Pope Francis’s rhetorical attack on the excesses of capitalism, a prominent feature of his recent Latin American trip, is troubling to many Catholic conservatives and others in the United States.
In particular, he declared: “An unfettered pursuit of money rules. This is the `dung of the devil.' The service of the common good is left behind. Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home, sister and mother earth.”
This led Patrick Buchanan to ask: “Why not leave the socialist sermons to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren?”
But Francis’s talk reminded me not of leftwing political speeches but of an address delivered by the very icon of conservatism in the American Catholic Church: Archbishop John Hughes. It is called “A Lecture on the Antecedent Causes of the Irish Famine in 1847” -- an important historical document.
Long before Pope Leo XIII started the modern tradition of Catholic social teaching with his 1891 encyclical and a year ahead of the publication of “The Communist Manifesto,” Hughes criticized the excesses of capitalism as it existed in his time. Much as Francis looks at the world from the perspective of the Latin American poor, Hughes saw it from the point of view of the Irish at the height of the Great Famine.
“The newspapers tell us that this calamity has been produced by the failure of the potato crop; but this ought not to be a sufficient cause,” he said. Instead, he pointed to three larger causes: historical inequities resulting from the British conquest of Ireland; bad government; and “a defective or vicious system of social economy.”
Hughes condemned colonialism, just as Francis now assails “the new colonialism,” declaring, “The invaders regarded the natives as illegal occupiers of the soil -- as barbarians, who stood between them and the peaceable possession of their property.”
Of the economic system, Hughes explained: “By social economy I mean that effort of society, organized into a sovereign state, to accomplish the welfare of all its members. The welfare of its members is the end of its existence - - `Salus populi, suprema lex.’” Hughes decried “the free system--the system of competition,--the system of making the wants of mankind a regulator for their supplies.” He continued:Read more
I found myself wincing at a recent article in the Times, titled “The Slow Extinction of Keys in a Digital World,” reporting on the dwindling use of traditional car keys and their replacement by various digital devices. The article describes the efforts of Tesla, BMW and other upscale car manufacturers to develop iPhone apps that let you unlock the car, start the engine, turn up the AC, and so on.
And I think, no, not keys!
I’ve often noted this instinct in myself, and a corresponding paradox: liberal in my political views, I’m temperamentally conservative in my approach to daily life. (Turns out it’s a fairly common paradox, and vice versa as well.) Put bluntly, I can’t stand change. All too often, my secret plea to the world boils down to a high-school yearbook banality: Don’t change! Stay as you are!
And change, of course, is life.
At least regarding technology, this aversion to change is clearly tied to aging. Anxiety about functioning in a world ever full of new gadgetry is a hallmark of middle age, especially in a youth-glorifying and technologically dynamic culture like ours. I recall my astonishment, twenty-five years ago, when my father – who was sixty at the time -- mentioned that he didn’t use ATMs. I asked why not.
“I don’t know how they work,” he said, sheepishly.
I was incredulous. “Dad, you’re a brain surgeon!” And took him to the nearest ATM and showed him how to use it.
But there’s also your sense of yourself in your world, in your life, and how you engage it, not so much functionally as existentially. The temperamental conservative wants the world to stay as it is – even, or perhaps especially, in the trivial, physical furnishings and realities that make up the dailiness of one’s life. Brand names and packaging, who’s on the ten dollar bill, state license plates, the musical theme introducing the nightly news, and on and on. Stay as you are!Read more
The first tuition payment for the 2015-2016 school year at Waldron Mercy Academy in Philadelphia is due Wednesday. How many families will choose to meet this deadline, however, is unclear. A number in this tight-knit community of parents plan to withhold payment to protest the recent firing of long-time religious education director Margie Winters.
Winters’s dismissal shares some similarities with the firings of staff and teachers from Catholic schools around the country in recent years: personal details (in this case, a same-sex marriage) come to light; a disapproving parent lodges a complaint; a beloved figure is relieved of duties; students and parents rally in support. While such movements may lose steam in the face of long odds against reinstatement, the parent community of Waldron thinks it can keep the pressure up through the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia so that it will still be an issue when Pope Francis visits in September. And an open letter to Francis from Winters’s wife, Andrea Vettori, that is now being shared across social media and news outlets is providing further energy. “Waldron is a community that acts when there is a crisis,” said Diana Moro, who is in charge of the Facebook page StandWithMargie, which has garnered more than 10,000 likes in just over a week.
How realistic are their hopes?Read more
Today's New York Times is full of news and analysis about the P5+1 agreement with Iran. Much of the coverage quotes critics of the agreement (or so it seemed to me). That's what makes Tom Friedman's interview with President Obama a breath of fresh air. Friedman on this issue has been critical with a somewhat open mind. He appears to remain so, but in this interview, he gives the president a chance to defend the agreement.
Obama begins with what the agreements does not do: “We are not measuring this deal by whether it is changing the regime inside of Iran,” said the president. “We’re not measuring this deal by whether we are solving every problem that can be traced back to Iran, whether we are eliminating all their nefarious activities around the globe. We are measuring this deal—and that was the original premise of this conversation, including by Prime Minister Netanyahu—Iran could not get a nuclear weapon. That was always the discussion."
And what it can do: "And what I’m going to be able to say, and I think we will be able to prove, is that this by a wide margin is the most definitive path by which Iran will not get a nuclear weapon, and we will be able to achieve that with the full cooperation of the world community and without having to engage in another war in the Middle East.”
It is always possible that the agreement will fall apart, espcially if the U.S. Congress overcomes the president's veto in the 60 plus days that lie ahead. Critics of the agreement need to say, as Dennis Ross, of all people, said on the Newshour, "What is the alternative?"
Now up on our homepage is an article by Richard Cohen about the curious phenomenon of the one-novel novelist. Until today, Harper Lee was one of the most famous examples of this phenomenon. Other notable examples: John Berryman, Berthold Brecht, Woody Guthrie, Noel Coward, and Napoleon. Some one-off novels are classics (Wuthering Heights, Invisible Man); others are remembered only because their authors were famous for other things (leading Britain through World War II, crushing democracy in Spain). Cohen includes a list of about ninety "celebrated" one-novel novelists at the end of his article, and laments that Lee is no longer on it:
Lee said years ago that she did not intend to publish another work, and we know that Go Set a Watchman was rejected by her editors both before and after To Kill a Mockingbird was published (she had also spent several years working on a novel called The Long Goodbye but eventually abandoned it). Even if her new publication gives us pleasure, I would prefer to remember her as the author of a single towering achievement, a member of one of the most unusual groupings in literary history.
Cohen also speculates about what would motivate a person to write only one novel. If you can do it once, why not do it again?
Most writers mature as their careers continue, but if a first novel is produced in maturity—Lampedusa, Pasternak—the novelist may have nothing more to say. The published novel may be the product of a lifetime’s striving.
Many of those on the list were writers by trade or vocation and contributed in other genres. Literary fashions also count, influencing writers to take up or abandon a particular form. If someone’s first novel is a great success, does that make future novels more difficult? Sometimes an author might have written more, but died early: Emily Bronte, Erskine Childers, Alain-Fournier, Sylvia Plath, and Mikhail Lermontov are the best known. But there is still the feeling that Herbert Read articulated: writing at least one novel entitles you to enter a privileged group engaged in a vital enterprise. Being a novelist is special, a siren calling.
Pope Francis's in-flight press conferences--freewheeling, unscripted, even unredacted (at least for the moment)--have produced quite a bit of news. Who could forget "Who am I to judge?" Or the time the pope said that a friend who talks smack about his mom "is going to get a punch in the nose"? Reporters know that asking Francis the right question in just the right way might elicit a headline-worthy response. No surprise, then, that on the flight back to Rome following the pope's visit to South America, where he took globalization to the woodshed, a couple of enterprising reporters wanted to talk economics. Roll tape.
Noting how often Francis had spoken of the poor over the past several days, one German journalist wanted to know why the pope didn't say more about "the middle class, that is, the working people, the people who pay taxes, normal people, like the Greeks." All right, he didn't actually mention the Greeks. He did, however, want to know the pope's message for those non-abnormal, responsible payers of taxes.
Instead of asking the reporter whether he realized that Bolivia--where he delivered his stinging rebuke to purveyors of globalization--is the poorest country in South America, that 60 percent of its 8 million residents live below the poverty line, a quarter of them in extreme poverty, Francis responded graciously: "Thank you very much, that is a nice correction. You are right, that is a mistake on my part. I have to think about that." The Catholic News Agency made it sound like Francis had never considered this before: "You're right, I'll have to come up with something!" But Francis didn't quite say that, and he wasn't done answering the question.Read more
President Obama announces that the P5+1 have reached an agreement with Iran to limits its nuclear production capacity. New York Times
Congress wil get its say. It will be lobbied. The Forward: "Israel Hopes to Scuttle Iran Deal."
Blessed are the Negotiators.
After all-night negotiations with other European heads of state, the Prime Minister of Greece has agreed to an emergency plan that will allow Greece's banks to continue dispensing euros. That plan includes all the austerity measures Greek voters rejected in last Sunday's referendum—and then some. It will require Greece to cut pensions, raise taxes, and sell off state assets, and it does not include any reduction of Greece's overall debt. It is not a compromise in any meaningful sense of the term; it is an utter capitulation.
Alexis Tsipras became Prime Minister by promising relief from a less severe austerity program. When, after months of unsuccessful negotiation, eurozone officials backed him into a corner, he called a snap referendum, and Greek voters rejected the EU's demands for yet more austerity. So the people of Greece have spoken, twice, and Eurozone officials have now responded: Pipe down or we will crush you.
Paul Krugman, writing a few hours before Tsipras accepted the unacceptable:
The trending hashtag ThisIsACoup is exactly right. This goes beyond harsh into pure vindictiveness, complete destruction of national sovereignty, and no hope of relief. It is, presumably, meant to be an offer Greece can’t accept; but even so, it’s a grotesque betrayal of everything the European project was supposed to stand for.[...]
In a way, the economics have almost become secondary. But still, let’s be clear: what we’ve learned these past couple of weeks is that being a member of the eurozone means that the creditors can destroy your economy if you step out of line. This has no bearing at all on the underlying economics of austerity. It’s as true as ever that imposing harsh austerity without debt relief is a doomed policy no matter how willing the country is to accept suffering. And this in turn means that even a complete Greek capitulation would be a dead end.
The Guardian's Suzanne Moore:
By infantilising Greece, Germany resembles a child who closes its own eyes and thinks we can not see it. We can. The world is watching what is being done to Greece in the name of euro stability.
It sees a nation stripped of its dignity, its sovereignty, its future.
What kind of family, we might ask, does this to one of its own members? Even Der Spiegel online described the conditions that have been outlined as “a catalogue of cruelties”, but perhaps we should now put it another way, given Jean-Claude Juncker has denied that the Greek people have been humiliated. Juncker instead says that this deal is a typical “European” compromise. Yes, we see.[...]
The euro family has been exposed as a loan-sharking conglomerate that cares nothing for democracy. This family is abusive. This “bailout”, which will be sold as being a cruel-to-be-kind deal is nothing of the sort. It is simply being cruel to be cruel.
UPDATE: This interview with Yanis Varoufakis, Greece's former finance minister, confirms what many had suspected all along: that Tsipras had no back-up plan, and did not even want one. That was foolish. It meant that he had no leverage in last night's negotiations. He had to take whatever the troika gave him, which turned out to be less than nothing. Knowing Tsipras's government had no other currency to fall back on, no contingency plan for "Grexit," Europe's hardliners could simply say: You will do what we tell you or there will be chaos in Athens. So, if this wasn't a coup, it was at least extortion. Gone are Syriza's claims to offer an alternative to austerity, and gone are the European Union's democratic pretensions.
In his scripted remarks to thousands of young people gathered at the Costantera Riverside Park in Paraguay (including a large contingent from Argentina), Pope Francis spun a contemporary riff on the classic Ignatian image of the "two Standards" from the Spiritual Exercises.
He transposed it imaginatively to two adamantly opposed soccer squads, decked out in flouncy jersies that trumpet their personal loyalty and adherence. Friendship is the bond uniting and inspiring both teams; but their leaders are toto caelo different.
For the captain of the one squad is the devil, the enemy of humanity. In an astute personal depiction Francis labels him a "con man." He paints a vivid portrait:
Friends: the devil is a con artist. He makes promises after promise, but he never delivers. He’ll never really do anything he says. He doesn’t make good on his promises. He makes you want things which he can’t give, whether you get them or not. He makes you put your hopes in things which will never make you happy. That’s his game, his strategy. He talks a lot, he offers a lot, but he doesn’t deliver. He is a con artist because everything he promises us is divisive, it is about comparing ourselve to others, about stepping over them in order to get what we want. He is a con artist because he tells us that we have to abandon our friends, and never to stand by anyone. Everything is based on appearances. He makes you think that your worth depends on how much you possess.
The Captain of the other team is Jesus whose aproach is totally different.
Then we have Jesus, who asks us to play on his team. He doesn’t con us, nor does he promise us the world. He doesn’t tell us that we will find happiness in wealth, power and pride. Just the opposite. He shows us a different way. This coach tells his players: “Blessed, happy are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake”. And he ends up by telling them: “Rejoice on account of all this!”.
Why? Because Jesus doesn’t lie to us. He shows us a path which is life and truth. He is the great proof of this. His style, his way of living, is friendship, relationship with his Father. And that is what he offers us. He makes us realize that we are sons and daughters. Beloved children.
And that's no con job.
In his prepared remarks to Representatives of Paraguay's Civil Society yesterday, Pope Francis said:
A fundamental part of helping the poor involves the way we see them. An ideological approach is useless: it ends up using the poor in the service of other political or personal interests (Evangelii Gaudium, 199). To really help them, the first thing is for us to be truly concerned for their persons, valuing them for their goodness. Valuing them, however, also means being ready to learn from them. The poor have much to teach us about humanity, goodness and sacrifice. As Christians, we have an additional reason to love and serve the poor; for in them we see the face and the flesh of Christ, who made himself poor so to enrich us with his poverty (cf. 2 Cor 8:9).
But, as always with Francis, his off the cuff additions provide both insight and bemusement. Inés San Martín of Crux fills in the picture:
“Ideologies end badly, they do not work because they have a relationship that is either incomplete, or sick or wrong with the people,” Francis said. “Look at the last century, what ideologies ended in: Dictatorships, always.”
Francis then said that ideologies think of the people, but don’t let the people think, everything for the people but nothing with the people.
And this intriguing glimpse behind the smiling face:
He then “admitted” that he gets allergies, “a running nose,” when people such as politicians give grandiose speeches but “when I meet these people, I can’t help thinking ‘what a big liar you are'."
Havana and Washington -- please keep the Kleenex ready!
Pope Francis's address to the World Meeting of the Popular Movements in Bolivia on Thursday was described as a "little encyclical" by the editor of L'Osservatore Romano. Given its breadth and rhetorical power, that seems about right. Initial reports emphasized the pope's apology for the church's "many grave sins...committed against the native peoples of America," and of course that would receive some attention, given that it plays into the idea of the Catholic Church as unyielding. But the remark came late in the speech, following a withering critique of a globalized economy that operates on the "mentality of profit at any price" without concern for "social exclusion or the destruction of nature."
Do we realize, Francis asked, "that something is wrong in a world where there are so many farmworkers without land, so many families without a home, so many laborers without rights, so many persons whose dignity is not respected?" He referred to these "three Ls"--land, lodging and labor--as "sacred rights." And, lest anyone wonder whether the Argentine pope was laboring under a benighted idea of capitalism, Francis made it clear that he was not just talking about the economies of Bolivia and its neighbors. No, "I am speaking about problems common to all Latin Americans and, more generally, to humanity as a whole." This system is "intolerable," he continued, echoing his encyclical on the environment, Laudato si': "Farmworkers find it intolerable, laborers find it intolerable, communities find it intolerable, peoples find it intolerable… The earth itself--our sister, Mother Earth, as Saint Francis would say--also finds it intolerable."
Time is short, the pope declared. The planet and its people are suffering; we need change now. "Behind all this pain, death and destruction there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea--one of the first theologians of the church--called 'the dung of the devil.' An unfettered pursuit of money rules. This is the 'dung of the devil.'" Pace David Brooks, Francis failed to mention the free market's wonderful ability to "harness self-interest" and put it to good, that is to say profitable, use. No, he has witnessed the system's failures firsthand, in the slums of Buenos Aires, in his travels as the leader of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics, "I have sensed an expectation, a longing, a yearning for change, in people throughout the world."Read more
Having been "on the road," I returned surprised to find scant (any?) reference on dotCommonweal to Pope Francis's monumental pilgrimage to Ecuador, Bolivia, and, as of yesterday, Paraguay. Perhaps the very monumentality of his undertaking and the substantive nature of his homilies and talks is itself daunting. In any event, they appear to me to be authoritative commentary on the encyclical, "Laudato si."
So, as a beginning, one might consider the talk Francis gave to the priests, religious, and seminarians in Santa Cruz, Bolivia on Thursday. Commenting on the Gospel account of Bartimaeus and the varied reactions of the bystanders and passers by, the Holy Father challenged them/himself/us:
How many of us followers of Christ run the risk of losing our ability to be astonished, even with the Lord? That wonder we had on the first encounter seems to diminish, and it can happen to anyone. Indeed it happened to the first Pope: “Whom shall we go to Lord? You have the words of eternal life”. And then they betray him, they deny him, the wonder fades away. It happens when we get accustomed to things. The heart is blinded. A heart used to passing by without letting itself be touched; a life which passes from one thing to the next, without ever sinking roots in the lives of the people around us, simply because it is part of the elite who follow the Lord.
And he concluded:
There can be no compassion – and I mean compassion and not pity – without stopping. If you do not stop, you do not suffer with him, you do not have divine compassion. There is no “com-passion” that does not listen and show solidarity with the other. Compassion is not about zapping, it is not about silencing pain, it is about the logic of love, of suffering with. A logic, a way of thinking and feeling, which is not grounded in fear but in the freedom born of love and of desire to put the good of others before all else. A logic born of not being afraid to draw near to the pain of our people. Even if often this means no more than standing at their side and praying with them.
This is the logic of discipleship, it is what the Holy Spirit does with us and in us. We are witnesses of this. One day Jesus saw us on the side of the road, wallowing in our own pain and misery, our indifference. Each one knows his or her past. He did not close his ear to our cries. He stopped, drew near and asked what he could do for us. And thanks to many witnesses, who told us, “Take heart; get up”, gradually we experienced this merciful love, this transforming love, which enabled us to see the light. We are witnesses not of an ideology, of a recipe, of a particular theology. We are not witnesses of that. We are witnesses to the healing and merciful love of Jesus. We are witnesses of his working in the lives of our communities.
And with that witness, wonder is rekindled.
Transgender issues have loomed large these past months. In May a series of editorials in The New York Times, titled “The Quest for Transgender Equality,” presented stories of transgender Americans as narratives of personal struggle and liberation, ringingly evoking the civil-rights struggles that are centerpieces of contemporary liberalism. Then came the rollout of Bruce Jenner’s new identity as Caitlyn, with all the attendant hoopla.
I move in liberal-progressive circles where these breakthroughs for trans people are hailed with unanimous approval. Yes, there may be a dissenting note here and there (e.g., Eleanor Burkitt’s dyspeptic op-ed, “What Makes a Woman?”), but only over peripheral issues, like whether the particular image Jenner chose for her Vanity Fair cover, evoking a Playboy bunny from the 1960s, insulted feminists. The underlying notion – that changing one’s gender identification is a liberation to be celebrated – is never challenged. Indeed, if you do challenge it, you risk being labeled a hater.
I doubt there’s a single issue that makes me feel a wearier sense of confusion, and in some ways ideological exclusion, than that of transgender life. Being so far apart from other liberal/progressives makes me wince. In late April, listening to a segment of NPR’s On Point about Jenner, I found myself uncomfortably bristling at the self-congratulatory tone of the commentary. Host Tom Ashbrook and his guests (one of them a psychiatrist and co-author of “a resource guide written for and by transgendered people”) treated it as self-evident that all Americans should greet Jenner’s revelations as a triumphant cultural and political moment. Their enthusiasm exuded the implicit sense that there simply isn’t any ground to stand on for anyone who might have qualms about transgenderism.
Yet I do.Read more
U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East presents one of the most complex and convoluted set of issues the country faces. Yet very little changes in how we (or our leaders) think about it. Paul Pillar -- retired CIA officer, visiting scholar at Georgetown and Brookings (also served in Vietnam) -- writes regularly and intelligently about U.S. policy.
In a current essay, he asks what prevents us from conducting a "zero-based" review of MIddle East policy. His premise is that "historical baggage" weighs down politicians and policy makers who resist looking again at why we are doing what we are doing.
MIddle East policy began with FDR's visit to Saudi King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud; in effect, stepping in for the British in the Middle East. "The oil bargain" they struck needs rethinking. Seventy years later, Pillar observes: "In any other historical context it would be bizarre for the United States to treat as a coddled ally a state that not only is a family-ruled authoritarian enterprise with zero freedom of religion and based on an intolerant ideology that is a basis for violent jihadi extremism but also more recently has been a destabilizing factor as the family pursues its own vendettas and narrow interests in other Middle Eastern states."
Other baggage includes the Iranian hostage crisis, 9/11, the Iraq War (the last one!), and our relationship with Israel. On the latter: "The evolution [of the U.S.-Israeli relation]...has been one from a plucky little Jewish state, created in the shadow of the Holocaust and besieged by neighbors, to the militarily dominant power of the Middle East, which repeatedly throws its weight around with disregard for the sovereignty and security of others. It is a state that has moved ever farther from any commonality with laudable American values...."
Pillar recognizes, certainly in the case of Saudi Arabia and Israel, how hard it would be to rethink our policies. In enumerating the barriers to shifting historical baggage, he points to democracy itself. "With limits to policy being set by deeply entrenched popular attitudes and beliefs that democratically elected politicians continually recite, the history that gave rise to those attitudes and beliefs is a heavy restraint on any leader who might see the wisdom of following a different path."
The following open letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, signed by five leading economists, was organized by Avaaz in conjunction with its petition demanding an end to the austerity program in Greece. So far, over five hundred thousand people have signed.
The never-ending austerity that Europe is force-feeding the Greek people is simply not working. Now Greece has loudly said no more.
As most of the world knew it would, the financial demands made by Europe have crushed the Greek economy, led to mass unemployment, a collapse of the banking system, made the external debt crisis far worse, with the debt problem escalating to an unpayable 175 percent of GDP. The economy now lies broken with tax receipts nose-diving, output and employment depressed, and businesses starved of capital.
The humanitarian impact has been colossal—40 percent of children now live in poverty, infant mortality is sky-rocketing and youth unemployment is close to 50 percent. Corruption, tax evasion and bad accounting by previous Greek governments helped create the debt problem. The Greeks have complied with much of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s call for austerity—cut salaries, cut government spending, slashed pensions, privatized and deregulated, and raised taxes. But in recent years the series of so-called adjustment programs inflicted on the likes of Greece has served only to make a Great Depression the likes of which have been unseen in Europe since 1929-1933. The medicine prescribed by the German Finance Ministry and Brussels has bled the patient, not cured the disease.
Together we urge Chancellor Merkel and the Troika to consider a course correction, to avoid further disaster and enable Greece to remain in the eurozone. Right now, the Greek government is being asked to put a gun to its head and pull the trigger. Sadly, the bullet will not only kill off Greece’s future in Europe. The collateral damage will kill the Eurozone as a beacon of hope, democracy and prosperity, and could lead to far-reaching economic consequences across the world.
In the 1950s, Europe was founded on the forgiveness of past debts, notably Germany’s, which generated a massive contribution to post-war economic growth and peace. Today we need to restructure and reduce Greek debt, give the economy breathing room to recover, and allow Greece to pay off a reduced burden of debt over a long period of time. Now is the time for a humane rethink of the punitive and failed program of austerity of recent years and to agree to a major reduction of Greece’s debts in conjunction with much needed reforms in Greece.
To Chancellor Merkel our message is clear; we urge you to take this vital action of leadership for Greece and Germany, and also for the world. History will remember you for your actions this week. We expect and count on you to provide the bold and generous steps towards Greece that will serve Europe for generations to come.
Heiner Flassbeck, former State Secretary in the German Federal Ministry of Finance
Thomas Piketty, Professor of Economics at the Paris School of Economics
Jeffrey D. Sachs, Professor of Sustainable Development, Professor of Health Policy and Management, and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University
Dani Rodrik, Ford Foundation Professor of International Political Economy, Harvard Kennedy School
Simon Wren-Lewis, Professor of Economic Policy, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford
A first-time Commonweal blog entry for me, and while in future entries I’ll take up books, politics, movies (I’ve been one of your reviewers for fifteen years now) or whatever, today I’ll be more personal. Right now it’s 5:30 AM, I’ve got a cup of coffee, and I want to convey that moment when you feel your family’s life gathering its breath for the summer to come. We’re an early-rising bunch (and early to bed -- alas!); my wife Molly is out walking the dogs, and our daughter Larkin, who recently finished third grade, is asleep in her room with her friend Fiona in the top bunk bed. A sleepover!
I’m turning fifty-six, and for most of my friends the kid sleepover era is long gone. But Molly and I got started late at all this; she was almost forty, and I almost fifty, when Larkin was born. Thus we’re wildly out of synch with most people our age -- as I was reminded at my recent thirty-fifth college reunion, where many of my classmates were fresh from their kids’ college graduations. Anyway, do you remember what it was like when you were up early and your child was still asleep, with a sleepover pal? The silence is blissful! You have that satisfying sense of being a temporary custodian of precious lives, which really is the essence of being a parent.
I spent a few minutes on the front porch, drinking coffee and waiting for the newspaper guy to deliver the Times. We have a family of rabbits living somewhere in our yard (in Hartford, Conn.), and they’ve gotten sufficiently inured to people that they barely look up when you appear. So I watched Brer Rabbit munch for a while. Our newspaper delivery guy is a thirtyish-year-old man who delivers the paper by hurling it from his moving car, without slowing down. This is mortal peril for my tiger lilies, and I keep meaning to ask him to aim for the lawn, not the front walk. But by the time I amble down into the yard, he has roared on. And I hesitate to mar his business plan, anyway.
My mother died nine years ago, when Larkin was just six months old, and after that I took up gardening. My mom was a skilled and joyous gardener, and I’d always intended to spend some time with her in her garden and learn the tools and tricks of the thing. And then she was gone, and I regretted not having done it.Read more
We’re featuring two new items on the homepage right now.
First, in "‘Under God’: Same-Sex Marriage & Foreign Affairs,” Andrew J. Bacevich writes on “just how attenuated the putative link between God’s law and American freedom has become.”
Cold War-era sexual mores had implications for U.S. foreign policy. Even if honored only in the breach, the prevailing code—sex consigned to monogamous heterosexual relationships sanctified by marriage—imparted legitimacy to the exercise of American power. In measured doses, self-restraint and self-denial offered indicators of collective moral fiber. By professing respect for God’s law, we positioned ourselves on his side. It followed that he was on ours. Here was American chosenness affirmed. Certainty that the United States enjoyed divine favor made it possible to excuse a multitude of transgressions committed in the name of defending a conception of freedom ostensibly mindful of God’s own strictures.
The justices voting in favor of gay marriage don’t care a lick about whether the United States is “under God” or not. On that score, however dubious their reading of the Constitution, they have accurately gauged the signs of the times. The people of “thou shall not” have long since become the people of “whatever,” with obligations deriving from moral tradition subordinated to claims of individual autonomy. That’s the way we like it. August members of the Supreme Court have now given their seal of approval.
Read the whole thing here.
And, in “Liberated by Grace,” E. J. Dionne Jr. looks at the importance of the African-American Christian tradition in America’s history “for reasons of the spirit but also as a political seedbed of freedom and a reminder that the Bible is a subversive book.”
In the days of slavery, masters emphasized the parts of Scripture that called for obedience to legitimate authority. But the slaves took another lesson: that the authority they were under was not legitimate, that the Old Testament prophets and Exodus preached liberation from bondage, and that Jesus himself took up the cry to “set the oppressed free” with passion and conviction unto death.
The church was also a free space for African-Americans, not unlike the Catholic Church in Poland under communism, which provided dissidents with room to maneuver. Even when segregationist Jim Crow laws were at their most oppressive, their churches provided places where African-Americans could pray and ponder, organize and debate, free of the restrictions imposed outside their doors by the white power structure, to borrow a phrase first widely heard in the 1960s.
It was thus no accident that the black church was at the center of the civil rights movement. And it’s precisely their role as an oasis from repression that the churches became the object of burnings and bombings. The freedom enabled by sacred and inviolable space has always been dangerous to white supremacy.
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The referendum called for by the Greek Government allows citizens to vote Yea (for more austerity and remaining in the Eurozone) or Nay (default and perhaps depart the Eurozone). It is a momentous decision for the Greeks, the EU, and in various forms for the rest of us. Story here.
Paul Krugman in Friday's column seems to support a "No" vote to show the creditors that they should push no further and it was time to cut their losses. But the creditors won't be the only, or perhaps primary losers, in this war of nerves.
How would you vote?
Preparation for the Next Life, Atticus Lish’s extraordinary novel seems material for the perfect melodrama: a vet returned from the horrors of war, Byronic wounds setting him apart; the plucky immigrant woman, a survivor, canny and intent on saving the wounded hero. The backdrop: New York City where anything is possible. Given the pretext of the work, a reader can’t help but wonder if the love affair can not generate the compassion to redeem the soldier and make real the dream of the woman? Lish’s world is not that of melodrama: he subverts the expectation through unsparing realism. In the process, his vision leaves desiccated flabby assumptions about PTSD and the underworld of illegal aliens. Love simply is not enough to buoy the pair above the wash of the City’s violence and exploitation.
The novel has had high praise in many reviews, principally for Lish’s ability to create dialogue, or perhaps more accurately, the speech, demotic, of the outer boroughs of the City. The progress of the plot is almost cinematic – by way of montage, scene juxtaposed on scene. The abrupt changes of place and character create a sense of energy, almost manic energy, particularly in so far as Skinner (the Iraqi vet) and Zou Lei (the part-Uighur, part Chinese illegal) share an obsession with physical training. They literally pursue each other in sweat drenched, convulsive runs – or rival each other in squats and lifts.
In remarkable explorations Lish takes us into the shadow economy of undocumented immigrants – the punishing work in over-hot kitchens, or clattering rag-trade sweat shops. Skinner’s altercation with the son of his landlady puts him in the holding cells of a local precinct, and Lish manages to channel in rapid fire speech all the riot, aggression, taunting and fear of the men jailed. He has the same ability to convince that he knows the many different Chinese dialects and the Pidgin English that serves as common speech as well as the clannish tensions that push Zou Lei down the pecking order of kitchen hierarchies.Read more