obstructionism culminating in the refusal to let him fully exercise the Constitutionally accorded responsibility to appoint a Supreme Court nominee.

Where does he go next? Obama will be young for a former president, so those who’ve supported him anticipate a vigorous and presumably lengthy engagement with issues that have shaped his political philosophy over time. Or shaped their own: Save maybe for the dawn of a new presidency, there’s little that offers so enticing a slate on which to project hopes than a youthful post-presidency. Per custom, Obama will pen a post-presidential memoir, and being a natural and compelling writer—as anyone who read Dreams from My Father knows—he’ll probably do it better than most, even assuming he doesn’t dish on his opposition. He may find himself spoken of as a potential Supreme Court justice, though he’s hinted he doesn’t want that. What’s probably a safe bet is that he won’t go into a quiet retirement spent exploring heretofore unguessed-at artistic urges. What’s hoped is that neither will he single-mindedly devote his talents to growing a foundation in his and his family’s name.

Obama has said he’d like to get back in front of a classroom, and recently the New Yorker’s Cinque Henderson took this possibility to its logical extreme by imagining three touching-down points.

Read more

What's Putin Up To?

Vladmir Putin is seen to be the quintessential trickster. The image of the unreliable actor colors much of the criticism directed at Putin by pundits and government officials alike, and is regularly followed by a Cold War sneeze. True, his actions are usually unexpected and unexplained. True, he is not going to get an A in moral rectitude. His announcement that the Russian air force would begin to withdraw from Syria was unexpected. Initial surprise was followed by grave suspicion that this was a trick. Mr. Putin simply said that Russian goals for intervening in Syria had been met and it was time to pull back.

It is hard to read Putin, no doubt, and difficult to see where he's going. When a pundit manages to do so, it is worth a read. Paul Pillar (Assymetry in Syria and the Russian Drawdown), who writes for the National Interest and appears regularly at LobeLog, has this to say:

"The latest Russian move should not have been at all surprising. To the extent that it was, this is because of imputing to the Russians motives and thought processes that they do not exhibit.... The announced withdrawal shows that Russian objectives in Syria were never unlimited or grandiose. The objectives had to do with such things as a temporary propping up of the Assad regime to prevent it from collapsing, and asserting a Russian role in helping to determine the future of Syria....

"The Russian moves demonstrate in addition that Putin does not apply to the Syrian situation the kind of framework that many American critics of the Obama administration’s policies apply,

Read more

Obama Out of the Closet UPDATE

President Obama's foreign policy has been a puzzle to some, a source of contempt by others, and a relief to many who don't think we need another war. Now Obama explains his thinking in a long, long interview with Jeffrey Goldberg.

Obama declares himself a "realist," and cites Brent Scowcroft as a source of his foreign policy stance. Scowcroft served as national security advisor to Gerald Ford and George HW Bush. He is a retired air force general. If memory serves, he also reined in George W. in his second term.

In the interview, Obama is surprisingly expansive on his views about other world leaders, about decision making on Libya and Syria as well as Afghanistan. Foreign policy nerds with some time this week-end would find much of interest here.

Please read the interview before commenting. Good reading!  The Atlantic interview.

UPDATE: Paul Pillar has an analysis and longish summary of the points in the interview...in case you don't have time to read the interview! Pillar's clear and compact style is less roundabout than Goldberg's. LOBELOG.

An Heir to the Sanders 'Revolution'?

Supporters and pundits will in Bernie Sanders’s Michigan primary victory seek signs of new life in his bid for the Democratic nomination. But whether or not he bests Hillary Clinton in 2016, his campaign has given the nation a glimpse of what the future of the Democratic Party might look like – and who might be among its leaders.

U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii was probably little known outside her district or party circles until a few weeks ago. But then the thirty-four-year-old congresswoman resigned her position as Democratic National Committee vice chair to endorse Sanders. It was probably the highest profile endorsement of his campaign, and it came from a politician many consider to be a rising star.

Gabbard has an impressive resume: She was elected to the Hawaii House of Representatives at twenty-one, served two tours of duty in Iraq, and won her current House seat in 2013. While conventional wisdom suggests her DNC resignation appears to be a needless sacrifice of present prominence, her endorsement might instead be read as an initial effort to spearhead and lead the Democratic coalition of tomorrow.

Sanders’s campaign has been defined by a particular calling card: his absolute control of the millennial vote. Voters aged eighteen to thirty-four prefer Sanders over Clinton by an eleven-point margin and enthusiastically support the public spending programs he espouses. The tally from Iowa was especially stark:

In the Iowa entrance poll… Sanders amassed astounding margins among young people. He crushed Clinton by an almost unimaginable six to one—84 percent to 14 percent—among voters younger than 30. For those tempted to dismiss that as just a campus craze, he also routed her by 58 percent to 37 percent among those aged 30 to 44.

One state does not a nation make, of course. But the evidence strongly suggests that the future Democratic voter base is interested in policies farther to left than what the current party leadership is offering.

Read more

Whither Populism?

While we wait for one of the Matthews to analyze and cheer the Sanders win in Michigan, let's think about both victories there last night: Trump and Sanders. Each in his own way has a populist appeal. John Cassidy at the New Yorker captures the difference: "it seems that Sanders’s economic populism and Trump’s authoritarian populism both resonated in a state that was hard hit by the Great Recession and its aftermath."

"Economic" and "authoritarian"; that sounds about right. That both candidates criticize the trade agreements of the last three decades and the appeal that makes to many Michigan voters raises the question of what either one of them could do about the agreements if they were elected. Laws, agreements, trade patterns, and economic interests: Would they be a formidable barrier to bringing manufacturing jobs back to Michigan or any other state?

Sanders's brief comments last night, as his campaign waited to see where the vote was going, where duly modest in contrast to Trump's bloviating. More than one news person referred to Trump's speech touting his water, his wine, his meat(?), and his university as QVC TV. Pretty Disgusting. Did CNN let Trump run on because they thought it would punch down his numbers, or because they were afraid to cut him off? 

P.S. Would Jean Highes Raber please report in on the vote in her Michigan environs?  She has; scroll down comments for her direct from Michigan account.

'Prophecy Without Contempt': Watch Cathleen Kaveny, Peter Steinfels & Bishop Robert McElroy in Conversation

On Monday night in New York, Commonweal hosted “Prophecy Without Contempt,” a panel on religious discourse in the public square. Commonweal columnist Cathleen Kaveny, San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy, and former Commonweal editor and longtime contributor Peter Steinfels took up the question: Can religious speech bring dialogue and reconciliation, instead of division and resentment? Many people joined us in person for the lively and informative discussion that unfolded, and many more streamed the event live. If you weren’t able to be with us, or if you want to watch the discussion again, you can do so here. And feel free to keep the conversation going in comments.

Progressive Catholic Architecture & the Death of Revolution

A theologian can be very picky about the architectural style of churches, especially when the theologian (like me) was born and raised in Italy. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak in Brazil, where I visited the Oscar Niemeyer Museum in Curitiba, named after one of the most famous architects of our time. Inside there’s a temporary exhibition on Brazilian architect Vilanova Artigas (1915-1985), who designed the Architecture and Urbanism College, University of Sao Paulo (known as FAUUSP) in 1969. Writing of the building in 1984, Artigas said it “refines the holy ideals of the time: I thought of it as the spatialization of democracy in worthy spaces, without entrance doors, because I wanted it as a temple where all activities are lawful.”

Among the interesting things I discovered was the relationship of leftist (Communist, in fact) intellectuals like Niemeyer and Artigas with the Catholic Church in Brazil. It was a relationship that, for the more famous Niemeyer, went beyond his work on the Brasilia cathedral (built between 1958 and 1970) and the Church of St. Francis in Belo Horizonte (which was completed in 1943 but not consecrated until 1959: archbishop Antonio dos Santos Cabral proclaimed the church “unfit for religious purposes”). Niemeyer also had had many exchanges with Paulo Freire, founder of critical pedagogy and author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed. The architecture of Niemeyer and Artigas was deeply embedded in the shift of Latin American Catholicism from a status quo church—pillar of a non-democratic and authoritarian system—to one both politically and theologically instrumental in the turn toward a non-authoritarian and democratic system.

Read more

Trump Health

The Donald lays out his plan:

  • The repeal of the Affordable Care Act, more popularly known as Obamacare, as well as the individual mandate that requires Americans to purchase health insurance.
  • Allowing the sale of insurance across state lines by repealing the McCarran–Ferguson Act.
  • Allowing individuals to fully deduct health insurance premium payments from their taxes, as businesses can.
  • Allowing all individuals to use health savings accounts, rather than just those with high-deductible health plans.
  • Requiring “price transparency” from healthcare providers, including doctors, clinics and hospitals.
  • Turning Medicaid into a block grant to the states, decentralizing the social welfare program from federal control.
  • Removing “barriers to entry into free markets for drug providers that offer safe, reliable and cheaper products”, weakening control of the pharmaceutical industry and the Food and Drug Administration over drug testing, production and approval.

Let's see if there's any meat on this little chicken wing.

Read more