The Pope and politics


Lots of interesting stuff being written about the Pope with his coming visit.  Will Saletan had a really interesting piece (perhaps a little too hung up on “liberal” vs. “progressive”) that nicely explored the Pope’s political beliefs and our response to them.  Apparently, a lot of of Americans think the Pope is way more liberal than he actually is.  I guess as someone who really understands both Catholic theology and American politics, I never really made that mistake.

But, the Pope is still way more liberal than his predecessors, because politics is a matter of emphasis.

Francis isn’t trying to solve liberals’ pet issues. He’s trying to get rid of them. He said as much in an interview two years ago: “It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent.”Not equivalent is his way of saying that he’s not particularly interested in enforcing sexual or family morality. If you want to know what interests him, look at what’s on his schedule in Washington, New York, and Philadelphia this week: sessions withimmigrants, laborers, prisoners, and homeless people. Pope Francis is a social justice guy.

And that’s why I and so many other Catholics (and heck, non-Catholics, too) love him.  Social justice.  For me, far more than anything else, Christianity is about what Jesus had to say in in Matthew 25:

34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[g] you did it to me.’

EJ Dionne is somebody who knows Catholicism and knows politics, so he also has an excellent column on the matter:

It’s hard to see how progressives don’t come out ahead, simply because the pope has radically reordered the priorities of the church. He is not fighting culture wars. He is fighting against them. This, in part, is what accounts for his broad popularity among former Catholics, Americans of other faiths and even secularists and atheists.

Someone speaking in Spanish — the language of most of the pope’s coming addresses — about justice, poverty, a warming planet and the imperative of welcoming immigrants would not have gotten a warm reception at the Republicans’ presidential debate last week…

In a moving New York Times piece about one of the pope’s planned stops in New York, columnist Jim Dwyer described the invitation list: “carwashers . . .Hudson Valley farmworkers, day-laborers, immigrant mothers, and teenagers and children who have crossed the border without their parents.” In Philadelphia, Francis will visit the city’s largest jail. In Washington, he will bless the needy who get help from Catholic Charities. His ministry will be right out of what the Catholic Mass says of Jesus: “To the poor he proclaimed the good news of salvation, to prisoners freedom, and to those in sorrow joy.”

No, the Pope is not about the change the position of the Catholic church on abortion, gays, contraception, or the role of women.  But he has changed the tone on all of these.  And it’s not realistic to expect all that much more at this point.  For me, most importantly, he has reminded people what the Church is really supposed to be about– and that’s in the Jesus’ words from Matthew and the quote above.

The pope, abortion, and the politicization of Catholic theology

Interesting news story yesterday about Pope Francis and abortion.  Having actually spent time among real people and the the problems they face, Pope Francis is going easy– relatively speaking– on those who have had abortions.

Pope Francis shook up the Catholic world — again — on Tuesday by announcing that all priests around the world will be authorized to forgive the “sin of abortion” during the church’s “Year of Mercy.”

Traditionally, Catholics knowingly involved in the procurement of abortion, condemned as a “moral evil” by the church, are automatically excommunicated and may be forgiven only with permission from a bishop.

I certainly like the tone he strikes:

The Pope’s new policy, which does not change church doctrine, technically applies only to the Year of Mercy, a centuries-old Catholic practice during which believers may receive special indulgences for their sins.

“The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails,” Francis said in a statement Tuesday. “Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe that they have no other option.”

“I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion,” the Pope continued. “I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision.”

So, I was surprised to learn this significant lacuna in my knowledge of Catholic theology.  I had not realized that there had been sins for which only a bishop could offer absolution.  I find that more than a little absurd, honestly.  But what I find really absurd is that this list of sins for “automatic excommunication” includes abortion, but not murder.  Burn a family, strangle a baby, throw a toddler against a wall, molest, torture, and murder a child and you are not automatically excommunicated and any old priest can offer you absolution.  But have an abortion– even under dire personal circumstances (e.g., extreme poverty, unwilling father of the child, etc.)– and morally speaking, the Catholic Church somehow think you are worse than a serial killer.

[And I don’t even want to address the moral silliness of the idea that this year only, a priest can absolve you, but next year, this sin is going to require a Bishop’s absolution again.  Seriously?!  There’s a reason indulgences make the Catholic Church a laughing stock.]

I did not find this explanation on-line, but the NPR story I heard today said that the sin was worse because the unborn child was the most defenseless.  As if an infant can really protect itself!  Please.  Much less an 10-year old against an adult.  But somehow, absolutely devastate a family, neighborhood, and community by murdering a 10-year old (and yes, that’s what happens, widespread devastation) and this is somehow a worse sin that taking the life of the unborn fetus potentially known only to the mother?!!   Yes, all life may be sacred, but when a beloved mother of five or a young child with all the world ahead of her is prematurely snuffed out, the harm to other humans and society is exponentially greater?  How can anyone possibly argue that abortion is somehow worse?  All I can suggest is that this really a political position, more than a theological one.  Maybe a theologian out there can enlighten me, but this strikes me as awfully similar to the fact that the church rails against abortion (which is politically safe for it), but essentially never raises a peep about the equally intrinsic evil (following church doctrine, that is) of destroying unused embryos from IVF (parents desperately trying to have children are pretty damn sympathetic).

I’m actually quite comfortable with the Catholic Church considering abortion to be a very serious moral sin.  What I hate is bending theology and morality beyond any reasonable interpretation to suggest that abortion is somehow far worse than all these things any sentient person knows to be otherwise the case.  [Or placing it as the sine qua non of Catholic belief and practice, for that matter.  Jesus seemed much more concerned with the poor and oppressed.]

Pope Francis versus climate change

The Pope Francis awesomeness continues.  Now he is looking to take the environmental stewardship aspect of Catholic social teaching seriously and use his position to fight against climate change.  Go Francis!  Favorite part?  Conservatives are freaking out!  How dare Pope Francis rely on “science” and concern for how climate change affects the world’s poor?  Doesn’t he know that institutes sponsored by the Koch brothers have determined human-caused climate change to be a liberal hoax?

Washington — Since his first homily in 2013,Pope Francis has preached about the need to protect the earth and all of creation as part of a broad message on the environment. It has caused little controversy so far.

But now, as Francis prepares to deliver what is likely to be a highly influential encyclical this summer on environmental degradation and the effects of human-caused climate change on the poor, he is alarming some conservatives in the United States who are loath to see the Catholic Church reposition itself as a mighty voice in a cause they do not believe in.

As part of the effort for the encyclical, topVatican officials will hold a summit meeting Tuesday to build momentum for a campaign by Francis to urge world leaders to enact a sweeping United Nations climate change accord in Paris in December. The accord would for the first time commit every nation to enact tough new laws to cut the emissions that cause global warming…

In the United States, the encyclical will be accompanied by a 12-week campaign, now being prepared by a committee of Catholic bishops, to raise the issue of climate change and environmental stewardship in sermons, homilies, news media interviews and letters to newspaper editors, said Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant in Washington.

But the effort is already angering a number of American conservatives, among them members of the Heartland Institute, a libertarian group partly funded by the Charles G. Koch Foundation, run by the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, who oppose climate policy.

“The Holy Father is being misled by ‘experts’ at the United Nations who have proven unworthy of his trust,” Joseph Bast, the president of the Heartland Institute, said in an interview. “Though Pope Francis’ heart is surely in the right place, he would do his flock and the world a disservice by putting his moral authority behind the United Nations’ unscientific agenda on the climate.”

Oh, those so-called “experts”!  Damn them and their “science”!  Clearly, we should ignore the overwhelming majority of climate scientists and put our trusts in political flacks who ultimately make money off of fossil fuels.  Silly Pope.

Honestly, I really don’t think this will have much impact in the alternate reality that is Republican politics, but it would be nice if it could make some squirm just a little bit:

House Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, invited the pope to speak to Congress, but some Catholics say that Mr. Boehner should prepare for uncomfortable moments. Mr. Boehner, who is Catholic, has often criticized the Obama administration for what he calls its “job killing” environmental agenda.

“I think Boehner was out of his mind to invite the pope to speak to Congress,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, an analyst at the National Catholic Reporter. “Can you imagine what the Republicans will do when he says, ‘You’ve got to do something about global warming?’”

In addition, a number of Catholics — including Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie and Rick Santorum — are gearing up to compete for the Republican presidential nomination, and most of them question the science of human-caused climate change.

Several conservative Catholic intellectuals who expect the pope’s message to bolster the vast majority of scientists who hold that climate change is induced by human activity, including Robert P. George of Princeton University, have published articles reminding Catholics that papal pronouncements on science are not necessarily sound or binding.

It really is kind of amazing (and wonderful) that the contemporary Catholic church could actually produce a leader who is so focused on making a positive difference in the world based– especially for the poor– rather than fighting, narrow, small ideological battles over a right-wing social agenda.

The pope I don’t like

Pope Francis– awesome.  Art Pope– not so much.  Anyway, nice story about the latter in the Post recently.  I had a great conversation with the new NYT reporter on “the South” beat today (hopefully, that should result in my expertise in the NYT sometime in the future) and we discussed Pope, among many other things.  It is quite clear that this one man has a hugely disproporationate influence in NC politics.  That said, when one looks at the rather substantial intra-party squabble going on over the budget right now, it’s also clear that Pope is not quite the puppetmaster many of his detractors believe him to be.  Safe to say if he really was the all-powerful wizard behind the curtain, the Republican party would not be acting as it currently is (unless this is some super-smart devious plan to fool journalists and people like me).  Anyway, here’s some good stuff from the Post story:

There is no one in North Carolina, or likely in all of American politics, quite like Art Pope. He is not just a wealthy donor seeking to influence politics from the outside, nor just a government official shaping it from within. He is doing both at the same time — the culmination of a quarter-
century spent building a sphere of influence that has put him at the epicenter of North Carolina government and moved his state closer to the conservative vision he has long imagined.

“There are not many people as influential, because few people have invested the time and the money that he has on behalf of his state,” said Republican former governor James G. Martin, who tapped Pope, then 28, to be a lawyer in his administration in the 1980s.

From the outside, Pope’s family foundation has put more than $55 million into a robust network of conservative think tanks and advocacy groups, building a state version of what his friends Charles and David Koch have helped create on a national level.

They even have the whole thing in graphic form:

Art Pope’s influence on North Carolina


The Pope on taxes

No, not the awesome one, but Art Pope, NC’s own Koch Brother and current Budget Director.  He had an op-ed in the N&O this week that was just breathtaking in its mendacity and lack of actual empirical support for any of its claims.  To wit:

Our tax code is now simpler, more uniform and fairer for everyone.

Tax reform began in 2011, when the General Assembly reduced the state sales tax rate by 17 percent, from a state rate of 5.75 percent to 4.75 percent. Tax reform continued in 2013, when McCrory and the legislature simplified the personal income tax – taking rates ranging from 6 percent to 7.75 percent to a single flat rate of 5.8 percent. They also passed a higher standard deduction starting in 2014 and a flat personal income tax rate of 5.75 percent in 2015.

Oh please!! There is nothing simpler about having fewer and lower marginal rates.  You calculate your taxable income and you pay based on your rates.  It’s that simple.  Whether your rate is 10% or 5% and having multiple marginal rates makes it not the least bit harder.  Fewer, lower rates, basically just means less taxes for rich people.  Surely Art Pope’s idea of “fairer for everyone” but not what most people would see as “fair.”

The truth is, everyone in North Carolina is benefiting from the tax reforms that began in 2011. Sales tax rates are lower, income tax rates are lower and the standard deduction is higher.

Of course, there’s myriad analyses that show that not everyone is benefiting.  And to think just a little more broadly than the incredibly narrow way that Pope is stuck in, I would argue that if you have kids in public school you are not benefiting.  If you care about the quality of education in NC at all, you are not benefiting.  If you care about health care for the mentally ill, you are not benefiting.  If you care about health care for the working poor, you are not benefiting.  If you care about a crumbling infrastructure– perhaps you’ve been known to drive on roads– you are not benefiting.  Okay, I’ll stop now.

If you want to follow Pope’s logic, just lower taxes to 0, we’ll all have way more take home pay, and everything will be grand.  Though, I think Hobbes had something to say about that.

The next time you buy clothes for your children, look at the receipt to see how much sales tax is charged and think of what you saved compared with the old state sales tax rate. Think of the long-term benefit in an economy that is still recovering and of employers, both corporations and mom and pop partnerships, keeping a bit more of the money they earned – money that can by reinvested to create more jobs and grow the economy.

Next time I pay $.40 less for a shirt I’ll be so glad that it won’t bother me at all that quality teachers are fleeing our state or that are universities are finding it harder than ever to compete for the top talent.

The evidence is clear. Tax reform is working, and nearly every North Carolinian is keeping more of the money earned, which is fundamental to building a stronger economy.

If the current evidence is clear, I’d hate to see ambiguous evidence.

And just to be clear, this transparent nonsense is from the single most politically influential person in the state.  Ugh.

Today in Pope Francis awesomeness

From Huffpo:

Mothersnon-mothersand celebrities alike have come to arms in the support of public breastfeeding, and now, so has the Pope.

In an interview with La Stompa, Pope Francis was asked about the state of hungry children in the world. In response, he suggested that people should recycle food and be less wasteful, and then told a story that was both a reminder of the resources we have, and a declaration that breastfeeding mothers shouldn’t be ashamed to feed their babies when they’re hungry. He explained:

At the Wednesday General Audience the other day there was a young mother behind one of the barriers with a baby that was just a few month s old. The child was crying its eyes out as I came past. The mother was caressing it. I said to her: madam, I think the child’s hungry. “Yes, it’s probably time…” she replied. “Please give it something to eat!” I said. She was shy and didn’t want to breastfeed in public, while the Pope was passing. I wish to say the same to humanity: give people something to eat! …

Although one could argue that the Pope’s statement was just explaining world hunger — not breastfeeding liberation — it does appear that all he wants is for babies to get fed. And he doesn’t care where. Judging by this photo taken last March, breastfeeding doesn’t look like it’s bothering His Holiness one bit.

New blog category needed? “Pope Francis is awesome”

Okay, I’m not actually going to start this category.  But, even though I shouldn’t be by now, I’m still amazed at how awesome this pope is.  The idea that such a true man of God could actually make it to the top of the hierarchy in today’s Catholic church is (depressingly) shocking.  His pronouncements today on the excesses of capitalism– in no uncertain terms– were just awesome.  Here’s some excerpts from Yglesias‘ post:

How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape…

In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system…

While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules.

This is not just taking on the excesses of capitalism, but a specific rhetoric of capitalism as espoused by right-wing parties in the US (and elsewhere).

And, yes, the Church has always been quite liberal on issues of economic justice, but the Atlantic’s Emma Green explains how this is genuinely a major break with the past:

In light of this long-standing tension between the Church and communism, Pope Francis’s aggressively anti-capitalist posture seems all the more remarkable.  The bishop of Rome hasn’t just condemned what he sees as a failed free-market—he’a condemned the ethic and ideology that underlie free-market economies. “The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase,” Francis writes. “In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.”

This is more than just a lecture about ethics; it’s a statement about who should control financial markets. At least right now, Francis says, the global economy needs more government control—an argument that would have been unthinkable for the pope just 50 years ago.

But, I’m going to go back to Yglesias on just why I think this is so important:

I remember very clearly having been an intern in Chuck Schumer’s office and attending with the senator, some of his staff, and a wide swathe of New York City political elites an event at St Patrick’s Cathedral to celebrate the posthumous award of the Congressional Gold Medal to Archbishop John O’Connor. His successor, Archbishop Egan, delivered an address that went on at length about O’Connor’s charitable work, but on a public policy level addressed almost exclusively the Church’s support for banning abortion, for discriminating against gay and lesbian couples, and for school vouchers. That was a choice he made about what he thought it was important for people to hear about. Pope Francis is making a different kind of choice.

Exactly.  And Amen.  This continues Francis’ direct rebuke to those who think the mission of the church should be more to worry about the sexual behavior of others than for the care for the poor and oppresses, about which Jesus constantly preached.  Pope Francis’ Catholic church is one to which I am proud to belong.

I heart Pope Francis

I was optimistic when Pope Francis became pope, but damn has he far exceeded my wildest expectations.  I’m totally fine that I disagree with him on matters of contraception, abortion, and gay marriage because– unlike the vast majority of the Catholic hierarchy in recent years– he totally gets that these things are not at the core of the Christian faith, but peripheral issues (if you doubt that, just see what Jesus actually talks about in the gospels– it’s called social justice).  Here’s the NYT story on his latest interview:

Six months into his papacy, Pope Francis sent shock waves through the Roman Catholic church on Thursday with the publication of his remarks that the church had grown “obsessed” with abortion, gay marriage and contraception, and that he had chosen not to talk about those issues despite recriminations from critics…

Francis told the interviewer, a fellow Jesuit: “It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.

“We have to find a new balance,” the pope continued, “otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

The pope’s interview did not change church doctrine or policies, but it instantly changed its tone…

The new pope’s words are likely to have repercussions in a church whose bishops and priests in many countries, including the United States, have often seemed to make combating abortion, gay marriage and contraception their top public policy priorities. Francis said that these teachings have to be presented in a larger context.

“I see the church as a field hospital after battle,” Francis said. “It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars. You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else.”

Yep.  With all the poverty, suffering, and injustice still in the world today, it is truly unconscionable to focus so much attention on homosexuality as somehow the paramount moral issue of our times.

Meanwhile, I love this quote a formerly Catholic friend (formerly modifying the Catholic, :-) ) posted from the interview.

“If one has the answers to all the questions — that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble. “

How did such a genuinely thoughtful, spiritual, and wise man ever get elected Pope from today’s Catholic hierarchy?  I have no idea, but I’ll take it.

Go Pope!

I cannot say I pay all that much attention to what Pope Francis has been up to, but most every time I hear something, it is heartening.  Clearly, a sharp break from his predecessor.  Here’s the latest:

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE— Pope Francis opened the door Sunday to greater acceptance of gay priests inside the ranks of Roman Catholicism as he returned to the Vatican from his maiden trip overseas.

Fielding questions from reporters during the first news conference of his young papacy, the pontiff broached the delicate question of how he would respond to learning that a cleric in his ranks was gay, though not sexually active. For decades, the Vatican has regarded homosexuality as a “disorder,” and Pope Francis’ predecessor Pope Benedict XVIformally barred men with what the Vatican deemed “deep-seated” homosexuality from entering the priesthood.

“Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?” the pontiff said, speaking in Italian. “You can’t marginalize these people.”

Never before had a pope spoken out in defense of gay priests in the Catholic ministry, said Vatican analysts. Past popes have traditionally treated homosexuality as an obstacle to priestly celibacy, and the Vatican has sent extensive instructions to Catholic seminaries on how to restrict gay candidates from the priesthood.

Pope Francis “is showing a deep respect for the human condition as it is instead of approaching things in a doctrinal way,” said Alberto Melloni, a church historian.

No, he’s not going to argue for the ordination of women any time soon or overturn the ban on “artificial” contraception, but he clearly has a strong and passionate commitment to social justice and helping the poor.  Given the pool of Catholic Cardinals at the time of his selection, this seems to be about as good a Pope as we could have hoped for.

More Pope

A few more thoughts on the Art Pope piece, which I still haven’t read in full, but did listen to Jane Mayer’s NPR interview.

1) There’s some real straw men in here.  Mayer focuses a lot on the case of conservative Democrat John Snow, who was brought down with the help of Pope’s money.   Of course, conservative Democrats were exactly those most vulnerable in 2010 because of their districts.  She gives several examples of the nasty and highly distorted mailers funded in part by Pope money.  Thing is, I’ve looked at a lot of campaign mail in my day, and these flyers– though appalling in their disregard for the truth– were simply politics as usual.   On a related note, a correspondent from the Locke foundation points out that almost none of Pope’s spending has anything to do with Citizens United.  I’m thinking that just makes a better journalistic hook.

2) The N&O’s Rob Christensen uses numbers to point out how the Mayer article really overstates the impact of Pope’s money (and in the interview, Mayer kept saying things like, “Pope and the foundations he’s associated with spent…”), which was quite useful, but Rob C ends with this:

Does Pope have the state in his back pocket as the cartoon caricature accompanying The New Yorker article suggests?

North Carolinians are a notoriously independent lot. I don’t believe the state is for sale, and I don’t think even a very rich man can buy it.

Really?  That’s sure a lot more faith in democracy than I’ve got.  North Carolinians are really independent so they can just ignore millions and millions spent to influence their political views?

3) I remembered that every spring when we head to the Brooks Avenue  Church of Christ spring carnival for Children with Special Needs and their Families the fabulous Easter Baskets they provide to all the kids, stuffed with toys, say “courtesy of Art Pope.”  Awesome. Good for him.  Thing is, though, he just helped elect a Republican legislature that dramatically cut funds to state programs that really help out these families.  Well, at least we’ve got our Easter baskets.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Nice Amy Davidson piece on Carly Fiorina.

2) Chait points out that the US Republican party is about the only major political party within advanced Democracies that denies climate change.  They are really out on a limb by themselves.

3) I knew that the placebo week of birth control pills is what gives women on the pill their period, but as one of my correspondents was blown away by this fact, thought I’d share this interesting Atlantic piece on the psychology of forgoing periods (as is the case with many LARC’s).

4) I don’t know why I’ve put off for so long this great Australian comic takes on the insanity of Americans and guns video, but I finally watched.  Overdue.  This is great.

5) Actually something from this week before the latest massacre: a family who tried to sue the suppliers of the Aurora, Colorado shooter (no name here) and got stuck with the gun and ammo manufacturers legal bills to show for it:

The judge dismissed our case because, he said, these online sellers had special immunity from the general duty to use reasonable care under the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act and a Colorado immunity law. If you couple the PLCAA law with Colorado’s law HB 000-208, (which says in essence: If you bring a civil case against a gun or ammunition seller and the case is dismissed then the plaintiff must pay all the defendant’s costs), you have an impenetrable barrier to using the judicial system to effect change in gun legislation in Colorado.

Everyone else in society has a duty to use reasonable care to not injure others — except gun and ammunition sellers. [emphasis mine]

6) This is really cool.  Research at NCSU suggests we may be able to use fingerprints to know a person’s ethnicity.

7) Really looking forward to using Anne-Marie Slaughter’s book on women, men, and the workplace next time I teach Gender & Politics (if I had known it was coming out, I would’ve assigned it this semester).  Great interview on the Freakonomics podcast.

8) Loved this Nicholas Davidoff piece on the carefully orchestrated illusion that is football on TV.

9) I’ve been meaning to do a post working off of a Seth Masket piece on authenticity and presidential elections.  But Julia Azari has already done a better one that I would.

10) When I first heard about the Pope and Kim Davis, I was thinking I bet some conservative American bishop made this happen.  Looks like that’s the case.  Drum:

As usual with the Catholic Church, previous popes continue to have long arms even after they die or retire. It turns out that the papal nuncio, a culturally conservative guy who’s loyal to the former Benedict XVI, decided to invite Davis. The current pope apparently had no idea this would happen and may not have even known who she was. Basically, Davis was ushered in for her 60 seconds with the pope, who blessed her, gave her a rosary, and then moved along to the next person in line. It would be wise not to read too much into this.

11) Jeb Bush said something stupid yesterday (“stuff happens” to refer to mass murder).  When he said something was “retarded” he used the word perfectly correctly.  Is there really no place to use this word at all according to it’s original meaning?  If so, that’s stupid.

12) I almost never listen to “On the Media” (just too many good podcasts out there), but I was driving with NPR on the other day and really enjoyed the feisty exchange described here over whether AP is doing a disservice by moving from “climate skeptic” to “climate doubter.”

13) Loved this Richard Skinner piece for Brookings on Trump supporters.  It’s titled “do hate and racism drive Donald Trump supporters?”  You’ll just have to read it to find out :-).

14) Seth Masket on governing by sacrifice (in this case, Boehner).

15) I so love “The Princess Bride.”  I literally know more of the dialog of that movie than any other movie.  Thus, I loved this Buzzfeed list on why it is such an “important” movie.

16) Will Saletan on the incoherence of Republicans’ arguments against Planned Parenthood.

Throughout the hearing, Republicans complained that Planned Parenthood gets too much of its revenue from the federal government. Several members of the committee—Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, and John Mica of Florida—protested that taxpayers were supplying more than 40 percent of Planned Parenthood’s income. Duncan fumed that the Boys and Girls Club gets only a fraction of what Planned Parenthood receives. Mica explained the GOP’s underlying beef: Many Americans, including some who are pro-choice, don’t want their tax money used for abortions.

As an argument for defunding Planned Parenthood, this complaint makes no sense. Richards explained to the committee that under U.S. law, federal funds can’t be used for abortions unless the pregnancy threatens the woman’s life or was caused by rape or incest. So if Planned Parenthood is getting a high percentage of its income from the government, that means much of the work it’s being paid for isn’t abortion.

17) Really nice piece in Slate on wrongfully convicted exonerees and restorative justice.


Christianity and politics

To recent pieces on the topic that I really enjoyed.  First, non-Christian Fareed Zakaria seems to get the essence of Christianity far better than those on the religious right:

When I came to the United States in the 1980s, I remember being surprised to see what “Christian values” had come to mean in American culture and politics — heated debates over abortion, abstinence, contraception and gays. In 13 years of reading, reciting and studying the Bible, I didn’t recall seeing much about these topics…

That’s because there is very little in there about them. As Garry Wills points out in his perceptive new book, “The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis,” “Many of the most prominent and contested stands taken by Catholic authorities (most of them dealing with sex) have nothing to do with the Gospel.” …

If you want to understand the main message of Jesus Christ, you don’t have to search the Scriptures. He says it again and again. “Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.” [emphasis mine]

Jesus has specific advice on how to handle the poor. Treat them as you would Christ himself, sell your possessions and give to the poor. When you hold a banquet, Jesus says, do not invite the wealthy and powerful, because you do so in the hope that they will return the favor and reward you. Instead, invite the dispossessed — and you will be rewarded by God. It is because he expects so much from the rich that he said that it was easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get to heaven.

We live in a meritocratic age and believe that people who are successful are more admirable in some way than the rest of us. But the Bible notes that “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise . . . but time and chance happeneth to them all.” In the Kingdom of Heaven, it warns, “the last shall be first, and the first last.” In other words, be thankful for your success, but don’t think it makes you superior in any deep sense…

He [Pope Francis] is simply reminding each of us that we have a moral obligation to be kind and generous to the poor and disadvantaged — especially if we have been fortunate. If you have a problem with this message, you have a problem not with Pope Francis, but with Jesus Christ.

Meanwhile, last week I really enjoyed Gregg Easterbrook’s smackdown of Kim Davis’ (Kentucky anti-homosexual clerk) Old Testament brand of Christianity:

But here’s the thing. Christian theology says the New Testament amends the Old: what happened in the days of the apostles amends what came long before. Acts 13:39: “By this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” (Acts is the founding text of Pentecostalism.) Jesus overturned existing law about sin, the Sabbath, the afterlife and many other matters. His ministry proclaimed “a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.” (II Corinthians 3:6.) “Letter” in this context means archaic law—that is, the law Davis, Cruz, and Huckabee want applied today.

When conservative Christians justify opposition to gay relations by citing ancient scripture, by the most amazing coincidence they don’t mention the other stuff there. The ancient passages that denounce same-sex relations also denounce eating shellfish and trimming one’s beard. The Christian who says God forbids homosexuality – then shaves before going out for dinner at Red Lobster – is speaking from both sides of his mouth.

In Leviticus, the Old Testament book that calls homosexuality an abomination, God not only sanctions but encourages slavery. Leviticus 25:44–46 , spells out rules for seizing, holding, and selling slaves. And there’s no estate tax: slaves may be kept “as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property.” In Deuteronomy 21:18–21, near the passages on the abomination of same-sex relations, ancient scripture directs that a disobedient child be taken by his parents to the city gate and stoned to death.

If banning homosexuality is “God’s authority” to a modern Christian, ritual murder of children ought to be as well. So why don’t today’s Judeo-Christians believe in slavery and filicide? …

Republican candidates thumping their chests about how admirably Christian they are skip the fact that Christ banned exactly such puffery. (Matthew 6:1 reads, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”)…

In the eight hundred thousand words of the Bible, one can find a verse to support just about anything. Even so, it’s disturbing that contemporary Christian conservatives lash out against homosexuality by calling on ancient divine pronouncements of anger, rather than upon the serene divinity who offered the world unconditional forgiveness.

Voicing the thoughts of the serene God in John 15:12, Jesus summed up Christian theology in one sentence: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Once, God was full of anger; ultimately, the Maker cared solely about love. Why don’t today’s Christian conservatives understand that the second part amends the first part? [emphasis mine]

Good points throughout both.  I really like Easterbrook’s point that you can find a bible verse to justify almost anything.  That said, it is abundantly clear that Jesus’ central message was on love of others, especially the poor and downtrodden.  Its a shame that this message seems to be at the periphery of so many Christians take on how their religion meets politics.


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