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Graviora Delicta

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“Crime” is both a technical term and a non-technical term. For example, it remains to be seen if there was any technically criminal activity on Wall Street that led to the collapse of the economy, but the greed, the ponzi-like schemes, the betting against one’s customers, all that was certainly a crime.

The Vatican’s new directives revising a 2001 motu proprio designed to give the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explicit jurisdiction over cases involving the sexual abuse of minors are to be welcomed. They extend some of the provisions devised by the U.S. bishops to the universal Church. They may not go far enough, as many victims’ rights activists argue, but they are undeniably a step in the right direction.

Q & A: E. J. Dionne

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This week, we are asking a variety of experts about the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. We have already heard from Ben Wittes of the Brookings Institute, Rick Garnett from Notre Dame Law School, and Mark Silk from Trinity College. Today, we hear from Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne.
The question: What is the best reason to vote to confirm, or to not confirm, Elena Kagan?
E. J. Dionne:
I've been an Elena Kagan fan for a long time, as I have noted in my column and on the Washington Post's blog. But she gave me a new reason to like her during her Senate Judiciary Committee hearings. It was both important and useful that she rejected Chief Justice John Roberts's notion that judges are mere "umpires."

Are They Racists?

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The NAACP passed a resolution calling out the racism it has witnessed in the Tea Party movement. The Tea Party spokespeople, and their champions such as Sarah Palin, have denied the charge. They note that their organization is about “individual rights” and so it could not be capable of racism, which is something of a non sequitur, but one does not turn to the Tea Party crowd in search of intellectual precision.

So, are they racists? I only attended one Tea Party rally, on the steps of the Capitol the day of the final House vote on health care. I saw several posters that portrayed the President as a witch doctor, which struck me as a portrayal that would have been unlikely if the President was lily white and named Smith. There were some posters challenging the President’s birth certificate, and therefore his legitimacy, a question I do not recall being raised for any of the 43 presidents who preceded Mr. Obama in office. I have no reason to think that everyone was a racist, or even most, but I saw no effort by anyone to challenge those whose signs had these racist overtones.

Blast From the Past: Vichy & Afghanistan

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The other day I referred to General DeGaulle, and that put me in mind of this passage from Churchill’s war memoirs about his attempts to keep Vichy placid while not undercutting DeGaulle. The reader will instantly see the applicability of this passage to understand better the complicated relationship the U.S. government has with the Karzai government in Afghanistan.

Q & A: Mark Silk

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This week we are asking about the nomination of Elena Kagan. Having already heard from Ben Wittes of the Brookings Institution and Rick Garnett from Notre Dame Law School, today we hear from Mark Silk, Professor at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut and editor of the wonderful blog Spiritual Politics.

The question: What is the best reason to vote to confirm, or to vote not to confirm, Elena Kagan?

Mark Silk:

The Vile Influence of Consultants

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Something about the response to Robert Gibbs’ comments about the possibility of a GOP takeover of Congress in the fall elections bothered me all day. The quotes denouncing Gibbs were all from fundraisers and campaign consultants, but it failed to note the linkage between the two groups.

It is true that a comment like the one Gibbs made may make it harder for some fundraisers to shakedown those donors who are not committed ideologically to either party but want to guarantee access to power with their contributions. A companion article in Politico noted that the Republicans had dispatched their fundraisers to Wall Street, armed with the argument, confirmed by Gibbs, that they could win, and if they did win, certainly these fat cat donors would want to know they had contributed to that victory. Both parties have shamefully used these tactics to get money from these fundraising mercenaries. Which is why money gums up the works on all pieces of major legislation.

MSW v. ACLU

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A good night’s sleep has not made me any less upset at the ACLU for their decision to go after Catholic hospitals that refuse to perform abortions and other procedures that we find morally objectionable. The ACLU is often the target of religious criticism, but there is a place for such a group to stand watch over the First Amendment. Of course, like all who are zealous, they run the risk of turning their devotion into a heresy, a truth “run amok.” Will the Republic really come crashing down because there is a creche in front of City Hall? No. But, on the other hand, the ACLU has a distinguished record of caring about the rights of the accused at times when most of us were all too willing to look the other way.

Blast From the Past: FDR

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“We do not distrust the future of essential democracy. The people of the United States have not failed. In their need they have registered a mandate that they want direct, vigorous action. They have asked for discipline and direction under leadership. They have made me the present instrument of their wishes. In the spirit of the gift I take it.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address is better remembered for its sonorous opening “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” But these words at the end of the speech speak to the need of our own time, when the captains of industry and barons of high finance have failed so utterly, and only the government is capable of the kind of “vigorous action” for which the situation calls. Let’s hope that as the final vote on financial reform comes into view, the members of Congress will take the gift the electorate has given them and become an instrument of their wishes. And, let’s hope the President and Congress become less defensive about exercising the gift they were given by the electorate.

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September 12-25, 2014

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