Margaret O'Brien Steinfels

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.

By this author

The Fall of the Gingkos

Our nearby park and green sanctuary has a robust collection of Gingko trees. Their fan-shaped leaves turn yellow and then golden in the fall. Just last Saturday, I took some photos of them in their golden glory.

What kind of Democratic Party and what kind of candidates (Cont.)

The 2014 Election post-mortems keep spinning their wheels. This story in Saturday's NYTimes managed to wrangle in many of the conflcting views of party leaders and party pundits.

A curious feature of the story is that the contending forces have so many labels: moderate, liberal, progressive, populists. Is that part of the Democrat's problem? Also curious that Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren are cited as representatives for at least two of the factions.

Lessons learned: Civilian casualties division

General Martin Dempsey, head of the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs, has seemed to me a prudent and cautious observer when it comes to U.S. military action. His recent calls for more special forces in Iraq seemed ahead of President Obama on the issue, though on Friday the White House announced more boots on the ground (as advisors).  So I was taken aback with General Dempsey's remarks at a recent presentation at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.

He commended the Israeli Defense Forces on the measures they took to protect civilians in the attacks on Gaza. Between 2,100 and 2,200 Gazans were killed (513 were children) and between 10,000 and 11,000 were wounded. (the UN calculates that 70-75 percent were civilians; Israel says 50 percent). Still a lot of people were killed or wounded.

Dempsey goes on to say that he has sent a team of U.S. military to study "lessons learned" on the IDF's protection of civilians living in Gaza. The concluding sentence: "...I can say to you with confidence that I think [the IDF] acted responsibility—although I think Human Rights Watch just published a report that there were civilian casualties. And that's tragic, but I think the IDF did what they could.

What lessons will the U.S. military learn? Stay tuned. General Dempseys' full remarks after the break; the whole transcript of his conversation here.

What kind of Democratic Party and what kind of candidates

One of the factors behind Republican victories across the country was the party's success in excluding candidates who were over the top (e.g., in 2012, the candidates from Missouri [Akin] and Indiana [Mourdock]). This year they did a better job of vetting.

A Seven-Pope Catholic asks: What is Francis up to?

Pope Francis is a breath of fresh air. It’s heartening to find so many people, especially young ones, enthused about him. But popes come and go; Francis is my seventh. Meaning: my expectations are tempered by not only what popes can and cannot do, but what they are likely to do. Francis is no exception.

Meanwhile, back at the war

Perhaps you have been distracted by doings at the Vatican and the fear-filled news of Ebola (Although, there's this: Nina Pham, a critical-care nurse who cared for Mr. Duncan, the Ebola victim,  is now in isolation herself at Texas Presbyterians. She has been described as a compassionate and caring person [I felt proud reading that she grew up in a Vietnamese Catholic family]).

What would a deal with Iran mean? And no deal?

The negotiations on Iran's nuclear development with the U.S. and five major powers are coming up against a November 24 deadline. Charles Freeman, retired diplomat and former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, offers an assessment of the central issues in reaching a deal--or failing to.

What Next? Who Benefits?

What is the U.S. doing in the Middle East? A senior retired diplomat, Robert Hunter, looks back on U.S. policy after 9/11 and looks forward to the effort to degrade ISIL. He argues that U.S. presidents have failed to ask two questions: What follows? Who benefits? He points to the cross-purposes and their conseuqences as the U.S. once again tries to lead a grand coalition against ISIS/ISIL.

Daria Donnelly, 1959-2004: "Called Back"

Sunday, September 21, was the tenth anniversary of Daria Donnelly's death. She is included in this month's "Blessed Among Us," section of Give Us this Day (Liturgical Press).

Daria was a wonderful colleague at Commonweal and a sometime guest at our dinner table. Before she became ill, she traveled weekly to and from Boston to work with us. She was a great poetry reader and lover. Her memorial card capture that and her spirit. It simply read, Dear Martha—Called Back—Emily, from Emily Dickinson's last letter.

She told Commonweal readers of her illness here.

The Editors wrote this in October 2004.

After the jump, a poem about Daria by Tiina Aleman, Commonweal's production editor.

Why Obama's strategy won't work

Two pieces (somewhat long) lay out the reasons 1. there will be no grand coalition gathered against ISIS and 2. the competing goals of the relevant Middle Eastern nations.