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“To The Sinners In Congress”: Pope Francis isn’t A Liberal. He’s Something More Radical: A Christian Humanist

Pope Francis is causing quite the stir these days.

On Tuesday he will make his first trip to the United States, where he’ll preach the existential urgency of climate change and the moral imperative of economic inequality to a Republican Congress that would probably prefer he talk about abortion and marriage. Conservatives worldwide are upset that Francis is allowing priests to absolve women who repent for an abortion and has “vandalized” marriage by making it easier for Catholics to get their marriages annulled.

In July, Gallup reported that the pope’s favorability among American self-described conservative Catholics had dropped to 45 percent, from 72 percent a year earlier. “This decline may be attributable to the pope’s denouncing of ‘the idolatry of money’ and linking climate change partially to human activity, along with his passionate focus on income inequality,” Gallup said, noting that these are “all issues that are at odds with many conservatives’ beliefs.”

But just because some conservatives are upset with Pope Francis, that doesn’t mean that he’s a liberal. He isn’t, really, politically or religiously.

He is a reformer, and he is shaking things up in a church that had experienced theological and institutional continuity for 35 years under Pope John Paul II, elected in 1978, and Pope Benedict XVI, John Paul’s doctrinal right hand from 1982 until his own elevation to supreme pontiff in 2005.

Francis boldly promotes some policies that make conservatives uncomfortable. But the Pope Francis revolution is probably best described as humanist — and that makes it a much bigger challenge to Catholics in the West, both conservative and liberal.

Let me be clear: I’m not arguing that Francis is a secular humanist, or capital-h Humanist, by any means. Instead, let’s call him a Christian humanist, defining that as one who cares about human beings more than ecclesiastical considerations.

That might sound like secular balderdash, but it’s actually a phrase coined by Pope Benedict. “Christian humanism,” he wrote in the 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate (“Charity in Truth”), “enkindles charity and takes its lead from truth, accepting both as a lasting gift from God. Openness to God makes us open toward our brothers and sisters and toward an understanding of life as a joyful task to be accomplished in a spirit of solidarity.” Benedict explicitly borrowed the idea from Pope Paul VI.

Pope Francis has taken the idea of Christian humanism and put it into practice, with a big smile. He is concerned with the welfare of the Roman Catholic Church, certainly, but he is much more concerned with what the Catholic Church calls the “mystical body of Christ” — that is, the people who make up the Christian church.

There are plenty of examples.

His groundbreaking encyclical on climate change, Laudato Sí (“Praise Be to You”), for one, is a stern rebuke to humanity — that includes industrialist polluters, but also voracious consumers and even environmentalists — for turning the Earth into “an immense pile of filth.” But he intrinsically pairs ecology and social justice, arguing that efforts to save the planet “must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.”

Then there’s the pope’s modification of church law to make it easier to get broken marriages annulled, which, Vatican Radio says, is rooted in the core principle of “salus animarum — the salvation of souls.” Catholics whose marriages fail — especially in poorer countries, where annulments are expensive and hard to come by — should be shown mercy and love, encouraged and allowed to fully participate in the sacramental life of the church, whenever possible.

But probably the most illuminating example — the one that shows Francis putting the needs of humanity firmly above the parochial concerns of the church — has to do with the Christian character of Europe.

Pope Benedict, before he retired, fought tooth and nail to keep Europe anchored in Christianity. In 2007, after the European Parliament rejected including references to God and Christianity in the European Constitution, Benedict chastised European lawmakers. How can EU governments “exclude an element as essential to the identity of Europe as Christianity, in which the vast majority of its people continue to identify?” Benedict asked. “Does not this unique form of apostasy of itself, even before God, lead [Europe] to doubt its very identity?”

Pope Francis has not only ignored the issue, he has pleaded with Catholics — and, in fact, all Europeans — to personally house the masses of mostly Muslim migrants seeking refuge in the EU.

The surge of humanity from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya will make Europe more Muslim and less Christian, as some European politicians have noted caustically. But the preeminent Christian leader in Europe is begging Europeans to open their doors, anyway. And in the case of Catholic religious orders, he is more than pleading: He is ordering them to utilize their unused convent and monastery rooms to house refugees, unless they want to start paying property taxes. The Holy See has already chosen two families of migrants to stay in the Vatican, the pope said, and they are welcome to remain “as long as the Lord wants.”

If you think that the church focusing on migrants isn’t novel, you wouldn’t be wrong. Pope Benedict said it was “impossible to remain silent” on the issue of refugee camps in 2008 (years before the refugee camps were in Europe). And, back in 1985, John Paul II said the fact that a migrant “is a citizen of a particular state does not deprive him of membership to the human family.” In the U.S., the Catholic Church has long advocated for the rights of immigrants — though the big waves of immigrants in the 20th century were largely Catholic.

But that’s the point of the Pope Francis revolution — it’s not really about new ideas, it’s about what the Catholic Church truly focuses on and where it leads by example. Francis isn’t just visiting the sinners in the U.S. Congress, he’s also visiting the sinners in prison, as well as children, hard laborers, refugees, and other demographics the Bible says that Jesus paid attention to.

Ostentatiously living a more humble papacy, determinedly mingling with the disenfranchised and downtrodden, radically (for the Catholic Church) putting the laity at the center of church solicitude: This is the change Francis is bringing to the Catholic Church. It is making lots of people uncomfortable. Honestly, any Catholic that doesn’t feel challenged by Francis’ subversive papacy probably isn’t paying enough attention.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, calls Francis “an equal opportunity disturber,” noting that “when we listen to some things he says, we smile; as we listen to other things he says, we bristle.” But, he added, “Jesus was like that, remember?”

It’s pretty clear Pope Francis does.

 

By: Peter Weber, The Week, September 22, 2015

September 23, 2015 Posted by | Catholic Church, Christianity, Pope Francis | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Denier Vigilantes”: Why It’s So Sad When Conservatives Try To Play The Underdog

Jeffrey Toobin once described the career of John Roberts, the conservative chief justice of the Supreme Court, this way: “In every major case since he became the nation’s 17th chief justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff.”

This is a raw expression of one of the most basic forms of conservatism: The defense of incumbent holders of wealth and power. Of course, it doesn’t account for the whole of American conservatism, but it’s no secret that conservatives are the most outspoken defenders of the 1 percent, from the Wall Street Journal editorial board to the vast bulk of the Republican contingent in Congress.

The rise of the social justice movement has thus presented a persistent rhetorical problem for conservatives. Members of this movement have made a compelling case that the powerful have rigged society against certain groups: minorities, women, the poor, transgender folks, and so on. That rhetorical strength has been a great source of temptation for conservatives, who would strongly like to cast themselves as heroic underdogs fighting against a vile and oppressive regime.

We saw this tendency at work this week, when Bill Nye the Science Guy was on CNN’s defibrillated new version of Crossfire. Nye kept emphasizing that conservatives are simply unwilling to accept the scientific conclusions on climate change, which predict highly alarming consequences if we stay on our current emissions path. In response, host S.E. Cupp accused him of trying to “bully…anyone who dares question” the science.

Take a look: http://youtu.be/iWYQb8K6Tek

Similarly, George Will, the conservative columnist at The Washington Post, recently used conservative conspiracy theories to assert that climate scientists have “interests” that have biased their analysis. “If you want money from the biggest source of direct research in this country, the federal government, don’t question its orthodoxy,” he continued.

Set aside the fact that these conservatives conveniently accept the logic of social justice only when it suits them. The real problem with this kind of analysis is that it makes no sense if you think about it for even five seconds. They have the power imbalance completely backward. Carbon-mining companies are, in fact, among the most profitable industries that have ever existed. Climate scientists have, in fact, been legally and personally harassed by denier vigilantes and their pet hack journalists.

Wouldn’t the incomprehensibly huge piles of money the oil industry spends on political organizing count as some kind of interest that influences society? Not to George Will, which is why he doesn’t provide any evidence whatsoever that there is an actual conspiracy. There is none, because it doesn’t exist. It’s derp all the way down.

And thus we see the problem with Cupp’s analysis as well. Accusations of bullying only make sense if there is an insanely wealthy cabal of climate scientists oppressing someone unjustly. But Nye is simply correct in his description of almost total unanimity on questions of climate change. In particular, he’s right to say that more global warming means more extreme weather, the fact of which conservatives are constantly trying to fudge.

Cupp isn’t being bullied; she’s wrong on the facts, and appropriating social justice rhetoric in the most ham-fisted way to put that position out of reach of criticism.

It’s ludicrous, and people shouldn’t stand for it. But more than that, it’s just kind of sad. Just consider the bizarre spectacle of billionaire Charles Koch, who has whined piteously about a bunch of powerless leftists calling him names. You would think conservatives would be more comfortable being on the side with all the power and money, instead of trying to be something they’re not.

By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, May 9, 2014

May 12, 2014 Posted by | Climate Change, Conservatives, Conspiracy Theories | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Embracing The Possibilities”: Martin Luther King And The Dream That Came True

He would be an elder statesman now, a lion in winter, an American hero perhaps impatient with the fuss being made over his birthday. At 83, he’d likely still have his wits and his voice. Surely, if he were able, he would continue to preach, to pray — and to dream.

For the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., dreaming was not optional. It was a requirement of citizenship to envision a fairer, more prosperous nation no longer shackled by racism and poverty. It was a duty to imagine a world no longer ravaged by senseless wars. His most famous speech was less an invitation to share his epic dream than a commandment.

In these sour, pessimistic times, it is important to remember the great lesson of King’s remarkable life: Impossible dreams can come true.

This is not a partisan message; King was every bit as tough on Democrats as Republicans. His activism even transcended ideology. His call for social justice and his opposition to the Vietnam War were rightly seen as liberal, but his insistence on the primacy of faith and family was deeply conservative. His birthday is a national holiday because his words and deeds ennoble us all.

Thinking about King’s legacy reminds me that this is hardly the first time our society has been bitterly divided and fearful of an uncertain future. When he led the 1963 March on Washington and gave his indelible “I Have a Dream” speech, many Southern whites, including officials, were still determined to resist racial integration by any means necessary. Many black Americans were fed up, no longer willing to wait patiently for the rights promised them under the Constitution.

We were inured to television images that today would be shocking. Police dogs turned loose on peaceful protesters. Columns of smoke rising from cities across the land following King’s assassination.

As he predicted, King did not live to reach the mountaintop. But his leadership — and that of so many others in the civil rights movement — set us on a path that changed the nation in ways that once seemed unimaginable. Racism, sexism and all the other poisonous -isms have not been eradicated, but they have been dramatically reduced and marginalized. It is difficult for young people to believe that overt discrimination — “You can’t have that job because you’re black” or “I’m going to pay you less because you’re a woman” — used to be seen as normal.

Today, the nation is suffering what I see as a crisis of confidence. Economic globalization and advances in productivity have hollowed out the U.S. manufacturing sector, eliminating millions of blue-collar jobs. For the first time, parents have to worry whether their children’s standard of living will decline rather than improve. Demographic change is about to make this a nation without a white majority; by the middle of the century, we’ll be an increasingly diverse collection of racial and ethnic minorities — held together, even more than in the past, by the ideals of the nation’s founding documents.

We’re struggling to climb out of the worst recession in decades. We’re deeply in debt. Most of us agree on the need for a social safety net but not on how to structure it or how to pay for it. Our political system is sclerotic if not dysfunctional. The past few elections have not produced a consensus on the way forward. The next won’t, either.

I consider myself fortunate that, when I’m feeling pessimistic about all of this, I’m able to visit the new King memorial that was dedicated in October. The towering statue of King looks out toward the Jefferson Memorial, which honors the man whose stirring words now apply to all Americans, not just a few. Behind King is the Lincoln Memorial, a tribute to a leader who shepherded the nation through days much darker than these.

The plaza surrounding King’s statue opens up to the Tidal Basin as if to demonstrate how our nation, at its best, embraces possibility.

The first time I visited the memorial, I ran into former senator George Allen from Virginia. He and I disagree on almost everything — and since he’s running for office again, I’m sure we’ll be on opposite sides of many issues. But on a crystalline morning, we were able to stand together, awed by King’s moral vision and humbled by his challenge: We can be better. We must. We will.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 13, 2012

January 14, 2012 Posted by | Martin Luther King | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Vision Of Optimism And Equal Opportunity: What It Means To Be A Democrat

I’m glad I waited for President Obama’s heralded budget speech Wednesday before criticizing it (such a novel idea); there was much to praise in it and little to challenge. The best news: Obama laid out the kind of sweeping “story” of American democracy, and the bold vision of how we grow together, that I thought was too much to ask for even yesterday. He even talked about the scariest fact of American inequality: The dangerous hold the top 1 percent of Americans has on wealth, income and (he didn’t say this) politics. He pushed back on the cruel GOP deficit plan, made his toughest case yet for tax hikes on the richest, and stayed away from the worst ideas floated by his own deficit commission. The devil will be in the deficit-cutting details, and frankly, there weren’t a whole lot of them in the speech. But the president came out fighting with firmness, and with a rhetoric of social justice and equality, that I haven’t seen enough of these last two years.

Obama acknowledged our American history as “rugged individualists, a self-reliant people with a healthy skepticism of too much government.” But he quickly identified “another thread running throughout our history”:

A belief that we are all connected; and that there are some things we can only do together, as a nation. We believe, in the words of our first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, that through government, we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves. And so we’ve built a strong military to keep us secure, and public schools and universities to educate our citizens. We’ve laid down railroads and highways to facilitate travel and commerce. We’ve supported the work of scientists and researchers whose discoveries have saved lives, unleashed repeated technological revolutions, and led to countless new jobs and entire industries. Each of us has benefited from these investments, and we are a more prosperous country as a result.

Part of this American belief that we are all connected also expresses itself in a conviction that each one of us deserves some basic measure of security. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, hard times or bad luck, a crippling illness or a layoff, may strike any one of us. “There but for the grace of God go I,” we say to ourselves, and so we contribute to programs like Medicare and Social Security, which guarantee us health care and a measure of basic income after a lifetime of hard work; unemployment insurance, which protects us against unexpected job loss; and Medicaid, which provides care for millions of seniors in nursing homes, poor children, and those with disabilities. We are a better country because of these commitments. I’ll go further – we would not be a great country without those commitments.

So far, so good. It got even better when Obama took direct aim at Paul Ryan’s cruel and ludicrous budget plan. He laid out its many cuts, and concluded:

These are the kind of cuts that tell us we can’t afford the America we believe in. And they paint a vision of our future that’s deeply pessimistic. It’s a vision that says if our roads crumble and our bridges collapse, we can’t afford to fix them. If there are bright young Americans who have the drive and the will but not the money to go to college, we can’t afford to send them. Go to China and you’ll see businesses opening research labs and solar facilities. South Korean children are outpacing our kids in math and science. Brazil is investing billions in new infrastructure and can run half their cars not on high-priced gasoline, but biofuels. And yet, we are presented with a vision that says the United States of America – the greatest nation on Earth – can’t afford any of this.

Then he attacked the Gilded Age social inequality and tax cuts that have helped create our troubles:

Think about it. In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90% of all working Americans actually declined. The top 1% saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. And that’s who needs to pay less taxes? They want to give people like me a two hundred thousand dollar tax cut that’s paid for by asking thirty three seniors to each pay six thousand dollars more in health costs? That’s not right, and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President.

Indulge me here, because this is how Democrats should be talking, and rarely do:

The America I know is generous and compassionate; a land of opportunity and optimism. We take responsibility for ourselves and each other; for the country we want and the future we share. We are the nation that built a railroad across a continent and brought light to communities shrouded in darkness. We sent a generation to college on the GI bill and saved millions of seniors from poverty with Social Security and Medicare. We have led the world in scientific research and technological breakthroughs that have transformed millions of lives.

This is who we are. This is the America I know. We don’t have to choose between a future of spiraling debt and one where we forfeit investments in our people and our country. To meet our fiscal challenge, we will need to make reforms. We will all need to make sacrifices. But we do not have to sacrifice the America we believe in. And as long as I’m President, we won’t.

That’s the president I voted for.

On the meat of the president’s plan to cut the deficit: He deserves credit for rejecting Medicare vouchers, for turning aside specific talk about Social Security (even though it has nothing to do with the federal deficit, the privatizers and Obama’s friends on his deficit commission wanted it thrown on the table in a grand bargain that can only be bad news for Democrats and working people; Obama seemed not to be willing to do that); for promising that reforms and innovations already part of the Affordable Care Act will bring down the costs of Medicare and Medicaid; and for saying we need bigger defense cuts than so far proposed.

(Small point: I liked the way Obama trashed Ryan without mentioning him — you don’t fight down — but I wish he’d been a tiny bit more confrontational on exactly what Ryan’s “Medicare vouchers” would do; if seniors could afford insurance at all, which is debatable, they’d certainly be at the mercy of privatized “death panels” refusing care over its costs. I say that because I’m sure some GOP prevaricator will bring back the “death panel” lie now that Obama has committed to curbing costs in Medicare. I hope I’m wrong.)

My quibbles? I’m still concerned that Obama has agreed to freeze the 12 percent of the budget that goes to “discretionary spending.” And I’m assuming that freeze includes the cuts made this week. I don’t like his promise of $3 in spending cuts for every dollar raised in revenue via tax hikes. In a statement, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka praised the speech but added: “President Obama does not yet have the balance right between spending cuts and new revenue.” I also never like it when Obama undermines himself by saying things like:

I don’t expect the details in any final agreement to look exactly like the approach I laid out today. I’m eager to hear other ideas from all ends of the political spectrum.

I know, I know, he thinks it makes him sound reasonable to independents; I worry he sounds weak to Republicans. If Obama thinks the plan he laid out is as far to the left as Ryan’s plan is to the right, and that the answer is to meet in the glorious middle, we’re all in trouble.

But for today, I’ll take him at his word. After the speech, pundits called it the opening salvo of the Obama 2012 reelection campaign, as though there was something wrong with that. If these are the founding principles of the president’s 2012 campaign, Democrats and the country will be better off than we’ve been in a while. 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, April 13, 2011

April 14, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Democracy, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, Federal Budget, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Income Gap, Independents, Jobs, Medicaid, Medicare, Middle Class, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Social Security, Voters, Wealthy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wisconsin Supreme Court Race Throws A Spanner In The Works Of Wisconsin Wingnuts

While Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan prepares to shut down the federal government to prove that government is bad, analysts say the radical agenda of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker suffered a major set back today as his good friend incumbent Justice David Prosser was defeated for Wisconsin Supreme Court. The AP unofficial vote count, with 100 percent of the precincts reporting, puts challenger Joanne Kloppenburg ahead by slightly more than 200. A recount is doubtless on the way.

In a state that has never unseated a conservative Supreme Court justice, people power fueled a concentrated effort to deny the Imperial Walker one branch of government. Walker’s opponents hope a Kloppenburg victory will swing the Supreme Court in a more independent direction and set the stage for the court to strike down Walker’s controversial collective bargaining law. While the fate of the law is uncertain, Kloppenburg’s three week sprint from dead-in-the-water to victor may give Walker, Ryan and other Wisconsin politicians pause as they rush to radically reshape government to benefit the privatizers and profiteers. 

Sleepy Court Race Electrifies the State

While it may seem odd to many Americans, Wisconsinites like to elect their judges. Although an elected judiciary has its problems (namely, unseemly high-dollar elections), the ballot box sometimes hands citizens a rare opportunity to un-elect judges — and that is what many Wisconsinites decided to do today.  Prosser, a former Republican Assembly Speaker, stumbled when his campaign embraced Walker’s election.

The Kloppenburg victory is stunning. Six weeks ago, sitting Judge David Prosser was a shoo-in and the challenge by Assistant Attorney General Kloppenburg was a snooze fest. But something happened on the way to the high court. A governor, who was elected to create jobs, took office and quickly moved to disenfranchise voters and kneecap unions so they could no longer be a viable force in state elections. The raw power grab sparked a spontaneous uprising, the likes of which this state has never seen, and the Supreme Court race was the next vehicle for people to have their voices heard.

Proxy Fight Over Worker Rights

The whole country took notice when firefighters, teachers and cops stood with working families across Wisconsin to say ‘no’ to Walker’s radical plans to bust unions, cut $1 billion from schools and privatize the university system.

When his “budget repair bill” was passed March 9th, many national observers thought the fight was over.  With large margins in both houses, Walker’s stranglehold on government seemed invincible.

But irate Wisconsinites fought back on multiple fronts, filing lawsuits over the way in which Senate leaders rammed the bill through with less than the requisite notice required under the state open meetings law, blocking the bill’s implementation. They filed recall petitions against eight Wisconsin senators and this week delivered the requisite signatures for two of those recalls well ahead of schedule. They turned their attention to the heretofor unnoticed race for Wisconsin Supreme Court. Within days, handmade signs for Joanne Kloppenburg popped up across the state. Many voters understood that to win any of the battles ahead over worker rights, over the recalls, over redistricting and more, a more balanced judiciary was needed.

Kloppenburg went from being a long-shot to victory in a three-week sprint marked by huge independent expenditures on both sides. The anticipated recount will keep the juices flowing and will fuel the remaining recall fights.

Shock Doctrine at Work

While some voters believe the court will act as a check and balance on the madness at the state level, they are concerned that Paul Ryan continues to run amok at the federal level — threatening a complete government shut down. At the same time that Walker was working to obliterate unions and privatize public schools, Ryan, Chair of the House Budget Committee, decided to go after Grandma with the complete privatization of Medicare. His radical budget bill, unveiled this week, slashes trillions of dollars from America’s social safety net and throws the elderly into the private insurance market with a “voucher” in their pocket.

Less interested in balancing the budget than redistributing wealth, his budget plan would funnel billions into the pockets of big insurance firms while also giving a ten percent tax break to corporations and the very richest Americans.

What is really going on here? Naomi Klein warned in her groundbreaking book “Shock Doctrine” that the right-wing excels at creating crises, real and imagined, to viciously advance their pro-corporate anti-government agenda. She credits economist Milton Friedman who observed that “only a crisis—actual or perceived—produces real changes. When the crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is out basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”

UW Professor Joel Rogers wrote recently:  “As explained by Grover Norquist and Karl Rove, this project aims at national repeal of most of democratic achievements of the 20th century, a return to business domination of public life not seen since the Gilded Age and McKinley.”

The Wall Street financial crisis caused by years of deregulation and lack of government oversight cost Americans eight million jobs, tanking federal and state tax receipts and creating budget shortfalls. Ryan and Walker are moving to take advantage this real jobs crisis to cook up a fake deficit crisis to advance a radical agenda that is hostile to the very idea of government – the idea that sometimes services are best provided and things are best accomplished collectively, for the public good, and not for corporate profit.

Today, many voters believe that this agenda was checked in Wisconsin. While another recount battle looms, voters of Wisconsin are pledging that they will not allow this victory to be stolen.

By: Mary Bottari, Center For Media And Democracy, April 6, 2011

April 6, 2011 Posted by | Banks, Collective Bargaining, Corporations, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democracy, Economy, Elections, GOP, Gov Scott Walker, Government Shut Down, Labor, Medicare, Middle Class, Politics, Public Employees, Rep Paul Ryan, Republicans, Right Wing, Union Busting, Unions, Voters, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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