In most parts of the world, the idea of anthropogenic global warming is settled science. And why wouldn’t it be? One study shows that 97 percent of climate researchers actively publishing in the field support the idea. Another finds that 97 percent of peer-reviewed literature in the field supports the consensus view.
This seems pretty overwhelming. And in most places, it is. Most people accept the evidence as incontrovertible. But not so in the US, where the media portrays a stark scientific divide and huge numbers of people disdainfully reject the notion of anthropogenic global warming. This is also true of Catholics, including the wealthy types whose money has the ability to open church doors.
But why?Read more
With all due respect to the venerable American art museum in Manhattan, its reopening in May will only be the second most significant Whitney museum opening in the United States in recent months.
First place honors go to the Whitney Plantation, the first US museum "dedicated to telling the story of slavery", and powerfully profiled in this terrific New York Times Magazine article by novelist and journalist David Amsden.
Read the article for more on how New Orleans native John Cummings came to buy the 262-year old plantation, the quirk of industrial history that led to Cummings knowing "more about my plantation than anyone else around here — maybe more than any plantation in America outside of Monticello", the planned memorial to the 1811 German Coast Uprising (America's largest slave revolt), the critical role played by Senegalese historian Ibrahima Seck in creating the museum, and what happened when black and white branches of the Haydel family reunited at their old family homestead. I want to slip off to the side with some thoughts about what this means for white folks today.Read more
“In the event of a nuclear attack, which of these items would be the most helpful? Rank them in order of importance.”
This was one of the first worksheets I remember from elementary school. There were about twenty illustrated items. My classmates and I were perplexed. Sure, we had probably watched a filmstrip that mentioned the Geiger Counter, but none of us could remember what it did. And why would we want a broom? Would we be that concerned with the tidiness of our fallout shelter?
IT WAS ABOUT 1983. That same year, the Russians shot down a Korean civilian airliner over the Sea of Japan; the U.S. Catholic Bishops issued a lengthy warning about the buildup of nuclear weapons; and on September 26, a Soviet Lieutenant Colonel secretly saved the world from accidental Armaggedon. But more about Stanislav Petrov later.
Growing up in the early 1980’s, not far from North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) and the Air Force Academy, the Cold War was a hot topic – even for kids. Popular videos on the burgeoning MTV network, such as Genesis’ “Land of Confusion,” satirized and lamented the possibility of nuclear annihilation. Dads took their sons to see “Top Gun” in theaters, and we cheered when Russian MIGs were splashed in the ocean. “Red Dawn” was always checked out of the video store. One of my favorite books, still there in my parents’ house, was titled “Great Warplanes of the 1980’s.”
KIDS TODAY don't have the same fears. They don’t know that the broom is to sweep nuclear fallout off your friends.
The globally-aware college students that I teach don’t think about nuclear annihilation. Environmental degradation? Yes. Terrorism? Yes. Economic inequality? Yes. Racial injustice? Absolutely. But if they think about nuclear weapons at all, it’s in the context of who might acquire them – namely, North Korea or Iran. The notion that the arsenals of the already nuclear-armed states should be at the center of moral concern seems outdated, like referring to music videos being shown on MTV.
The fact is, the nuclear capabilities that already exist have grown in power beyond human comprehension, and there have been enough “close calls” regarding their deployment to warrant the gravest of fears. In recent years, many influential voices have made the case that – regardless of whether nuclear weapons ever made us more safe – they certainly no longer do so.Read more
Last Saturday, a member of the Yale Police pulled a gun on a young student for matching a description of a thief in the area. That student happened to be the son of New York Times columnist Charles Blow, who wrote about the incident with justifiable anger and fear.
The incident drew significant attention, and in a statement made Monday night, Peter Salovey, President of Yale; Jonathan Holloway, the Dean of Yale College; and Yale’s Chief of Police Ronnell Higgins, addressed what happened and referred to its implications. It begins:
"The Yale Police Department’s response to a crime in progress on Saturday evening has generated substantial and critical conversations on campus and beyond. A Yale police officer detained an African American Yale College student who was in the vicinity of a reported crime, and who closely matched the physical description—including items of clothing—of the suspect. The actual suspect was found and arrested a short distance away."
Salovey, Holloway, and Higgins also wanted to quell comparisons to incidents in recent memory:
"What happened on Cross Campus on Saturday is not a replay of what happened in Ferguson; Staten Island; Cleveland; or so many other places in our time and over time in the United States. The officer, who himself is African American, was responding to a specific description relayed by individuals who had reported a crime in progress."
The message is accurate that what happened “is not a replay” in that the officer did not apply lethal force. But in drawing his gun, the officer threatened to use it in a situation that did not warrant it. Why? The email says that a thorough internal investigation will take place to answer that very question.Read more
A few days before Christmas, I interviewed Blase Cupich, who was recently installed as Chicago's ninth archbishop. We spoke about the Synod on the Family, immigration, the sexual-abuse scandal, the bishops conference, and more. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:
GG: As you mentioned, the pope speaks often about the need to foster a culture of encounter and accompaniment. This seems key to his idea of church—a church that goes out of itself and should not fear the discomfort that entails. How is that approach changing the temperament of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops?
BC: Institutions are constitutionally prone to protecting themselves, and being conservative in that sense. There are any number of forces in our society today that erode institutional life. We can’t be naïve about that. There are those who would like to truncate the freedom of religion—especially of the Catholic Church, given its footprint in society. At the same time, we can’t let that drive our agenda. That’s what the business of “Be not afraid,” which John Paul II said, is about. We have to be mission-oriented.
In the readings for the Feast of the Assumption, Mary goes off to the hill country to visit Elizabeth, and the image that one comes away with is that this dragon—mentioned in the first reading from Revelation—is chasing Mary. But Mary is not directed by the dragon’s pursuit. In the Gospel we hear that she is directed by her desire to help Elizabeth. The church has to use that image of itself. The trajectory of our pilgrimage is not going to be determined by an escape from forces that are out to harm us. It has to be a trajectory that is determined by helping people. That’s why the pope said we can’t be a self-referential church.
GG: The ethic of accompaniment seems to have guided the pope’s design of the recent Extraordinary Synod on the Family. Some bishops expressed some confusion about that meeting—whether it was over the media’s coverage of the synod, or what actually took place.
BC: The media is not to blame at all. I think the media reported what actually took place. What really took place at the synod was that a majority of the bishops voted for all the proposals that were there in the final summary document. And I think Cardinal Timothy Dolan said that at the November bishops meeting. It’s true that three of the paragraphs [about divorce and gay people] did not get two-thirds majority support, but they got more than a majority. That’s what’s new. That’s the story. Those hot-button topics had been highlighted, and the majority of synod bishops voted for proposals that said we need to consider aspects of these issues.
The pope has a firm belief that the spirit of the risen Lord is working in our midst and is alive in the hearts of people—and we cannot squelch that voice. We have to look for ways to listen to how the Lord is working in the lives of people. That’s why the pope said to the synod fathers, “Don’t come to the synod and say ‘You can’t say that’”—because it may be the spirit of Christ who is calling us to say these things. And we have to listen to that.
Read the rest right here.
To mark Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the Journal News of the Lower Hudson Valley (my local paper) has a front-page story about Maryknoll sister Madeline Dorsey, who was in Selma for the events that became known as "Bloody Sunday." There's a powerful photo of Dorsey and other marchers -- sisters, priests, and white and black demonstrators -- with some background on how she ended up at the front of that group:
When she got to the staging area on Friday, at a vast grassy space near a public housing site next to downtown, she said a Jesuit priest on the march planning committee approached her and two other nuns.
"He said, 'Come with me' and he put us on the front line," she said. "We had nothing to do with being on the front line, except we were placed there."
The imagery — three white nuns among the black marchers — sent a message: This is not a black march.
You can watch a video online of Sr. Dorsey, who is now 96 and living in Ossining, NY, being interviewed by journalist Peter Kramer. As it happens, her life of service has other resonances with today's headlines -- she was working in El Salvador when the American churchwomen were murdered, and the late Robert White was ambassador to that country (read Margaret O'Brien Steinfels's remembrance of White here).
Dorsey's final mission was in El Salvador during that country's bloody civil war and the reign of the death squads. When four church women were killed by Salvadoran troops in 1980, it fell to Dorsey and another nun to identify their bodies.
Another one of those sisters who were "not just nuns," but "political activists," as Jeanne Kirkpatrick famously put it. Thank God for them.
A lot of ignorant analysis has been written about New York City's mayor, police, and race relations. The New York Times editorial page keeps huffing and puffing at everyone. The Mayor has eulogized the dead while police officers turn their backs. Traffic tickets are down, arrests are down, and alternate-side of the street parking regulations have gone by the boards. The current cold spell ("Arctic clipper" says the weather page) seems to be keeping protestors home, or maybe it's the journalists staying home and not covering them.
Inevitably someone begins to allign the pieces. George Packer at the New Yorker-on-line makes a good beginning. 1. Clearly stating what all the major players have done wrong. 2. Pointing to the effects on the police and the citizenry of class-based housing in New York City. 3. Noting how many newcomers to the city have no idea what the NYC paradise of today once was. 4. How the poor, the marginal, the hanging on by their fingertips depend more than anyone on good policing. 5. Why most New Yorkers don't want to know what the police do.
Sample of point 5: "Few people really want to know what it takes to keep them safe. Policing is the kind of work—like sewage treatment, care of the elderly, legislating, embalming, and combat—that most of us prefer not to think about. It’s both ugly and essential, so essential that it creates a feeling of shame and resentment—and to avoid being disturbed by the thought we push it out of our minds, into the shadows, where the cops who protect us go about the dirty work of using the threat of violence to enforce the law. That’s where we want them to stay, so that we don’t have to think too much about what goes on in our defense, how the job of patrolling streets, questioning suspects, and making arrests rubs everyone raw. It breeds fear and hatred on both sides of the line." New Yorker.
Let's just say I am no fan of David Brooks. Usually I pass over his first sentence and move on. His column this morning got something important right (i.e., correct) and I read all the way to the end.
Spoiler alert: He mentions Ferguson and then goes on to open up a conversation we should be having about class.
"Widening class distances produce class prejudice, classism. This is a prejudice based on visceral attitudes about competence. People in the “respectable” class have meritocratic virtues: executive function, grit, a capacity for delayed gratification. The view about those in the untouchable world is that they are short on these things. They are disorganized. They are violent and scary. This belief has some grains of truth because of childhood trauma, the stress of poverty and other things....This class prejudice is applied to both the white and black poor, whose demographic traits are converging." Whole column here: NY Times.
On October 10, children’s rights campaigner Kailash Satyarthi of India was named as co-winner (with Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai) of the Nobel Peace Prize. A couple of days later, Commonweal reader William Spielberger wrote to remind us of a letter to the editor that appeared in our October 20, 1995, issue. The letter was from his (then) ten-year-old son Joey—“all right,” as William writes, “Joseph, now a thirty-year-old graduate of Villanova Law School”—who had recently met Satyarthi on a trip to India with his father. Here, in full, is what Joey wrote to Commonweal in 1995:
I was watching a Chicago Cubs baseball game on television when my dad came downstairs and read to me the article in Commonweal by Abigail McCarthy on child labor (“Pulling the Rug Out” [.pdf], September 22, 1995).
On May 1, 1995, I participated in my first demonstration. I am almost eleven years old and in the fifth grade. I live in Chicago, but the demonstration was in New Delhi, India, when it was 100 degrees.
The demonstration involved kids from all over India who carried signs saying, “Stop Child Labour” and “Child Labour Is a Cruse (this is how it was written on the sign) on Humanity.”
Many of the kids had worked in carpet factories for twelve or fourteen hours a day, every day of the year, for many years. A lot of them didn’t get any money at all. But a few were fortunate enough to get a little, like about six or seven dollars (or 200 rupees) a year. But that money went to pay off the debts of their families. If the boys did not do their work, they were beaten. Sometimes their fathers got beaten too, when they tried to free their sons.
I met some of the older boys in the demonstration when my dad and I went in a motor rickshaw to the Mukti Ashram, a place where boys who had been freed from the factories learn how to read and to do something other than weave carpets. The head of the Ashram is a man named Kailash Satyarthi who freed many of the boys. Some of the boys had been kidnapped to work in the factories, and some did not know their own age.
The rugs that the boys made go to Europe and the United States, and they are very expensive. But if the rug has the “Rugmark” logo (a rug with a smiley face on it), it means that the rug was not made by a child slave.
William Spielberger reports that his son subsequently returned to India three or four times, including a semester in northern India, all the time focusing on child-related issues. “He met with Kailash and his staff as late as a year or two ago …. Joey tells me that now he is trying to set up a meeting with Kailash and Illinois Senator Durbin.” Nineteen years to the day that the issue featuring Joey Spielberger’s letter appeared in print, we’re happy we can re-run it here.
The October 6 issue of the New Yorker features an astonishing article by Jennifer Gonnerman about a Bronx teenager who was held, without trial, for three years at Riker's after being accused of robbery on the flimsiest of pretenses.
The story combines several themes that have been discussed here at Commonweal: the climate of abuse and violence that reigns in the youth prisons on Rikers Island; the over-reliance on, and degrading effects of, solitary confinement; the structural injustices that make life even harder for the poor and underprivileged. In his article on solitary confinement ("Cruel but Not Unusual"), Derek Jeffreys made reference to the story of Kalief Browder, the subject of Gonnerman's story -- he was the teenager who "spent a total of four hundred days in solitary confinement," only to be "released from jail after three years when the flimsy case against him fell apart."
Browder's story, in Gonnerman's telling, illustrates many of the points Jeffreys made about how time spent in solitary can degrade a prisoner's humanity and reduce them to despair. Browder's ordeal drove him to multiple suicide attempts, despite the remarkable strength of character that allowed him to refuse to plead guilty -- he would not take a deal that might end his otherwise open-ended imprisonment if it meant confessing to a crime he did not commit.
As Gonnerman reports, the overburdened, slow-moving Bronx court system depends on such deals to dispense with the vast majority of its cases, and tricks and technicalities make the legal right to a speedy trial a farce in cases like Browder's.
Three years in jail waiting for a case to be dismissed -- a case that, as Gonnerman tells it, never had much going for it in the first place -- is bad enough. Three years of abusive treatment is worse; that the person suffering it is a teenager, on the cusp of adulthood, is worse still. Worst of all is knowing that the negative effects of those injustices will be with Browder for a lifetime. How does a young man begin to rebuild his life after being thrown so roughly off course? And what can the rest of us do about it, now that we know?
Peter Steinfels’s post on CNN’s framing of a report on the multimillion-dollar residences of U.S. archbishops got me thinking about coverage of another story concerning use (and re-use) of church property. Here in New York, the annual International Fringe Festival opens tomorrow, and among the more than twenty venues at which performances will be staged is the new Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Center, “a 25,000-square-foot arts center at Bleecker and Elizabeth streets with two theaters and four rehearsal studios available for rent” operated by the Archdiocese of the City of New York.
The quoted passage above comes from a March 16 Wall St. Journal report, a straightforward account focused mainly on the center’s mission as “‘a place to showcase Christian humanism—the true, the good and the beautiful,’" said executive director Msgr. Michael F. Hull.” (Hull later in the story describes himself as “a card-carrying member of MoMA,” the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art.) Six paragraphs into the story—after information on artistic director Jessica Bashline and the type of events she’d like to see staged—the reporter notes that the building is located “near the Bowery” and “dates to the early 1920s, when it served as a parish school and center for the Italian-American community. In 1938, it became a shelter for homeless men and remained as such until 2009.” And that paragraph is followed by this one:
"It wasn't viable to run it, and the neighborhood had changed so much," said Msgr. Hull, describing the evolution of the build's use as a reflection of the changing needs of New York. "We served the Italian immigrants, then homeless men, and now the arts community."
The story then gets to the arts-community angle: how expensive it is to find rehearsal and performance space in New York as real estate costs have shot up, how even though Fringe Festival content might “raise the eyebrows of conservative churchgoers” the only caveat from the archdiocese on style and content is that there’s nothing “hateful about one group of people.” Headline of the Journal piece: “A Marriage of Church and Stage.”
Fast-forward to August 3, when the New York Times ran a story concerned less with the cultural center’s mission and performance schedule than the history of that “building near the Bowery” and the community it once served. Headlined “On the Bowery, Questions About the Church’s Shifting Mission,” the piece quotes several people who either worked at or found meals and showers at the former shelter, which was called (a detail not noted in the Journal story) the Holy Name Center for Homeless Men.Read more
For several weeks, the NYTimes (and probaby other media) has been running stories about the increasing number of unacommpanied minors crossing the Mexican border into the U.S. When they are found and seized at the border, they are sent to shelters. Increasing numbers have required new and ever larger shelters. "Since Oct. 1, a record 47,017 unaccompanied children have been apprehended at the southwest United States border." A few may be reunited with a parent/parents in the U.S. illegally; some may be deported; and some may be held in the shelters until the immigration service/courts adjudicate their cases. Times' story June 4.
A variation on the story is that mothers and children come across the border with the expectation that the Immigration service will treat them more leniently (than men). Such stories and/or rumors have increased the influx of children alone and mothers with children. The "push" is said to be increasing violence and poverty in Central America. The "pull" is said to be U.S. leniency toward children, and women with children.
How could this not end badly. The shelters are or will soon be overwhelmed; stories of abuse and rape will emerge. Republicans will argue that this is why there can be no immigration reform. And the Obama Administration will be accused of not protecting U.S. borders. Any other scenarios?
...and other nearby countries. The Pope referred to the "State of Palestine" in his meeting with Palestinian President Abbas. In an unexpected and unplanned gesture he stopped his car to get out and pray at the security wall separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem, and the Palestinians from the Israelis.
He has invited Israelie President Peres and Abbas to the Vatican to pray for peace. From the NYTimes story: "Father Jamal Khader, head of the Latin Patriarchate Seminary in Beit Jala and a local spokesman for the pope’s visit, said the invitation on Sunday to a joint prayer session was “taking the negotiations to another level – a meeting in front of God.” Who knows!? Can't hurt!
Reminds me of ideas from a book I just finished, Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible through Palestinian Eyes, by Mitri Raheb, the pastor of a Lutheran church in Bethlehem. Maybe Francis has read it too.
Last week Matthew Boudway and I spoke with Cardinal Walter Kasper here in New York. We covered a lot of ground over the course of an hour. Naturally, some territory was left unexplored, but here's a sample of our conversation, which we just posted to the homepage.
Commonweal: In your book Mercy, you argue that mercy is basic to God’s nature. How is mercy key to understanding God?
Cardinal Walter Kasper: The doctrine on God was arrived at by ontological understanding—God is absolute being and so on, which is not wrong. But the biblical understanding is much deeper and more personal. God’s relation to Moses in the Burning Bush is not “I am,” but “I am with you. I am for you. I am going with you.” In this context, mercy is already very fundamental in the Old Testament. The God of the Old Testament is not an angry God but a merciful God, if you read the Psalms. This ontological understanding of God was so strong that justice became the main attribute of God, not mercy. Thomas Aquinas clearly said that mercy is much more fundamental because God does not answer to the demands of our rules. Mercy is the faithfulness of God to his own being as love. Because God is love. And mercy is the love revealed to us in concrete deeds and words. So mercy becomes not only the central attribute of God, but also the key of Christian existence. Be merciful as God is merciful. We have to imitate God’s mercy.
CWL: You also note that mercy and justice cannot be finally established here on earth, and that whoever has tried to create heaven on earth has instead created hell on earth. You say that this is true of ecclesiastical perfectionists too—those who conceive of the church as a club for the pure. How dominant is that view among church leadership today?
Kasper: There are those who believe the church is for the pure. They forget that the church is also a church of sinners. We all are sinners. And I am happy that’s true because if it were not then I would not belong to the church. It’s a matter of humility. John Paul II offered his mea culpas—for the teaching office of the church, and also for other behaviors. I have the impression that this is very important for Pope Francis. He does not like the people in the church who are only condemning others.
When it comes to the CDF’s criticisms of some theologians, there was not always due process. That’s evident, and here we must change our measures. This is also a problem when it comes to the question of Communion for divorced and remarried people, which is now under consideration in preparation for the Synod of Bishops this autumn. On the other hand, we have positive signs of mercy within the church. We have the saints, Mother Teresa—there are many Mother Teresas. This is also a reality of the church.
Last night Cathleen Kaveny interviewed Cardinal Walter Kasper at Fordham University in front of a packed house. The cardinal has been making the rounds in New York and Boston, promoting his new book Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life. It was a fascinating conversation, veering from the abstract (How is mercy the key to understanding God's nature?) to the practical (How merciful must I be when grading students' papers?) and back again. Kaveny asked excellent questions, as did the audience, and Kasper offered fascinating responses, some of which I live-tweeted. After the event, one of my Twitter followers suggested I collect some of my my tweets via Storify. So that's what I'm going to do--or at least try to do. Caveat lector: unless you see quotation marks or I say otherwise, I'm not directly quoting anyone, and it's possible that I misheard some of the Qs & As (and sorry for any typos--autocorrect is against me). I've never Storified before, so bear with me--and let me know whether this is remotely useful--after the jump.Read more
UPDATE: event to be rescheduled due to weather and campus closing on February 3.
In the past month, several major news outlets have raised the question of whether Pope Francis is having an effect on political figures in the United States. Kathleen Hennessey's A1 story in the Los Angeles Times reported on how and why President Obama, for example, had come to quote the Pope.Read more
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
A couple of new stories now on our homepage.
First, Joseph Sorrentino's photo essay on the laborers who help harvest New Mexico's green chile crop -- which amounted to about 78,000 tons worth a total of $65 million in 2012:
The people who pick it ... barely eke out a living, and some of them can’t even afford their own lodging. Sin Fronteras Organizing Project’s shelter in El Paso, Texas, opened in 1995 to house farmworkers who don’t earn enough to rent an apartment. ... The shelter can accommodate up to 125 people. A majority are men who stay there to sleep in a crowded main room; a few more are tucked in the narrow hallway outside the bathrooms. A dozen or so sleep upstairs, in a smaller room where bedding is stored on plastic shelves. A few women, generally only two or three, sleep in a tiny room off the reception area. The shelter’s accommodations are, to put it mildly, rough. There are no beds; people sleep on thin mats or blankets spread on the linoleum floor. And there is no privacy. The men’s bathroom has only one functioning urinal. The shelter is crowded, hot, and stuffy. But there aren’t many alternatives for these workers.
Read the whole thing here, and see the slide show that appears at the bottom of the story.
Also, E. J. Dionne writes on Washington's misplaced obsession with the deficit:
Since a Republican Party driven by tea-party thinking managed to make government spending and deficits Washington’s paramount concerns, the administration has backed off aggressive efforts to use government to pump much-needed energy into an economy whose tepid growth since the 2008 implosion has left 11.3 million Americans still out of work.
By putting so much effort into negotiating a failed “grand bargain” with House Speaker John Boehner in 2011 and subsequently agreeing to the sharp, across-the-board cuts of the “sequester” to get out of a crisis, President Obama contributed to the deficit chorus. Because of the fiscal tightening, our unemployment rate is probably a point higher than it would have been otherwise. We’ve done a heck of a job on the deficit, reducing it from about 10 percent of the economy in 2009 to 4 percent now. We’ve done badly by the jobless.
Read the whole thing here.
Of the many painful details in reports on the capsizing of an overloaded refugee boat a half-mile off Lampedusa last week (the captain setting fire to a blanket to signal shore; the resulting panic of the passengers; the chaos that ensued as the Eritrean migrants—mainly women and children—were pitched into the water), maybe the hardest to bear is that the cries of the drowning were first mistaken for seagulls.
According to some reports, it was “local yachters” who first heard the sounds of the unfolding disaster, which if true provides not just apt symbolism but a literal picture of the divide between, in plain terms, those who have and those who do not. (The New Yorker pointed out that “if [before the accident] you searched the Web for ‘Lampedusa,’ you’d have found tourist sites touting a small Sicilian island with ‘the best bays and beaches.… Welcome to Paradise!’”). Divers were still searching for victims yesterday, with the toll passing three hundred and thirty, even as yet another vessel crowded with refugees capsized off Lampedusa, with twenty-seven dead at last count.
Pope Francis won justifiable attention during his visit to Lampedusa last July for use of the resonant “globalization of indifference” to characterize a dynamic that accommodates such tragedies and the underlying causes from which they arise. Lampedusa is the first destination for many Africans coming to Europe, lying just seventy miles across the Mediterranean from Tunisia. At the time of the pope’s visit, about fifty people in 2013 had died making the journey; that’s changed now, of course, with the total approaching 2012’s total of five hundred. World Bank economist Branko Milanovic estimates that since 1988, twenty thousand to twenty-five thousand people have died crossing from Africa to Europe, though he adds that no one really knows for sure. What’s behind the numbers, Milanovic says, is:
[a basic] issue to which there's no easy answer or easy solution, and that's the question of freedom of movement. We live in a world that is much more globalized, in which capital, knowledge, ideas and so on can travel much more easily. At the same time, it's a world in which people cannot move from country to country. … [It raises] an uncomfortable issue because all the other components of production are mobile, with the exception of one.
Milanovic does not view people merely as “components of production,” however, noting that “in an unequal world where income differences between countries are large, and information about these income differences is widespread, migration ... is simply a rational response to the large differences in the standard of living.” He also decries what he calls the “conspiracy of silence … that envelops” those who die in fleeing poor countries for richer ones. Though lightly clothed in the jargon of economics, his assessment doesn’t sound all that different from the construct Francis offered in July, at which time the pope also called the recurring deaths of migrants seeking better lives “a thorn in the heart.” Speaking after last week’s disaster, though, Francis employed more impassioned rhetoric to describe the migration crisis. “The word disgrace comes to me. It’s a disgrace!”
Increasing inequality in the United States is a big problem. One recent analysis shows a disturbing graph, which displays not only that, in 2012, the top 1% captured 20% of income, but that the top 10% captured over 50% of income, a number that is higher than at any time in the last century, surpassing even the 1920’s. The graphs show this is not merely a matter of all the rewards of the recent recovery going to the top. As Eduardo Porter outlines it in brief, we are enduring a 30-plus-year stagnation of the middle-class. Bishops are speaking out on this. For many, a long lament on our “new Gilded Age” leads to a hope for a revival of Catholic social teaching. Even Catholic conservatives are taking note that “trickle-down” theories of dealing with poverty are failing. Michael Peppard and Michael Sean Winters have both recently commented that taking this problem seriously is both urgent and yet very difficult. (It is being made much more difficult by our absurd politics. But that would be a different post.)
It’s a difficult problem because we are long on lament, but really short on solutions that pay attention to the specific dynamics of our economy as it exists now. It is a truism that military leaders often “fight the last war” rather than the present one – so too, Catholics and their allies in fighting poverty can fall into talking about solutions that sound like “fighting the last economic war” – namely, that of the early 20th century.Read more
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