Luke Hill

Luke Hill is a writer and community organizer in Boston. He blogs at dotCommonweal and MassCommons. 

By this author

The Day George Mitchell Saved American Patriotism From Oliver North

(When Sen. George Mitchell receives Commonweal's Catholic in the Public Square Award later this month, there will be little---and perhaps no---mention of his work on the Iran-contra committee and his July 13, 1987 statement to Col. Oliver North.  (There's no mention of it in the lengthy biographical entries about Mitchell on Wikipedia and the Academy of Achievement.) And that is probably as it should be.  Mitchell's more recent work as an international peacemaker, and particularly his work in Northern Ireland, will rightly take center stage.  All the more reason then, to remember it here.)

It was the summer of 1987 and the Iran-contra hearings were in full swing. As Congress came back from its Independence Day recess the man in the middle of the scandal, NSC aide Lt. Col. Oliver North, began his testimony...and a folk hero was born.

With his erect bearing, immaculate uniform, beribboned chest, and puppy-dog eyes, North embodied an American patriotic ideal.  A man of action who loves his country and will do what it takes to get the job done.  A man alternately bewildered at and defiant of those who would besmirch the honor of his good name.

Meanwhile the Congressional investigators looked like...members of Congress.  Mostly older, graying, paunchy, suited men who sounded like...well, members of Congress, speaking the orotund dialect peculiar to that body.

To the evident delight of some Republicans (e.g., Rep. Richard Cheney of Wyoming) on the 26 man (yes, all men) combined House and Senate select committees, North's reputation soared overnight as he cleverly exploited the committee's own rules to make soaring speeches in defense of himself and of the secret and illegal policies he had carried out---selling arms (despite an arms embargo) to Iran for the release of American hostages (thus providing a further incentive for kidnappers) and secretly funneling the funds raised to the contras in Nicaragua (despite the Boland Amendment).  "I didn't think it was wrong; I thought it was a neat idea," said North.  Most Americans watching the televised hearings cheered him on.

It was different on radio.

What To Do With Columbus Day?

In most of the United States, today is Columbus Day.  Recognition of the holiday is intimately tied with the Catholic presence in the United States, from initial observances by Italian immigrants and their descendants in the second half of the 19th century, to its first federal recognition in 1937.

Paul Ryan, America & the Option for the Poor

Well, kudos to America magazine and to Rep. Paul Ryan for their mutual engagement---with each other and with Pope Francis---on the issue of poverty.

George Mitchell: A Profile in Political Courage

There's a nice little story in our local paper about the Kennedy family delivering its Profile in Courage award to former president George H. W. Bush for his role in the 1990 budget compromise that cut spending, raised taxes and---along with the 1993 Clinton budget---laid the foundation for the federal budget surpluses of the late 1990s.

Unfortunately for both the Kennedys and the Bushes, the historical record undercuts the notion that Bush acted courageously.  As his granddaughter pointed out when accepting the award on his behalf back in May, "Candidly speaking, my grandfather didn’t want to raise taxes in 1990...".  Well then, with all due respect, it's hard to conclude it was an act of political courage on his part to do so, isn't it?

Especially because Bush had painted himself into that particular political corner with his craven (and unnecessary) "Read my lips; no new taxes" pledge at the 1988 Republican national convention.  "The Pledge" didn't get him elected in 1988; and breaking it was not the cause of his defeat in 1992.

No, if any politician deserves a profile in courage award for the 1990 budget deal it's then-Senate Majority Leader---and Commonweal's 2014 "Catholics in the Public Square" honoree---George Mitchell.

What Is George Mitchell Up To?

For those who've watched his public career over the years, the three-part essay just published by the Boston Globe on the need for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian standoff, and the importance of America's role in achieving that peaceful resolution, is classic George Mitchell.

He begins by acknowledging the complexity of the situation and the legitimacy of the deeply felt emotions experienced by all parties.

"Conflicts in the Middle East are many and overlapping: Arabs and Jews; Israelis and Palestinians; Persians and Arabs; Sunni and Shiite Muslims; fundamentalists and moderates; Sunni-led governments and Sunni opposition groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood. In this highly complex and volatile region, what should the United States do? What can we do?"

See what he did there?  Having acknowledged the complexity and seeming intractability of the problem, Mitchell immediately frames the discussion in terms of his own country's moral and pragmatic responses, and responsibilities.  He's intensely interested in dealing with the world as it is...but always in the context of thinking about the world as it should be.

The Case For Reparations

Deep inside one of those lively and far-ranging discussion threads that makes dotCommonweal such a pleasure to read, I made a passing allusion last month to the issue of reparations and promised to come back to the topic.  This post is a fulfillment of---or at least, a downpayment on---that promise.

The New Kid on the Block

When the Boston Globe hired John Allen away from the National Catholic Reporter earlier this year, it didn't make sense.  The Globe had closed its overseas bureaus years ago and—like every other newspaper in the country—had a shrinking newsroom.

With the launch this week of Crux ("Covering All Things Catholic") as the Globe's newest website, hiring the man George Weigel once called "“the best Anglophone Vatican reporter ever" makes sense—not as a newspaper strategy but as an online media strategy.

"A Win for the Virtues of Loyalty and Fairness"

"Strikes don't strike me" was a favorite saying of Catholic Worker cofounder Peter Maurin; but even Maurin might have been pleased with the eight week strike by Market Basket workers and managers that ended yesterday with tears of joy shed at most of the supermarket chain's 71 stores in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

It's not just the fact that thousands of Market Basket's nonunionized workers happily went back to work after winning on their one and only demand.  Or that the strike was led by a nine member council of senior store managers who'd all worked for the company for decades.  Or that the workers were supported by a boycott semi-spontaneously organized and adhered to by hundreds of thousands of Market Basket's loyal customers. 

No, what might have pleased Maurin was the workers' solitary demand: the rehiring of fired long-time CEO Arthur T. Demoulas.  When's the last time workers---without the (admittedly meager under current US law) protection of a union contract---went on strike for their boss?

Ferguson & the Social Sin of Racism

The New York Times has a useful timeline of events in Ferguson, Missouri since the August 9 killing of Michael Brown. Grantland's Rembert Browne has a gripping and harrowing personal account of his first 48 hours reporting in Ferguson. Recent racial profiling data from the office of the Missouri Attorney General gives a statistical snapshot of the institutionalized racism that exists in Ferguson. The Wall Street Journal reports that in a city where 2/3 of the residents are African-American, 50 of 53 police officers are white. By following #Ferguson on Twitter, not only can you get up-to-the-minute reporting of events on the ground, you also can get an introduction to a slew of talented journalists like the Washington Post's Wesley Lowery, the New Yorker's Jelani Cobb, the Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates, the Boston Globe's Akilah Johnson and others who can answer (and often, already have) just about any question you might have about the crisis centered on Ferguson.

I know a priest who once began a sermon on Matthew 25:31-46 by noting that in 30 years of ministry, every conversation he'd had about this parable eventually---and usually quickly---turned to the question, "Does that mean I have to give change to every beggar who asks?".  Similarly, almost every discussion of institutionalized racism in America today eventually ends up with someone saying, "Are you calling me a racist?  Because I didn't/don't have anything to do with _____ (fill in the blank: slavery, Jim Crow, racially exclusive housing covenants, Ferguson....).

America's Best Known Sunday School Teacher In Action

There's a generation for whom Jimmy Carter is America's best-known and (perhaps) most beloved Sunday School teacher.  For younger Americans, there's a good chance that Stephen Colbert now occupies that role.

In recent years, Colbert has so rarely spoken in public when not in character as "Stephen Colbert", that it's at first something of a shock to see him as himself in "Ask A Grown Man", a regular monthly feature of Rookie, an online magazine for teenage girls.