Sunday, April 29, 2007

Moral issues

Jim Wallis, in his Hearts & Minds column for the May issue of Sojourners magazine. Writes about the challenge evangelicals face in determining the moral issues of the day, much as Catholics face the same issues. Albany Catholic believes the column is one we should share with you, and we encourage you to share it with your friends.
A new space is opening for a conversation among evangelicals on moral issues. Earlier this spring, a group of Religious Right leaders including James Dobson, Tony Perkins, Gary Bauer, and about 20 others sent a letter to the National Association of Evangelicals board of directors. They challenged its vice president for governmental affairs, Rich Cizik, saying he was "dividing and demoralizing the NAE" by orchestrating a "relentless campaign" opposing global warming. The letter ended by suggesting that "he be encouraged to resign his position with the NAE."
. . .
The letter from Dobson and friends actually did acknowledge that there is a real debate among evangelicals about the seriousness of climate change and the reasons for it. So instead of calling for Cizik's resignation for saying global warming should be a moral issue for evangelical Christians, why don't Dobson and his friends accept a real debate on whether climate change is, indeed, one of the great moral issues of our time?

And I would focus on the following very clear statement from Dobson's letter: "More importantly, we have observed that Cizik and others are using the global warming controversy to shift the emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time, notably the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage, and the teaching of sexual abstinence and morality to our children." I happen to believe that those three are, indeed, among the great moral issues of our time. But I believe they are not the only great moral issues, and that is what the conversation should be about.

Is the fact that 30,000 children will die globally today and every day from needless hunger and disease a great moral issue for evangelical Christians? How about the reality of 3 billion of God's children living on less than $2 per day? And isn't the still-widespread and needless poverty in our own country, the richest nation in the world, a moral scandal? What about pandemics such as HIV/AIDS that wipe out whole generations, or the trafficking of massive numbers of women and children? Should genocide in Darfur be a moral issue for Christians? And what about disastrous wars such as Iraq? And then there is, of course, the issue that got Dobson and his allies so agitated. If the scientific consensus is right—climate change is real, is caused substantially by human activity, and could result in hundreds of thousands of deaths—then isn't that also a great moral issue? Could global warming actually be alarming evidence of human tinkering with God's creation?

This column, and the entire issue of the magazine, is available here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Moyers tonight

How the administration marketed the war to the American people has been well covered, but critical questions remain: How and why did the press buy it, and what does it say about the role of journalists in helping the public sort out fact from propaganda?

On Wednesday, April 25 at 9 P.M. on WMHT and other Public Broadcasting stations, watch "Buying the War," a 90-minute documentary with Bill Moyers that explores the role of the press in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, which includes interviews with Dan Rather, formerly of CBS; Tim Russert of Meet the Press; and Walter Isaacson, former chairman and CEO of CNN.

“This gutsy program is essential viewing for explaining how punditry often overshadows journalism on television.”
- Orlando Sentinel

"Every American should watch it, especially those, like me, who naïvely bought into a war sold on false pretenses.... Much on television is junk. I’d call 'Buying the War' must-see TV."
- Providence Journal

"It takes us through its argument free of hyperbole... This is the kind of work that should be shown to journalism students as a warning about how dangerous a cowed press can be to democracy's health."
- Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Monday, April 23, 2007


For those who support the death penalty, we offer the following example of how things can go wrong.
A former Army cook who spent nearly 25 years in prison for a rape he did not commit is scheduled today to become the 200th person exonerated by DNA evidence, underscoring the quickening pace of overturned convictions, according to the Innocence Project.

The New York-based legal group says the 100th exoneration occurred in January 2002, 13 years after the first exoneration. It took just more than five years for the number to double.

"Five years ago, people said that the number (of exonerations) was going to dry up because there just weren't many wrongful convictions," said lawyer Barry Scheck, who co-founded the Innocence Project in 1992 to help prisoners prove their innocence through DNA evidence. "But clearly, there are plenty of innocent persons still in prison. There's no way you can look at this data without believing that."

David Lazer, a Harvard University public policy professor who specializes in DNA issues, says improved testing technology and an increase in the number of lawyers who are taking on DNA cases should result in a continued increase in the number of wrongful convictions that are set aside.

Albany Catholic recommends reading the entire article.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

We Like Ike

Each gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed and those who are cold and are not clothed.

-- Dwight D. Eisenhower

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Outrage and patriots

Former Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca has a new book out, with the title Where Have All the Leaders Gone? If you are wondering to what leaders he is referring, read this excerpt from the book:
Am I the only guy in this country who's fed up with what's happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We've got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we've got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can't even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, "Stay the course."

Stay the course? You've got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic. I'll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out!

You might think I'm getting senile, that I've gone off my rocker, and maybe I have. But someone has to speak up. I hardly recognize this country anymore. The President of the United States is given a free pass to ignore the Constitution, tap our phones, and lead us to war on a pack of lies. Congress responds to record deficits by passing a huge tax cut for the wealthy (thanks, but I don't need it). The most famous business leaders are not the innovators but the guys in handcuffs. While we're fiddling in Iraq, the Middle East is burning and nobody seems to know what to do. And the press is waving pom-poms instead of asking hard questions. That's not the promise of America my parents and yours traveled across the ocean for. I've had enough. How about you?

I'll go a step further. You can't call yourself a patriot if you're not outraged. This is a fight I'm ready and willing to have.

Albany Catholic recommends that you get ready for the fight and read more here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Bad news for Fox?

Editor & Publisher, which covers the newspaper industry, reports on a poll which found the most knowledgeable Americans watch 'Daily Show' and 'Colbert'-- and visit newspaper sites.
A new survey of 1,502 adults released Sunday by Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that despite the mass appeal of the Internet and cable news since a previous poll in 1989, Americans' knowledge of national affairs has slipped a little. For example, only 69% know that Dick Cheney is vice president, while 74% could identify Dan Quayle in that post in 1989.

Other details are equally eye-opening. Pew judged the levels of knowledgeability (correct answers) among those surveyed and found that those who scored the highest were regular watchers of Comedy Central's The Daily Show and Colbert Report. They tied with regular readers of major newspapers in the top spot -- with 54% of them getting 2 out of 3 questions correct. Watchers of the Lehrer News Hour on PBS followed just behind.

Virtually bringing up the rear were regular watchers of Fox News. Only 1 in 3 could answer 2 out of 3 questions correctly. Fox topped only network morning show viewers.

The rest of the article is here.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Progress in Darfur?

Friday’s New York Times reported that, finally, there may be some progress in Darfur thanks, it seems, to Hollywood.
For the past two years, China has protected the Sudanese government as the United States and Britain have pushed for United Nations Security Council sanctions against Sudan for the violence in Darfur.

But in the past week, strange things have happened. A senior Chinese official, Zhai Jun, traveled to Sudan to push the Sudanese government to accept a United Nations peacekeeping force. Mr. Zhai even went all the way to Darfur and toured three refugee camps, a rare event for a high-ranking official from China, which has extensive business and oil ties to Sudan and generally avoids telling other countries how to conduct their internal affairs.

So what gives? Credit goes to Hollywood — Mia Farrow and Steven Spielberg in particular. Just when it seemed safe to buy a plane ticket to Beijing for the 2008 Olympic Games, nongovernmental organizations and other groups appear to have scored a surprising success in an effort to link the Olympics, which the Chinese government holds very dear, to the killings in Darfur, which, until recently, Beijing had not seemed too concerned about.

You can read more here.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The surge

Andrew J. Bacevich, professor of international relations at Brown University, writes about the “surge” in Iraq this way in the latest issue of Commonweal magazine:
The military stalemate in Iraq has obliged President Bush to scale back his ambitions. An administration that once articulated its aims in the most grandiose terms-vowing to remake what it called the Greater Middle East-will now settle for considerably less.

The hue and cry provoked by the so-called “surge” has obscured this downsizing of strategic intent. Critics have misread the surge as evidence that the president remains hell-bent on “staying the course.” In fact, the very puniness of this ostensibly major initiative (it qualifies at best as a demi-escalation) speaks to the Bush administration’s reduced strategic appetite. No longer promising to spread freedom across the Islamic world, it is instead searching desperately for ways to prevent Iraq from disintegrating.

The surge amounts to a last-ditch effort to forestall this prospect. Rather than a plan to achieve victory, it is a salvage operation. Administration officials who once spoke glowingly of Iraqi democracy flowering under American tutelage will now be grateful if they manage to ease the mayhem occurring daily in the streets of Baghdad. An administration that once disdained stability now yearns to restore it.

Albany Catholic thinks this is interesting stuff. You can read more here.
Mr. Bacevich also has an article about Iraq in the Los Angeles Times this week, in which he poses questions for the presidential candidates:
Candidates who still find merit in an open-ended global war on terror should explain how we prevail in such an enterprise. Given the lessons of Iraq, what exactly does it mean to wage such a global war? Where can we expect to fight next, and against whom? What will victory look like?

Candidates who, in light of Iraq, have become skeptical of open-ended global war as a response to violent Islamic radicalism should be pressed to describe their alternative. How do they define the threat? How do they propose to deal with it? Will they isolate it? Contain it? Subvert it? Relying on what means and at what costs?

The rest of his interesting article is here.


Monday, April 09, 2007

More money for us

Albany Catholic notes that two of our recommendations have been taken up by the administration of Governor Eliot Spitzer. (Whether we can take credit is questionable, at best.)

Long-time readers of this blog know that we have advocated the hiring of more tax auditors as one way of increasing state revenues without raising taxes. Another method we have promoted is greater oversight of New York’s bloated Medicaid program. Now we can report that action has taken place on both fronts. First, today’s Times Union reports:
The state budget contains $5.5 million to hire auditors at the Department of Taxation & Finance with the expectation the beefed up audit team will produce $250 million in additional tax revenues.

In other news, Governor Spitzer announced the nomination of James G. Sheehan to serve as New York State Medicaid Inspector General to oversee the fraud and abuse enforcement activities of New York’s $50 billion Medicaid program.

The news release announcing the nomination reports that Mr. Sheehan has been successful in recovering millions of dollars for taxpayers in his previous government positions, including more than $1 billion (yes, $1 Billion) in just three cases.

As we have said in the past, rather than raising taxes to pay for government programs, efforts should be made to collect what already is owed.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Jesus before the cohort

Father John Dear, S.J. writes a column called On the Road to Peace for National Catholic Reporter. Here is an excerpt from his latest, in which he reflects on one of the events of these holy days.
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus inside the praetorium and gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped off his clothes and threw a scarlet military cloak about him. Weaving a crown out of thorns, they placed it on his head, and a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" They spat upon him and took the reed and kept striking him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to crucify him.
-- Matthew 27: 27-31

I was on retreat 10 years ago, during my Jesuit tertianship year in Belfast, pondering the Holy Week readings, when I came upon this text, Jesus being hauled before "the whole cohort." The whole cohort? What was that? I wondered. I looked it up and blanched at the answer.

In Jerusalem, each year during the Passover festival, the Roman governor assembled a cohort, some 600 soldiers to protect against riot or rebellion. Most years calm prevailed, and the idle cohort had nothing to do. And so they drank themselves into a rage and spent their days seizing upon petty criminals and rebels and torturing and crucifying them.

One of the most appalling and astounding images in the scripture -- the most anti-military image ever pictured. Here is the most powerful military unit in the world, and they humiliate Jesus, passing the time by mocking and torturing God in the City of David.

The entire column is here.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Issues, please

Albany Catholic believes that too many journalists focus on fundraising and poll numbers rather than on candidates’ stands on issues. We believe that voters need more information about candidates’ positions, which the candidates are less likely to discuss. Now, we are pleased to see at least one writer who agrees with us.

Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post writes in today’s paper about the incessant coverage of how much Presidential candidates have raised, and why it may not matter.
Journalists have become increasingly obsessive about tracking these numbers because, 10 months before anyone actually gets to vote, it's a way of keeping score. And obviously the ability to rake in big bucks indicates that the candidate has a certain degree of support and the organizational muscle to build a network of donors.

But I think it's an overrated indicator. I lost track of how many big-name political journalists told me in late 2003 that Howard Dean was nearly unstoppable for the nomination because he was the Democrats' leading fundraiser. But his $40 million -- some of which had been frittered away earlier -- didn't do him much good once he got to the Iowa caucuses. All the money in the world doesn't help a candidate who can't close the sale.

I got bleary-eyed in 1996, reading all the glowing pieces about how strong a candidate Phil Gramm was because he was raising truckloads of money. Gramm never made it to New Hampshire. The donors might have been buying, but the voters weren't.

The entire article is here.


Monday, April 02, 2007

Franciscans in action

We received the following e-mail from Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good:
Last week, members of Franciscan dioceses and orders gathered in Washington, D.C. to form a new Center for Action and a broad-based Franciscan Family Commission for Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation. More than 130 leaders and social justice and peace representatives from the Franciscan provinces, congregations, Secular Franciscan Regions, and Ecumenical partners approved the new initiative in Baltimore last week.

The move represents an unprecedented effort within the Franciscan family to focus combined resources on social justice and peace advocacy. With the Center for Action, the Franciscan community - which comprises tens of thousands of Franciscans in the U.S., and the millions whom they serve - hopes to effectively influence social policy in order to transform the world.

This is a notable step in the development of the Catholic social justice and peace movement. The Center for Action will provide Franciscans with a powerful voice on a wide array of issues, such as war, oppression, poverty, and the global climate crisis.

To find out more about the Franciscan community's efforts, visit their web site at here.

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