mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Obama Facing The World As It Really Is”: A Smiling Pope, A Fallen Speaker And Two Tough Guys — Obama’s Crazy Week

The week began with President Obama on the tarmac of a military base in Maryland, waiting to welcome a global celebrity far more popular than he. It ended with him raising a toast to a hard-nosed world leader who has repeatedly challenged American interests and Obama’s resolve.

Along the way, the president’s most frequent legislative sparring partner in Washington relinquished his post on Capitol Hill, finally surrendering to the sharp polarization that has come to define American politics in the past five years. And abroad, another of Obama’s persistent antagonists — the Russian president — suddenly wanted a face-to-face chat about Syria and Ukraine.

The week’s events seemed like political surrealism. When Pope Francis arrived at the White House on Wednesday, the weather was so gorgeous it put Obama in a hopeful, reverential mood.

“What a beautiful day the Lord has made,” he said.

Two days later, Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived on the South Lawn to a much stiffer, more martial ceremony, complete with a 21-gun salute and lengthy remarks read from thick binders. Behind the scenes, the two leaders grappled over questions of economic hacking and Beijing’s military adventurism in the South China Sea.

But amid the piety of the pope and the provocations by China loomed the potential of another government shutdown. The surprise announcement by House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) on Friday that he would step down provided the week’s surpassing piece of political drama.

In Obama, Boehner has faced a determined adversary, but it was a mutiny within his own caucus that finally drove him to the exit. And as tempestuous as the Obama-Boehner relationship has been, the speaker’s departure signals that Obama may face an even more fractious GOP majority Congress in the remaining months of his presidency.

More than some of his predecessors, Obama is acutely aware of the contrast between his lofty ideals and the reality facing him. He talks about it all the time.

“Ultimately, global leadership requires us to see the world as it is, with all its danger and uncertainty,” the president told graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in May 2014. “But American leadership also requires us to see the world as it should be — a place where the aspirations of individual human beings really matters ; where hopes and not just fears govern; where the truths written into our founding documents can steer the currents of history in a direction of justice.”

The past week was a single lens into both those worlds, with their maddeningly uplifting complexity.

In Francis — and his progressive message on inequality, immigration and climate change — Obama saw the world as he wanted it to be. In everything else — Xi’s visit, Boehner’s resignation and a decision to meet with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin during the upcoming U.N. General Assembly session in New York — the president faced the world as it really is.

The president has had only a modest impact on three of the protagonists who dominated the week, although he has sought to engage all of them at different points. Xi and Obama have found a common cause in tackling climate change, but on many other important policy issues, they are at odds. Putin, like Xi, has joined the United States in pressuring Iran to scale back its nuclear program. But he defied American calls to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and has ignored the U.S. push to sideline Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as part of a political solution to the ongoing Syrian civil war. Obama sought to enlist Boehner’s help in forging fiscal and immigration reforms, but the GOP leader was never able to bring along enough members of his party to make the deals happen.

Still, Obama was at the center of all of the action over the past week.

Stanford University’s Michael McFaul, who served as U.S. ambassador to Russia for three years under Obama, returned a few days ago from Beijing. He said he was struck by the massive coverage in China of Xi’s visit to the United States, as he was by Putin’s desire to speak with Obama during the U.N. meeting. China’s and Russia’s dealings with the United States rank as each of those countries’ “most important bilateral relationship,” he said.

“It seems to me [Obama is] still pretty engaged in international affairs, and people want to engage him,” said McFaul, who directs Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. “We’re still the central power in the international arena.”

During a news conference with Xi in the White House Rose Garden on Friday, Obama delivered a brief lecture on the many responsibilities that accompany China’s rise from the “poor, developing country” it once was to its current status.

“It is now a powerhouse. And that means it’s got responsibilities and expectations in terms of helping to uphold international rules that might not have existed before,” the president said.

But on several issues, Xi asserted that China would not mimic other world powers. “Democracy and human rights are the common pursuit of mankind,” he said. “At the same time, we must recognize that countries have different historical processes and realities, and we need to respect people of all countries in the right to choose their own development path independently.”

Although the White House has emphasized the value of the time Obama and Xi have spent “outside the glare of the klieg lights,” in the words of press secretary Josh Earnest, experts cautioned that that sort of schmoozing has its limits.

Patrick M. Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, said there’s an “American tendency to believe in the personalization of relations.”

“It’s all generally true, but the president of China doesn’t come as a person,” he said. “He comes here as the leader of the Communist Party, and the leader of China.”

Obama’s exchanges with the pope were less charged.

Obama and Francis chatted amiably as the choir of Washington’s St. Augustine Catholic Church sang “Total Praise” on the South Lawn, and in their public remarks, the president and the pontiff emphasized their common values.

The pope said he found it “encouraging” that Obama was cutting carbon emissions linked to climate change. Meanwhile, the president not only praised Francis’s vision of “empathy,” but also said his “unique qualities as a person” gave the world “a living example of Jesus’s teachings, a leader whose moral authority comes not just through words but also through deeds.”

On Friday, after word of Boehner’s resignation became public, Obama said he hoped lawmakers would “really reflect on what His Holiness said,” especially the idea “that we listen to each other and show each other respect, and that we show regard for the most vulnerable in society.”

Seven decades ago, with Eastern Europe in turmoil, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin dismissed the Vatican’s influence in the world with this question: “How many [military] divisions does the pope of Rome have?”

Michael Ignatieff, a professor at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School, described Obama as “a realist and a pragmatist” with reasons to align himself with Francis.

“A ‘realist’ fact about the modern world is Pope Francis has divisions,” said Ignatieff, who led Canada’s Liberal Party in opposition between 2008 and 2011. “He has articulated a longing for justice, the care of nature, the care of the poor — that’s very powerful stuff.”

 

By: Juliet Eilperin, White House Bureau Chief, The Washington Post, September 26, 2015

 

September 28, 2015 Posted by | John Boehner, Pope Francis, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Francis Prods Congress’ Conscience”: We Can Find No Social Or Moral Justification, No Justification Whatsoever, For Lack Of Housing

Wouldn’t it be grand if Pope Francis could be a recurring visitor to the U.S. Congress, a sort of spiritual superintendent who occasionally drops in to chide, cajole, and mostly just remind our legislators when their actions don’t promote the common good? What kind of country would we become?

Watching as the pontiff stepped away from the podium after his electrifying speech to Congress, I wanted the effect to stick. I wanted to see Democrats and Republicans get off their high horses and cooperate on restoring the health and prosperity of the nation. I wanted our elected officials to stop acting merely as the “political class” and instead legislate as men and women of conscience.

I know I’m not alone. A lot of reasonable people in this country wish the pope’s short visit would usher in such an era.

But with his visit to Capitol Hill complete, the pope drove off in his little Fiat, en route to greet the people nearest his heart: the poor and homeless. At St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Washington, he spoke to and looked in the faces of the least among us at a Catholic Charities free lunch for more than 200. It was a sharp contrast to his prior errand. And yet there is a role for government at this table, too.

“Why are we homeless?” Francis asked. “Why don’t we have housing? These are questions which many of you may ask daily.”

Then, he added, “We can find no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing.”

Is that clear enough for you? There is no justification whatsoever, and yet homelessness persists — thrives, actually — in this rich and powerful nation. Why?

Unwind the life of virtually any homeless man, woman or child and you may see personal failure or family failure. More likely you will see challenges that people can’t handle by themselves: mental illness, domestic violence, catastrophic job loss, poverty. No one sets out in life wanting to be homeless. No one should be trapped in homelessness, even as a consequence of poor choices.

That they continue to be is an indictment of a society that sanctions discarding — a word Francis often uses — those it finds inconvenient.

It’s also a failure of government. Just as you can track the problems along a person’s road to homelessness, you can track policy maker’s failure — or is it refusal? — to respond. The story of homelessness is a story of policy failure: shortfalls in vision and funding of public education, investment in neighborhoods, job training, access to healthcare (especially mental), affordable treatment for addictions of alcohol and drugs, and treatment for PTSD-afflicted veterans after they fight our wars.

Those are all issues that Congress has an impact on, for better or worse.

The pope’s arrival in the U.S. overshadowed a national headline on homelessness out of Los Angeles. City leaders declared a “state of emergency” because the number of homeless people setting up encampments has grown to an estimated 26,000.

In other words, the homeless have become too numerous to ignore.

So an announcement was made that $100 million would be shoveled at programs, which not surprisingly have yet to be FULLY outlined. That’s because there are no easy answers.

The skyrocketing costs of housing, and the lack of affordable options, are significant factors in why homelessness has grown by 12 percent in Los Angeles in the past two years. But affordable housing is an issue in virtually every American city.

The uneven way the economy is recovering from the recession is another complicating factor. Congress and the president approved bailouts and other deals for some, but that didn’t benefit everyone in the long run. How the U.S. rebuilds its economy will determine who and how many land on our streets in the future.

A central moral teaching of virtually every faith is the responsibility to feed the poor. Yet charity alone is not a solution. We have an obligation as a society, through the policies of our governments, to create the conditions and opportunities for all to house, feed and clothe themselves and their families.

Any honest assessment of homelessness apportions blame and responsibility in many directions. Like the stalemates of Congress, homelessness didn’t begin recently, and it continues through inaction or misdirected action from many, many quarters.

Day by day, struggle by struggle, people fall into being homeless through their own faults and from circumstances they did not create.

There but for the grace of God goes each of us.

 

By: Mary Sanchez, Opinion-Page Columnist for The Kansas City Star; The National Memo, September 26, 2015

September 28, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Government, Homeless, Pope Francis | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Polarized Congress Will Ignore Pope’s Plea”: We Are Living Through A Deeply Polarized Era In Which Compromise Is A Dirty Word

In a more generous political climate, an adorable little girl who gave a letter and a hug to Pope Francis could make a difference. In an era with a more pragmatic Congress and a less Balkanized electorate, 5-year-old Sophie Cruz could break through the gridlock around immigration reform.

But we are living through a deeply polarized era in which compromise is a dirty word, listening to those with whom we disagree is seen as weakness and respect for different opinions regarded as betrayal. Pope Francis’ gracious address to Congress, in which he urged compassion toward “foreigners,” won’t change that. Neither will a cute little girl.

The pope’s embrace of young Sophie has flashed around the world, carried at the supersonic speed of social media. As he made his way down the National Mall in the Popemobile on Wednesday, he spotted her trying to break through his firewall of security guards and beckoned for her.

She handed him a letter — accompanied by a delightful drawing of the pope with children of different races — pleading for a comprehensive immigration reform that might save her parents from deportation. Though she is a citizen (so far, at least, since Donald Trump has not yet had his way on birthright citizenship), her parents crossed the border from Mexico illegally.

Her well-written letter and her flawless recitation of it for reporters were no accident. She and her parents, who live in Los Angeles, went to Washington with a group of immigration activists. They apparently chose Sophie as likely to get the pope’s attention because of his well-known affection for children.

Their strategy hearkens back to the days of the civil rights movement, when activists scoured the landscape for well-scrubbed and presentable symbols to show to the nation. That’s quite understandable. When an oppressed group has the opportunity to present itself on a grand stage, its leaders seek to make a good impression. And that in no way diminishes Sophie’s charm.

She gave moving testimony to the anxiety and insecurity created by the threat of deportation, writing to the pope: “I would like to ask you to speak with the president and the Congress in [sic] legalizing my parents because every day I am scared that one day they will take them away from me.”

But those voters who are willing to be persuaded by the hopes and dreams of 11 million undocumented immigrants already support changing the law. According to a recent CBS poll, 58 percent believe they should be given citizenship, while another 10 percent believe they should be granted legal status. That’s a substantial majority who support bringing those immigrants out of the shadows.

The Republican Party, however, has been captured by the xenophobic minority following Donald Trump, with his denunciation of Mexicans as “rapists” and “murderers” and his insistence on deportation for millions. Little Sophie won’t change their views. Neither will the powerful preaching of Pope Francis.

“In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants,” he told Congress.

In a different political climate, that message may have moved Speaker John Boehner, a Catholic, who teared up during the pope’s address. But he seems cowed by the nativists in his restive caucus, and he has refused, so far, to force a vote on the comprehensive immigration reform plan passed by the Senate two years ago.

Our political system is paralyzed, for now, by the fears and bigotry of a few. And little Sophie can’t change that.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, September 26, 2015

 

Editor’s Note: House Speaker John Boehner announced his resignation, effective October 30, after this piece was filed.

September 27, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Immigration Reform, Pope Francis | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“A Sinful Tendency To Pervert Faith”: Pope Francis’ Familiar Denunciation Of ‘Ideological Extremism’

It’s hard to overstate just how furious conservatives were in February after hearing President Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. I’ll be curious to see how many of them are equally livid with Pope Francis today.

Nearly eight months ago, the president noted that while many faith communities around the world are “inspiring people to lift up one another,” we also see “faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge – or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon.” The president explained that no faith tradition is immune and every religion, including his own, has chapters its adherents are not proud of.

“Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history,” he said. “And lest we [Christians] get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ…. So this is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.”

Conservatives, quite content atop their high horse, were disgusted. Just this week, we saw Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) continue to whine about the Prayer Breakfast remarks, pointing the speech as evidence of the president serving as an “apologist for radical Islamic terrorists.”

But take a moment to consider what Pope Francis said this morning during his address to Congress.

“Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms.”

In U.S. News, Gary Emerling noted, “The pontiff said all religions are susceptible to extremism and violence, just like Obama said in February.” I heard it the exact same way.

In fact, as best as I can tell, when Pope Francis said that “no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism,” the only difference between this sentiment and Obama’s in February is that the president bolstered his point with examples.

Will the right lambaste Francis with equal vigor? Somehow I doubt it, but if readers see any examples of this, I hope you’ll let me know.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 25, 2015

September 26, 2015 Posted by | Faith, Ideological Extremism, Pope Francis | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Pope Francis Will Not Help Your Political Cause”: Even The Pope Can’t Change The Fundamental Calculus Of Congress

“Pope Francis gets political in remarks at White House,” read the headline at The Hill.

“Pope Francis brings political agenda to Washington,” said Politico.

“Pope Francis wades into U.S. politics,” read The Washington Post.

Seeing all that, you might think that the pontiff had said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, and also, call your representatives and tell them to vote yes on H.R. 2451…”

Meanwhile, countless interest groups are sending out press releases saying the pope agrees with them on their issue of concern (the dumbest I’ve seen has to be the 30-page report from a Democratic group charging that the Koch brothers are “on the wrong side of the Holy Father”). But I have some bad news if you were hoping the pope would aid your particular partisan cause, whatever it is: The pope’s visit is not going to matter much.

I suppose you can’t blame the political press for interpreting the pope’s trip through the lens of politics, since it’s their job to view everything through the lens of politics. And it’s true that the pope is visiting the White House and giving an address before a joint session of Congress while he’s here. But is he really going to change the nature of any of the serious partisan arguments we have?

It’s not too likely, because no matter how popular Francis might be, nobody here is just going to do what he says on any issue just because he’s the pope. It’s strange now to look back at the 1960 campaign and see that people were genuinely concerned that John F. Kennedy would be taking orders from the Vatican instead of doing whatever he thought was best. We’d never accuse a Catholic presidential candidate of that today, less because it would sound intolerant than because it would sound ridiculous. When ordinary Catholics don’t take orders from the pope, why would a Catholic president?

Catholics have a lot of practice at picking the Church edicts they want to obey and those they don’t — and that applies to both liberals and conservatives. The conservatives take all that stuff about helping the poor with a grain of salt, while the liberals have decided to agree to disagree with the Church on matters like same-sex marriage. And most everybody disagrees with the Church on birth control; in this Pew poll, three-quarters of Catholics said the Church should permit contraception, and the overwhelming majority of Catholic women of childbearing age use it.

Of course, this isn’t just about obedience, it’s also about the pope’s ability to add his voice and moral authority to political questions. You could argue that when the pope talks about climate change, he makes concern about it seem like a mainstream position and not the province of lefties and liberals. Which is true as far as it goes, but in the U.S. today, that isn’t that far. In the intensely polarized environment in which we live, even a highly popular religious figure can’t change the fundamental calculus of Congress.

One of our two great parties has committed itself to fight any moves that might address climate change, a commitment that is unlikely to change any time soon. That’s true despite the fact that most of their own constituents believe we ought to do something about it. The dynamics of party politics mean that the Republicans who actually get elected are going to be the ones who are most doctrinaire, on this as on most issues. That means that as long as they control Congress, there will be enough of them to stop any climate legislation, which in turn means that action will only come through the kind of regulatory changes that the Obama administration has instituted. The only thing that will produce meaningful climate legislation is huge Democratic majorities in Congress of the kind they had briefly at the start of Barack Obama’s first term. Might there be a Republican member of Congress somewhere who wishes she could publicly advocate reductions in greenhouse gases, and will finally have the courage to do so now that she can claim Pope Francis as an ally? I suppose it’s possible, but I wouldn’t bet on it — let alone there being some significant number of Republicans who would join her.

The same is true of other issues: the more something matters to us politically, the less the pope is able to change anyone’s mind here in the United States, whether he’s talking about abortion or refugees or tax policy.

Even if some conservative media outlets are now going after Francis like he was Hillary Clinton because of what he’s said about climate and capitalism, they needn’t worry so much. While everyone is parsing the pope’s words to see if he supports their position on something or other — he said he’s an immigrant, so he must be criticizing Donald Trump! He said we need religious liberty, so he must be backing Kim Davis in Kentucky! — what will come out of this visit is a lot of selfies, a lot of media puff pieces, and probably a jump in the pope’s popularity. But politically, everything will stay just the same.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, September 24, 2015

September 25, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Partisan Politics, Pope Francis | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

%d bloggers like this: