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The Need for Sophistication

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The other day, listening to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner at the Brookings Institute, the thought occured that this man may or may not know that his job, as a Democrat, is to fight for the working men and women in this country, but you would never know he knows it from listening to him. My populist instincts were heightened.
But, there is a limit to populism and, in the event, Geithner's wonkishness may be more important than throwing red meat to the masses. It is too easy in our culture to make fun of the pointy-heads, the wonks, the analysts who live in Cambridge or Berkeley, and who are very smart about some things but can be clueless about what makes the rest of America tick.
I was reminded of this when I saw the headline in this morning's Washington Post, which reads, "Egypt's generals impose martial law." I remember reading a similar headline in December, 1981, about the imposition of martial law in Poland. That was a grim news then but yesterday's imposition of martial law in Egypt is actually good news, that the military is not going to be hiding behind the constitutional niceties of a constitution that was designed to frustrate democracy not promote it.

Catholic Social Ministry Mtg Kicks Off

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Yesterday, Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, kicked off the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering here in Washington. The cardinal spoke about the significance of Rerum Novarum, the first papal encyclical to explicitly discuss social justice issues, and how that encyclical remains relevant. I do not yet have a copy of the cardinal’s remarks, so I will not comment upon them, but driving back home from his speech, the thought occurred that the Church’s social teaching has been remarkably consistent through the years. And such years.

In 1891, the year Pope Leo XIII issued Rerum Novarum, papal concerns about socialism were theoretical concerns. There was not, as yet, any country governed by a socialistic government. But, even at the theoretical level, Leo understood that the Church’s traditional defense of the right to private property would be a bulwark against the encroachments of the state.

Must-Read on Egypt: \"Bin Laden's Nightmare\"

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Over at Politico Shibley Telhami has a really smart article that argues the unfolding of events in Egypt represents bin Laden's nightmare. He has argued that the violence and the murder of innocents is the path to political change. The peaceful protests have achieved what radicals like bin Laden have failed to achieve, the overthrown of an entrenched dictator, and it achieved it without recourse to violence.
In Anmerica, where the ranters on the right warn of the introduction of Sharia into the courtrooms of South Carolina, they tend to lump all Muslims together. Yesterday, at the CPAC Conference, Rick Santorum chided President Obama for his failure to embrace the protests in Iran last year, evidently unaware that the best propaganda weapon anyone could give the hateful regime there would be to paint the protesters as tools of America. The quality of analysis about the Muslim world on the right is shockingly unsophisticated. It is also dangerous. And it is completely wrong, as Telhami shows, about the overthrown of Mubarak.

Egypt: No Champagne Yet

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The news from Egypt is thrilling. In 18 days of peaceful protest, the people of Egypt have forced Hosni Mubarak from office and it appears that Egypt is prepared to transition to democracy. But, before we pop the champagne too quickly, remember that removing a dictator is a first, not a last, step towards achieving democracy. I seem to recall a certain President of the United States on board an aircraft carrier with the sign "Mission Accomplished" behind him. In Iraq, removing Saddam was the easy part. Helping to build a democracy is the tough part.
A few weeks ago, I cautioned everyone to think Augustinian thoughts. We can, we must, celebrate the resignation of Mubarak, and especially the fact that it was accomplished without bloodshed. But the tough work begins now.

Lawler Attacks Sr. Carol (& the human intellect)

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Phil Lawler has penned an attack on Sister Carol Keehan, DC, arguing that she is "equivocating" on the topic of episcopal authority because, even while she acknowledges that authority, she has disagreed with some of its applications.

The key part of his argument is this: "In the Catholic Church, on the other hand, the faithful believe that because of his grace of state, because of the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the bishop is better suited to make a decision on matters of faith and morals—and in this case, on the interpretation of the ERDs. So when a bishop makes a judgment about the application of the ERDs—and especially when the bishop takes formal action on the basis of his judgment, as Bishop Olmsted did—he is not merely issuing one opinion among many. He is settling the question."

The Philadelphia Indictments

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Will it never end? The announcement that a Philadelphia grand jury has returned indictments against three priests and a lay man for raping two juveniles, as well as against Monsignor William Lynn, who served as the archdiocese’s Secretary for Clergy, makes one think that we are a long way away from seeing the story of clergy sex abuse in the rear view mirror. How much longer will bishops look like so many tobacco company executives: The men from RJ Reynolds et al., denied that there was any link between their product and cancer. The U.S. bishops assert that ever since the 2002 Dallas norms were established, no one has any cause for concern. Alas, this Philadelphia story points to the need for increased accountability and transparency on the part of bishops.

RIP: Abp Jozef Zycinski

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A friend in Warsaw has just emailed me the very sad news that Archbishop Jozef Zycinski of Lublin, Poland died today in Rome.
Zycinski was a stunning human being in every regard. He is most known, of course, for his many books. He was at home in a philosophy classroom as he was in a nuclear physics lab as he was in his cathedral. His mind was penetrating and it was fitting when Pope John Paul II named his compatriot to the see of Lublin, home of Poland's leading Catholic university in 1997.

The Problem With Budget Cuts

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The House Appropriations Committee is already taking heat from the right over the budget cuts it announced. There is a problem with the cuts, but it is not the problem the right has identified. They object that the cuts are insufficient. The real problem is that they are indiscriminate.
Cutting aid to states and municipalities, at a time when they are facing their own budget shortfalls, makes no sense. States, unlike the federal government, must balance their budgets every year. Now, if the GOP wants to make the case that funding sources for government programs are better determined at the state and local level, that is a fine argument to make. The small town in which I grew up never minded raising our own taxes when the fire department needed a new truck, for example, and we could see the benefit of our tax increases very readily. But, governors need to get a heads-up, in advance, and the GOP should have the decency to argue that state and local taxes might need to go up to meet the shortfall. I doubt many Republican governors will see it that way.

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