Luke Hill

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

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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. 

America, Catholics & Elegant Racism

As deftly summarized in this article by Adam Serwer, there is a through line connecting last year's evisceration of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court's five man Catholic majority in Shelby County v. Holder to the infamous1857 Dred Scott decision written by the Court's first Catholic justice, Roger Taney. 

Massachusetts' Minimum Wage Hike Is A Catholic Victory Too

Yesterday Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed legislation raising the state's minimum wage from $8.00/hour to $11.00/hour, by Janury 1, 2017.  That's the highest statewide minimum wage in the country.  It means full-time minimum wage workers in the Bay State can look forward to an additional $6,000 in annual income. 

Boston magazine's David Bernstein, one of the savviest political reporters in the commonwealth, noted earlier today that the minimum wage increase is further proof that Massachusetts has entered "a new Golden Age of Law-Making By Threat of Popular Vote", adding "I’m not sure whether that’s a good or a bad thing, but it’s definitely a thing."

It's also a sign of the Catholic Church wielding political power in a different way than it sometimes has in the past.  At the heart of the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition that gathered over 350,000 signatures to put initiatives to raise the Minimum Wage, and to create an Earned Sick Time benefit for all Massachusetts workers, before the legislature and the electorate are several faith-based community organizations affiliated with the Massachusetts Community Action Network.  Other faith-based community organizations (including the Merrimack Valley Project where---full disclosure---I do some work) also participated in the campaign.

Pentecost Song - Holy Spirit

Dorothy Norwood began her gospel music career in 1943 and her solo recording career spans five decades.  In the early 1960s she was part of The Caravans which, in the world of gospel music, is a more or less unimpeachable credential.  (It's like being part of Miles Davis' first great quintet, or the championship Boston Celtics teams of the same era.)