Saturday, April 28, 2007

Double Standards Yet Again

Harry Reid makes a factual statement that the "war" in Iraq is lost, and is hounded mercilessly. Mitt Romney makes a normative statement it would be too much effort to get Bin Laden, and.... you guessed it, nothing. But could you imagine the reaction is a leading Democrat had said such a thing...

Bush Makes the World Safer!

Then how do we explain the 30 percent increase in terrorist attacks in 2006?

No wait, the Bushies create their own reality, I forgot, where there is no evidence for evolution, SUVs are good for the environment, tax cuts boost revenue, and Bush keeps everybody safe...

Friday, April 27, 2007

Fate And The Sopranos

This has been one of my favorite shows since the beginning, and this final season is nothing short of stunning. A few months back in Commonweal, Cathleen Kaveny penned a thought-provoking essay entitled "Salvation & ‘The Sopranos’", where she explored themes of sin and redemption through the lens of this mafia show. Kaveny explores the role of fate, and uses some anecdotes from the show to conclude that a main moral of the story is that "we are trapped in a world ruled by an inexorable fate that seizes upon our moral failings in order to bring about our ruin." Moreover, "the world of The Sopranos ... seems infused with a cosmic retributive justice, which even Tony himself dimly perceives, although his own time of reckoning has not yet arrived." A dark message...

The show is downright pessimistic in its approach to redemption. Kaveny provides three examples of the subversion of redemption: redemption through psychotherapy, redemption through Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and redemption through Christianity. In the first case, Tony Soprano's experience with therapy allows him to understand the pernicious impact of his dysfunctional family on his nature. But not only does he not change, he deliberately conspires to make sure his sister Janice's therapy does not work either. In the second case, Tony and his cousin Tony Blundetto mock Christopher's attempts to stay sober, and Christopher himself encourages a friend from AA to get mired in gambling, with inevitable results. Finally, the Christian theme relates to Tony and Carmela's relationship, where Carmela carries substantial guilt relating to her complicity in Tony's "business". After a threatened separation, he agrees to reconcile only for "blood money", $600,000 for a house she wants built.

Kaveny wrote this before the final episodes began. But the themes of fate and retributive justice only grow more stark with each passing episode. Tony's visions when he lay in a coma at the start of the last season are absolutely crucial, and form the backdrop for everything that will happen. There, he saw himself as somebody named "Kevin Finnerty" (infinity?) trapped in a place he could not leave. His cousin Tony Blundetto, whom he murdered, invited him into a house, where he thought he could see his mother. That was his fate. There was no way he could avoid it. But avoid it he did, as he came out of the coma. And least for a while. Avoiding danger, and cheating fate, is a theme in Tony's life. He avoided going to jail with his cousin because an early panic attack caused him to be absent on that fateful night when Blundetto was arrested. But Tony can feel things closing in. In the first two episodes of the new season, law enforcement officials are waiting as his gate each morning. Once case is over a dropped gun from a few years back (ironically, during an incident when Tony escaped the FBI takedown of New York mob boss Johnny Sac), but that dies. Tony's anxiety grows. In the most recent episode, the FBI are digging in an area where the body of Tony's very first murder victim is buried, and Tony is scared. But again, somebody else takes the fall. Retributive justice. But for how long can be escape his fate?

Tony's years of therapy, combined with his near-death experience, have led him to the realization that his life is precarious, not to mention the salvation of his soul. But he cannot change. When we awoke from the coma, there was a moment that suggested he wanted to be free, but he could not do it. At the same time, he realizes he is trapped in a deep pit. When he was young, he looked up to Pauley; now, he sees Pauley as pathetic, a joke. The old stories from the past now irritate him. Likewise, Uncle Junior has become a caricature of his former self in a mental institution. Johnny Sac, once a ruthless and all-powerful boss, dies from lung cancer. Phil Leotardo and Little Carmine are tired of the life, and want out. Christopher continues to distance himself. A feeling of lethargy, or resignation, hangs over the entire season. It almost feels like everybody is playing their part, going through the motions, but with little conviction.

And yet, at the same time, tension is everywhere. If feels like something is going to explode. The first episode of this season showed Tony, Carmela, Bobby and Janice enjoying themselves playing cards at a lake house. But you just knew something was going to happen, and it did-- Bobby attacked Tony for insulting Janice. Tony's response is not violence. No, he seals Bobby's fate in another way: he instructs the guy who has never killed anybody to commit his first murder. An amateur, Bobby leaves plenty of evidence at the scene. And in the most recent episode, tension mounted when Tony and Bobby were on a fishing boat, as the fate of Big Pussy was in everybody's mind.

And so, we do not know how they will meet their fate, but meet it they will. There are a million permutations of how cosmic justice could be served. And yet, can there be hope for redemption? The darkening atmosphere suggests not. There is certainly no sign of grace or redemption in David Chase's created universe. This is not the Lord of the Rings; it is the antithesis of Tolkien's cosmology. At the end of the day, is David Chase trying to tell us there is a radical division between grace and nature, a bridge that cannot be crossed? That might not be a Catholic message, but it is one that might well resonate with contemporary culture.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Root Of All Anti-Catholicism

There is a lot of debate over Pope Benedict's lamenting the loss of Christian faith in Europe and elsewhere, and its relationship to secularism and relativism. Many of these analyses have been insightful. Other less so. In the latter category comes an essay in the American Prospect by Adele Stan, arguing that:
"Europe's rejection of Catholicism has less to do with a loss of spirituality by the people of God (as the worldwide congregation of Catholics became known during Vatican II) than with a rejection of an authoritarian institution many regard as, at best, morally inept; at worst, morally bankrupt."
I think this mode of thinking can explain most brands of anti-Catholicism. It's loyalty to an institution, a sinister foreign one as many on the right used to believe, or a hypocritical authoritarian one, as many on the left believe today. This results from a profound misunderstanding of how the Church sees revelation, and how it sees itself. The Church sees its role as preserving the memory of Christ, the Word or Wisdom of Reason of God. Some of this memory is contained in scripture, but some of it is not. But there is a single deposit of faith that the Church holds. Sometimes, it takes the Church a while to figure this out, but we take comfort in the unbroken line of the apostolic succession from the original apostles to the bishops of today, and from the knowledge that our core beliefs have never changed. To be a bit more formal, the Church believes that the fullness of revelation subsists in the Catholic church. This is all that scary-sounding words like "infallible" actually mean; it has nothing to do with a subservient "pray, pay, and obey" attitude.

I think if people had a clearer understanding of these issues, there would be less misunderstanding. The pope and bishops are not "authoritarian"; they are as bound by tradition (the deposit of faith) as you or me. Claiming that we have the fullness of revelation is not saying we are better than anybody else (just look at the history of the papacy, for God's sake!) but merely that we believe that certain things are true. There are two key stumbling blocks: first, the idea that there are objective truths beyond the empirically falsifiable, and second, that we are part of a whole and not just individuals that can choose whatever path we feel like. The Enlightenment, for all its other benefits, challenged these principles, and I think society is worse off for it. Individualism, relativism, and utilitarianism have dangerous consequences. Getting modern society to face these issues is foremost on the agenda of Benedict.

Stan argues that the integrity of Catholicism is compromised by its own history. There is a kernel of truth in what she says. Surely, the Church lost much of its moral authority in the aftermath of the first world war after various churches identified too closely with the authorities of the particular state. I would go further and say that most of the mistakes of the Church over the past two millenia arise from an overly-close relationship with secular authorities. A key lesson for today is that the Church must eschew nationalism. It must strive for something larger, if not a latter-day Christendom, then at least something broader than the petty nation state. Here I think is the plain where the Church can meet European secular humanists (Americans are still too steeped in nationalism). But there is a long journey ahead...

Archbishop Burke Takes a Step Backwards

This story received a lot of coverage today, from Rocco Palmo, Open Book, and Evangelical Catholicism among others. It turns out that Archbishop Burke of St. Louis picked a fight with singer Sheryl Crow! The latter was supposed to appear at a benefit concert to aid a Catholic hospital in the area. The archbishop, citing Crow's support for abortion and embryonic stem-cell research, protested and asked for her invitation to rescinded. The institution (SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center) refused and Burke resigned from the board of governors and issued a statement saying that:

"When, for economic gain, a Catholic institution associates itself with such a high profile proponent of the destruction of innocent lives, members of the Church and other people of good will have the right to be confirmed in their commitment to the Gospel of Life."
Burke clarified that his opposition was based not on Crow's personal beliefs, but on her public advocacy for these issues. First of all, calling it "economic gain" is callous. I believe the benefit was designed to raise money for sick children. If Burke really wanted to rail against immoral "economic gain", he could have a field day with the Bush administration's corruption...But I digress. So where to begin? For a start, this was a pretty stupid move. If the aim is to promote Catholic teaching on these topics, it clearly backfired. This kind of ham-fisted intervention just creates sympathy for Crow.

My main problem, though, is the inconsistency. Yet again, we have criticism of a public figure (I suppose an entertainer qualifies as a public figure!) based on opposition to selective moral principles, in this case, abortion and embryonic stem-cell research. Of course, one could argue that, unlike issues like tax policy and poverty, there is no room for diversity of opinion among Catholics. They are wrong in their object, irrespective of intent or circumstance. But as I've said over and over and over and over, so are many other issues. The illicitness of using nuclear weapons is non-negotiable, but would Burke call for a boycott of conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly for saying things like the "atomic bomb is a marvelous gift that was given to our country by a wise God" (see here for the story and argument). And what about torture? So many public officials and backers of the Bush administration today defend torture on consequentialist grounds. Would Burke issue a blanket ban? And remember before Northern Ireland peace process when Sinn Fein still supported horrendously-evil terrorist acts, and were still invited to march in the New York St. Patrick's Day parade, right past the cathedral? Were was the outrage then?

To be consistent, the Church would be shunning a lot of people! But here's the rub: it should not be making these kind of personal attacks in the first place. Yes, the Church needs to speak clearly and not to compromise on its moral teachings, but it needs to do so in a consistent manner. Its main selling point is that it offers a consistent ethic of life that transcends secular categories of "liberal" and "conservative". The key is to persuade, and nobody who is inconsistent can persuade. It needs to persuade those who today are not persuaded. It benefits nobody to preach to the choir, making a bunch of conservatives feel good about themselves. Instead, the Church needs to challenge secular humanists to recognize the virtue of the consistent ethic of life, the seamless garment. Cherrypicking the issues simply won't wash.

Archbishop Chaput Takes a Step Forward

In the latest Commonweal, Melinda Henneberger reports on an interview she conducted with Archbishop Chaput of Denver in which she quizzes him on abortion politics. Chaput, remember, was one of the more vocal bishops who spoke out against John Kerry's position on abortion back in 2004. As noted by Cathleen Kaveny, a New York Times article at the time noted the following:
"Archbishop Chaput said a vote for a candidate like Mr. Kerry who supports abortion rights or embryonic stem cell research would be a sin that must be confessed before receiving Communion."
Of course, Chaput was part of a tiny minority of bishops to say such a thing, and this small group was chastised by their brother bishops. But that was 2004. Today, Chaput says something quite different. He seems to desire only that politicians address abortion as a fundamental issue, and not simply ignore and bury it. He states that his "aggressive stance" during the last election arose from a frustration with the fact that treating abortion as one of many moral issues had become a license to dismiss it. He goes on:
"Do I think there are people in the last election who voted for a prochoice candidate and did so sincerely after reflection and prayer? Yes, I do. Did they do wrong? No, they followed their conscience. But that serious reflection and prayer, that’s really important, and not just being swayed by party sympathies or that’s the way you always vote. It has to be about the issues."
This is exactly right. Chaput even goes further, stating:
"You can have good Catholics who say that they’re not for the criminalization of abortion, or they want to take gradual steps toward eliminating it by convincing the public that this is a bad thing. Those are all legitimate political positions-as long as you’re really moving towards the goal of protecting unborn human life. You at least have to have the goal."
Read that again, for it is profoundly important. For a start, Chaput is acknowledging that the elimination of abortion involves issues of prudential judgment (the link fleshes out the argument). In other words, betting everything on picking judges to overturn Roe v. Wade is not the only game in town. I also believe that Chaput is offering an olive branch to the Democrats. He is saying something like: we can tolerate you not wanting to criminalize abortion, or moving slowly, but you cannot pretend that this is a "right" that must be defended at all costs. That can never be defended. Clearly, he does not want a repeat of 2004 when it seemed that he was supporting Bush and his whole sorry agenda (he wasn't). But unless Clinton and Obama listen, history could repeat itself. Come on folks, it's not that hard...

Very Quick Thought on Abortion in Latin America

Today's Financial Times had an interesting observation. Noting the restrictive abortion laws throughout Latin America, it argues that many left-wing leaders who might be sympathetic to liberalizing such laws refrain from doing so out of loyalty to a Church that stood by them during the heated political struggles in the 1970s and 1980s.

Interesting. But, according to the dominant right-wing position in the United States at least, the Church is supposed to focus only on "non-negotiables" like abortion while eschewing social justice concerns. Had it done so in Latin America, the current political climate would be far less favorable to the Church, and abortion laws would probably be looser. But of course, thinking through the consequences of their actions is not a major strength of the American right these days!

It Was Eighty Years Ago Today...

With the barrage of anti-Catholic bigotry surrounding the alignment of Supreme Court votes in the recent partial birth abortion case, it is well worth reflecting on another case where the Catholics (or in this case, the Catholic) stood apart. I'm referring to the May 2, 1927 case of Buck v. Bell, which dealt with issues of eugenics and compulsory sterilization (almost eighty years ago to the day).

In 1924, Virginia adopted a eugenics statute, with the aim of sterilizing the mentally retarded. The case involved an attempt to sterilize an 18-year old girl named Carrie Buck, who was mentally retarded, and also accused of prostitution and "immorality". It went all the way to the Supreme Court, which decided in favor of sterilization by a whopping 8-1 majority. Here's what Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in his majority opinion:
"We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind."
There was a lone dissenter in the case, who happened to be the only Catholic justice on the court, Pierce Butler. With the benefit of hindsight, we look back in horror at this decision. It was a naked appeal to moral relativism, an exercise in callous utilitarianism. Nowhere did it acknowledge the God-given human dignity of the person in question. And yet, the Catholic justice stood alone. Perhaps he was the subject of anti-Catholic attacks for his dissent. Did he see something the others could not?

Eighty years into the future, will people be looking back and applauding the stance of the Catholic justices in Gonzales v. Carhart, wondering in horror how the weight of established opinion favored such a procedure that again appealed to cold utilitarianism?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Poverty and Choices

Mirror of Justice links to an interesting study by the Center for American Progress entitled "From Poverty to Prosperity: A National Strategy to Cut Poverty in Half." A noble aim, given that almost 40 million people live in poverty in the United States (one in eight), and poverty rates have risen dramatically under the Bush presidency (from 11.3 percent in 2000 to 12.6 percent in 2005). These figures are among the highest in the developed world. Inequality is also mushrooming, with the richest 1 percent of the population holding the largest share of income since 1929.

The study puts forward four key recommendations that, if implemented, would reduce poverty by 26 percent immediately. The recommendations are: (i) raise the minimum wage; (ii) expand the earned income tax credit (in-work benefits); (iii) provide childcare subsidies to poor families; (iv) expand the child tax credit.

The overall cost of these measures: $90 billion a year. To put this in perspective, Bush's tax cuts cost around $400 billion a year, while tax cuts for families making more than $200,000 a year alone costs more than $100 billion. And of course, the Iraq war: $420 billion and counting...

So there is a choice. It is possible to reverse the fiscal irresponsibility of the Bush era, and still enact policies that would dramatically reduce poverty rates. Do we want to help the poor and the needy, as Christ commanded, or do we want to give handouts to the rich and spend money on war? For a Christian, the answer is clear. For the Bush administration, not so much.

Does Bush Still Not Care About Bin Laden?

It turns out that the Taliban is giving Osama Bin Laden full credit for the attack on the US military base in Bagram, Afghanistan, during the visit of Dick Cheney. Although Cheney was unharmed, 23 people died in this attack. I wonder if Cheney shares his bosses views about Bin Laden. Remember, Bush-- ever anxious to invade a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 and had no weapons of mass destruction-- got quickly bored by the Saudi terror master. On a number of occasions, Bush made statements like "I truly am not that concerned about him" and capturing Bin Laden is "not a top priority use of American resources."

The mind boggles. Imagine a Democrat had made these statements. And then imagine the intensity of the right-wing noise machine in the aftermath of the attempted assassination of Cheney. In a sense, though, the Democrats have only themselves to blame. The reason: every time a Bushite makes a ludicrous statement about how voting for Democrats means everybody is going to die, the typical response (as Kevin Drum puts it) is "whining". For instance, Rudy Guiliani, his campaign under attack from all sides, whips out the fear card. Instead of using this as a chance to explain how Bushite policies have been such a dramatic failure on national security grounds, we are subjected to balderdash like "Rudy Giuliani today has taken the politics of fear to a new low" (Obama) and "One of the great tragedies of this Administration is that the President failed to keep this country unified after 9/11" (Clinton). This just makes the Democrats look weak and whiny, and plays into Republican hands. What's so hard about pointing out that Bin Laden is not only alive and kicking, but up to much mischief, and that Bush bears some responsibility?

Update: Josh Marshall nails it.
"Democrats should just hit right back on how President Bush has been helping Osama bin Laden for almost six years. Sounds harsh. But it’s true. Consider the facts. President Bush had bin Laden trapped in the mountains of Tora Bora. But he let bin Laden get away because Bush wanted to focus on Saddam Hussein instead. The president and the White House tried to lie about this during the 2004 election. But since then the evidence has become overwhelming. President Bush decided to let bin Laden get away so he could get ready to attack Saddam Hussein. So pretty much anything bin Laden does from here on out is on President Bush. And how about Iraq? President Bush has screwed things up so badly that he’s created a whole new generation of recruits for bin Laden. He’s created a whole new army for bin Laden. Not by being tough but by being stupid. And by being too much of a coward to admit his mistakes once it was obvious that the occupation of Iraq was helping bin Laden specifically and the jihadist agenda in general. After half a decade, the verdict is pretty clear: President Bush has been the biggest ally Osama bin Laden has. He’s helped bin Laden at pretty much every turn — even if only by his own stupidity, incompetence and cowardice. And when the next big terrorist attack comes, we can thank President Bush for helping make it happen."

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Obama Continues to Inspire

Who else today can speak the truth so eloquently, without spin and subterfuge?
"But if the next President can restore the American people’s trust – if they know that he or she is acting with their best interests at heart, with prudence and wisdom and some measure of humility – then I believe the American people will be ready to see America lead again. They will be ready to show the world that we are not a country that ships prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far off countries. That we are not a country that runs prisons which lock people away without ever telling them why they are there or what they are charged with. That we are not a country which preaches compassion and justice to others while we allow bodies to float down the streets of a major American city. That is not who we are."

Partial Birth Abortion And Catholic Judges

As was well noted, it was the five Catholic Supreme Court justices (Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy) banding together that upheld the ban on partial birth abortions last week. We should all remember what this practice entails: pulling the baby out apart from the head, sticking a pair of scissors into the baby's skull to kill him/her, then using a suction to suck out the brains. As barbaric a procedure as one can possibly imagine. A procedure that the weight of public opinion is against, and that figures like Daniel Patrick Moynihan deemed to close to infanticide for comfort. And yet... the leading Democratic nominees have all criticized this decision. Are they so in the thrall of the abortion lobby that they cannot stand up for what is right, even in this most extreme of cases? Don't they realize that this is why the Catholic vote keeps slipping away?

And please, spare me the specious arguments based on the mother's health. To those making this argument, I would propose the following: how about banning all abortions except when the life of the mother is endangered? We all know how the pro-abortion lobby would react to this proposal. No, it's not about the health of the mother. Shed the pretence.

But this is also no time to pat the Bush administration on the back. True, Roberts and Alito made the right call in this case, but they have not stood up for the dignity of life in other cases (remember Hamden and the Geneva Conventions?). And, as most experts point out, the impact of this decision on the actual incidence of abortions will be negligible, while the carnage in Iraq continues to mount. Thank you indeed, George W. Bush.

But the most appalling reaction of all is the one that pins the blame on the Catholic faith of the aforementioned five justices for this decision. Cartoons are circulating of five Supreme Court justices wearing miters. As this link shows, the ugly anti-Catholic prejudice being generated by some on the left matches the old bigotry on the right portraying Catholics as agents on an insidious papacy. As reported by Mirror of Justice, one of the milder commentators, Geoffrey Stone from the Chicago law school put it as follows:
"What, then, explains this decision? Here is a painfully awkward observation: All five justices in the majority in Gonzales are Catholic. The four justices who are either Protestant or Jewish all voted in accord with settled precedent. It is mortifying to have to point this out. But it is too obvious, and too telling, to ignore."
Incredible. Since when did respect for human life become a value specific to the Catholic faith? Could one not argue that the since the two Jewish justices dissented, there is something inherent in Judaism that supports infanticide? Of course, this would be a despicable and outrageous argument. And yet, when you replace "Judaism" with "Catholicism", common standards of decency simply fall down...

Genocide in Turkey

As noted by Daniel Larison, tomorrow marks the 92nd anniversary of the Turkish genocide against the Armenian people. The goal was clearly the obliteration of the Christian Armenians, textbook genocide. The best estimates are that about a million people died. A fervent form of "Holocaust denial" became entrenched among the Turkish authorities, through the present day. As Larison notes "denialism and Turkish republicanism have unfortunately combined; the hyper-nationalists today are only the most obnoxious of the denialists." In Turkey today, it remains a crime to simply state the historical facts and to even mention the word "genocide". The criminal code forbids "insulting Turkishness." Recently, Hrant Dink, an Armenian Turk, after criticizing Turkey's genocide denial, was prosecuted three times, and eventually assassinated by nationalists.

Now, right-wing culture warriors today will look at this story and paint a stark picture of Islamic aggression against a small helpless Christian community. But this is not accurate. The Armenians lived for centuries under the Ottomans. They may have suffered discrimination and a lack of true religious freedom, but they lived unmolested. No, it was secular nationalism that killed them, the pseudo-religion that exalts the Turkish nation. After all, it was on suspicion of aiding the enemy during the first world war (the Russians) that provoked the massacres. And it is that form of nationalism, dressed in patriotic garb, that can be truly chilling.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Who Cares What George Washington Thought, About Guns And Other Things?

One of the most ludicrous positions in the US constitutional debate is the notion that one must remain wedded to intent of the original framers of the Constitution. In other words, it should not be a living document. I may start to sound like a broken record on this one, but this reflects a wholly Protestant approach, secularized sola scriptura. Catholics, of course, appeal to the unwritten natural law and try to discern what is right from basic principals. Everything stems from the fact that the Word of God is a person, Jesus, and not a mere text. It follows that the starting point is the recognition that every human being is endowed with God-given human dignity that must always be respected.

Now, if this is in accord with written law, fine. If not, then an effort should be made to change the law. The founders accepted slavery. We don't. We have learned that torture is gravely evil. We have come to the realization that the death penalty debases humanity, and should be used only when there are no further options. We continue to declare that abortion is wrong, even though we accept the equality of women because it is an attack on innocent human life. The natural law does not change. We just understand it better.

Today, after the Virginia Tech tragedy, the old debate over gun control has rekindled. Those favoring guns offer a literalist reading of the constitution. Others note that the "right to bear arms" refers only to state militias. But who really cares? Does it make any difference what a group of 18th century Americans thought? The issue before us should be: what best protects the common good, the free availability of guns, or some gun control? The answer seems easy. As I've discussed numerous times before, the gun death rate in the United States is off the charts. Why this is the case is open to debate. Some point to the legacy of popular revolution and the frontier culture, others to the acceptability of violence as a response to problems, others to a popular culture that glorifies violence, and others still to the greater diversity that breeds tensions. But one thing is certain. The free availability of guns is bound to lead to further bloodshed.

Think of the recent tragedy. The young perpetrator of the massacre was clearly mentally ill, seriously so. He was paranoid and delusional, and possessed violent fantasies. These unfortunate souls exist in every country in the world. But in most other countries in the world, they could not so easily come across such deadly weapons that could cause such carnage. Sure, there are other ways to commit mass murder, but they are a lot harder. The counter argument is always some bizarre definition of "freedom", as if freedom is a primary virtue that can never be compromised. In fact, freedom is compromised every day in the service of the common good, and this is equally true in the United States as elsewhere. Examples abound. The freedom to drive a vehicle at any speed, or under the influence of alcohol, is curtailed, and for good reason. Certain drugs are made illegal, again for good reason. On the topic of alcohol, most citizens of the world would regard the ludicrously high drinking age in the United States as an undue restriction on freedom. All but the most extreme libertarians accept the role of the government in regulating behavior in the interest of the common good. Of course, there can be legitimate debate over boundaries. (Hint: the common good encompasses all, not just subgroups such as fellow countrymen. It is separate from the promotion of personal morality).

After the recent tragedy, the world press was united in condemning the liberal gun laws in the United States. The standard reaction of the right was a firm "butt out", tinged with a smug sense of superiority. For America is "free", more "free" than any other country, indeed, the "leader of the free world". Sorry, Europeans are no less "free" than Americans, and certainly do not see themselves so, but they are safer. No, the old "freedom" excuse for scorning gun control is based on an outdated mode of thinking, one that supposes that citizens with guns are the best protection against a coercive state that may abuse its power. Which brings me back to my original point: George Washington and his friends may have good reason for holding such views. We certainly don't. It's high time to adopt a Catholic approach to the natural law, rather than fealty to a dead text.

Monday, April 16, 2007

"Charism of Political Discernment"

A few days back, we saw Michael Novak and Richard John Neuhaus, Bush's favorite Catholics, making a last ditch effort to defend the Iraq war, and a rather feeble one at that. Now is the turn of the third member of the triumvirate, George Weigel. In a First Things essay, Weigel still defends the Iraq war, despite tactical mistakes along the way. It is interesting that Weigel, Novak, and Neuhaus do not seem at all chastened, even when others who supported the war (including the New Republic) have since repented.

In an excellent editorial, Commonweal takes Weigel to task for a position he has held in the past, that the political authorities are in a better position to assess the "morality and wisdom of war" than the bishops, as these officials tend to be "more fully informed about the relevant facts". Thus the charism of political discernment! In his latest essay, though, Weigel is strangely silent on the "charism" argument. This is hardly surprising, given how disastrous the Bush administration has been, displaying the polar opposite of a political discernment charism. It would be funny if it were not so tragic. But the Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways. The experience under the Bush administration has shown clearly that Weigel's argument is deeply flawed. It was the thin sheet he used to hide his ideological preferences behind some Catholic sounding catchphrases, and it has been abruptly whisked away, rendering him naked and rather unattractive at that.

Perhaps people should have listened to the bishops more closely then, as they should have listened to the last Pope Benedict during the first world war. As Commonweal puts it, "For a group that is supposed to lack the charism to make sound judgments about war and peace, the bishops have acquitted themselves far better than their critics." Indeed.

The Bush Bubble, Defined

We all know about the bubble. Sycophantic insiders. Pre-screened audiences. Isolation from reality. But it's rare to see a legal argument admitting the existence of, and defending, the Bush bubble. The case centers around the "Denver Three", Denver residents who obtained tickets from their Republican congressman to attend a Bush speech in 2005. One of the "loyal Bushies" on duty noticed a "no blood for oil" bumper sticker on their car, and threw them out, impersonating Secret Service agents in the process (a crime, by the way). As noted by the Carpetbagger Report, "this was an example of American citizens getting escorted out of a public event, dealing with a public policy issue, on public property, featuring public officials, because someone didn’t like their bumper sticker." Charming. The evictees sued. And how did the Bushies respond? With this statement: "The president’s right to control his own message includes the right to exclude people expressing discordant viewpoints from the audience." There you have it, the bubble...

Gun Nuts Exploit Tragedy

As I write this, I'm following the horrible story of the gun violence in Virginia Tech University, where a gunman brutally murdered 32 people today. We all know that the United States has some of the highest gun-related deaths in the world. What can we do about it? Well, if you are a gun nut like Glenn Reynolds, you could argue that the problem was the gun ban on campus. He notes that a bill to allow students carry handguns on campus was shot down and concludes "Had the bill passed, things might have turned out differently". At times like this, I simply think that the right is criminally insane. Think about it. A campus where every drunken frat boy has a handgun in his pocket. Wonderful. By this logic, Fallujah and Ramada must be some of the safest cities in the world...

Friday, April 13, 2007

What is the "National Catholic Prayer Breakfast" Anyway?

Its mission statement:
"We have created the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in response to the call of Pope John Paul the Great for a "New Evangelization, new in order, methods and expression." We gather from across the United States of America for worship and fellowship. We gather to thank Our Lord for his abundant blessings upon this Land. We reaffirm our faith in Him and renew our dedication to this great Republic. We commit ourselves to providing for our brothers and sisters who are the most vulnerable in society, and we commit our country to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary."
Look at the highlighted sentence. Doesn't that mix religion and nationalism? Doesn't Catholic mean universal, going beyond the confines of a particular country? And isn't there something a little discomforting about equating faith in God and "this great Republic" in the same sentence?

Bush Mocks Catholic Teaching

At the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast this morning, Bush made the following comments:
"Renewing the promise of America begins with upholding the dignity of human life. In our day, there is a temptation to manipulate life in ways that do not respect the humanity of the person. When that happens, the most vulnerable among us can be valued for their utility to others -- instead of their own inherent worth. We must continue to work for a culture of life -- where the strong protect the weak, and where we recognize in every human life the image of our Creator."
Of course, he enunciates quite clearly the way Catholics view the culture of life, founded on God-given human dignity. What is distressing is that his policies bear so little relationship to such a guiding philosophy, and are often in stark contrast to Catholic teaching.

The culture of life. What about torturing people? What about imprisonment without charge? What about deportation in order to be tortured? What about rushing to war on a tissue of lies? What about elevating consequentialism as an over-arching principle? What making the world a more dangerous place? What about promoting a narrow nationalism? What about granting tax cuts to the super-rich, while cutting medicaid and food stamps? What about executing people at a brisk rate, denying them the proper legal defense, and then mocking pleas for clemency?

Whatever philosophy guides Bush, it is not Catholic. Just remember, Jesus reserved his harshest words for those who used religion for political reasons (the "hypocrites").

Lessons from Malawi

As the bishops in Zimbabwe take a stand against Robert Mugabe's entrenched thugocracy, dubbing it "racist, corrupt and lawless", John Allen brings our attention to the role of the Catholic bishops in promoting change in Malawi, something he refers to as the "most remarkable, if largely untold, political interventions of the Catholic church in the 20th century." Malawi under Hastings Banda was a rather unpleasant place. A megalomaniac, Banda claimed personal ownership of the whole economy, and decreed that pictures of himself be placed in every office (and, even more bizarrely, insisted his image be broadcast before all movies). Critics were arrested, and often tortured and killed. Censorship was the norm, and the intelligence service was feared. And while millions lived in dire poverty, Banda secreted away his own millions. But Banda also maintained warm relations with apartheid-era South Africa, which led Reagan and Thatcher to turn a blind eye to his mis-rule.

In 1992, the Catholic bishops issued a stinging pastoral letter that was read in every single church. In it, they denounced income inequality, injustice, human rights abuse, corruption, nepotism, and the lack of free speech. In the words of the letter:
"We cannot turn a blind eye to our people's experiences of unfairness or injustice.. These are our brothers and sisters who are in prison without knowing what they are charged with, or when their case will be heard.. No one person can claim to have a monopoly on truth or wisdom... Nobody should have to suffer for living up to their convictions. We can only regret that this has not always been the case in our country."
The result was electrifying. People went crazy at Mass, and church attendance soared. The government attempted to crack down, and the cabinet even debated murdering the bishops. But the tidal wave could not be stopped. People started standing up to the security forces. Students began protesting. By 1994, Banda was gone. An inspiring story!

Bilal Hussein

Andrew Sullivan raises the issue of Bilal Hussein, a press photographer in American custody without charge for about a year. In fact, the Bush administration refuses to bring charges; in fact, the accusations seemed to change "even in the course of a single press cycle". Even worse, "the U.S. Forces insist that they have secret charges which, in the manner of Franz Kafka's novel The Trial they are unwilling to present to Bilal Hussein". The manifold "suspicions" raised by military spokespeople have been exposed as false.

Who, then, is Bilal Hussein? Hussein was part of an Associated Press (AP) team of photographers that won a Pulitzer prize for coverage of the war in Fallujah in 2005. This sheds some light on a possible reason for Hussein's incarceration. The Pentagon was enraged by some pictures he took of fighting in the Al-Anbar province, pictures that disputed the established storyline. In fact, the administration was irked that these AP photographers won a prize in the first place. So the message is clear: toe the line on Iraq, or else...

Sadly, there is precedent. During the early stages of the war, the U.S. bombed Al Jazeera headquarters in Baghdad, killing reporter Tareq Ayyoub. It had done the same thing in Kabul, destroying the building. Coincidence? Hardly. Remember the leaked memo, describing how Tony Blair had tried to talk Bush out of bombing Al Jazeera? Of course, the Bush administration denied it, but the British government pursued charges against two civil servants under the Official Secrets Act for leaking the document.

No More Double Standards, Please

Frankly, I'm sick of the media circus over the Imus psuedo-controversy. I don't care about radio "shock-jocks" and I don't care about basketball. I do care about hypocrisy, however, and what I don't understand is why one fool who makes racist comments is subjected to such vilification while right-wing blowhwards use this kind of language every day of the week. Yet again, the standards of civilized discourse tend not to apply to this sub-group. Media Matters does some sterling work sifting through some of the more outrageous statements against women and minorities from the likes of Glenn Beck, Neal Boortz, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Michael Savage, Michael Smerconish, and John Gibson. Follow the link. My personal favorities: Michael Savage calling for genocide in southern Lebanon, Rush Limbaugh making fun of torture, and Neal Boortz advising Katrina victims to take up prostitution for a living.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Benedict Reflects on Evolution

Writing in a new book, the pope states that neither a theory of creation that makes a mockery of science nor a theory of evolution that eschews any role for the Creator is acceptable. In his words:
"The question is not to either make a decision for a creationism that fundamentally excludes science, or for an evolutionary theory that covers over its own gaps and does not want to see the questions that reach beyond the methodological possibilities of natural science."
The pope did not endorse intelligent design, which is surely a disappointment to the American evangelical right eager for a Vatican ally on this issue. As I noted recently, there is a need to keep separate "physics" and "metaphysics" and let not the experts in one domain claim knowledge over the other. Religious believers should stay out of the scientific debate. It is important to note that "intelligent design" does not merely postulate that God is the Creator of everything out of nothing and guides all of creation (sensible), but encroaches on scientific territory by holding that organisms appeared simultaneously (not so sensible). Likewise, the claim of some neo-Darwinists that evolution proves the non-existence of God is equally ludicrous, as they step rather indelicately beyond science and into theological speculation. As the pope says "I find it important to underline that the theory of evolution implies questions that must be assigned to philosophy and which themselves lead beyond the realms of science."

Remember, this is a key theme of Benedict's, that faith and reason are not at loggerheads.

(Tip: Rocco Palmo.)

Life is Better Than Under Saddam, Right?

Not according to Shlemon Warduni, auxiliary bishop of Baghdad. Last year, and interviewer asked about whether life was just as bad as under Saddam. The bishop cut him off:
"No, in no way. The comparison won’t hold up, it’s not even worth suggesting. Under Saddam there was dictatorship, the wars… but the people lived fairly well. Today there is the total insecurity, one can’t be sure in the morning of coming home in the evening, it seems absurd but that’s how it is. I can testify to it in person, if you’ll believe it."
Hmm, I wonder if Michael Novak is as disappointed with him as he was with the pope. What an ungrateful cleric, unwilling to thank his real Messiah, George W. Bush, for bestowing the freely-given gift of freedom and redemption! Just another euro-weenie trying to "stick it to the Americans". Actually, maybe Novak needs to live in Iraq to wallow in the glory himself...

(Tip: Evangelical Catholicism.)

Banana Republic Watch

Josh Marshall has been at the vanguard of the US attorneys story, following its nefarious twists and turns and sniffing out conspiracies theories that, however unlikely, always turn out to have a kernel of truth. Today, he focuses on the real story behind the story: the Rovian voter suppression machine. He starts by noting a New York Times story that shows precious little evidence of voter fraud, despite the best efforts of the Republican noise machine to play up the issue over the past few years. Last year, there were only 86 convictions for voter fraud, and most of these were the result of simple mistakes. Possibly the most tragic case is that of Usman Ali, a Pakistani immigrant who filled out a voter registration form alongside the other forms he was handed by a brusque official at the DMV while renewing his driving license. For this "crime", he was deported to Pakistan. Charming.

This strategy was orchestrated by the Rovian machine, with the backing of the Republican National Committee. But what did they hope to accomplish? Again, Marshall is pretty clear:
"Republican party officials and elected officials use bogus claims of vote fraud to do three things: 1) to stymie voter registration drives and get-out-the-vote efforts in poor and minority neighborhoods, 2) purge voter rolls of legitimate voters and 3) institute voter ID laws aimed at making it harder for low-income and minority voters to vote."
In other words, it's all about keeping potential Democrats away from the polls. Remember those stories of posters plastered around black neighborhoods giving the wrong day to vote? Remember the stories of too few voting machines in minority areas, along with surpluses in Republican-leaning enclaves? Remember the New Hampshire phone-jamming scandal, in which Republicans were indicted for deliberately sabotaging the Democrat's get-out-the-vote campaign? And remember John Thune's narrow victory over Tom Daschle in South Dakota, that came on the back of massive intimidation of native American voters as Republicans harped on and on about voter fraud on the reservations? And, of course, who can forget the ur-scandal that opened the eyes of Republicans to the voter suppression potential, the 2000 voter debacle in Florida?

So, this strategy works. But the Republicans need compliant legal officials to keep pressing these bogus claims. And, as Marshall diligently points out, the US attorneys scandal leads back directly this strategy. As he puts it:
"Only most of the relatively non-partisan and professional US Attorneys simply didn't find any actual fraud. Choosing not to indict people on bogus charges got at least two of the US Attorneys (Iglesias and McKay) fired. And we are seeing evidence that others may have been nudged out less directly for the same reasons. In turn they've been replaced by a new crop of highly-political party operative prosecutors who, in the gentle wording of the Times, "may not be so reticent" about issuing indictments against people who have committed technical voting infractions with no intent to cast a fraudulent ballot."
Welcome to the Banana Republic...

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Bertone Slams Media

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone recently expressed frustration with the media's obsession with Church sexual teaching, at the expense of everything else. He noted:
"We face an extremely grave problem. The church's messages are subject to a type of manipulation and falsification by some western media...I see a fixation by some journalists on moral topics, such as abortion and homosexual unions, which are certainly important issues but absolutely do not constitute the thinking and work of the church...Why this deafening silence? We have to say the press does not write much about the social and charity work of thousands of Catholic organisations around the world."
Of course, it's not just gays and sex. To be fair, the media is quite capable of bringing up a diverse range of topics, such as the Inquisition, Galileo, sex abuse, and the Crusades. Oh, and how women are ill-treated in Catholicism, but apparently not at all (judging from media attention) in Islam or orthodox Judaism. Fair and balanced indeed!

The Democratic Party and Christianity, Again

Why is it that the Democratic leadership refuses to accord the respect to Christianity that it accords to other religions?

Here is Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean's Easter message:
“Easter Sunday is a joyful celebration. The holiday represents peace, redemption and renewal, a theme which brings hope to people of all faiths. During this time Christians are called to remember who they are as people of faith, and that even the greatest of evils will not have the last word. It is also a time to reflect upon and be in solidarity with those who are persecuted and suffering among us. We should also use this time to honor those who continue to make incredible sacrifices for us, including our brave men and women in the armed forces serving overseas during this holiday. I would like to wish all those celebrating around the world this Sunday, a joyous Easter.”
What's missing? Any reference to the resurrection of Jesus the Christ, the whole point of the Easter celebration. Contrast this with the statement Howard Dean released for Passover:
"At sundown tonight, Jews around the world will begin celebrating Passover, a holiday that symbolizes the true blessing of freedom. For the next week the enslavement of the Jewish people in Egypt, their persecution and suffering and their eventual redemption will be remembered."
A little different, no? And they wonder why Christians flock to Republicans, in spite of policies that (to put it mildly) frequently deviate from Christian principles.... Will they ever learn?

(Tip: Andrew Sullivan).

Usual Suspects Attack Benedict

With Benedict gaining more and more respect from previous critics on the left, it seems that the most trenchant criticism these days comes from the American right, especially when he touches on issues of war and peace. Recently, in his Easter Urbi Et Orbi address, he noted the following: "the Middle East, besides some signs of hope in the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian authority, nothing positive comes from Iraq, torn apart by continual slaughter as the civil population flees". This "nothing positive comes from Iraq" provoked the ire of Bush's Catholic cheerleaders, Michael Novak and Fr. Richard John Neuhaus.

Here is what Novak had to say (in the pro-torture National Review):

"Benedict XVI's Easter Sunday remarks in St Peter Square hit a low point, I would think. He said that "nothing positive comes from Iraq." This is a very skewed report on the realities on the ground. But it might mean that the message the Pope wanted to convey is that of the American Left: 'Whatever the good or the bad achievements, it is time to get out.' In other words, not an accurate description, but a prescription for the near future.... [These words] sounded like a standard European view of reality — at least of those Europeans who have always disagreed with the American war aims, and now that things have become difficult and costly want to stick it to the Americans."
And Neuhaus:

"It is worth keeping in mind that in 2003 all the countries with developed intelligence services agreed that Saddam Hussein had or was quickly developing weapons of mass destruction that he intended to use in aggressive war.... It is further recognized by almost everybody that the current strategy led by General David Petraeus is a last effort to turn that situation around... I am impressed by the reporters and informed observers who have in recent weeks offered tentative but hopeful judgments about the success of the Petraeus strategy.... Pope Benedict is not so impressed. Catholics in particular pay close and respectful attention to the words of the pope, also when he is offering only his own prudential judgment with respect to this or that world problem. Admittedly, it is galling when Catholics and others who are usually blithely indifferent to church teaching seize upon a papal opinion with which they agree and, suddenly becoming hyper-infallibilists, elevate it to dogmatic status.... I hope he is wrong about there being nothing positive in what is happening in Iraq."
What strikes me most about these statements is the hint of desperation. After throwing in their lot with the Bush administration for so long, they find it hard to jump ship at such a late stage. Neuhaus is left is hoping against hope that the so-called surge will succeed, and repeating old lies about the whole world believing in the Saddam's weapons of mass destruction (it would ill-behoove a priest to admit that his culture war Bush and Cheney lied to go to war). There is also a tone of irritation. Neuhaus is angered by the notion that a man who prides himself on calling others to task for insufficient orthodoxy now finds himself on the other end of the stick. Novak is less concerned with theology than with the secular ideology he holds dearly, the Calvinist-inspired American exceptionalism that sees God giving the United States a divine mandate to remake the world in its own image (and getting rid of the "bad guys" in the process). Anybody who criticizes this is trying to "stick it to the Americans". It's sad, really, these guys just cannot let go. But that's what happens when you put nationalism instead of universalism, country ahead of God, expediency ahead of principle.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Most Beautiful Prayer Ever

Looking toward a sea of candles in a darkened cathedral during the Easter Vigil, the deacon (or somebody else), after the Lucernarium, begins to intone the Exultet. Dating from the fifth century, this never loses its power:

Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels! Exult, all creation around God's throne! Jesus Christ, our King, is risen! Sound the trumpet of salvation!

Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor, radiant in the brightness of your King! Christ has conquered! Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes for ever!

Rejoice, O Mother Church! Exult in glory! The risen Savior shines upon you! Let this place resound with joy, echoing the mighty song of all God's people!

My dearest friends, standing with me in this holy light, join me in asking God for mercy, hat he may give his unworthy minister grace to sing his Easter praises.

The Lord be with you. (And also with you)
Lift up your hearts. (We lift them up to the Lord)
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. (It is right to give him thanks and praise).

It is truly right that with full hearts and minds and voices we should praise the unseen God, the all-powerful Father, and his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

For Christ has ransomed us with his blood, and paid for us the price of Adam's sin to our eternal Father!

This is our passover feast, when Christ, the true Lamb, is slain, whose blood consecrates the homes of all believers.

This is the night when first you saved our fathers: you freed the people of Israel from their slavery and led them dry-shod through the sea.

This is the night when the pillar of fire destroyed the darkness of sin.

This is night when Christians everywhere, washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement, are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.

This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave.

What good would life have been to us, had Christ not come as our Redeemer? Father, how wonderful your care for us! How boundless your merciful love! To ransom a slave you gave away your Son.

O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!

Most blessed of all nights, chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead!

Of this night scripture says: "The night will be as clear as day: it will become my light, my joy."

The power of this holy night dispels all evil, ashes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy; it casts out hatred, brings us peace,and humbles earthly pride.

Night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth and man is reconciled with God!

Therefore, heavenly Father, in the joy of this night, receive our evening sacrifice of praise, your Church's solemn offering. Accept this Easter candle, a flame divided but undimmed, a pillar of fire that glows to the honor of God.

Let it mingle with the lights of heaven and continue bravely burning to dispel the darkness of this night!

May the Morning Star which never sets find this flame still burning: Christ, that Morning Star, who came back from the dead, and shed his peaceful light on all mankind, your Son, who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Into Great Silence

Last weekend, I saw this excellent movie centering around the lives of the Carthusian monks inside the Grande Chartreuse in the Alps. The movie is three hours long, and has practically no dialogue. All we see are scenes of the monks living their daily life as the seasons change. It is an immensely beautiful movie, and the viewer is almost touched by the grace exuded by these monks. The three hours pass by as as fleeting moment, much as their life does, engrossed as they are in searching for God. See this movie if you can.

In light of the upcoming Triduum, this blog will also go "Into Great Silence" for a few days. Let's set aside politics, take a leaf out of the Carthusians' book, and focus on more important things. At least for a few days! See you soon...

Conservatism and Nationalism

At present, the American conservative movement is characterized by a deep and passionate attachment to nationalism. America first, patriotism, glorification of the military.. call it what you wish. Here's the funny thing: not that long ago, conservatism stood firmly against nationalism and all it stood for. Nationalism used to be synonymous with liberalism. The Church also recognized the dangers in unleashing an ideology that placed allegiance to some group-- nation, race, class-- above our common humanity. It foresaw quite clearly the downside of the pseudo-religions that rose up after the Enlightenment to take the place of a Church that had been discarded. Practically all the great evils in the world since the French Revolution can be said to derive from post-Enlightenment nationalistic ideologies. It is important to note that nationalism, no matter how embedded in consciousness today, is a relatively recent phenomenon. In earlier times, the ruler was regarded as having a divine mandate to rule, but this was contingent upon the ruler supporting the common good.

Today, we see the rotten fruits of nationalism still falling from the same tree, despite the death of communism and the most pernicious of the race-based ideologies. Just recently, Iran arrested some British military personnel and generated an anti-British nationalistic outcry, whipping up patriotism to bolster the power of the ruling despots. This is a technique that the Chinese have perfected. Robert Mugabe and the Sudanese demonize the outsiders to justify their murderous policies. Race-based nationalism is alive and well in subtle forms, even in countries like Japan. Even in the United States, nationalism is invoked to quash criticism of the war strategy, or the military in general, and to avoid any question of morality.

Nationalism is rapidly becoming a tired, jaded, bankrupt ideology. As Francis Fukayama noted:
"The EU's attempt to transcend sovereignty and traditional power politics by establishing a transnational rule of law is much more in line with a "post-historical" world than the Americans' continuing belief in God, national sovereignty, and their military."
Of course, Fukayama mentions God, nationalism, and militarism in a single breath as if they sprang from the same root. Nothing could be further from the truth, and the fact that many American conservatives meld them together is perhaps their greatest error. But Fukayama's vision is a good one. In his view, the future will downplay nationalism, and be based more on transnational authorities. Kind of like the Holy Roman Empire...