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January 2008 Archives

January 2, 2008

Catholic leaders in Pakistan, pope condemn assassination of Bhutto

By Anto Akkara
Catholic News Service

THRISSUR, India (CNS) -- Catholic leaders in Pakistan and Pope Benedict XVI have condemned the assassination at an election rally of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, leader of the opposition Pakistan People's Party.

Read more here

January 3, 2008

Vatican official: Pope to stay above political fray during U.S. visit

By Carol Glatz Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Even though Pope Benedict XVI will be visiting the United States when its 2008 presidential campaign will be in full swing, he will keep himself above the political fray, said the Vatican's secretary of state.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone told the Italian Catholic magazine Famiglia Cristiana that "someone said there's always an electoral campaign under way in the United States" no matter what time of year it is.

"The pope is nonpartisan," the cardinal said in the magazine's Jan. 6 issue.

"One certainly cannot control eventual exploitation" by people who might use the pope's visit to gain political advantage, he added.

The April 15-20 trip, Pope Benedict's first visit as pontiff to the United States and the United Nations, will include visits to the White House to meet outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush and to ground zero in New York.

Read the full story here...

January 6, 2008

Kim Lawton and the IOWA Caucuses

Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly managing editor Kim Lawton analyzes the role religion played in the 2008 Iowa Caucuses and looks at the challenges facing the presidential candidates as they develop faith-based outreach strategies in the coming weeks.

To see the video, click here...

In World Peace Day message, Benedict paints a Catholic shade of green

New York

Over the last year, Pope Benedict XVI has significantly sharpened his environmental message – not just in word but also in deed, approving plans, for example, to put solar cells atop the Paul VI Audience Hall and to replant trees in a stretch of Hungarian forest in order to offset the Vatican’s annual carbon output.

For the complete article, click here....

January 9, 2008

Spokesman says care of environment common theme for Pope Benedict

By Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The obligation to care for the environment and protect the earth as the "common home" of all humanity is a theme that increasingly is found in the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI, his spokesman said.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi told Vatican Radio that ecology "is an argument which comes up with more frequency in the words of the pope, mirroring the growing ecological concerns of humanity."

Read whole article here....

Pope says living in moderation brings about just global development

By Carol Glatz Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The only way to bring about just and sustainable development in the world is to live in moderation and fix the vast inequities in the distribution of wealth, Pope Benedict XVI said.

"One cannot say that globalization is synonymous with world order; it's anything but" that, he said.

Read the complete story here....

January 14, 2008

Changing Terms and Hearts Seen as Key to Immigration Debate

The immediate future looks a bit grim for those who work on trying to improve the lot of immigrants in the United States. Presidential candidates are trying to outdo each other in espousing harsher approaches to handling illegal immigration. There's essentially no chance of a comprehensive immigration bill moving through Congress until after the presidential election in November. "The debate in the United States is almost dangerous," said former Ambassador and former Assistant Secretary of State Princeton Lyman to an audience of employees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Jan. 9.

For the full story, go here

January 21, 2008

Vatican official: Growing number of countries favor cluster-bomb ban

By Carol Glatz Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- The tide is turning among a growing number of the world's diplomats and government officials in favor of a ban on cluster bombs, said a Vatican official.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Vatican representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva, said, "The sensibility is increasing to be more reasonable and to spend less on military hardware."

While the United Nations continues to negotiate proposals on cluster munitions, a separate treaty begun with the so-called Oslo process is making major progress, he said in a Jan. 21 telephone interview with Catholic News Service from his office in Geneva.

For the complete story, go here.

Surge to Nowhere

Surge to Nowhere
Don't buy the hawks' hype. The war may be off the front pages, but Iraq is broken beyond repair, and we still own it.

By Andrew J. Bacevich
Sunday, January 20, 2008; B01

As the fifth anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom nears, the fabulists are again trying to weave their own version of the war. The latest myth is that the "surge" is working.

In President Bush's pithy formulation, the United States is now "kicking ass" in Iraq. The gallant Gen. David Petraeus, having been given the right tools, has performed miracles, redeeming a situation that once appeared hopeless. Sen. John McCain has gone so far as to declare that "we are winning in Iraq." While few others express themselves quite so categorically, McCain's remark captures the essence of the emerging story line: Events have (yet again) reached a turning point. There, at the far end of the tunnel, light flickers. Despite the hand-wringing of the defeatists and naysayers, victory beckons.

From the hallowed halls of the American Enterprise Institute waft facile assurances that all will come out well. AEI's Reuel Marc Gerecht assures us that the moment to acknowledge "democracy's success in Iraq" has arrived. To his colleague Michael Ledeen, the explanation for the turnaround couldn't be clearer: "We were the stronger horse, and the Iraqis recognized it." In an essay entitled "Mission Accomplished" that is being touted by the AEI crowd, Bartle Bull, the foreign editor of the British magazine Prospect, instructs us that "Iraq's biggest questions have been resolved." Violence there "has ceased being political." As a result, whatever mayhem still lingers is "no longer nearly as important as it was." Meanwhile, Frederick W. Kagan, an AEI resident scholar and the arch-advocate of the surge, announces that the "credibility of the prophets of doom" has reached "a low ebb."

Presumably Kagan and his comrades would have us believe that recent events vindicate the prophets who in 2002-03 were promoting preventive war as a key instrument of U.S. policy. By shifting the conversation to tactics, they seek to divert attention from flagrant failures of basic strategy. Yet what exactly has the surge wrought? In substantive terms, the answer is: not much.

As the violence in Baghdad and Anbar province abates, the political and economic dysfunction enveloping Iraq has become all the more apparent. The recent agreement to rehabilitate some former Baathists notwithstand ing, signs of lasting Sunni-Shiite reconciliation are scant. The United States has acquired a ramshackle, ungovernable and unresponsive dependency that is incapable of securing its own borders or managing its own affairs. More than three years after then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice handed President Bush a note announcing that "Iraq is sovereign," that sovereignty remains a fiction.

A nation-building project launched in the confident expectation that the United States would repeat in Iraq the successes it had achieved in Germany and Japan after 1945 instead compares unfavorably with the U.S. response to Hurricane Katrina. Even today, Iraqi electrical generation meets barely half the daily national requirements. Baghdad households now receive power an average of 12 hours each day -- six hours fewer than when Saddam Hussein ruled. Oil production still has not returned to pre-invasion levels. Reports of widespread fraud, waste and sheer ineptitude in the administration of U.S. aid have become so commonplace that they barely last a news cycle. (Recall, for example, the 110,000 AK-47s, 80,000 pistols, 135,000 items of body armor and 115,000 helmets intended for Iraqi security forces that, according to the Government Accountability Office, the Pentagon cannot account for.) U.S. officials repeatedly complain, to little avail, about the paralyzing squabbling inside the Iraqi parliament and the rampant corruption within Iraqi ministries. If a primary function of government is to provide services, then the government of Iraq can hardly be said to exist.

Moreover, recent evidence suggests that the United States is tacitly abandoning its efforts to create a truly functional government in Baghdad. By offering arms and bribes to Sunni insurgents -- an initiative that has been far more important to the temporary reduction in the level of violence than the influx of additional American troops -- U.S. forces have affirmed the fundamental irrelevance of the political apparatus bunkered inside the Green Zone.

Rather than fostering political reconciliation, accommodating Sunni tribal leaders ratifies the ethnic cleansing that resulted from the civil war touched off by the February 2006 bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, a Shiite shrine. That conflict has shredded the fragile connective tissue linking the various elements of Iraqi society; the deals being cut with insurgent factions serve only to ratify that dismal outcome. First Sgt. Richard Meiers of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division got it exactly right: "We're paying them not to blow us up. It looks good right now, but what happens when the money stops?"

In short, the surge has done nothing to overturn former secretary of state Colin Powell's now-famous "Pottery Barn" rule: Iraq is irretrievably broken, and we own it. To say that any amount of "kicking ass" will make Iraq whole once again is pure fantasy. The U.S. dilemma remains unchanged: continue to pour lives and money into Iraq with no end in sight, or cut our losses and deal with the consequences of failure.

In only one respect has the surge achieved undeniable success: It has ensured that U.S. troops won't be coming home anytime soon. This was one of the main points of the exercise in the first place. As AEI military analyst Thomas Donnelly has acknowledged with admirable candor, "part of the purpose of the surge was to redefine the Washington narrative," thereby deflecting calls for a complete withdrawal of U.S. combat forces. Hawks who had pooh-poohed the risks of invasion now portrayed the risks of withdrawal as too awful to contemplate. But a prerequisite to perpetuating the war -- and leaving it to the next president -- was to get Iraq off the front pages and out of the nightly news. At least in this context, the surge qualifies as a masterstroke. From his new perch as a New York Times columnist, William Kristol has worried that feckless politicians just might "snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory." Not to worry: The "victory" gained in recent months all but guarantees that the United States will remain caught in the jaws of Iraq for the foreseeable future.

Such success comes at a cost. U.S. casualties in Iraq have recently declined. Yet since Petraeus famously testified before Congress last September, Iraqi insurgents have still managed to kill more than 100 Americans. Meanwhile, to fund the war, the Pentagon is burning through somewhere between $2 billion and $3 billion per week. Given that further changes in U.S. policy are unlikely between now and the time that the next administration can take office and get its bearings, the lavish expenditure of American lives and treasure is almost certain to continue indefinitely.

But how exactly do these sacrifices serve the national interest? What has the loss of nearly 4,000 U.S. troops and the commitment of about $1 trillion -- with more to come -- actually gained the United States?

Bush had once counted on the U.S. invasion of Iraq to pay massive dividends. Iraq was central to his administration's game plan for eliminating jihadist terrorism. It would demonstrate how U.S. power and beneficence could transform the Muslim world. Just months after the fall of Baghdad, the president declared, "The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution." Democracy's triumph in Baghdad, he announced, "will send forth the news, from Damascus to Tehran -- that freedom can be the future of every nation." In short, the administration saw Baghdad not as a final destination but as a way station en route to even greater successes.

In reality, the war's effects are precisely the inverse of those that Bush and his lieutenants expected. Baghdad has become a strategic cul-de-sac. Only the truly blinkered will imagine at this late date that Iraq has shown the United States to be the "stronger horse." In fact, the war has revealed the very real limits of U.S. power. And for good measure, it has boosted anti-Americanism to record levels, recruited untold numbers of new jihadists, enhanced the standing of adversaries such as Iran and diverted resources and attention from Afghanistan, a theater of war far more directly relevant to the threat posed by al-Qaeda. Instead of draining the jihadist swamp, the Iraq war is continuously replenishing it.

Look beyond the spin, the wishful thinking, the intellectual bullying and the myth-making. The real legacy of the surge is that it will enable Bush to bequeath the Iraq war to his successor -- no doubt cause for celebration at AEI, although perhaps less so for the families of U.S. troops. Yet the stubborn insistence that the war must continue also ensures that Bush's successor will, upon taking office, discover that the post-9/11 United States is strategically adrift. Washington no longer has a coherent approach to dealing with Islamic radicalism. Certainly, the next president will not find in Iraq a useful template to be applied in Iran or Syria or Pakistan.

According to the war's most fervent proponents, Bush's critics have become so "invested in defeat" that they cannot see the progress being made on the ground. Yet something similar might be said of those who remain so passionately invested in a futile war's perpetuation. They are unable to see that, surge or no surge, the Iraq war remains an egregious strategic blunder that persistence will only compound.

Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University. His new book, "The Limits of Power," will be published later this year.

January 24, 2008

The Latest Pew Research Poll

The latest Pew Research Poll shows a couple of interesting things. First, Romney is ahead with non-Evangelical conservatives. Second, Clinton's numbers are the same, with 46% supporting her, but Obama is up 8% since November.

More here...

January 25, 2008

Religious Leaders Urge Bush to Redeem 'Shameful' Legacy

Catholic and evangelical social justice leaders on Thursday urged President Bush to use his upcoming State of the Union address to turn around what they called his faltering moral legacy. Frequently referring to the state of American public policy as "shameful," the representatives of five major religious organizations said Bush has sidestepped pressing religious concerns, despite his recurrent religious rhetoric. Specifically, they said the White House has failed to deal with growing poverty at home and abroad, turned a blind eye to torture, ignored climate change, and neglected the human suffering from the war in Iraq.

Read the article...

January 26, 2008

Voters Show Darker Mood Than in 2000

January 24, 2008

Voters Show Darker Mood Than in 2000

New York Times

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Whatever their ideological differences this election year, Americans seem able to agree on one thing: the political landscape being crisscrossed by the 2008 candidates is barely recognizable as the one traveled by George W. Bush and Al Gore a mere eight years ago.

Obviously, Sept. 11 and its aftermath have changed the country in countless and irretrievable ways. But even beyond the emergence of war and national security as pre-eminent concerns, there has been a profound reordering of domestic priorities, a darkening of the country’s mood and, in the eyes of many, a fraying of America’s very sense of itself.

While not universal, that tone pervaded dozens of interviews conducted over the last week with Americans of all political stripes in 8 of the 24 states that hold primaries or caucuses on Feb. 5, as well as with historians, elected officials, political strategists and poll takers. As the candidates fan out to New York and California and here to the heartland, they are confronting an electorate that is deeply unsettled about the United States’ place in the world and its ability to control its own destiny.

Since World War II, the assumption of American hegemony has never been much in doubt. That it now is, at least for some people, has given this campaign a sense of urgency that was not always felt in 2000, despite the dramatic outcome of that race.

Several writers and historians remarked on the psychological impact of such a jarring end to the Pax Americana, just as it seemed that victory in the cold war might usher in prolonged prosperity and relative peace (save the occasional mop-up operation). Its confluence with an era of unparalleled technological innovation had only heightened the nation’s sense of post-millennial possibility.

Now, Americans feel a loss of autonomy, in their own lives and in the nation. Their politics are driven by the powerlessness they feel to control their financial well-being, their safety, their environment, their health and the country’s borders. They question whether each generation will continue to ascend the economic ladder. That the political system seems so impotent only deepens their frustration and their insistence on results.

As she considers this campaign, Susan C. Powell, a 47-year-old training consultant who lives in a Kansas City suburb, said that what she feels is not so much hopelessness as doom.

“I know plenty of people who are doing worse than they were,” Ms. Powell said, “and nobody’s helping them out. People’s incomes are not keeping pace with inflation. People can’t afford their homes. People in their 30s and 40s, middle-income, and they don’t have jobs they can count on or access to health care. How can we say that we’re the greatest country on earth and essentially have the walking wounded?”

Carter Eskew, a top strategist for Mr. Gore in 2000, recalled the factors that drove public opinion then — like a modest increase in fuel prices and the bursting of the technology stock bubble — as “naïvely quaint by today’s standards.” His Republican counterpart, Mark McKinnon, who advised Mr. Bush in 2000 and now works for Senator John McCain, said the electorate saw this campaign as far more consequential. “It feels like we’re collectively more mature, or collectively more evolved,” Mr. McKinnon said.

The change in tone came through in interviews in coffee bars, barbecue joints and shopping malls as people vented about unaffordable health premiums, porous international borders, freakish weather, government eavesdropping, Chinese imports and customer service calls that are answered in India.

Like many of those interviewed, Robert W. Jennings, a 45-year-old Kansas City landlord who considers himself politically independent, said he thought the stakes were higher than in 2000, when the country last chose new leadership after an eight-year incumbency. Two years ago, after the adjustable-rate mortgage on his apartment building kicked in, Mr. Jennings had to take an hourly job for the first time in a decade, at the Home Depot. It also provided him with his only health insurance since college.

“I used to be master of my universe,” he said from a bar stool at McCoy’s Public House. “Now I work for this soul-less corporation. I used to make the rules. Now I have to follow them.”

Mr. Jennings also does not like the war in Iraq, or its impact on the country’s international standing. “Most of the times I go overseas I say I’m Canadian,” he said. “I just get a better response.”

Public opinion polling is also detecting an erosion of the country’s self- image. A CBS News/ New York Times poll taken this month found that 75 percent of respondents thought the country had “pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track,” up from 44 percent in May 2000.

Not surprisingly, that judgment varies by political affiliation. But even 42 percent of Republicans agreed, not far shy of the 52 percent who said so in 1999, in the twilight of an eight-year Democratic presidency.

That year, President Bill Clinton hailed the economic momentum of the 1990s by declaring that “the state of our union is the strongest it has ever been.”

“Never before,” he said in that speech, “has our nation enjoyed, at once, so much prosperity and social progress with so little internal crisis and so few external threats.”

This year’s dissatisfaction seems to have less to do with any fundamental shift in the nation’s ideological and partisan leanings than with its broadening displeasure with the Bush administration’s handling of the war and the economy. In CBS News/New York Times polls taken in February 2000 and January this year, the percentages of respondents who aligned themselves with a given party or ideology were almost precisely the same.

It is not yet clear how the discontent may be affecting the primary races. The Republican race remains a muddle, and the one Democratic candidate who has made the most populist appeal to change the nation’s direction — former Senator John Edwards — remains a distant third. So far, at least, his message has not caught on in a race that has been marked more by the historic nature of the campaigns run by Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Nonetheless, any of the Democrats would represent a sharp break with the policies of the last eight years, and polls suggest that the Democrats began this year with a political advantage they could not have imagined eight years ago. Asked a year before the 2000 election which party’s candidate they were likely to support, respondents were evenly divided. Asked the same question this month, they favored the Democrats by 18 percentage points. Much of the shift is thought to have been among independents.

That swing, fueled by antiwar sentiment, helped the Democrats win control of Congress in 2006. In some states, there is evidence of its impact well down the ballot. In Denver’s once reliably Republican suburbs, for instance, Democratic voter registration has grown since 2000 at 10 times the rate of Republican registration.

John Brackney, president of the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, and a former commissioner in suburban Arapahoe County, recalled being mocked when he wore one of his old campaign shirts to the neighborhood pool last summer. “Oh, you’re wearing a Republican shirt,” someone said.

“That wouldn’t have happened eight years ago,” Mr. Brackney observed.

The issues have also shifted. Of the top eight political concerns found in a CBS News/New York Times poll this month, only three were on the list eight years ago. Terrorism, immigration, the environment and fuel prices did not register a blip back then. (The other top concern identified in recent polling was the Iraq war.)

In the 2000 campaign, it was possible for Mr. Bush to deride Mr. Gore’s environmentalism to considerable effect. Eight years later, Mr. Gore is a Nobel laureate, and coiled light bulbs and hybrid cars are status symbols.

“Before, I didn’t feel personally guilty if I left a light on,” said Meg Campbell, director of a charter high school in Dorchester, a working-class neighborhood in Boston. “It just wasn’t in the drinking water back then. Now it’s almost a religion.”

Since the campaign of 2000, the United States has lost 4,400 men and women in wars overseas, and nearly 3,000 people in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Hispanics have become the country’s largest minority, accounting for nearly half of annual population growth. Gasoline prices have doubled, and the home foreclosure rate has increased by 55 percent.

The proportion of Americans without health insurance, which was declining at decade’s end, has grown by 2 percentage points. Both the unemployment and poverty rates are a percentage point higher. War spending has helped convert a $236 billion federal budget surplus into a $163 billion deficit (reduced from $413 billion in 2004).

Some of those interviewed, like Raymond E. Dixon, a Kansas City computer programmer, said they were confident their children would not enjoy the same standard of living they had, calling it a reversal of the American dream. Several said the force of such rapid change, reinforced by the foreboding symbolism of airport security lines and orange alerts, had left the country gimlet-eyed, and wary.

“There was something out there we got blindsided by,” said Emily Kemp, a 30-year-old investment worker in Boston who was an Army officer until 2004. “At least now we know, and we are actively attempting to thwart that threat.”

Certainly, some Americans remain bullish. Charles K. Spencer, a 71-year-old investment adviser who lives in the Kansas City suburbs, said he was “unabashedly optimistic” about the future facing his four grandchildren. Technology and the free market will provide them with unlimited opportunity, Mr. Spencer said, so long as they are willing to relocate and retrain.

But the more common theme, that of innocence lost, was voiced by Erwin L. Epple, 54, and his wife, Fumiyo, 64, who were in Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, and saw the smoke rising from the Pentagon. “We said that day that our grandchildren will grow up in a different world, assuming the worst about people instead of the best,” said Mr. Epple, who owns a pizza franchise in Knoxville, Tenn.

Many of those interviewed remembered the emphasis placed in the 2000 campaign on restoring personal integrity to the Oval Office. Several volunteered that the focus of the current campaign should be on the rectitude of the country’s role in the world.

“In 2000,” said Philip R. Dupont, a Kansas City lawyer, “one of Bush’s big platforms was that he’d restore honesty and integrity to the White House. Then he went out and attacked a sovereign nation that had done nothing to us.”

As issues like health care, climate change and immigration have become more urgent, Americans seem less willing to dismiss failures of government and political polarization as business as usual. It feels more personal to them now, and they are demanding results.

Mr. Epple boiled with frustration as he vowed to vote for the candidate who convinces him that he or she is most able to solve problems. “I’m sick and tired of the party line and the platitudes,” he said. “I’m hearing hope. I’m hearing trust. But I’m not hearing solutions.”

Reporting was contributed by Randal C. Archibold in Los Angeles, Abby Goodnough in Boston, Kirk Johnson in Denver and Sam Roberts and Megan Thee in New York.

Copyright 2008. New York Times.

January 27, 2008

Religion and the Presidential Primaries(WNET)

Religion has been high on the agenda this campaign season as candidates visit churches, talk about their personal beliefs and rack up religious endorsements -- all in an effort to mobilize faith-based voters. But there's long been an uneasy relationship between religion and U.S. politics. According to a recent Pew Forum survey, nearly 70 percent of Americans agree that it is important for a president to have strong religious beliefs. And more than 60 percent say they would be less likely to support a president who doesn't believe in God. But at the same time, more than four-in-ten Americans say they get uncomfortable when politicians talk about how religious they are. Should religion matter when choosing a president?

To watch the entire segment, go here

Delegate math: Super Tuesday will not lock up 2008 races

By Stephen Ohlemacher, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Don't look to crown any presidential nominees on Super Tuesday.

The race for delegates is so close in both parties that it is mathematically impossible for any candidate to lock up the nomination on Feb. 5, according to an Associated Press analysis of the states in play that day.

"A lot of people were predicting that this presidential election on both sides was going to be this massive sprint that ended on Feb. 5," said Jenny Backus, a Democratic consultant who is not affiliated with any candidate. Now it's looking as if the primaries after Super Tuesday — including such big, delegate-rich states as Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania — could grow in importance.

"Maybe some states were better off waiting," said Backus.

Read the entire article here.

January 28, 2008

Hey, Pollsters: Democrats Care About Religion, Too

By Leah Daughtry, chief of staff of the Democratic Party (Washington Post).

Religion will play an important role in today's South Carolina Democratic primary, just as it did in last week's South Carolina Republican primary. The difference is that we'll learn less about how religion affects today's vote than we learned about how it influenced last week's contest.

Read the full article here...

January 29, 2008

Bush speech champions 'fighting,' with a mixed message

President Bush delivered his last State of the Union speech with an unusual wrinkle for a final year in office: unlike all his predecessors for the past 40 years, he was unable to proclaim that the state of the Union was strong. From a Catholic standpoint, there were several points to cheer. But the omissions were more stark from a moral standpoint.

Mr Bush made no reference to abortion or gay marriage, his two signature domestic issues from the 2004 presidential campaign. Perhaps this was because new abortion data released earlier this month demonstrated that the decline in the abortion rate during Mr Bush's first term was about half that which occurred during President Bill Clinton's first term in office (1.7 vs 3.1/1000). He did not mention new data showing the first increase in teenage pregnancy in the US since 1990. Mr Bush called for dramatic reductions in Congressional 'earmark' spending, but failed to mention that he had approved of $100 billion of spending on 50,000 earmarks while the Republicans were in power during his first six years in office. Mr Bush made no reference to the significantly increased numbers of children living in poverty (Census data indicate 1.2 million more poor children in 2006 compared to 2000), or the climbing number without health insurance (which had leveled off prior to his first term).

On the foreign policy front, Mr Bush's only reference to the hundreds of thousands of people who had been killed in Iraq was his boast that "over the past year, we have captured or killed thousands of extremists in Iraq, including hundreds of key Al Qaeda leaders and operatives." He said nothing about the fact that none of these people would have been killed, either combatants or bystanders, if he had not claimed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or posed an imminent threat to the US. He did not mention the five US servicemen killed in Iraq the day of his speech, or the other 3917 funerals he has not attended. He did not mention the 121 murders unearthed by the NY Times, caused by returning veterans with no previous criminal record, each haunted by the destruction in which they were engaged. In short, he did not acknowledge that his Administration was responsible for initiating one of the three most murderous conflicts of the early 21st Century. He described his goal in Iraq in simple retributional terms: "We will deliver justice to the enemies of America."

Some of his remarks were grossly misleading. He stated at the beginning of his address that there were "116 million American taxpayers who would see their taxes rise by an average of $1,800" if his 2001 and 2003 tax cuts were not made permanent. By citing an average tax savings for only a fraction of all taxpayers, he misled his audience with a figure skewed upward by the average $112,000 savings of people who earn more than $1 million per year. The median tax savings were actually $470 for those paying federal income taxes. Dr Howard Dean, Chairman of the DNC, had estimated that the figure was closer to $360, when one takes into account all the other American households whose taxes are primarily property, sales and other local taxes. For example, about 13 million people over 65 who paid all their taxes in forms other than the federal income tax would not be included in Mr Bush's figures, according to the Tax Policy Center.

To the extent that taxes are a form of collective generosity to the Common Good, agreed to on our behalf by our legislators, Mr Bush was urging the Congress to persist in imposing a greater share of this burden on the lowest earners in society. Catholic Social Teaching cannot support this kind of self-enrichment at the expense of the many for the benefit of the few.

If any theme emerged from the speech, it was an emphasis on fighting. More than just the announcement that more US troops would be fighting in Afghanistan, and that any US progress in Iraq was not sufficient to justify accelerated disengagement there, he repeatedly referred to even his humanitarian gestures as "leading the fight." He repeated his call for increasing US funding for "fighting HIV/AIDS" to $30 billion over 5 years. He said America was "leading the fight against global poverty" and "leading the fight against global hunger," in particular asking that Congress enable US foreign food aid to be spent in local food markets. Past US food aid had served to undermine local agriculture markets, while taking much longer to provide aid to the hungry (by insisting on sending grain, rather than dollars).

To his credit, Mr Bush spoke in positive terms about the immigration issue, stating that the US must "find a sensible and humane way to deal with people here illegally. Illegal immigration is complicated, but it can be resolved. And it must be resolved in a way that upholds both our laws and our highest ideals." Many of the US bishops have spoken in similar terms. Mr Bush seemed to be responding to the conservative election rhetoric that had sought to villanize immigrants, and he is certainly aware of the unlikelihood of any meaningful legislation on this issue passing during a presidential election year.

He also called for additional funding to support DC students in attending private schools, including Catholic schools. He saluted new developments in stem cell research, and pledged to provide more funding for it. For the first time he made a public statement indicating that he thought we should aim eventually to "reverse the growth of greenhouse gases," though he offered no specific proposals.

All told, Mr Bush enters his final year with no clear remorse for the suffering imposed on the people in Iraq, no clear commitment to any practical accomplishments on the issue of abortion (he vetoed Democratic legislation in December aimed at prevention of unintended pregnancy, the FY08 Labor-HHS appropriation bill), and stating most forcefully that his central priority is preserving tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Historians will be fighting for years to figure out whether the relatively small investment in stopping the AIDS epidemic, and the appropriation of the "culture of life" language while budgeting virtually nothing on positive measures to reduce unintended pregnancies, will provide any meaningful cover for the massive budgetary, military, and environmental sins that have scarred Mr Bush's presidency.

January 30, 2008

Catholics and Latinos power wins by Clinton and McCain in Florida Primary

Senator Hillary Clinton captured 50% of the vote in Florida to beat rivals John Edwards and Barack Obama, though none had been allowed to campaign there due to a dispute between the state and national Democratic Parties. Mrs Clinton was strong among both Catholics and Latino-Americans. With 23% of Florida Democratic voters self-identified as Catholics, Mrs Clinton outpolled Mr Obama 3:1 with 60% of the Catholic vote. Her advantage among Latino voters was 2:1, in exit polling by CNN.

Speaking to supporters near Ft Lauderdale after the results were in, Mrs Clinton said, "I believe everyone who works full-time in America should bring home an income that lifts that person out of poverty and gives them and their children a better chance."

On the Republican side, Senator John McCain edged out former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Mr McCain did particularly well among those who thought abortion should be legal or mostly legal, with Romney and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee doing better among those who thought it should be illegal or mostly illegal. These figures were mirrored when voters were asked about church attendance, with the most infrequent church attenders supporting Mr McCain. Many of these voters had originally supported Catholic candidate Rudolph Giuliani, though his poor showing in the early primaries and a string of poor press stories served to sandbag his previously invincible image.

29% of Republican voters were Catholics, and perhaps the big story is how weakly they supported Mr Huckabee. Fewer than 4% of Catholics voted for him, regardless of the frequency of their Catholic church attendance. The recent formation of a national Catholic outreach organization for Mr McCain may have found legs in Florida; 40% of Catholics voted for Mr McCain, 28% for Mr Romney and 23% for Mr Giuliani.

Having cosponsored legislation providing a path to legalization for undocumented workers, Mr McCain had been the object of considerable vitriol from his immigration-focused rivals. But Mr McCain scored strongly among both Cuban and non-Cuban Latino voters, capturing more than 50% of both groups in Florida. He also overwhelmingly carried the votes of Republicans who felt the economy was weak and worrisome.

With Mr Giuliani on the verge of withdrawing from the race, and apparently planning on throwing his support to Mr McCain, the Arizona senator begins to look formidable among both conservative Latinos and Catholics of all stripes.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

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"Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.

"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

"On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics."

First Inaugural Address, President Barack Obama

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