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Ted Cruz: Ability, will, but maybe no way

Whether Ted Cruz can be president is a different question than whether he will be. The answer to the first is a definitive yes, at least on eligibility. Though Cruz was born in Canada, his mother was born in the United States, which makes him an American citizen. Cruz in this way is like John McCain (birthplace: Panama Canal Zone) and George Romney (birthplace: Mexico): children of U.S.-born parents, and thus able to run for U.S. president.  And like this guy (birthplace: Hawaii).

The answer to the second question is almost as definitive: Cruz, who Monday became the first candidate to officially enter the race with a midnight Tweet and a midmorning address at evangelical Liberty University, will almost certainly not be president. The fact that he announced so early in some ways speaks to this: With money already heading to such likely candidates as Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Rand Paul, Cruz couldn’t afford to wait much longer. Additionally, the GOP’s distaste for its own still-first-term senator, over stunts like the non-filibuster over the Affordable Care Act and his role in shutting down the government in 2013, is well known. Cruz did place in third in last month’s CPAC straw poll (after Walker and Paul), suggesting to some he might have early primary promise, but by many accounts he remains “the most hated man in the senate” and not very much liked in general

Cruz made his announcement at Liberty’s weekly convocation, student attendance at which is mandatory. The ovations he received, however, seemed spontaneous, with applause greeting his calls to abolish the IRS, abolish Obamacare, abolish same-sex marriage…. “It’s time for truth, for liberty … a time to reclaim the constitution of the United States,” he said. “Reclaim the promise of America. Reclaim the mandate, the hope and opportunity … we stand together for liberty…. The answer will not come from Washington but from people of faith and lovers of liberty….” The Aaron Tippin song “Where the Stars and Stripes and Eagles Fly” played when Cruz finished speaking. (Lyric snip: “I was born by God’s dear grace/in an extraordinary place/where the stars and stripes and eagles fly” – something Canadian citizens might be surprised to learn about their country.)

Liberty the university was established by Jerry Falwell, and the school called Cruz’s decision to announce his candidacy there “fitting, as [he] has joked that ‘I’m Cuban, Irish and Italian, and yet somehow I ended up Southern Baptist.’” The university nonetheless noted it is by law prohibited from endorsing candidates, and indeed more from the GOP are likely to stop by in the course of the campaign, just as others have in previous ones. Cruz’s fondness for overheated rhetoric (“your world’s on fire,” he insisted at a New Hampshire speech last week) prompts David Ludwig at The Atlantic to call him characteristic of what Richard Hofstadter identified as the paranoid style of American politics. But that seems to assign more to Cruz than he should be called on to bear. He doesn’t appear to believe in his paranoid claims in the way, say, of Ron Paul, and maybe not even of Rand, whose relatively formidable presence was visible at Monday’s Liberty event: a row of attendees in bright-red “I Stand with Rand” t-shirts, ruining what otherwise might have made fine campaign footage of Cruz and his smiling, waving family (video here, at about the 35:50 mark).

Monday Morning Links: March 23

Today, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras will meet with Angela Merkel in Berlin in talks that will address concerns that Greece is running out of money, and surely address Greece's plan for financial reform. From BBC news:

The new crisis comes less than a month after the German parliament approved a four-month extension of rescue finance for Greece while the new government attempts to enact economic reforms.

But relations between Germany and Greece have since deteriorated, with Greece threatening to seize German property as compensation for a Nazi atrocities in World War Two.

Just after midnight, with a tweet and a video, Ted Cruz announced his plan to run for president, becoming the first major candidate to officially enter the race.

The Economist describes Lee Kuan Yew's legacy, founder of Singapore who died this weekend at the age of 91. 

Stephanie Mencimer writes in Mother Jones about mental illness and the death penalty in light of Scott Panetti's case.

"So how do judges decide whether a prisoner is too delusional for a civilized society to execute? Often, it turns out, they rely on psychiatrists whose recommendations seem to have little basis in science—hired guns whose testimony can give pro-death-penalty jurists cover for rulings that otherwise would seem to contradict the dictates of the Supreme Court." 

The Guardian writes about the $10,000 donation BP’s Political Action Committee gave to Jim Inhofe, the same Republican senator who tossed a snowball in the Senate floor to express skepticism about climate change.

While this Atlantic piece is from last week, James Parker on G. K. Chesterton is an introduction to the author's many paradoxes, and it's eminently readable.

Has the National Review Lost Touch with the Christian Tradition?

National Review founder William F. Buckley with an early edition of the magazine

For my 18th birthday I got a subscription to National Review from my grandfather. When I thanked him he replied brusquely, "You've spent your whole life in that house getting one side of the story. I thought it was time you heard the other side."

As I was preparing to go to college in a faraway city, that was music to my ears—I was moving out of my parents' house anyway, and this meant I'd be exposed to even more new ideas. As the year went on however, I read each new issue with a growing sense of disappointment: not because the ideas were conservative, but because so many of the articles were just flat-out illogical and poorly argued.

Those memories came flooding back when reading David French's article, "Is Obama Really a Christian?", in the current issue of the magazine. What's most striking—and disappointing—about the piece is its smallness of mind.  When all the huffing and puffing is done about Rev. Wright, Black liberation theology, and the callers to Christian radio shows who are (still) convinced the president is a Muslim, French's argument boils down to the fact that President Obama is a member of the United Church of Christ...and acts like it.

Barack Obama may believe in black-liberation theology, or he may not. He may have a close relationship with God, or he may not. We can’t know his heart. But when it comes to his civic religion, President Obama is his church’s—and liberal Christianity’s—great and mighty instrument.

In reaching that conclusion, French betrays a startling degree of ignorance about the UCC and the broader Christian tradition. As Charlie Pierce noted on Esquire's Politics blog,

The UCC is a direct theological descendant of the Congregationalism that brought the Pilgrims here. Gradually, after the Great Awakening of the mid-18th Century, while losing people to Unitarianism, the Congregationalists began to merge with other denominations until the UCC was formed. But, right from the time the Pilgrims got on the boat, the church had a tradition of self-governance and a fundamental revulsion at the notion of an ecclesiastical hierarchy. It's not the New-Age-y self-help group that (French) seems to think it is. That the UCC is extensively involved in various causes that give the author the willies is his problem, not the church's.

Except for a passing mention that some Catholics didn't agree with some of Bill Clinton's policies, French demonstrates no awareness of Christian theology, traditions or practices outside of those within the relatively narrow confines of American Protestantism in recent decades. If only he'd been writing for a journal of serious conservative intellectual thought, maybe he'd have found an editor to introduce him to a world of Christian conservatism and orthodoxy that extended beyond his own experience.

Dante's Ontology

A few years back I reviewed for Commonweal a fine collection of essays on Dante Alighieri. One of the essays in Dante's Commedia: Theology as Poetry spoke of Dante's debt to Neoplatonic metaphysics and said:

This is an ontology of the "image" or "icon," in which the sensible cosmos is viewed as a likeness of the intelligible reality that is its source.

Yesterday's New York Times made an intriguing reference to Dante's "ontology" – though a different Dante, in a different city, not Florence, but the Big Apple. The Times reports:

Dante’s parents, the mayor and his wife, Chirlane McCray, came out on Saturday to watch some of the preliminary rounds of the tournament, held at Stuyvesant High School by the New York State Debate Coaches Association.

The issue was environmental preservation, and Dante and his debate partner prevailed with an appeal to – ontology! The report continues:

Dante and Samuel argued that people should stop viewing the ocean as only a resource to be exploited. To make their case, they leaned heavily on ontology, a branch of metaphysics, as high schoolers will do. Though their argument was far too deep to be encapsulated in a newspaper article, suffice it to say that the judges, unlike some parents, followed it just fine.

Now, though readers of the Times may find themselves befuddled by such esoteric metaphysics, it should be well within the comfort zone of dotCommonwealers. So how about signing Dante up to comment on the Pope's forthcoming Encyclical on the Environment? An ontological mindset may move us beyond the predictable polarizations it's bound to produce.

Pope Francis accepts Cardinal Keith O'Brien's resignation.

Today the Holy See announced that Cardinal Keith O'Brien of Scotland has resigned the "rights and privileges" of being a cardinal. The news follows the conclusion of a Vatican investigation of allegations that O'Brien sexually harrassed adult men, including a seminarian, and carried on a long-term sexual relationship with a priest. O'Brien, once an outspoken critic of homosexuality, resigned as archbishop of Edinburgh in 2013, admitting that "many times" his sexual conduct had "fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop, and cardinal.” And he recused himself from the conclave that elected Pope Francis. Until now, O'Brien had been living in a seaside home apparantly enjoying the rights and privileges of a cardinal. Not anymore. He won't be able to participate in any more conclaves, or act as an adviser to the pope. Still, O'Brien gets to keep his title, even if he's permitted to wear his red hat and vestments only in private.

This is "an extraordinarily decisive act of governance that combines justice with mercy," according to Gerard O'Collins. Andrea Tornielli called the pope's decision "courageous." It may be merciful and it's certainly extraordinary (the last time a cardinal resigned was in 1927). But is it decisive? Courageous? I have my doubts.

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Soaking the Homeless - Update

After the day-long media storm over news that San Francisco’s Saint Mary’s Cathedral had for two years been using a watering system to douse homeless people sheltering in its alcoves, the archdiocese has issued an apology and states that the system has been removed. 

(Update: Bishop William Justice, who is also the auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese, addresses the press in this video clip. "Nobody mentioned anything for two years," he says at one point. "Not that that makes it right.")

The cathedral, the home church of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, installed the system about two years ago after learning about its effectiveness in the city’s financial district “as a safety, security and cleanliness measure.” The sprinklers, mounted about thirty feet high in four locations, would activate automatically every thirty to sixty minutes, for more than a minute, simultaneously in all locations. There were no signs to warn those gathered below that such a system was in use, though according to archdiocese spokesperson Larry Kramer, “No Trespassing” signs had been posted.

At the time of installation, the cathedral felt it was “fighting a losing battle against crack pipes and condoms and human waste,” Kramer said. The cathedral had tried extra lighting and security guards, without success, according to Kramer, who acknowledged there was “hesitation” about other methods – including gates to close off the areas in question. When asked whether the cathedral would have continued its practice of dousing homeless people if not for Wednesday’s report by a local radio station, Kramer allowed that that was a “fair” assumption. The method “worked,” he said, though it is unclear how well, given that homeless people were still sheltering in these areas, in some cases using umbrellas.

Though the archdiocese says it tried to get homeless people to move to other areas at the cathedral, it has not specifically identified those locations. Further, the system, according to reports, did not in fact clean the alcove areas: because no drainage system was installed, water would simply collect where it fell. The cathedral also installed the system without acquiring necessary city permits; it may also violate water-use laws in California, which is in its fourth year of damaging drought. Asked why or how the cathedral could have undertaken installation of a system of such scope in such a prominent structure, without permits, Kramer said the “why when and how of the original decision remains fuzzy.” He said that the cathedral – “normally assiduous” about process -- had acquired retroactive permitting for the original installation as it prepared to dismantle the system yesterday.

There’s more than what publicity people call “unfortunate optics” here. That a Catholic church could treat vulnerable people gathered on its own steps with such disregard is bad enough on its own, but there’s something additionally troubling about it being expressed so, well, cowardly -- from above, without warning, and automatically activated: set it, and forget it. Think about how those who approved the system and countenanced its continued operation might not have been all that far away, perhaps sleeping, and almost certainly dry.

But, said Kramer: “As human beings, they felt terrible.”

There may yet be more to come on this.

More than just the Ryan budget redux?

Republicans in the House and Senate this week released their respective budget plans, and though they differ in the details they’re similar in their aims – namely, to use the deficit and the debt as justification for tax cuts for high earners and corporations and significant spending cuts in social programs. Leave aside the question of whether the deficit and the debt require such attention (plenty think they don’t, including the Obama administration); what House and Senate Republicans have proposed are essentially reboots of the Paul Ryan (2012 and 2014) franchises.

Which if you liked, then this you might love. Medicare becomes a voucher (i.e., “partially privatized”) program. Medicaid becomes a block-grant program. SNAP (food stamps) becomes a block-grant program. Dodd-Frank restrictions on Wall Street get watered down. And – wait for it – the Affordable Care Act is, finally, once and for all, repealed.

Much of this of course is dressed up in language making it sound sensible, maybe even noble: block-grants give states flexibility and improve efficiency; repeal of Obamacare equates to “patient-centered reform.” Few details are offered, though plenty of figures are tossed about – many of which can only be met with suspicion if not outright incredulity.Though the proposal calls for the repeal of Obamacare, it still counts as going toward the coffers the $2 trillion the law’s tax increases provide. Though the House and Senate plans assume deficit reductions of $147 billion to $164 billion from economic growth stemming from proposed cuts in taxes and spending, these numbers have been generated through the technical sleight of hand known as dynamic scoring. There’s also something in the House proposal being referred to as the “magic asterisk” – a provision for saving $1.1 trillion over ten years “by reducing outlays for mandatory spending other than on health care and Social Security.” No one’s quite sure where those cuts would come from, but they’d have to come from somewhere to meet the goal of $5.5 trillion in overall savings.

Early reviews on the Republican budget proposals: “If the budget resolution released on Tuesday by House Republicans is a road map to a “Stronger America,” as its title proclaims, it’s hard to imagine what the path to a diminished America would look like”; “[This is a] slumlord's budget, an evictor's budget, an auctioneer's budget of a kind that emptied towns all over the Great Plains. It assumes the existence of a propertied class and a servile class, both of them eternal and immutable”; “[I]t lays out a virtual war on the poor and middle class” and as such is “a bracing statement of Republican ideology.”

For his part, the president is disappointed that neither Republican proposal calls for investment in education, infrastructure, or research, and that neither is a “budget that reflects the future.” How much of that the Democratic minority can negotiate for remains to be seen, as does its overall ability to challenge Republican plans that according to Charles P. Pierce “solidify further the burgeoning oligarchy that is devouring the republic.”

Liar and Bully Wins; Business as Usual

The Forward's J.J. Goldberg, an astute and sympathetic observer of Israel, has this assessment of Tuesday's election results. The Jewish Daily Forward.

UPDATE: A sobering assessment by an Israeli journalist, skip the part about polling and media errors and go to: "President Obama allowed Netanyahu to reach the heart of the administration's nerve center and stand there, to deliver a speech to both houses of Congress, as if he was the American president and not the head of a tiny country dependent on the US. Next to Netanyahu, Obama suddenly seemed like Isaac Herzog. He publicly hazed the president, and got home safe and sound. The Americans should have made Netanyahu pay a price, but they did not do this."  True? What would the price be?  It goes on to lay out the shape of the next Israeli government.  Whole thing here.

More: "In his first interview since his re-election victory, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel walked back his rejection of a two-state solution." NYTimes on-line, Thursday afternoon.

Israel: Some Sobering Analysis

While awaiting the outcome of Israel's election and the formation of a new government, the optimists (I would like to be one) need to think about the whole picture. Charles Freeman, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia and a man with strong views and deep knowledge gave a very long speech (said to have been given on March 10, 2014 by Jim Lobe at LobLog, and published on March 10, 2015. Lobe has now corrected the date: speech given March 10, 2015; PHEW!). Here is the link to the published speech. Here is the link to LobLog.  They are both the same! Equally long!

Freeman's analysis is sobering. As he says, he does not mince words.

Here is his set-up of the current situation. "It is often said that human beings learn little useful from success but can learn a great deal from defeat. If so, the Middle East now offers a remarkably rich menu of foreign-policy failures for Americans to study.

• Our four-decade-long diplomatic effort to bring peace to the Holy Land sputtered to an ignominious conclusion a year ago.

• Our unconditional political, economic, and military backing of Israel has earned us the enmity of Israel’s enemies even as it has enabled egregiously contemptuous expressions of ingratitude and disrespect for us from Israel itself.

• Our attempts to contain the Iranian revolution have instead empowered it.

• Our military campaigns to pacify the region have destabilized it, dismantled its states, and ignited ferocious wars of religion among its peoples.

Our efforts to democratize Arab societies have helped to produce anarchy, terrorism, dictatorship, or an indecisive juxtaposition of all three.

• In Iraq, Libya, and Syria we have shown that war does not decide who’s right so much as determine who’s left.

• Our campaign against terrorism with global reach has multiplied our enemies and continuously expanded their areas of operation.

• Our opposition to nuclear proliferation did not prevent Israel from clandestinely developing nuclear weapons and related delivery systems and may not preclude Iran and others from following suit.

• At the global level, our policies in the Middle East have damaged our prestige, weakened our alliances, and gained us a reputation for militaristic fecklessness in the conduct of our foreign affairs. They have also distracted us from challenges elsewhere of equal or greater importance to our national interests." 

Reform, and the Reform

The second anniversary of Pope Francis' election last Friday prompted a number of pundits to analyze what he's done and what's he's doing and what he might do -- perhaps the best "hot take" the interview given by @pontifex himself.

At Religion News Service, I made a couple of efforts myself, based on reporting in Rome last month.

This first one looks at how the reform of the Roman Curia is going, and tries to focus on the tectonic shift that goes deeper and is far more important than the smaller and perhaps overhyped complaints by curial officials losing their parking privileges:

The real reform, however, and the key to success, is in instituting an entirely new form of governance for the Holy See, a “system of checks and balances” in Vatican operations, as a senior Vatican official put it, that reflects the highest international standards for transparency and accountability.

It is a fundamental shift for a city-state that has functioned largely like the world’s longest-running divine-right monarchy. The goal is a more rational and a fairer system of operating based on best practices and precedents, rather than on abstract principles or ancient privileges.

“What we are seeing now is the struggle to enact that vision,” said another churchman close to Francis. “People tend to see the power plays, but it’s an intellectual and philosophical debate, and some theology.”

What's interesting is that financial reform -- which has broader backing, in part because it's a no-brainer and easier to do -- is not the only template; efforts to respond to the sex abuse crisis may be the better gauge.

My second story, "Pope Francis has history, but not time, on his side in reform push," looks at the wider "reform," or reorientation, of Catholicism under Francis.

At heart it's really about whether the course Francis has set can continue after he leaves the scene, which he keeps saying will be sooner rather than later. I set out four factors (conveniently, four "C's") that may be key the the survival of the Francis legacy (such as appointing those who share his vision, changing structures, creating expectations). But the big one, as the Rev. Antonio Spadaro of Civilta Cattolica told me, is the relationship between the Church and History:

“If history is the enemy of the church and the enemy of God, then we have to be very careful,” he continued. “Does history coincide with worldliness? Or, on the other hand, is history the place where God is incarnated, where God is present, where the church and every Christian must try to discern the presence of the Lord?

“Theologically,” he said, “this is about the Incarnation” — the belief that God became man in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. “If one takes seriously the Incarnation — that is, that God made himself part of history — it’s impossible to think of doctrine as fixed code that came down from heaven.”

Sparado and Cardinal Kasper and others said many other interesting things that I'll try to write up eventually. But the other big idea is that contrary to the imaginings of Francis' foes, he doesn't seem to have a platform and agenda he wants to pass -- it's more about opening the church to the Spirit, to get closer to Jesus and the Gospels. It's not making an idol of the Second Vatican Council or going "back" to anything, but moving ahead, always, as the Council envisioned. That's an agenda in itself, of course.

Where that will lead, or if such a vision can have a structure to ensure its propagation, or whether it will always need leaders like Francis to push it, is an open question.

In American politics we often lament the focus on process over policy. In the Vatican under Francis, that’s a virtue. Policies are not the goal. How you get there is as important as where you wind up.

Game Over

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long been suspected of playing a double game, of speaking one way to his supporters in Israel and another way to the rest of the world. Since 2009, he has been telling the world that he supports a two-state solution. Meanwhile, he has been signaling to right-wing voters in Israel that they needn't worry about peace talks with the Palestinians going anywhere. (According to this widely read article in the New Yorker, at a 2013 meeting with young Likud supporters Netanyahu responded to a question about peace talks by saying, "About the—what?" The audience laughed.)

From now on Netanyahu will no longer be able to play this game. In a video interview published today, on the eve of an election, Netanyahu stated explicitly that, as long as he is prime minister, there will be no statehood for the Palestinians. "I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands, is giving attack grounds to the radical Islam against the state of Israel.... Anyone who ignores this is sticking his head in the sand. The left does this time and time again. We are realistic and understand.” Interviewer: "But if you are prime minister, a Palestinian state will not arise?" Netanyahu: "Indeed."

With his party behind in the polls, Netanyahu is desperately trying to draw support from conservative voters, including those who consider Likud not conservative enough. If he loses control of the Knesset tomorrow, Israeli voters will have signaled their support for a different, less hostile policy toward the Palestinians. If his coalition wins, Washington will no longer be able to pretend that Netanyahu's policies are compatible with ours. If we are still committed to statehood for the Palestinians, we will have to stand up to him. This will be difficult for politicians who are more used to standing up for Netanyahu, as when, earlier this month, they offered long standing ovations as he publicly questioned our president's policies in the Middle East—at their invitation. 

What's new on the website

Posted today to the homepage, Joseph Sorrentino with a web exclusive on La Caravana de los Mutilados (“the Caravan of the Mutilated”), a group of seventeen Honduran men currently traveling through Mexico to call awareness to the dangers of traveling north toward the United States on the train called La Bestia. “Along the way,” Sorrentino writes, “they’re holding protests and meetings to warn people about the dangers of riding the train. They also hope to pressure their government to help any Honduran maimed by La Bestia.” Their ultimate destination: Washington, D.C., where they hope to bring their case directly to Barack Obama. Read all of “Maimed by the Beast” here.

Also today, E. J. Dionne Jr. on the forty-seven Republican senators whose letter to Iran, written “in strangely condescending language that a good civics teacher would never use,” is not just “a blatant effort to blow up the negotiations” but also “makes Congress and the United States look foolish to the world.” Read all of “The Senate’s 47 Percent” here.

Also now featured on the website, an excerpt from Cardinal Walter Kasper's new book, Pope Francis’s Revolution of Tenderness and Love:

Pope Francis’s style is correctly understood against the background of the theology of the people. This style is not good-natured folksiness or even cheap populism. Behind the pope’s pastoral style, which is close to the people, stands an entire theology, indeed a mysticism of the people. For him the church is far more than an organic and hierarchical institution. It is above all the people of God on their way to God, a pilgrim and evangelizing people that transcends every (however necessary) institutional expression.

Read all of “Open House” here.

Coffin or Suitcase? Goldberg on Europe's Jews

In the April issue of The Atlantic, several thousand words into Jeffrey Goldberg's deeply reported, timely, and sobering assessment of Euorpean Jewry, he asks whether it's 1933 again.

Anti-Semitic attitudes have increasingly turned into anti-Semitic attacks, and perhaps 2015 is the tipping point. Goldberg was interviewing a group of Jews in a cafe near Sarcelles, a center of 2014's anti-Jewish riots. 

The [town's] synagogue is now also used as a base of operations for the more than 40 soldiers who have been assigned to protect the town’s Jewish institutions.

“We’re very glad for the soldiers,” one of the men, who asked me to identify him only as Chaim, said. “But soldiers in the synagogues means that there is no life here, only danger. This is why I’m leaving.” It is, he said, using an expression common during the Algerian civil war, a choice between le cercueil ou la valise—“the coffin or the suitcase.”

After reading Goldberg's reporting, that stark dilemma does not seem melodramatic. Weaving interviews and synagogue visits with hate-crime data from throughout Europe, he portrays an existential anxiety among Jewish communities from Sweden to France to Greece. In one of history's most macabre twists, the tiny Jewish population of Gemany may have the strongest state support on the continent. Angela Merkel is "among the world's chief defenders of Jews." 

Casual and even well-educated observers of modern European religion can learn much from Goldberg's narrative, so much of which shows a rapidly changing everyday experience for Jews. With the Shoah slipping from living memory -- and its memorials defaced, its museums attacked or empty -- anti-Semitism no longer lies dormant.

A younger generation tells its parents to stop going to their Jewish doctors. Jewish students are afraid to go to school: if to public school, they are individual targets; if to Jewish schools, a collective target. A Swedish rabbi and his wife do not walk in public together, for fear that they might both be attacked and leave their children orphans. 

Goldberg concludes by considering whether emigration to Israel or the United States--the suitcase options--is the best hope for European Jewry. "Do you have a bag packed?" he asked Alain Finkielkraut, a celebrated French intellectual, referencing a classic question in Jewish culture. "We should not leave," he said, "but maybe for our children or grandchildren there will be no choice."

As an American Jew whose family left Moldova just before its Jews were exterminated, Goldberg is not optimistic for the future of Jewish life in Europe. He visited what used to be the synagogue in the town of Leova, where his grandfather would have prayed. It is now a gymnasium. "The caretaker tried to sell it to me," he quips. A bid for the future? Goldberg demurs, and leaves us with this:

I am predisposed to believe that there is no great future for the Jews in Europe, because evidence to support this belief is accumulating so quickly. But I am also predisposed to think this because I am an American Jew—which is to say, a person who exists because his ancestors made a run for it when they could.

 

Monday Morning Links: March 16

Mitch McConnell has suggested that Loretta E. Lynch's nomination to Attorney General may be delayed if the Democrats won't move forward on a bipartisan human trafficking bill. Democrats are objecting to an anti-abortion provision in the bill. The Senate resumes debate on the bill today.

Mother Jones reports on the Housing First approach to solving homelessness, and how Utah has made it work.

Mark Oppenheimer's column in the New York Times examines a working document by a group of women for the Pontifical Council for Culture. In two places, the document addresses cosmetic plastic surgery in light of commercial standards of beauty, and "the feminine self." 

From The AtlanticHow to Execute People in the 21st Century. States are reverting back to older methods of execution, which may change the perception of the death penalty at large. See also Paul Elie's article in our latest issue on Mario Marizziti's efforts to end the penalty.

Vladimir Putin has just re-emerged after being away from public view for 11 days. On the New York Review of Books blog, Amy Knight looks at the theories around the Kremlin's involvement in Boris Nemtsov's murder.

What is female confessional literature?

Karl Ove KnausgårdIn the Hedgehog Review’s newest issue, Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig has a piece on confessional writing and confession at large. She begins with Augustine’s Confessions as a model for confession in the most redemptive sense of the word: a full accounting for the purpose of ridding one’s self of sin. But now, she argues, confessional literature is a consumer product and (usually) female writers are the commodifiers and the commodified.

Today, when confessional literature is indeed everywhere—when there are whole industries dedicated to the production of it—the type of person confessing is increasingly the same: female, often young but sometimes not, enacting a kind of failure and misery to an audience that demands the performance but often despises the performer.

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On the Gridiron

President Obama roasts Governor Scott Walker ... and himself:

Despite a great performance tonight, Scott has had a few recent stumbles.  The other week he said he didn’t know whether or not I was a Christian.  And I was taken aback, but fortunately my faith teaches us forgiveness.  So, Governor Walker, as-salamu alaykum.  (Laughter and applause.)

 

Scott also recently punted on a question of evolution, which I do think is a problem.  I absolutely believe in the theory of evolution — when it comes to gay marriage.

 

And, finally, Governor Walker got some heat for staying silent when Rudy Giuliani said I don’t love America — which I also think is a problem.  Think about it, Scott — if I did not love America, I wouldn’t have moved here from Kenya.  (Laughter and applause.)  Still trying to deal with the overstaying the visa thing.  But hopefully the court is okay with the immigration initiatives.

The rest is here. (And happy Laetare Sunday!)

Family issues: 50 years ago

“When Liberals Blew It” was the headline on Nicholas Kristof’s March 12 column in The New York Times.  The headline referred to the moment fifty years ago when liberals treated Daniel Patrick Moynihan as a racist for proposing in a Labor Department report—eventually known as the “Moynihan Report”—that family disarray and the growth of single-parent households among African-Americans were reaching what would now be called a “tipping point.”  The leading factors countering black poverty—primarily male employment—were in danger of losing traction.  National action was imperative.

That Moynihan was right in broaching the delicate subject of the relationship of family breakdown and poverty has been acknowledged all over the place—half a century too late, some might say, but in fact the acknowledgements have come steadily over the decades.  Kristof, one of our best columnists, was condensing a complicated story into a brief column, which didn’t do justice to all the details.  One liberal voice, for instance, that didn’t “blow it” was Commonweal’s. 

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It's a boy!

Happy news from my post at large, here in the wilds of Westchester: our third son, Eamon Joseph, was born just after midnight on March 10, weighing nine pounds, five ounces -- a new family record. His older brothers welcomed him home with enthusiasm and much noise. We are all healthy and happy and grateful for your prayers and well-wishes.

School's Out (for the sacrifice of Ishmael)

New York prides itself on the observance of religious holidays (at least by those whose religion it is). That includes school holidays and suspension of alternate side of the street parking (just observed Purim; Holy Thursday coming up!).

City officials have now added two Muslim holidays to the out-of-school schedule: Eid al Fatr, the end of Ramadan and Eid al Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice. The Feast of Sacrifice commerates the willingness of Ibrahim (also known as Abraham) to follow Allah's (God's) command to sacrifice his son Ishmael. Jews remember this event (with Isaac), and those who went to church on the second Sunday of Lent know that Catholics also remember Abraham's willingness.

This may be a welcome interfaith reminder for people of the Book. But if you were a Jewish, Catholic, or Muslim seven-year old boy in public school how might you understand this holiday? Rush to the end of the story to be reminded that God stayed your father's hand.

Greetings from the L.A. Congress

Commonweal at the L.A. Congress

Greetings from the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, which, like the Los Angeles Angels, is actually in Anaheim, CA. Commonweal has a booth (#711) in the vast and enjoyably chaotic exhibit hall, so if you’re in the neighborhood, please stop in to say hi to your friends on the staff, happily recovering from a miserable New York winter here in the 90-degree California heat.

As other Commonweal people have written before, we love coming to the Congress. Over the course of four days, it attracts the biggest single U.S. gathering of Catholics involved in ministry. The more than 200 workshops include the usual book-plugging and music-shilling, but there are sessions ranging from the practical and pastoral (e.g. how to welcome autistic children into parish life) to scripture, faith and the movies, and parish leadership. What matters most, though, is not the scale or the content, but the mood. Frankly, people seem happy to be here, and by extension, upbeat about being Catholic. And if you want a first-hand experience of the American church’s multi-ethnic future, here in Orange County is where to come to get a very encouraging picture of it: Thousands of Catholic high-school and college students, hard-working teachers and parish catechists, pastors and deacons, religious sisters and brothers of every description and nationality. Tomorrow night there will be masses in five different languages, including brand-new Cardinal Soane Mafi from Tonga celebrating mass in, yes, Tongan.

So anyway, if you’re a Commonweal reader and you’re in the neighborhood, make sure to come by and say hello.