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February 1, 2008

Paul Krugman on "the Edwards Effect"

February 1, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist

So John Edwards has dropped out of the race for the presidency. By normal political standards, his campaign fell short.

But Mr. Edwards, far more than is usual in modern politics, ran a campaign based on ideas. And even as his personal quest for the White House faltered, his ideas triumphed: both candidates left standing are, to a large extent, running on the platform Mr. Edwards built.

To understand the extent of the Edwards effect, you have to think about what might have been.

At the beginning of 2007, it seemed likely that the Democratic nominee would run a cautious campaign, without strong, distinctive policy ideas. That, after all, is what John Kerry did in 2004.

If 2008 is different, it will be largely thanks to Mr. Edwards. He made a habit of introducing bold policy proposals — and they were met with such enthusiasm among Democrats that his rivals were more or less forced to follow suit.

It’s hard, in particular, to overstate the importance of the Edwards health care plan, introduced in February.

Before the Edwards plan was unveiled, advocates of universal health care had difficulty getting traction, in part because they were divided over how to get there. Some advocated a single-payer system — a k a Medicare for all — but this was dismissed as politically infeasible. Some advocated reform based on private insurers, but single-payer advocates, aware of the vast inefficiency of the private insurance system, recoiled at the prospect.

With no consensus about how to pursue health reform, and vivid memories of the failure of 1993-1994, Democratic politicians avoided the subject, treating universal care as a vague dream for the distant future.

But the Edwards plan squared the circle, giving people the choice of staying with private insurers, while also giving everyone the option of buying into government-offered, Medicare-type plans — a form of public-private competition that Mr. Edwards made clear might lead to a single-payer system over time. And he also broke the taboo against calling for tax increases to pay for reform.

Suddenly, universal health care became a possible dream for the next administration. In the months that followed, the rival campaigns moved to assure the party’s base that it was a dream they shared, by emulating the Edwards plan. And there’s little question that if the next president really does achieve major health reform, it will transform the political landscape.

Similar if less dramatic examples of leadership followed on other key issues. For example, Mr. Edwards led the way last March by proposing a serious plan for responding to climate change, and at this point both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are offering far stronger measures to limit emissions of greenhouse gases than anyone would have expected to see on the table not long ago.

Unfortunately for Mr. Edwards, the willingness of his rivals to emulate his policy proposals made it hard for him to differentiate himself as a candidate; meanwhile, those rivals had far larger financial resources and received vastly more media attention. Even The Times’s own public editor chided the paper for giving Mr. Edwards so little coverage.

And so Mr. Edwards won the arguments but not the political war.

Where will Edwards supporters go now? The truth is that nobody knows.

Yes, Mr. Obama is also running as a “change” candidate. But he isn’t offering the same kind of change: Mr. Edwards ran an unabashedly populist campaign, while Mr. Obama portrays himself as a candidate who can transcend partisanship — and given the economic elitism of the modern Republican Party, populism is unavoidably partisan.

It’s true that Mr. Obama has tried to work some populist themes into his campaign, but he apparently isn’t all that convincing: the working-class voters Mr. Edwards attracted have tended to favor Mrs. Clinton over Mr. Obama.

Furthermore, to the extent that this remains a campaign of ideas, it remains true that on the key issue of health care, the Clinton plan is more or less identical to the Edwards plan. The Obama plan, which doesn’t actually achieve universal coverage, is considerably weaker.

One thing is clear, however: whichever candidate does get the nomination, his or her chance of victory will rest largely on the ideas Mr. Edwards brought to the campaign.

Personal appeal won’t do the job: history shows that Republicans are very good at demonizing their opponents as individuals. Mrs. Clinton has already received the full treatment, while Mr. Obama hasn’t — yet. But if he gets the nod, watch how quickly conservative pundits who have praised him discover that he has deep character flaws.

If Democrats manage to get the focus on their substantive differences with the Republicans, however, polls on the issues suggest that they’ll have a big advantage. And they’ll have Mr. Edwards to thank.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Servicemen & women suffering inordinately, while war issues recede in run up to Feb 5 primaries

President Bush made no reference in his State of the Union message to the tens of thousands of injured veterans or to the more than 5500 Americans who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan (including both military and private contractors). But even more profound than these losses are the hundreds of thousands of servicemen and women who have suffered permanent scars to their mental health and damage to their home lives. Desertions have risen significantly over each of the past four years, as one measure of the despair felt by US forces and their families. More than 100 soldiers have been accused of murder here in the US after returning from the carnage of the Middle East, and new data shows that military suicides have reached record highs.

The American ideal of a soldier returning from the battlefield to lead a normal family life is being brought into question by an expanding medical literature on the mental scars of military service in Iraq and Afghanistan. A new study from Walter Reed Army Medical Center indicated that 20% of active duty and 42% of reserve soldiers returning from deployments required mental health treatment. Concerns about interpersonal conflict in their lives had increased 400%, and soldiers rarely received referral for alcohol treatment despite reporting significant new alcohol use problems. VA figures indicate that more than 100,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are being treated for mental health problems, half specifically for post-traumatic stress disorder. But surveillance data have suggested that there may be many more who receive no treatment.

Families have suffered siginificant duress as a result of deployments being prolonged last year from 12 to 15 months. In 2005 the Pentagon released preliminary data suggesting that the divorce rate had doubled in the military since the period prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. A subsequent study by the Rand Corporation found that in the military generally there had been only a subtle increase in divorce rates, from 2.5% to 3% per year. But Pentagon figures tell a different story for the officer corp, where the divorce rate climbed from 1.9% in 2002 to 3.3% in 2003 and up to 6% in 2004.

An increasing number of soldiers are responding by abandoning the military. In fiscal 2007 the Army reported desertions by 4,698 soldiers, compared to 3,300 in 2006, 2543 for 2005 and 2357 in 2004. Overall this represented an 80% increase in desertion rates compared to the year prior to the US invasion of Iraq. The Associated Press has reported that the military does little in most cases to find or prosecute these individuals.

One of the direst consequences of this mental anguish is the incidence of violence by returning veterans or active military. Last month the New York Times reported having found 121 cases in which veterans of Afghanistan and/or Iraq had killed someone in the US, or were charged with a killing, after returning from war. This report cited combat trauma, the stress of deployment, alcohol abuse, and family problems among these individuals, most of whom had no previous criminal records. Three-quarters of these veterans were still in the military at the time of the killing, and one third of the victims were spouses, girlfriends or children.

Even more prevalent are the suicides that have risen dramatically among returning veterans. In 2007, 121 soldiers took their own lives, 20% more than in 2006. Consequently the suicide rate climbed for the first time above 20 per 100,000 active-duty soldiers in 2007, more than double the rate in 2001 when military suicides had reached their lowest rate ever. The majority of these deaths occurred while service members were on leave in the US, placing an incalculable burden of grief on their families.

Furthermore, attempted suicides or self-injuries have climbed six-fold since 2003. According to a US Army suicide prevention task force, about 2,100 soldiers injured themselves or attempted suicide last year, compared with about 350 the year prior to the invasion of Iraq.

Speaking publicly of sacrifice by US military and their families is rife among the political classes. As President Bush asked this week for yet another $70 billion on top of the nearly $200 billion already requested this year to support military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the opportunity costs of suffering at home have silently climbed as well. Some estimates now place the cost of the two wars in excess of $2 trillion projected into the future, when taking account of the costs of care for so many injured veterans. The opportunity costs for all these wasted dollars are measured in the number of children without health insurance, the number in underserved populations in the US who die because of sub-standard cancer care, and in a thousand other ways. But Catholics are called by tradition and the Gospels to reach out in particular to the military men and women who are suffering so much--most importantly by ending the wars that have imposed this heavy burden so selectively upon them.

February 2, 2008

Religious Support in the Presidential Primaries

Despite the prominent role of religion in this campaign season, exit pollsters have not asked religion questions of Democratic voters in most of the primary elections so far -- and only limited religion questions of Republican voters. To provide a more complete picture, Zogby International has given RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY exclusive access to religion data in its tracking polls.

Program managing editor Kim Lawton is joined by leading religion and politics expert John Green, a Senior Fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, to discuss what that information reveals about which presidential candidates people of faith are supporting -- and why.

Read the full story.

February 3, 2008

Some non-Christians feel left out of the election

February 3, 2008
Some Non - Christians Feel Left Out Of Election
Filed at 8:48 a.m. ET

DALLAS (Reuters) - In a U.S. election campaign where presidential candidates from both major parties have talked openly about their Christian faith, some non-Christians feel shut out or turned off.

Despite the constitutional separation of church and state, religion plays a big and sometimes decisive role in politics in America, where levels of belief and regular worship are far higher than those in Europe.

"Non-Christians are concerned that they will be excluded from the process," said Ahmed Rehab, a spokesman with the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

"I welcome faith values if they inspire candidates to do good things. But I worry if it is used as a litmus test to include someone in political participation."

About 75 percent of the U.S. population, long a melting pot of immigrants from around the world, identifies itself as Christian, according to several estimates.

That is a huge but divergent source of potential votes for Republican and Democratic candidates in their long contest for the nomination to run for the White House in the November election.

U.S. politicians are not shy of talking about their religion and regularly appear in church.

In recent decades, part of the American political drama has been scripted by the "religious right" -- mostly white evangelical Protestants united by strong opposition to abortion and gay marriage who have been a key base of support for the Republican Party.

Republican hopeful Mike Huckabee, who scooped up strong evangelical support but whose campaign is fading ahead of next Tuesday's nominating contests across the country, is a Baptist preacher who peppers his speeches with Biblical allusions.

Mitt Romney is a Mormon who was moved to address questions about his faith in a speech in December. John McCain has long sought to smooth relations after including leaders of the religious right among those he called "agents of intolerance" during his failed presidential bid in 2000.

The leading Democratic presidential contenders have also been open and candid about their faith.

That faith, and that of the Republican candidates, is Christian, although candidates have also spoken about the need for religious tolerance.

A false rumor that has circulated on the Internet about Democratic candidate Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan, is that he is Muslim who has lied about his religion. The rumor appears to illustrate the importance some voters attach to a candidate being Christian.


Estimates of the numbers of non-Christians in America vary. Some put the percentage of atheists, agnostics or "unaffiliated" at between 15 and 18 percent of the population of 300 million.

Jews, Muslims, Hindus and people of other religions make up fewer than 10 percent of the population.

Standing in a Hindu temple in a Dallas suburb before statues of his religion's deities, Tejas Karve says he understands why the candidates stress their commitment to Christianity. But it does leave him with a sense of exclusion.

"I think it's geared more towards Christians because that's the majority. It's incomprehensible for them (Americans) to have a candidate who's not Christian," the 26-year-old pilot, who immigrated from India eight years ago, told Reuters.

"I do believe they leave (non-Christians) out to a point."

Political professions of faith leave some unmoved.

"Why is that relevant? Who cares? The great issue is where do we stand on Medicare and Social Security and immigration ... Why inject religiosity into that?" asked Paul Kurtz, chairman of the Council for Secular Humanism.

"Are we (secular humanists and atheists) marginalized? No. Are we turned off? Yes!"

Atheists and agnostics have long been targets of the religious right who see moral decay in secularization.

Some critics say those without a religion were singled out in the speech by Romney in which he sought to ease concerns among Republican evangelicals about his Mormon faith.

He said "freedom requires religion" -- implying that it could not exist without it -- and criticized those who "seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God ... It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America -- the religion of secularism. They are wrong."

A Pew Research Center survey last year found that 63 percent of those polled said they would be "less likely" to support a presidential candidate who did not believe in God.

But those who say they are "unaffiliated" or atheist are very keen to cast their ballots. Pew data shows that 82 percent of them are very or somewhat likely to vote. At 90 percent, evangelicals are the only group more likely to vote.

Editing by Frances Kerry; Copyright 2008 Reuters Ltd.

February 4, 2008

Full itinerary for Pope's visit to US released

Washington DC, Feb 1, 2008 / 01:05 am (CNA).- Pope Benedict XVI's itinerary for his first papal visit to the United States has been released and includes a wide range of events. The Holy Father will visit with the President, meet with 350 bishops from around the U.S. and address Catholic educators among other commitments.

Read full article here.

NYT: Evangelical Democrats, Exit Polls and a Matter of Balance

Published: February 2, 2008

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? If a born-again Christian votes in a Democratic primary and no exit poll records it, does it matter?

If you want to know what percentage of voters in the Republican caucuses and primaries described themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians — and whom they voted for — exit polls will tell you. If you want to know what percentage of voters in the Democratic caucuses and primaries consider themselves born-again or evangelical Christians, well, sorry. No one knows.

Read the full article here.

The Brody File: Bias Against Faithful Democrats?

Howard Dean and the Democratic National Committee are not happy with the exit polling method conducted by The National Election Pool. Dean thinks there's a built in bias, if you will, when it comes to polling how Democrats of faith vote. He wants to know why is the faith questions always asked of Republicans, not Democrats? Here's part of his letter below:

Read the full article here...

February 5, 2008

Catholic Democrats Press Mention: Clergy consider God in political messages

By Christine Morente, STAFF WRITER
Article Created: 01/31/2008 02:37:27 AM PST


HOW WOULD Jesus vote?

That intriguing question was posed by Pastor Paul Watermulder of the First Presbyterian Church of Burlingame in a sermon recently.

"Jesus, of course, is not a voting member of our city," he said to his congregation. "But sometimes we are asked to think and act on his behalf, aren't we?"

A Barack Obama supporter himself, Watermulder has always held fast to the belief that religion and politics should, indeed, mix.

Read full article here.

It includes a section about Catholic Democrats. Here is an excerpt.

"He outwardly put his faith on his sleeve," Eisner said. "It was his way of governing our country. Prior to that (faith) was something to downplay. Kennedy downplayed he was Catholic. Now we see them going to church. It's a part of their personality." Last year, Catholic Democrats, a Boston-based organization, launched a chapter in California.

Bill Roth of San Jose said he is working to build a broad-based organization of California Roman Catholics who will represent Catholic policy perspectives within the state Democratic Party. Roth said the group will not endorse anyone prior to the parties' nominees for president being chosen.

"Frankly, all the candidates are acceptable," he said.

In 2004, the organization was called "Catholics for Kerry," when John Kerry ran for president on the Democratic ticket.

According to Roth, Catholics have specific sets of values that align with the Democratic Party. Both the Catholic Democrats and the Democratic Party list worker's rights, human rights, the use of force and the notion of a just war as important issues. Roth asserts that the role of the church is to teach on these matters but not get directly involved.

"People of faith absolutely need to get involved," Roth said. "We have seen the damage done by Republicans over the last eight years. As Catholics, we believe it's through faith and good works that you get salvation. It's not enough to pray — we have to act."

John McCain the GOP Nominee? Bring Him On!

By Joshua Holland
Monday 4 February 2008

Once you crack the media myths surrounding him, it's unlikely voters are going to go for an angry, unstable, hypocritical warmonger.

According to the latest Washington Post poll, there's been a dramatic shift towards John McCain following his victory in the Florida GOP primary, and he now leads Mitt Romney by 24 points nationwide. With a number of winner-take all primaries on the Republican side, he has a very good shot at wrapping up the nomination on February 5. It looks like conservatives - with a few raving-mad, mouth-breathing exceptions - have gone through denial, anger, bargaining and depression and come finally to accept their insubordinate nominee. Modern conservatives are the philosophical heirs of the monarchists of a previous era; despite months of grumbling, most will, ultimately, rally around the king come November.

McCain is also the candidate most Democrats and progressives have feared facing in the general election. According to RealClearPolitics' rolling average of head-to-head polls, McCain would beat Clinton today by a slim margin of just under 2 percent and would edge out Obama by a razor-thin half-point. Eight months out - and months before the first debate between the nominees - these data mean little, but they are causing some concern on the left.

McCain is, however, an extremely weak candidate. His wooden delivery of stump speeches - sometimes offered while staring at his notes - and some incidents in which he's appeared "confused" - he referred to Vladimir Putin as the president of Germany - are vulnerabilities for a 71 year-old candidate. Most people still haven't had a chance to see and hear from these candidates at length this cycle, and while we all decry the fact that people often make political decisions based on the candidates' mannerisms or appearances rather than on the issues, in a race against a cranky and somewhat out-of-it McCain, the War of Appearances is likely to be won handily by either of the potential Dem nominees.

The affable and avuncular image McCain's worked so hard to cultivate may also be difficult to maintain as voters focus more attention on the candidate. As Sidney Blumenthal wrote for Salon:
McCain's political colleagues ... know another side of the action hero - a volatile man with a hair-trigger temper, who shouted at Sen. Ted Kennedy on the Senate floor to "shut up," called his fellow Republican senators "shithead," "fucking jerk," "asshole," and joked in 1998 at a Republican fundraiser about the teenage daughter of President Clinton, "Do you know why Chelsea Clinton is so ugly? Because Janet Reno is her father." [In 2006], McCain suddenly rushed up to a friend of mine, a prominent Washington attorney, at a social event, and threatened to beat him up because he represented a client McCain happened to dislike, and then, just as suddenly, profusely and tearfully apologized.

And McCain's problems run far deeper than his irascibility and some gaffes on the stump. His real challenge is that his popularity - his viability - rests almost entirely on two narratives that have absolutely no connection with reality: his reputation as a straight-talking "maverick" and a moderate, and his "brave" support for Bush's troop escalation, a policy that's led to the widely-embraced but wholly false idea that "the surge is working."

These narratives have only gone unchallenged thanks to a compliant press; the commercial media are McCain's most dedicated constituents, and he's spent a career fostering that country-before-party image, even while walking in lock-step with Republicans on all but a few over-reported issues.

This means that Democrats are not so much running against McCain, the candidate, as McCain, the myth. The Republican Party will be a serious obstacle for the Democratic nominee, but ultimately election 2008 will be as much a battle to overturn the conventional wisdom as it will be a fight with the senator from Arizona. It should be a source of some encouragement then that the progressive movement, with its blogs, social-networking space and alternative media outlets, is far better prepared to fight and win that kind of battle than it has been at any other time in recent memory.

The Twists and Turns of the "Straight-Talk Express"

McCain's strongest selling point was summed up well by Matt Welch in the L.A. Times last week. "It's no mystery why independents gravitate toward McCain," he wrote. "He's a country-first, party-second kind of guy who speaks bluntly and delights in poking fellow Republicans in the eye on issues such as campaign finance reform and global warming."

The reality is that John McCain is the antithesis of the principled straight-talker. When he was asked in a recent debate whether, as president, he would sign into law the comprehensive immigration reform bill that he's championed for the past three years, he responded: "No, I would not, because we know what the situation is today." Yes, the situation today is that he's running for the Republican nomination.

As journalist and blogger Steve Benen noted, that's only one of a number of measures that McCain has worked hard to pass and is now saying he'd oppose:

McCain used to champion the Law of the Sea convention, even volunteering to testify on the treaty's behalf before a Senate committee. Now, if the treaty comes to the Senate floor, he's vowed to vote against it.

McCain was a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, which would grant legal status to illegal immigrants' kids who graduate from high school. In 2007, to make the far-right base happy, he voted against the bill he had taken the lead on.

In 2006, McCain sponsored legislation to require grassroots lobbying coalitions to reveal their financial donors. In 2007, after receiving "feedback" on the proposal, McCain told far-right activist groups that he now opposes the measure he'd backed.

McCain used to support major campaign-finance reform measures that bore his name. In June 2006, McCain announced his opposition to a major McCain-Feingold provision.
As Benen points out, it's one thing to change one's mind about a piece of legislation, "but these aren't just random bills that McCain voted on - these are bills that he personally championed - recently."

That's long been the trend with McCain, who claims that he's spent decades "fighting for the unborn" when stumping in socially conservative states, but has at least tacitly defended Roe V. Wade in the past. He voted against the temporary Bush tax cuts - saying at the time that the nation has never cut taxes "in a time of war" - but is now pledging to make them permanent as a central promise of his campaign.

But, ironically, of all the issues that McCain has embraced over the years, it's been his take on the occupation of Iraq that has possibly been the least consistent - he's "flip-flopped" on various aspects of Bush's Iraq policy dozens of times. The only consistency in his record is that each and every prediction of what would come to pass in Iraq has been proven consistently and terribly wrong.

The Realities of Occupation

McCain has said "that U.S. troops could be in Iraq for 'a thousand years' or 'a million years,' as far as he was concerned," and based much of his pitch for the White House on the fact that he backed the troop "surge" despite the fact that it was highly unpopular at the time.

The problem for McCain is that he's betting his career that the situation in Iraq is as likely to remain as it is or improve as it is to decline. That assumption's problematic, and if the decline in violence proves temporary between now and November, it will only expose the failure of the symbolic troop escalation on which McCain's hung so much of his campaign.

The "surge is working" narrative's not reality-based, and when it comes to Iraq, we've seen the spin give way to the ugly facts time and time again.

That the troop escalation has been anything but a success is not an ideological claim, as supporters of the occupation charge, but numerical and chronological. The surge began last February, and there was something approaching a consensus at the time that the addition of about 20,000 combat troops - the rest were support personnel - would be a drop in the bucket in a country of 25 million people. Retired four-star General Barry McCaffrey said at the time: "I personally think the surge of five U.S. Army brigades and a few Marine battalions dribbled out over five months is a fool's errand." But the troop build-up continued in March, April and May.

The period that followed was a bloodbath - last June and July were the most violent summer months of any year of the occupation. August was one of the bloodiest months, period. Then, that month, the powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ordered his Mehdi Army to stand down. The number of Iraqi civilian deaths fell by about 50 percent the next month and decreased again in October and November. The militia is estimated to be 100,000 strong and is arguably the most powerful ground force in Iraq after the U.S. military. While the change can't be wholly ascribed to any single factor - the violence has also decreased as a result of communities that have been fully "cleansed" of one or another ethnic or sectarian group - it's clear that al-Sadr's order, not Bush's "surge," was responsible for most of whatever "success" there may have been.

Finally, there is the masterpiece of propaganda known as the "Sunni Awakening." Spun as a sign of success, the reality is that the U.S. military turned over some of the areas where they'd encountered the most violent resistance to local Sunni authorities - many of whom they had condemned as "terrorists" previously - and started paying their fighters to stop shooting at U.S. troops. In other words, the U.S. was defeated and surrendered territory to the "enemy," effectively paying reparations to local populations and suffering fewer casualties as a result. There are many ways to define success, but defeat and surrender are not among them. Yet, in perfectly Orwellian fashion, after four years of saying that Iraq was mostly stable aside from a few local areas and the Sunni "Triangle of Death," the administration simply stopped using the phrase and replaced it with talk of a "Sunni Awakening." We've always been at war with Eurasia.

The stated goal of the escalation was to "provide space" for political progress that might lead to a lasting and sustainable peace. But there's been no move towards political consensus on any of the Iraqi political class's most divisive issues, not has there been any reconciliation of ethnic and sectarian tensions in the streets.

Dissatisfaction with the Iraqi leadership will continue to increase. Tensions in the South between Shia nationalists and separatists have been on a straight upward line since the Brits pulled back. A growing rift has developed between the national army and U.S.-backed Sunni militias. Mosul has become the latest city to catch fire. The referendum for the future of Kirkuk has been delayed because the question of the oil-rich city's future is too explosive.

Every day, the stress on Moqtada al-Sadr's ceasefire, which is scheduled to expire this month, continues; it's unlikely that it will hold through November. There have already been a number of instances in which Mehdi Army units have gone freelance; if the ceasefire holds, that number will no doubt increase.

Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government are at odds over oil contracts. The country's infrastructure is still in tatters, and there are 4 million displaced Iraqis. If the 2 million or so who are refugees in other countries return, nobody knows what to do with them and inadequate food supplies will be further strained. If they try to return to neighborhoods that have been successfully "cleansed," a new wave of violence will likely ensue. A terrible drought is decimating Iraqi agriculture. Public health officials say that while the cholera epidemic that swept the country last year is under control now, they expect it to return with a vengeance as the temperature rises this summer. I could go on - Iraq is a disaster of epic proportions, and no amount of spin can conceal that reality indefinitely.

Remember that the troop escalation is scheduled to end in July, three months before Americans go to the polls. At that point, even a docile media is going to have to either report that violence - and the all-important U.S. casualty rate - is on the rise again, or they'll be forced to examine the escalation's success or failure in terms of political progress as well as the level of violence. Either storyline shifts the debate significantly (as would a cancellation of the long-planned summer draw-down).

The Politics of Occupation

Unfortunately, even in the midst of a heated election campaign, the Democratic candidates have so far deprived voters of a fair and open debate about one of the most important issues of our time. Both Clinton and Obama have been coy - dishonest, really - about their plans for Iraq, claiming, for example, that they will remove "combat troops" but retain some "non-combat" troops for training, counter-terrorism missions and to protect, in Clinton's words "the more than 100,000 Americans civilians who are there, working for the embassy, working for businesses, working for charities."

It's a tragic reflection of our political culture that they can get away with these vagaries on an issue of such great concern to their constituents. The dirty truth is that "non-combat troops" are troops with orders to stay in their bases when the shit hits the fan unless said shit involves our contractors and infrastructure. It's profoundly immoral given the propaganda laid out for staying in-country; it effectively continues the occupation but abandons even the pretense of protecting vulnerable Iraqi civilians.

Both candidates have refused to put a hard number on the amount of "non-combat" troops that would be required for their missions, forcing us to essentially read the tealeaves to glean what they would actually do if elected. Both have proposed missions similar to that laid out in the Center for American Progress' "Strategic Redeployment 2.0" plan (PDF), which calls for about 50,000 troops to fulfill. According to an analysis by historian Stephen Zunes, "most estimates of the numbers of troops needed to carry out [the mission Clinton has described] range between 40,000 and 75,000." NPR reported that senior advisors to Obama have privately said that he would likely retain 50,000 troops in-country. These are exactly the same number of troops that George Bush has tried to lock in by signing a "cooperation agreement" with the Iraqi government his military installed.

This is a grim reality for the "anti-this-war" movement, but it's important to understand that it is the perception that matters, and with an abundance of low-information voters, a candidate who says he or she wants to end the "war" will have a distinct advantage over John "1 Million Years Is Fine By Me" McCain, regardless of his or her sincerity. According to the Jan. 18-22 L.A. Times-Bloomberg Poll (PDF), 66 percent of independents agree with close to 90 percent of Democrats that the U.S. should withdrawal from Iraq within a year.


According to the Washington Post poll cited above, a slim plurality of Democratic primary voters believe Clinton has a better shot at defeating McCain than does Obama, although her lead on that poll question has eroded in recent weeks. A good argument can be made that Clinton, whose team has more experience pushing back against the GOP smear machine than any other, is tougher than Obama, and therefore has a better chance. Clinton's backers also have the highest intensity of support among any of the top three candidates.

Obama's strengths, however, play perfectly against McCain's narratives. His "post-partisan" rhetoric is appealing to a whole generation of new voters - young people have come out for him in droves in the early primaries - and he has done extremely well with self-identified independents, the same group that's delivering the nomination to McCain (so far, he's tended to split the partisan GOP vote with Romney and won with the indies).

On Iraq, Obama has the advantage of having opposed the invasion from the beginning, which means that he'd have significantly less difficulty drawing a contrast on the issue with McCain than Clinton, who will have to explain why she voted for the war before she "opposed" it.

Finally, Clinton has the highest "negatives" - disapproval rating - of any candidate in the race. Modern American elections are won in large part by turning out "your guys" and keeping your opponents' supporters at home. McCain, despite the grudging acceptance of many Republicans in recent weeks, still has the softest support of any of the three candidates - fewer than one in four of those voters who back him tell pollsters that they "support him strongly." So, while there would be a lot of people who would want to take part in history and elect the first woman to the Oval Office, there are also going to be voters who don't support McCain, and might stay on their couches against an Obama (whose negatives are very low), but who would be motivated to get to the polls to vote against Clinton. So while most on the right will hold their noses and vote for McCain, it's likely that others - some anti-immigrant hardliners, some Christianists - will simply stay home against Obama whereas they may be motivated to beat "Hitlery." That doesn't need to be a very large number in those swing states to make the difference.

Beating McCain

Whoever becomes the eventual Democratic nominee will enjoy a structural advantage over McCain. The Democratic candidates are "crushing" their GOP rivals in terms of fund-raising, there have been record turn-outs in primary after primary on the Democratic side, and there's clearly a burning desire among partisan Dems and many progressives to take out the Republican trash after 8 long years of war and Bushenomics.

All that will mean little, however, if the race is against McCain, the man, as opposed to the media myths he's created. Ultimately, this will be a test of the communication infrastructure progressives have labored to build over the past ten years; we have 8 months to chip away at the twin towers of McCain's candidacy - his ostensible independent streak and the success of the Bush "surge" that he championed.

That means it's time for some message discipline. McCain is not a "straight-shooter," he's a "Bush Republican" who will say anything to get elected. He has a different message for every crowd. He's a flip-flopper on all the issues that he supposedly bucked his party over in the past.

Branding the troop escalation the "McCain doctrine" - as John Edwards has done - ties him to a policy that has a very good chance of going south, visibly and undeniably, before the end of summer.

Moreover, the 'surge is working' narrative itself has to be challenged, forcefully, before Election Day. As blogger Chris Bowers argued recently:

The simple truth is that, starting with the explosion of blogosphere traffic during the invasion of Iraq and with the rise of Howard Dean's presidential campaign in 2003, over the past five years, the rising and declining fortunes of the contemporary manifestation of the progressive movement have been inextricably tied to winning and losing the Iraq debate nationwide. Right now, because we are losing that debate, we are losing pretty much every other fight, too.

As Joe Brewer and Scott Parkinson of the Rockridge Institute suggest, the key to that is reframing the debate from the question of whether the escalation of troops has had an effect, to a simple story of betrayal. America was betrayed by leaders - like John McCain - who led it into a destructive imperial war and who continue to spin a web of lies and half-truths to maintain the occupation.

The popular "straight-talking" McCain? Bring him on. We have eight months to chip away at a leviathan of spin.

AlterNet is a non profit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed by our writers are their own. Joshua Holland is an AlterNet staff writer.

Pastor: Poverty 'weapon of mass destruction'

Register & Bee staff writer
February 5, 2008

The Rev. James A. Forbes Jr. said he didn't come to Danville on Monday to politick for Democrat Tom Perriello. But he couldn't help it.

Forbes returned to an area where he once preached to let about 200 people at Bibleway Cathedral know that Danville has better days ahead.

Forbes and Perriello, who is challenging Congressman Virgil Goode in the 5th District, got to know each other in New York when Forbes was pastor of Riverside Church. The first African-American pastor of Riverside Church has been listed as one of the best U.S. preachers in Newsweek.

Perriello, also at Monday's gathering, said he heard about the prophetic justice principles Forbes developed and he wanted to know more. Forbes believes the problem isn't who is sitting in the White House, but the culture that elected that type of person.

"Poverty is a weapon of mass destruction," he said.

Read the full story here.

February 6, 2008

On a big day of primaries across the country, Obama wins more states. But Clinton captures California, and possibly more Catholics

Voters and caucus-goers in 24 states cast ballots on February 5, and both the Democratic candidates came out looking like winners. Senator Hillary Clinton captured the majority in the larger states of New York, California and New Jersey. Senator Barack Obama scored victories in more states overall, winning 13 of the 22 contests (with New Mexico still too close to call). Overall, Senator Obama has won the majority of votes in 15 states so far, compared to Senator Clinton's 12. The current delegate count is appears neck-and-neck.

A closer look at how Catholics voted turns up some interesting differences. Senator Clinton won in the delegate-rich California primary, and among weekly mass-attending Catholics by a 3:1 margin over Senator Obama. Even among Catholics who attend mass more sporadically, she won by 2:1. Interestingly, church attendance across all denominations turned out to have no correlation to a vote for Senators Clinton or Obama across the states that voted February 5.

A big part of Senator Clinton's strength in California among Catholics was clearly her appeal to Latino Democrats, who constituted 25% of the voters in California. They favored Senator Clinton by nearly 3:1 over Senator Obama, who performed more strongly among college-educated and wealthier Democrats. Senator Obama did somewhat better among Latino voters in his home state of Illinois, beating Senator Clinton 58% to 41% in exit polling. But despite winning Illinois 2:1, his polling among Catholics was a draw with Senator Clinton there.

In a heavily Catholic state like Massachusetts, where Catholics were 45% of the voters, Senator Clinton did very well. She had twice as many votes as Senator Obama among Catholics, and frequency of church attendance showed no correlation with support for either candidate. In Georgia, a state that Senator Obama won handily, the smaller number of Catholics moved almost evenly into the two camps.

A different demographic was in play in New Mexico, where only 1000 votes separated the two candidates out of 135,000 cast. Senator Clinton fared better among frequent church attenders, and carried weekly mass-attending Catholics almost 2:1. Self-identified Catholics constituted 31% of voters, and those who were more disaffected cast their votes equally for the two candidates. White voters broke overwhelmingly for Senator Obama, while self-identified Latino voters (34% of the electorate) more often supported Mrs Clinton.

Broadly speaking, the two Democrats are finding that their candidacies appeal to both frequent church attenders of all faiths and also to those who attend less often. But Senator Clinton's edge among older white women and Latino-Americans, who constitute an increasing percentage of church-attending Catholics, may be a big part of why she is edging out Senator Obama among Catholic Democrats so far.

The Democrats' Salvation

By E.J. Dionne

Monday 4 February 2008

Wilmington, Delaware - Democrats are divided this year not by the issues but by a feeling and a theory.

This helps explain why the preferences of voters in the Democratic presidential primaries so far have gyrated so wildly. In the absence of deep divisions on policy, Democrats have been cut loose from their ideological moorings. Philosophical unity has bred new forms of conflict.

Barack Obama has surged to rough parity with Hillary Clinton in the national polls not because Democrats reject her carefully thought-out solutions to the central public problems but because he has created in the party's rank and file a feeling of liberation-from intimidation by Republicans, from old divisions, from history itself.

At a packed rally in a downtown square here on Sunday, emblematic of those Obama has staged across the country, the candidate drew the usual applause for the usual Democratic applause lines on the infamy of the Bush administration, the urgency of universal health care and the unfairness of Republican economic policies.

But he connected most when he spoke of his willingness to oppose the Iraq War when many, including Clinton, didn't. This marked his liberation from Republican bullying on national security. He spoke of the surge of young people into politics and the extraordinary levels of participation in the Democratic primaries. This spoke to his party's desire to be liberated from the old math of the Reagan era.

And on it went: He noted the multitude he drew to a rally in Boise, Idaho, of all places (liberation from the old electoral map); the support he has won from Republicans (liberation from divisiveness); and his determination to govern "not by the polls but by principle" (liberation from calculation and, to some, from Clintonism).

All this strikes Hillary Clinton's supporters as terribly unfair. Some liberals who support Obama acknowledge privately that many of her positions on domestic issues are more carefully crafted and, in some respects, more liberal than his.

Her steadfastness in supporting a requirement that all Americans buy health insurance is instructive. Clinton is right that universal coverage will require a mandate of some sort. Obama's political attacks on the mandate are not only wrong; they may set back the future prospects of health care reform by feeding ammunition to its opponents.

One piece of Obama campaign literature looks suspiciously similar to the "Harry and Louise" ads run in the 1990s by the health insurance industry against the Clinton heath plan. The Obama ad depicts a concerned young couple and charges: "Hillary's health care plan forces everyone to buy insurance, even if you can't afford it."

Gene Sperling, a Hillary Clinton economic adviser, says he's disappointed in Obama, whom he generally likes. "I'd rather be in the tradition of Harry Truman, who supported universal coverage," he said, "than in the tradition of Harry and Louise."

But even on this issue, Clinton's advantage is undercut by her repeated refusal-on display Sunday on ABC's "This Week"-to specify the penalty she'd impose on those who failed to buy health insurance. Her reticence underscores the political challenge of supporting mandates of any kind.

The larger difference between Clinton and Obama is in their respective theories of change. Implicit in the Clinton narrative, as she put it on the stump last weekend, is the idea that "making change is hard." Only someone with carefully laid plans and the toughness to go toe-to-toe with the Republicans in the daily and weekly Washington slog can hope to achieve reform.

Obama agrees to an extent. "I know how hard change is," he says. But he promises to transcend the old fights-the liberation narrative again-by building a "bottom-up" movement to create inexorable pressure for reform that would draw in even Republicans.

"Good intentions are not enough," he said in his Wilmington speech. They need to be "fortified with political will or political power." Obama marries a softer rhetorical line on Republicans with a more sweeping and activist analysis of how change happens. He thus manages to go to Clinton's right and left at the same time.

That's why Obama is on the move in a way that worries Clinton's lieutenants. She promises toughness, competence, clarity and experience in a year when Democrats are seeking something closer to salvation.

One of the politicians who spoke before Obama at the rally, Delaware state Treasurer Jack Markell, cited the New Testament letter to the Hebrews in which St. Paul spoke of "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." It was a revealing moment: While Clinton wages a campaign, Obama is preaching a revival.

February 7, 2008

Ash Wednesday Observed With Antiwar Protest At White House

Members of Washington-area Catholic groups began the Lenten season Wednesday by smearing ashes over walkways in front of the White House as a symbol of what they called repentance for the country's involvement in the war in Iraq and the torture of Guantanamo detainees. Though the group read prayers and sang hymns over a megaphone in front of the White House gates, event organizer James Salt said the event was meant to be a symbolic gesture rather than a loud rally. “Our only hope is that you are a forgiving God and this sign of repentance will stay your hand over an evil empire,” the Rev. Joseph Nangle said as he led the ashes ceremony.

Read the full article here.

February 9, 2008

Did Catholics Save McCain?

In recent weeks, God-o-Meter has spotlighted John McCain's revitalized
evangelical outreach operation, led by Sam Brownback and his former
presidential campaign aides. But one of those former campaign aides
tells God-o-Meter that the bigger story might be Brownback & Co.'s
effort to build an 11th-hour Catholic outreach operation for the Arizona.
Read more:

Our Moral Duty in Iraq

Last year 14 Catholic Democrats sent a letter about Iraq to the U.S. Catholic bishops. After citing church leaders’ just war arguments against the original intervention, Tim Ryan, Rosa DeLauro, Marcy Kaptur and their colleagues concluded that it is time “to seek an end to this injustice.” They urged the bishops to support their efforts to force a withdrawal of U.S. troops as a way to “bring an end to this war.”

Read the full article here

NYT: Catholic Vote Is Harbinger of Success for Clinton

Hillary Rodham Clinton has run away with the votes of Roman Catholic Democrats in nearly all the primaries, often beating Barack Obama by two to one or better, exit polls show. In New York, she received 66 percent of the Catholic vote to his 30 percent. "I didn't go to bed until 1 in the morning waiting on the results," said Joe Quinn, a Catholic who is a building superintendent on the Upper West Side. 'I slept very well, let me tell you."

Reid the full article here.

Two new books chart Democrats' success in reclaiming mantle of faithfulness in America

February 10, 2008

Politics Issue:
Left Wing and a Prayer


The leadership of the Democratic Party, to its misfortune, has tended to confuse the religious right with religion, period. As a result, they can now look back at a long campaign of successful efforts to alienate white Christians, who make up two-thirds of the American electorate.

At the 1972 national convention in Miami, for example, when party progressives banished the Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley and his 58 handpicked delegates, most of them ethnic Catholics, in order to lend greater gender and racial balance to the Illinois delegation. At the failure, during the Carter years, to prevent the loss of jobs by blue-collar Catholics in the Rust Belt. At the elevation of abortion rights to canonical status and the silencing of Democratic voices in opposition, like that of the Pennsylvania governor and pro-life Catholic Robert Casey, a convinced liberal on universal health care, poverty reduction, education and the like, who was denied the podium at the 1992 Democratic National Convention. (However, many alienated Democrats came home to vote for religiously literate Bill Clinton in 1992, whose pro-choice mantra promised that abortions during his administration would be "safe, legal and rare.")

Nor were the party elites terribly distraught when their 2004 presidential nominee, John Kerry, a serious Catholic who mumbled and stumbled around that potentially appealing fact early in the campaign, landed in hot water with a handful of ultra-aggressive Catholic bishops. Although this minority’s heavy-handed threats to deny Communion to a pro-choice Catholic candidate were met with quiet disdain--episcopal omerta'--by a majority of their fellow bishops, who hate abortion but resist politicizing the Eucharist, the Kerry campaign mounted no effective response.

As for white evangelicals, well, the attitude has been--let the Republicans carry the fundamentalist mantle. After all, aren’t all born-again Christians hopelessly conservative, concerned more with undermining the teaching of evolution, standing in the way of stem-cell research and bashing gays than with promoting a just economic order or protecting the rights of women and minorities?

In short, the Democratic Party's long string of counterproductive responses to the enduring influence of the religious right has had the cumulative effect of driving away any type of base with the word "faith" attached to it, and opening the door to the Republicans' shrewd, if cynical, courting of religiously conservative white Christians. It's been a self-defeating failure, since there are millions of moderate and progressive Christians ready to embrace a reasonable alternative.

Now two savvy, genre-bending, unapologetically faith-based new books take that failure as an object lesson. "The Party Faithful," by the respected political journalist and progressive Baptist Amy Sullivan, is a kind of sophisticated self-help manual for Democrats who are looking for a way "of leveling the praying field." Sullivan provides a brisk history of Democratic miscalculations, along with a running commentary. "Souled Out," by the respected political journalist and progressive Catholic E. J. Dionne Jr., is a deeply personal and searchingly intelligent reflection on the noble history, recent travails and likely prospects of American liberalism. Dionne envisions "a radically new role for religious groups in American politics," an integration of personal morality with a championing of the common good that, he says, is "not only possible but necessary, for the sake of our public life and for religion’s sake as well."

Both authors blend reportage, analysis of voting patterns, historical precedents, personal religious testimony and unvarnished advocacy. They lament the reduction of religion to narrow ideological concerns and its identification with one political party. Both explore religious alternatives to the right-wing politics of fear and exclusion, and hold up a wide array of individuals for emulation: stereotype-busting evangelicals like Jim Wallis, Rich Cizik and Rick Warren; influential Catholic liberals like the Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, the architect of major documents on just war and nuclear-era peace; and independent-minded politicians like Tim Ryan and Rosa DeLauro, House Democrats who are attempting to break the pro-choice/ pro-life stalemate by pushing programs to reduce the number of abortions.

Strikingly, both authors announce the demise of the religious right and proclaim the advent of a new era of religious engagement in the direction of what might be called faith-friendly liberalism. "American politics is at a turning point," Dionne asserts. "Evangelical Christians are an increasingly diverse group," broadening their political agenda to include environmental issues and a commitment to international human and religious rights, as well as to economic policies that address poverty. Mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics are poised to renew their "rich history of social concern," Dionne says, and he concludes, "There is very good reason to believe that in the coming years, America’s religious communities will no longer be seen as the natural allies of political conservatism."

This would indeed be a marked departure from the recent past, when, in Sullivan’s words, "a showdown between the religious left and religious right was like a tricycle going up against a Mack truck." The disparity reflected a three-decade head start by religious conservatives flush with cash, coupled with the Republicans' "incredibly sophisticated methods of reaching religious voters." Meanwhile, according to several veteran Democratic operatives cited by Sullivan, "the only method the party had for identifying Catholics was to guess based on surnames."

Are Sullivan and Dionne to be believed, or is this the triumph of wishful thinking over political reality? Sullivan admits to setting out to prove her Dem-dissing pastor wrong, and Dionne, burdened by what he poignantly describes as "the agony of liberal Catholicism," could be forgiven for mistaking the creativity of a few Catholic politicians and the enthusiasms of younger Catholics as benevolent signs of more liberal times to come.

In their defense, however, consider the following points of light. Since at least 1993, when she gave her (unfairly derided) "politics of meaning" speech, Hillary Clinton has spoken thoughtfully and frequently about the relationship between her faith and her political convictions. More recently, John Edwards has acknowledged the strength he drew from his Southern Baptist heritage when his son died, and he also cites the religious source of his work on behalf of the underprivileged. And in his balanced and straightforward presentation on religion and politics, delivered to the Call to Renewal convention in June 2006, Barack Obama stated flatly that "secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square.Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King--indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history--were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause."

Whenever Democrats used to talk about religion, Sullivan comments, journalists jumped into the "'gotcha' mode to prove that the rhetoric is just a ploy to pander to voters." Clearly, however, none of the three leading Democratic candidates for president have been intimidated by the still powerful reputation of their party as fundamentally irreligious. Rather, they seem committed to reversing that reputation. If this new Democratic outlook succeeds in sparking the moral imagination of our religion-drenched nation, Dionne and Sullivan will be proven prophetic: a powerful political change is gonna come.

R. Scott Appleby is a professor of history and a director of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.

Copyright 2008, NY Times.

February 11, 2008

Obama wins in Virginia, Maryland and DC, but Clinton is still strong among Catholics

Senator Obama showed strength among churchgoers in wins across the Potomac area. But Senator Clinton again demonstrated strength among Catholics in both Virginia and Maryland. Senator Obama won Virginia 64% to 35%, winning the votes of women and of the religiously-minded by significant margins. The margin in Maryland was 60 to 37%, with strength again among women and churchgoers.

But Senator Clinton again had a strong showing among Catholics, winning among weekly Mass-goers in Maryland 49 to 37% and tying Senator Obama among less-frequent attenders. The CNN exit poll numbers were somewhat different in Virginia, with equal appeal to less frequent Mass attendees and Senator Obama carrying the minority who attend Mass every week, 55 to 41%. With the issues of economic distress and war weighing so heavily, there seems to be a growing consensus that Catholic Democrats this year will ultimately support the Democratic nominee whomever he or she turns out to be.

Senator Barack Obama's campaign organization had big wins last weekend in the caucuses in Nebraska, Washington State, and Maine. Subsequently, the Obama Campaign's ground organization surged ahead of Senator Clinton's forces among caucus-goers in the predominantly working class state of Maine.

Exit polling data was sparse for the three caucuses, but last Saturday's Louisiana primary offered a glimpse of a changing demographic for Senator Obama. He won the allegiance of weekly Mass-attending Catholics with a 54% to 43% edge, which approached his overall victory margin of 57 to 36%. The two candidates essentially drawed among the minority who identified themselves as less frequent attendees. Catholics constituted 35% of voters in CNN exit polling.

February 12, 2008


(The full HTML version is here.)
We need your help! The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has put out an Action Alert entitled on pending legislation in front of the Senate.

Why this issue is important? Torture is abhorrent in the eyes of the Church as it undermines and debases the dignity of both victims and perpetrators. Pope Benedict XVI said, "I reiterate that the prohibition against torture 'cannot be contravened under any circumstance.'"

The Senate is expected to vote on H.R. 2082, the FY 2008 Intelligence Authorization Act, as soon as Wednesday Feb 13th. Contained in that bill is important anti-torture legislation (Section 327) which would expand the prohibition against torture of detainees to all U.S. intelligence agencies and their agents. The USCCB urge Senators to adopt this legislation as it is consistent with the Church’s belief in human dignity and because it would allow the U.S. to regain the moral high ground and restore our credibility in the international community.

What to do.

1. Read the action alert to see if your senator is targeted: http://www.catholicdemocrats.org/files/actionalert2082.pdf
2. Read Bishop Wenski's letter from January 30th: http://www.catholicdemocrats.org/files/Wenski.pdf
3. Call or Write your Senator via CapWiz at http://capwiz.com/c-span/
4. Send an email to roth@catholicdemocrats.org to let us know you took action.

For more information contact: Virginia Farris, Office of International Justice and Peace, USCCB, 202-541-3182, vfarris@usccb.org. See Bishop Thomas Wenski’s January 30, 2008 letter on torture which can be found with other material at www.usccb.org/sdwp/international/libertyind.shtml.


Bill Roth
Communications Director
Catholic Democrats

February 13, 2008

Poll: Evangelical Democrats Matter in '08 Election

WASHINGTON -- Evangelical Democrats not only exist in this year's presidential election, but are turning out in larger numbers than the youngest and oldest primary voters in some states, according to a new poll.

One in three white evangelical voters during the Missouri and Tennessee primaries on Feb. 5 voted for a Democratic candidate, according to the poll conducted for Faith in Public Life and the Center for American Progress Action Fund by Zogby International.

This number of white evangelicals voting for a Democratic candidate has increased since the 2004 general election, when only one in four white evangelical voters in Missouri and Tennessee supported Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Read the full story here.

February 14, 2008

Pope decries chauvinism, violence against women

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI decried chauvinism and the "serious and relentless" exploitation, discrimination and violence being waged against the world's women.

"There are places and cultures where women are discriminated against or undervalued just for the fact that they are women," he said Feb. 9 in remarks to participants attending a Vatican-sponsored international congress.

The Feb. 7-9 congress, "Woman and Man: The 'Humanum' in Its Entirety," was organized by the Pontifical Council for the Laity to mark the 20th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's apostolic letter, "Mulieris Dignitatem" ("On the Dignity and Vocation of Women").

Read the full article here.

Vatican's U.N. rep says economic policies must protect the poor

By Catholic News Service

UNITED NATIONS (CNS) -- As the world waits to see the extent of the global economic damage provoked by the U.S. mortgage crisis, national and international policies must protect low-income families and the working poor, said the Vatican's observer at the United Nations.

Archbishop Celestino Migliore spoke Feb. 7 at a meeting of the Economic and Social Council of the U.N. Commission for Social Development.

The archbishop said the cycle of economic growth and job creation followed by recession and job losses seems to be accelerating, straining individuals, governments and international economic partners that are not used to changing course quickly.

"At this very moment, with bated breath the world wonders where the ongoing financial woes provoked by the crisis in the real estate sector in some of the most developed economies would lead us," he said.

In the current crisis, the archbishop said, the international community must find ways "to protect low-income families and workers from financial collapse."

"Assisting them is a question of justice and solidarity, but it is also a financially sound measure to stimulate national economies and international trade," he said.

Archbishop Migliore said it is the task of the U.N. commission to work to ensure that the world's biggest economic powers do not enact policies that help their economies recover while ignoring or damaging the economies of the world's poorest nations.

"The Holy See wishes to recall that the compelling needs of the poor have a priority claim on our conscience and on the choices financial leaders make," he said.

"Economic policies that help low-income working people live dignified, decent lives should be a priority of any good society worthy of the name," the archbishop said.


February 17, 2008

Religious Right May Be Fading, but Not the 'Culture Wars'

February 16, 2008



On every side, one can read obituaries for the religious right.

Jim Wallis's new book, "The Great Awakening," carries the subtitle, "Reviving Faith and Politics in a Post-Religious Right America." E. J. Dionne Jr.'s book, "Souled Out," is subtitled "Reclaiming Faith and Politics After the Religious Right." The subtitle of David P. Gushee's new book, "The Future of Faith in American Politics," poses "The Public Witness of the Evangelical Center" against that of the religious right.

Sometimes stated outright and sometimes between the lines is the hope that the decline of the religious right will ease what Americans have come to know as the culture wars.

There is no question that many evangelical Christians and conservative Roman Catholics have grown disenchanted with both the political agenda and what they see as the strident style of the organized religious right. Some have been convinced, by their own Scriptures and by new leaders, that poverty, human rights, genocide, sex trafficking and global warming must be no less matters of Christian concern than abortion, homosexuality and embryonic stem-cell research. Even more have reacted against their faith being enlisted in partisan politics.

But what will this retreat of the religious right mean for the future of the culture wars? Caution is in order. Combat may wane, at least a little, at least for a while. But there are good reasons to doubt any lasting truce, let alone a real peace.

The culture wars, it should be remembered, predated the religious right. They began in the 1960s when the youthful counterculture and the antiwar movement were pitted against solid citizens.

In 1969 President Richard M. Nixon appealed to the "silent majority," without any explicit religious reference--a decade before the Rev. Jerry Falwell organized the Moral Majority. In 1970 Vice President Spiro T. Agnew denounced the "nattering nabobs of negativism" and "effete corps of impudent snobs" whom he held responsible for misleading public opinion. Other Conservatives berated "limousine liberals" as hypocritically assisting the poor and blacks at the expense of working-class whites.

About the same time, the first generation of neoconservatives was constructing an elaborate theory (naturally) of the nation's cultural crisis. They drew on the literary critic Lionel Trilling's notion of an "adversary culture" in literature and art that had opposed bourgeois society throughout the 19th century.

By the 1960s, this outlook was said to have become a mass phenomenon, communicated by higher education to a "new class" of workers in knowledge-based sectors of the economy. The campus-spawned new class, according to the neoconservatives, was at war with the traditional business class for control of the culture.

Religion was only a marginal factor in this first round of the culture wars. They were fought on grounds of patriotism, support for a war overseas (Vietnam), middle-class virtues and social resentment against racial minorities and liberal elites.

Four decades later, issues of that sort have not disappeared as fodder for culture wars. The threat of radical Islamist terrorism, the still-distant exit from Iraq, and the cultural and economic anxieties stirred by immigration may very well replace any relaxation of the religious right's ability to mobilize voters around abortion or gay marriage.

But, in fact, significant cultural flash points like those over abortion rights and gay marriage have not gone away. They may be eclipsed in 2008 by national security or economic insecurity. They may be subject to compromises, as some advocates of a post-religious-right agenda hope, like proposals to cooperate on reducing the number of abortions or to settle for civil unions that are not called marriage.

But conflict on these issues will remain ready to flare up at the least provocation. Legislation that might bring both opponents and supporters of legal abortion together to reduce abortion has remained trapped in a spider's web of details and suspicions dividing the two groups. The next president, whether Republican or Democrat, may very well loosen President Bush's restrictions on federal financing of embryonic stem-cell research. And then there are Supreme Court appointments.

But there are also still deeper disagreements, as is inevitable in a pluralist society--for example, about the sources of moral authority, about the nature of knowing and the limits of scientific rationality, about how best to live out one's sexuality, about purpose or accident in the universe.

In many ways, these are not directly or properly political questions, but they are nonetheless public. They are struggled over in the marketplace, the arts, the news media and popular entertainment, like sitcoms and video games.

There is a third reason the culture wars will not only persist but may also regain their former intensity. The leaders of the Democratic Party have done their best to counter the impression that it is hostile to religion and religious values. The potential of Senator Barack Obama's religious stance to heal the culture wars of the baby boom generations was an underlying theme of Andrew Sullivan's brief for the Illinois senator in The Atlantic in December.

But it is unclear how far this sensitivity goes into the ranks of the liberals and progressives who will be filling posts in executive agencies, Congressional offices and the judiciary if the Democrats win in November. The occasions for friction are legion, including decisions about financing religion-based charities, nondiscrimination legislation and regulations of many kinds.

After years of enduring attacks from the religious right, a few may relish the opportunity for payback. Many more may simply have little patience for religious objections and little familiarity with religious allies as they press measures they care about deeply. And not a few may be in more agreement with Christopher Hitchens's maxim that "religion poisons everything" than with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's or Mr. Obama's public affirmations of faith.

When it comes to religion and politics, the culture is at a strange conjuncture. Over the last four years, a growing stream of evangelicals, including a former president, Jimmy Carter, have published books calling for a broader, kinder, gentler religious public agenda than the religious right's. Just as the message has apparently been heard, it has encountered a counterwave of books arguing that religion is totally unfit, not merely for public life, but for personal life as well.

If the latter surge finds any receptive audience, it is much more likely to be among liberal Democrats than among Republicans. If a Democratic administration is not watchful, it could set off another of the overreactions to overreactions that have marred American politics.

Copyright 2008, NY Times.

February 19, 2008

Another Encyclical coming?

According to the insider at Whispers in the Loggia, known for breaking stories within the institutional Church, the new encyclical is ready. Some of you probably know this, but B16 is about to release another encyclical, and it looks to be a reflection on the 40th anniversary of Popolorum Progressio. I think this is excellently timed and could help us further drive the message that Democrats and Catholics can (and should) work together on Social Justice.

Details here:

In other things Vatican, the third encyclical of the B16 reign is said to be ready.

According to Italian wire reports, the five-part text -- a social reflection on the 40th anniversary of Paul VI's Popolorum progressio -- should be released "shortly after Easter." The 1968 letter on globalization and the development of peoples marks its milestone on 26 March, this year's Easter Wednesday. Listed among the new document's "consistent themes": "poverty, globalization, peace, disarmament, war between the rich and the poor, nuclear war and the environment."

Much of the text is said to draw upon the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, released in 2004 under the patronage John Paul II, and a revision of the document is foreseen following the new encyclical's release. In one innovation, alongside the traditional Western languages of a major text's pub-date release, the coming encyclical will also be translated into Arabic and Chinese in time for its debut. Its title is, of present, unknown.

Sampling 'Catholicisms' in the Lone Star State

John L Allen Jr Weekly Column

Reporters who have served on assignment in another part of the world have a rule of thumb that after six months you want to write a book about the place, but after six years you're afraid even to write a sentence. By that point, you know all too well the dangers of generalization.

I'm in Texas this week researching a piece for a future edition of NCR about Catholicism in the Lone Star State, picking up on the fact that Texas now has a cardinal for the first time, and it hasn't taken me six years to grasp that generalizations here are usually exercises in futility. Sociologically, I've discovered, there really is no such thing as "Catholicism" in Texas -- instead, there are multiple "Catholicisms." Experiences vary enormously depending upon one's region, ethnicity, socio-economic background, political and theological outlook, and so on. For example, what it means to be Catholic in the diocese of Tyler in northeastern Texas, where Catholics represent a tiny 4.4 percent of the population surrounded by a vast Baptist majority, is worlds apart from Brownsville, where Catholics are a whopping 85 percent and overwhelmingly Latino. It's also very different for a first-generation Vietnamese immigrant in a tightly-knit ethnic parish such as Our Lady of Lavang in Houston, versus an Anglo Catholic in a place like Johnson City, LBJ's hometown in rural central Texas.

Read the full article.

Everyone is responsible for caring for environment, says U.N. nuncio

Everyone is responsible for caring for environment, says U.N. nuncio

By Angelo Stagnaro Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) -- Ongoing debate about climate change "has helped put into focus the inescapable responsibility of one and all to care for the environment," the Vatican's U.N. nuncio told the U.N. General Assembly Feb. 13.

This has resulted in "building consensus around the common objective of promoting a healthy environment for present and future generations," he said.

The underlying theme in the nuncio's statement to the 62nd session of the General Assembly was that a concern for humanity, in particular for those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, translates into a concern for the environment.

"Thus we are better equipped to adopt strategies and policies which balance the needs of humanity with the urgency for a more responsible stewardship," he said.

He restated the Holy See's commitment to implementing the goals and objectives set out in the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Bali, held Dec. 3-14, 2007, and the "personal commitment and numerous public appeals of Pope Benedict XVI," who has called for "a renewed sense of respect for and the need to safeguard God's creation."

He noted that individuals and communities have started to change their lifestyle, knowing that "personal and collective behavior impacts climate and the overall health of the environment," and added that even the smallest effort "to reduce or offset one's carbon footprint" shows commitment to the environment.

Archbishop Migliore reminded the assembly that the Vatican has already taken steps to reduce and offset the carbon emissions of Vatican City State through the use of solar panels, to be installed this year on its audience hall, and its collaboration in a reforestation project in Hungary.

He explained that sustainable economic development must "take into account the demands of environmental preservation, climate change, economic development and basic human needs."

The archbishop also advocated the use of "clean technologies" as an important component of sustainable development.

It is important for highly industrialized societies to share with underdeveloped countries their more advanced and cleaner technologies to "avoid the errors that others committed in the past," he said.

He recommended that markets be "encouraged to patronize 'green economics' and not to sustain demand for goods whose very production causes environmental degradation." Further, "consumers must be aware that their consumption patterns have direct impact on the health of the environment," he said.

Archbishop Migliore praised the "Bali road map" for presenting "a common vision, capable of overcoming self-interest through collective action." He said it demands a global alliance be formed to adopt a coordinated international political strategy aimed at creating a healthy environment for all.

"Through interdependence, solidarity and accountability, individuals and nations together will be more able to balance the needs of sustainable development with those of good stewardship at every level," he said.


February 25, 2008

The Catholic Democrats Dilemma: I Voted for Obama. Will I Go Straight to. . . ?

Joe Feuerherd had an interesting piece in the Sunday Washington Post. What he describes is the effect of a small number of bishops applying pressure *way* beyond their mandate. He starts out thusly:

Like most Maryland Democrats, I voted for Sen. Barack Obama in the recent Potomac Primary. By doing so, according to the leaders of my church, I put my soul at risk. That's right, says the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops -- tap the touch screen for a pro-abortion-rights candidate, and you're probably punching your ticket to Hell.

Its a good article. Read the whole thing.

Read the full story here.

February 27, 2008

Cardinal Bertone Censures Embargo Against Cuba

Says It Does Little to Help the People

HAVANA, Cuba, FEB. 26, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI's secretary of state has called the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba "ethically unacceptable."

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone reiterated Monday the opposition of the Holy See to the economic embargo against Cuba in a joint press conference with the country's Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque.

"The Holy See repeats the words of Pope John Paul II: The embargo is ethically unacceptable," said the Vatican representative. "It is an oppression for the Cuban people and it is not a means to help the Cuban people win their dignity and independence. It's a violation of the independence of the people."

Read the full article here.

Society should support families caring for terminally ill, pope says

By Carol Glatz Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Society and labor laws should give concrete support to family members so they can attend to terminally ill loved ones, Pope Benedict XVI said.

While guarantees must be made for all people to receive necessary medical care, special provisions also must be put into place for the patient's family members, he said.

The pope made his comments during a Feb. 25 audience with more than 300 participants in a Vatican-sponsored congress on the pastoral needs of and ethical obligations toward the terminally ill.

Titled "Close By the Incurable Sick Person and the Dying: Scientific and Ethical Aspects," the Feb. 25-26 congress brought together caregivers, medical specialists and scholars in the fields of theology, law and bioethics.

The international congress was organized by the Pontifical Academy for Life and was held to coincide with the Lourdes jubilee year, which marks the 150th anniversary of Mary's appearance to St. Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France.

Just as some labor laws recognize the right to maternity and paternity leave so parents can spend time with their newborn child, similar rights should be guaranteed for close relatives to be able to spend time with a family member who is suffering from a terminal illness, the pope said in his audience address.

He said a compassionate society "cannot help but take into account the difficult conditions of families who, at times for lengthy periods, must carry the weight of taking care of the affairs and household of the seriously ill who are no longer self-sufficient."

One of today's most urgent challenges, he said, is making sure that respect for life translates into everyone concretely offering help to those in need.

Pope Benedict cited a portion of his encyclical, "Spe Salvi" (on Christian hope), saying a society that did not show compassion to its sick and suffering was "a cruel and inhuman society."

"Fragile people and poorer families risk, during times of financial difficulty and/or illness, being swept asunder" in communities that put an unhealthy emphasis on productivity and the needs of the economy first, he said.

These attitudes -- coupled with the growing numbers of sick or dying elderly who find themselves alone -- all contribute to situations which foster a growing acceptance and support for euthanasia, he said.

Pope Benedict reiterated the church's "firm and unwavering ethical condemnation of every form of direct euthanasia."

He repeated the moral obligation of doctors to administer and patients to accept proportionate and ordinary medical care aimed at supporting the patient's life.

When a particular therapy or treatment is "significantly risky" or considered to be "extraordinary," then pursuing such treatment is licit, but not mandatory, he said.

The pope reminded his audience that for Christians death is a gift "that has value for everyone" and "enriches the communion of all the faithful."

"With death, earthly existence comes to a close, but through death a full and definitive life opens for each one of us beyond time," he said.


February 29, 2008

John McCain Should Denounce Hagee Endorsement, Anti-Catholic Remarks

Democrats.org has a post called "John McCain Should Denounce Hagee Endorsement, Anti-Catholic Remarks" that's worth checking out...

In his struggle to shore up his base, John McCain has once again cast aside his principles by embracing Rev. John Hagee, saying he was "pleased to have the endorsement of Pastor John Hagee," despite his intolerant comments about Catholics, women, African Americans, Muslims and LGBT Americans.

Sunday, February 25, 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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