Pope Francis: ‘Politics Is One of the Highest Forms of Charity’

politiciansprayer

“Politics, though often denigrated, remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good”, Pope Francis says. “Where, then, should a healthy economic policy begin? What are the necessary pillars for public administration? The answer is precise: the dignity of the human person and the common good. Unfortunately, however, these two pillars, that ought to structure economic policy, often seem to be a mere addendum imported from without in order to fill out a political discourse lacking in perspectives or plans for integral development. … Please, be courageous and do not be afraid, in political and economic projects, to allow yourselves to be influenced by a broader meaning of life as this will help you to truly serve the common good and will give you strength in ‘striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all’”.–Pope Francis to business leaders focused on “Feeding Our Planet – Energy for Life” on Feb. 7, 2015

Video: President Carter Calls for U.S. to be ‘Champion of Peace,’ Not Purveyor of War

Last week, former president Jimmy Carter gave an important speech at a little liberal arts college in Pennsylvania. He urged America to become a “champion for peace.”

“I think that’s one of the characteristics of a superpower,” said Carter. (Read more in William Landaur’s article Ex-President Carter at Lafayette College: U.S. failing to promote peace)

(The 7-minute video above is a segment of a much longer video of the speech and the question and answer period that followed, which included a candid discussion about North Korea.)

Carter, the 39th President of the United States, delivered Lafayette College’s inaugural Robert and Margaret Pastor Lecture in International Affairs on April 22 in Easton, PA. (Bob Pastor was national security advisor on Latin America and the Caribbean under Carter.)

President Carter clearly identified that the U.S. has been in a constant state of war since the end of World War II. He named off the dozens of countries the U.S. has been formally at war with and the many that the U.S. has waged illegitimate war on.

He recalled the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights that the U.S. helped create in 1948 (thanks to Eleanor Roosevelt) and that the U.S. is currently in violation of 10 of the 30 principles — specifically noting illegal detentions at Guantanamo Bay prison and using drones to commit targeted assassinations.

He also addressed climate change and the international environmental treaties that have fallen into disrepair, since President Bush Senior.

(Thank you to Don Mosley of Jubilee Partner and Shelley Douglass of Mary’s House for the tip on Carter’s address.)

Norm Ornstein: Romney vs. ‘Young Guns’ in 2013

On the radio show “To The Point,” Norm Ornstein, Congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative D.C.-based think tank, gave an insightful look into what the “Young Gun” Republicans (Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, and Paul Ryan) have planned for Congress after the election.

Ornstein, with Congressional scholar Thomas Mann,  is co-author of  It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism. Here’s the critical excerpt:

“The decision to use the debt limit as a hostage taking event was cooked up well before the 2010 elections. It was a conscious approach by the ‘young guns,’ as they call themselves–[Eric] Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, and Paul Ryan. It was the first time ever that the debt limit had been used as a hostage for another set of goals. You had a large number of Republicans who ran by pledging they would never vote to increase the debt limit. This was not something that just emerged and then it was a question of who would navigate through it. …

The problem that Romney would face [if elected] would be particularly acute, paradoxically, if the Republicans win the House and the Senate. Because I can tell you from conversations with Republicans in both chambers, but especially in the House, and this was Paul Ryan’s plan long before he became the running mate. They’ve got a plan that if they capture everything their going to put together in January the ‘Mother’ of all reconciliation bills, avoid a filibuster, and it’s going to provide the vision of Ryan’s budget, which is far more conservative than what Mitt Romney suggested in that first debate. They are going to try to pass it through on their votes alone and send it to him and, in effect, dare him to veto it. His ability to withstand what would be very conservative policies coming out of a Republican House and Senate would be very limited.”–Norm Ornstein

Listen to the whole interview on KCRW’s To The Point (Oct. 8, 2012).

Adrienne Rich: ‘Legislators of the World’

Poet Adrienne Rich (Staff photo Kris Snibbe/Harvard News Office)
In 2006, Adrienne Rich published this essay “Legislators of the World” in The Guardian saying, “In our dark times we need poetry more than ever.” At the time she had just been awarded the US National Book Foundation 2006 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters and released her most recent book School Among the Ruins. Rich died this week at the age of 82. I’m including the full essay below because I think it is so important:

In “The Defence of Poetry” 1821, Shelley claimed that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world”. This has been taken to suggest that simply by virtue of composing verse, poets exert some exemplary moral power – in a vague unthreatening way. In fact, in his earlier political essay, “A Philosophic View of Reform,” Shelley had written that “Poets and philosophers are the unacknowledged” etc. The philosophers he was talking about were revolutionary-minded: Thomas Paine, William Godwin, Voltaire, Mary Wollstonecraft.

And Shelley was, no mistake, out to change the legislation of his time. For him there was no contradiction between poetry, political philosophy, and active confrontation with illegitimate authority. For him, art bore an integral relationship to the “struggle between Revolution and Oppression”. His “West Wind” was the “trumpet of a prophecy”, driving “dead thoughts … like withered leaves, to quicken a new birth”.

I’m both a poet and one of the “everybodies” of my country. I live with manipulated fear, ignorance, cultural confusion and social antagonism huddling together on the faultline of an empire. I hope never to idealise poetry – it has suffered enough from that. Poetry is not a healing lotion, an emotional massage, a kind of linguistic aromatherapy. Neither is it a blueprint, nor an instruction manual, nor a billboard. There is no universal Poetry, anyway, only poetries and poetics, and the streaming, intertwining histories to which they belong. There is room, indeed necessity, for both Neruda and César Valléjo, for Pier Paolo Pasolini and Alfonsina Storni, for both Ezra Pound and Nelly Sachs. Poetries are no more pure and simple than human histories are pure and simple. And there are colonised poetics and resilient poetics, transmissions across frontiers not easily traced.
Continue reading “Adrienne Rich: ‘Legislators of the World’”

Remembering Adrienne Rich

Poet Adrienne Rich (Staff photo Kris Snibbe/Harvard News Office)

I’m taking time to savor the work of Adrienne Rich, one of the greatest American poets of the 20th century who died this week at the age of 82. She articulated what it means to be a woman in a man-made world, giving thousands a dictionary of images and phrases to describe our own experience. And more than any other poet I know, Rich was relentless in pursuing a balance between politics and art without ever sacrificing the essence of either.

On the Role of the Poet:

“We may feel bitterly how little our poems can do in the face of seemingly out-of-control technological power and seemingly limitless corporate greed, yet it has always been true that poetry can break isolation, show us to ourselves when we are outlawed or made invisible, remind us of beauty where no beauty seems possible, remind us of kinship where all is represented as separation.”–Adrienne Rich

On Poetry and the Capitalist Model:

“Poetry has the capacity to remind us of something we are forbidden to see. A forgotten future: a still uncreated site whose moral architecture is founded not on ownership and dispossession, the subjection of women, outcast and tribe, but on the continuous redefining of freedom – that word now held under house arrest by the rhetoric of the ‘free’ market.”–Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich’s 1997 letter to Jane Alexander, head of the National Endowment for the Arts:

Dear Jane Alexander, I just spoke with a young man from your office, who informed me that I had been chosen to be one of twelve recipients of the National Medal for the Arts at a ceremony at the White House in the fall. I told him at once that I could not accept such an award from President Clinton or this White House because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration. I want to clarify to you what I meant by my refusal.

Anyone familiar with my work from the early Sixties on knows that I believe in art’s social presence—as breaker of official silences, as voice for those whose voices are disregarded, and as a human birthright. In my lifetime I have seen the space for the arts opened by movements for social justice, the power of art to break despair. Over the past two decades I have witnessed the increasingly brutal impact of racial and economic injustice in our country.

There is no simple formula for the relationship of art to justice. But I do know that art—in my own case the art of poetry—means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of power which holds it hostage. The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate. A President cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored. I know you have been engaged in a serious and disheartening struggle to save government funding for the arts, against those whose fear and suspicion of art is nakedly repressive. In the end, I don’t think we can separate art from overall human dignity and hope. My concern for my country is inextricable from my concerns as an artist. I could not participate in a ritual which would feel so hypocritical to me. Sincerely, Adrienne Rich (See July 16, 1997 Democracy Now interview with Rich)

An excerpt from Rich’s poem “Natural Resources,” in The Dream of a Common Language:

My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed

I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,

with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.

A passion to make, and make again
where such un-making reigns. …

Have You Done Your ‘State of the Union’ Homework?

Tonight, President Obama is slated to “go populist” on America in his third State of the Union address. Insiders say he’s going to lay out a “blueprint for an economy that’s built to last.”

The speech will continue a theme President Obama laid out in Kansas last month – that in today’s economy the game has been rigged against the nation’s middle class.

On December 6, Obama gave an important and revealing speech in Osawatomie, Kansas — the best we’ve heard from him since the campaign trail. Building on Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalism language from Roosevelt’s Aug. 31, 1910, speech in Osawatomie honoring abolitionist John Brown, Obama reprises his platform of populist economics. But Obama is not yet Roosevelt. (See The Osawatomie Speech: Obama and Roosevelt.)

“We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used. It is not even enough that it should have gained without doing damage to the community,” Roosevelt said in his speech. “We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community.”

Before watching tonight’s State of the Union address, read up on its historical context. Read Roosevelt’s original speech and President Obama’s December address. Here are some quotes from both:

“One of the chief factors in progress is the destruction of special privilege. The essence of any struggle for healthy liberty has always been, and must always be, to take from some one man or class of men the right to enjoy power, or wealth, or position, or immunity, which has not been earned by service to his or their fellows.”–President Theodore Roosevelt

“Long before the recession hit, hard work stopped paying off for too many people. Fewer and fewer of the folks who contributed to the success of our economy actually benefited from that success. Those at the very top grew wealthier from their incomes and their investments – wealthier than ever before. But everybody else struggled with costs that were growing and paycheques that weren’t – and too many families found themselves racking up more and more debt just to keep up.”–President Barack Obama

Continue reading “Have You Done Your ‘State of the Union’ Homework?”

Catch the Vision: Tar Sands Protest Art

Day 1: Sixty-five arrested. Locals were released by 8 p.m. Out-of-towners held in D.C. jail until Monday morning arraignment. The D.C. police seem to want to make an example of the first group in order to discourage the next 13 days of sustained protest.

What we know is that the small but real sacrifice of these few to be held over the weekend will be joined by hundreds of others. In determined peaceableness, we will flood the streets. We will raise the banners. We will fill the jails. Because we can not do otherwise. The cost of inaction is simply too high.

Some highlights from Saturday: Jim Antal, former head of Fellowship of Reconciliation and now president of the Massachussetts Conference of the United Church of Christ was arrested. Kristy Powell, originator of the One Dress Protest, was arrested. Lt. Dan Choi, leader of the protest against the former military policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, was arrested. Fr. Jim Noonan, Maryknoll Catholic priest, who spent years in Cambodia under Pol Pot serving AIDS patients was arrested.

Thomas Merton: ‘Nonviolence is Most Exacting Form of Struggle’

“Non-violence is perhaps the most exacting of all forms of struggle, not only because it demands first of all that one be ready to suffer evil and even face the threat of death without retaliation, but because it excludes mere transient self-interest, even political, from its considerations.” —Thomas Merton

Faith and Violence: Christian Teaching and Christian Practice by Thomas Merton (University of Notre Dame Press, 1968, p. 14)

More Healthcare: Leading U.S. Catholic Newspaper Stands With Sisters on Healthcare

hcr-is-pro-lifeIn more late-breaking news, the nation’s leading Catholic newspaper the National Catholic Reporter, released an editorial backing the passage of the current health-care reform bill before Congress. “Congress, and its Catholics, should say yes to health care reform,” states NCR.

This move aligns NCR with thousands of Catholic sisters and millions of lay Catholics (see Catholic Nuns Pick Up Where Bishops Fall Down) , but puts it at odds with U.S. Catholic bishops, who said earlier this week that they could not support the current bill.

We do not reach this conclusion as easily as one might think, given the fact that we have supported universal health care for decades, as have the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Catholic Health Association and other official and non-official organs of the Catholic church. There are, to be sure, grave problems with the bill the House will consider in the next few days. It maintains the squirrelly system of employer-based health care coverage that impedes cost reduction. Its treatment of undocumented workers is shameful. It is unnecessarily complicated, even Byzantine, in some of its provisions. It falls short of providing true universal coverage.

Nevertheless, NCR sees passing healthcare reform as a giant step forward in correcting a failed system and putting the country on the right track for continued improvements. NCR acknowledges that much of the heated debate as we get closer to victory will be around the abortion issue.

All sides agreed to abide by the spirit of the Hyde Amendment, which for more than 30 years has banned federal funding of abortion. But the Hyde Amendment applies to government programs only, and trying to fit its stipulations to a private insurance marketplace is a bit like putting a potato skin on an apple. Pro-choice advocates could not understand why a government that currently subsidizes abortion coverage through the tax code should balk at subsidizing private plans that cover abortion in the insurance exchanges the bill establishes. They have a point. Pro-life groups understandably worry that opening the door to federal funding of abortion, even indirectly, risks further encroachments on Hyde. They have a point, too.

NCR also addresses the diverging opinions this week between the pro-passage stance taken by Catholic Health Association and Network, a Catholic social justice lobby representing more than 59,000 Catholic sisters and the anti-passage stance taken by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. I appreciated NCR delineating the different roles each sector plays.

[The Catholic Health Association] actually knows how health care is provided at the ground level. The USCCB’s inside-the-beltway analysis is focused on possible scenarios, many of them worst-case scenarios. The U.S. bishops’ conference is right to worry about such things and the sisters are right to put those worries in perspective.

In the final analysis, NCR reiterates that the current legislation is not “pro-abortion,” and there is “no, repeat no, federal funding of abortion in the bill.”

What is being debated is not the morality of abortion but the politics of abortion, concludes NCR, and there is plenty of room for honest and respectful disagreement among Catholics about politics. Amen to that!

How Did We Lose the Language of “We”?

Sept. 12, 2009, D.C. Tea Baggers protest
Sept. 12, 2009, D.C. Tea Baggers protest

Henry Giroux, cultural critic, author, and professor of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Ontario, posted a fantastic article today titled The New Illiteracy in American Life: Democracy and Politics in the Age of the Spectacle.

After Joe Wilson’s outburst at President Obama last week and the Tea Baggers march on Washington on Saturday (see my photo above of a truck parked downtown during the march), civil discourse is all the rage. When did we lose the ability to speak to each other? everyone bemoans. How do we restore civic literacy?

Giroux lays out a cogent analysis of why and how we lost the language of “we.” And the role emotionalism now plays in legitimating a political perspective (as in “I feel this true, therefore it is.”). Here’s an excerpt from his article, but read the whole thing.

Authoritarianism is often abetted by an inability of the public to grasp how questions of power, politics and history and public consciousness are mediated at the interface of private issues and public concerns. The ability to translate private problems into social considerations is fundamental to what it means to reactivate political sensibilities and conceive of ourselves as critical citizens, engaged public intellectuals and social agents. Just as an obsession with the private is at odds with a politics informed by public consciousness, it also burdens politics by stripping it of the kind of political imagination and collective hope necessary for a viable notion of meaning, hope and political agency. Civic literacy is about more than enlarging the realm of critique and affirming the social; it is also about public responsibility, the struggle over democratic public life and the importance of critical education in a Democratic society.