On the Catholic Bishops’ Vote and the Unsolvable Dilemma

As all who care are aware, last month the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) voted by a large margin to – in the USCCB’s own words – “… task [its] Committee on Doctrine to move forward with the drafting of a formal statement on the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the Church.”  In the Catholic faith, under the doctrine of “Transubstantiation,” the whole substance of bread and wine are changed into the substance of the Body and Blood of Jesus (the “Eucharist” or “Communion”) when consecrated by the priest during the Mass.  The words describing the Doctrine Committee’s assignment, innocuous in and of themselves, were widely interpreted as an initiative by conservative Catholic bishops to issue a statement disfavoring the provision of Communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians such as President Joe Biden.  The USCCB’s action stirred immediate and intense controversy, and apparently caused the body to issue a qualification that “There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians.”  Even so, American Bishops’ overwhelming support for creating a document which might at least impliedly cast disapprobation upon pro-choice Catholic politicians underscores the marked rift between Catholic liberals and conservatives that has developed in the U.S. Catholic Church.

That life begins at conception is one of the core tenets of the Christian faith.  Even the fiercest pro-choice advocates will presumably acknowledge that if one accepts the premise that the fetus is indeed a person, the conclusion that abortion is murder is inescapable. No one can deny the emotional force, the hope, the prayer that drives a couple yearning to have a child and the joy that accompanies their earliest awareness that a baby is in the mother’s womb; it makes one wonder why the Almighty grants conception to some who have no wish for it, while withholding the blessing from others so desperately seeking it.

I nonetheless find the seeming thrust of USCCB’s initiative deeply troubling both as a Catholic, and as an American.  From a personal standpoint, I, like the President, have been a practicing Catholic my entire life.  I, and I assume the President, believe that life begins at conception.  My spouse and I, and I assume the President and Mrs. Biden, would not have aborted a fetus.  It accordingly appears to me that despite the fact that I have tried for close to seven decades – while admittedly frequently failing — to be a faithful Catholic, any disapprobation that the majority of American Catholic officialdom may, even by implication, level at Mr. Biden is also directed at me, given my support for his candidacy against a materialist with notable fascist tendencies who, notwithstanding his purported “pro-life” stance, enthusiastically incites false and hateful discord among our people and intentionally implemented demonstrably inhumane border policies while in office.

I will always believe that the best way forward for our nation is through accommodation of competing positions held in good faith (i.e., not espoused for political or other self-interest).  Abortion is the one issue that seems to me by its very nature to defy compromise between Americans sincerely holding conflicting views. That said, I would submit that Christians’ belief that life begins at conception — no matter how fervently held — is, inherently, no more (or less) than a matter of Faith.  Many scientists reject the notion that the few cells existing upon and for a period following conception constitute “life.”  I claim no expertise in other religions, but understand that neither Jewish nor Islamic scholars consider life to begin at conception, and that these Faiths do not prohibit abortion in the early stages of pregnancy.  There are certainly millions of Americans of other or no faiths who reject the notion that life obtains either at conception or for a period thereafter.  Justice Harry Blackmun, in Roe v. Wade, observed, “It is undisputed [i.e., even those defending the Texas criminal abortion statutes at issue in Roe conceded] that, at common law, abortion performed before ‘quickening’ – the first recognizable movement of the fetus in utero, appearing usually from the 16th to the 18th week of pregnancy – was not an indictable offense. …  In this country, the law in effect in all but a few States until mid-19th century was the preexisting English common law.”  [Note to the Originalists now sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court.  ;)].  Notwithstanding more recent holdings arguably designed to limit abortion rights, the Supreme Court held in Roe and has maintained since that a woman has the constitutional right to abort a fetus.  It is Mr. Biden’s duty as President to protect women’s constitutional rights as defined by the Supreme Court and to not impose his personal faith beliefs on the American people – the majority of whom, if polls are to be believed, favor women’s right to early term abortions. 

Despite its backtrack, there is no little irony in the USCCB’s apparent intent to pressure Mr. Biden, given the reassurance that then-Democratic Presidential candidate U.S. MA Sen. John F. Kennedy delivered in September, 1960, to a conference of Protestant Ministers fearful of the influence that the Vatican might seek to assert on a Catholic president:

“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no … minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote …  I believe in an America … where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials …. I want a chief executive … whose fulfillment of his presidential oath is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual or obligation. … Whatever issue may come before me as president … I will make my decision … in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates.”

One of our children remarked to me recently that while our family was being raised, there was much greater emphasis in our household on our Catholic faith than there was on our identity as American citizens.  Despite my many failings, I hopefully still place much greater weight on what I believe the Almighty expects of me than I do upon my responsibilities as an American.  Even so, I have not been able to avoid the conclusion that in a diverse secular civil society pledged to separate the affairs of church and state, I should accept the fact that my religious beliefs regarding abortion are not shared by a substantial segment of my fellow citizens.  I accordingly cannot make the abortion issue my overriding civic focus. I fear that any attempts by American Catholic hierarchy to impose its views upon the nation generally will ultimately severely undermine the Church’s mission in the United States. 

Although Mr. Kennedy’s words obviously no longer resonate with U.S. Catholic officialdom, I would venture that the following passage offers ample ground for reflection – perhaps providing solace, perhaps evoking despair — for an American Catholic who seeks in good conscience to differentiate between faith and civic responsibilities:

[Then the Pharisees said,] ‘Tell us, then, what is your opinion:  Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?’  … Jesus said, ‘… Show me the coin that pays the census tax.’  Then they handed him the Roman coin.  He said to them, ‘Whose image is this and whose inscription?’  They replied, ‘Caesar’s.’  At that he said to them, ‘Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.’

Mt. 22: 17 – 21

On Lowering Your Hands

As one’s time in retirement extends, more and more friends retire; how one best approaches retirement is a topic that comes up from time to time.  This seems a suitable time for this note, since for the vast majority of my life, mid-summer meant … baseball.

In the fall of 1967, three teams were locked in a tight race for the American League pennant:  the Minnesota Twins, the Detroit Tigers, and the Boston Red Sox.  Boston wasn’t intimidating across the board, but where it was stong, its quality was superior:  Starting Pitcher Jim Lonborg, and most importantly, unquestionably the world’s best baseball player that year:  Leftfielder Carl Yastrzemski, then 28 (hereinafter, not “Mr. Yastrzemski,” but merely, “Yaz”).  After finishing ninth in a 10-team circuit the preceding season, the Red Sox bested the Twins and the Tigers to win the pennant by a single game (before the current playoff era) primarily because Yaz seemingly hit a home run to win a game in the late innings every day down the stretch.  I have the warmest memories of the Brewers’ Robin Yount’s 1982 MVP season, and concede that my knowledge of baseball deeds is dated, but I can’t name any player who so single-handedly brought his team a pennant as Yaz did in 1967.  He was the season’s American League Most Valuable Player and posted the last Triple Crown (combining the League’s highest Batting Average, Home Run and Runs Batted In totals) Major League Baseball would see … for 45 years.

A left-handed hitter, Yaz had a distinctive batting stance (for those more attuned to the current era, a stance somewhat similar to the Brewers’ recently-retired Ryan Braun):  he would stand in the batter’s box grasping the bat with hands held highhelmet-or-higher high – and from that position, without the assistance of steroids, would bring the bat through the strike zone with unnerving velocity to spray hits across the field and over the fence.  Think about the reflexes required to bring a bat through the strike zone from that high against a 90+-mile-an-hour fastball.  And even in those days, baseball had great fireballers – the best pitcher I’ve ever seen, Sandy Koufax, had just retired, and Bob Gibson, he of the mean heater, was in his prime.  [In those days, no statisticians were documenting pitch speed with radar guns   ;)].

The Red Sox lost the World Series in 7 games to the St. Louis Cardinals, although Yaz hit .400 with 3 home runs and 5 RBI.

Although he never again had – nor for decades, did anyone else have – as mighty a single season as he did in 1967, Yaz remained a force for pitchers to reckon with until he retired in 1983.  Even so, as the seasons passed, his batting stance changed; he kept lowering his hands.  When asked about it, he was candid:  his reflexes were slowing.  He kept lowering the bat to a position from which he could still react and get the bat through the hitting zone against baseball’s best.  He had become more selective about the pitches he went after.  Had he continued with his 1967 approach, he would not have been around to contribute to another decade and a half’s worth of Red Sox teams. 

We seniors are overwhelmed by a blizzard of data and opinion about how to “age gracefully.”  Some of the commentary is helpful, some not.  I would submit that one could do worse than to follow Yaz’s example:  be selective about where you devote your energy; and from time to time assess when, and by how much, you need to lower your hands to stay in the game. 

A Couple of Postscripts

In a post a while back assessing President Joe Biden’s performance during his first 100 days in office, I awarded him an A+ for his Administration’s efforts against the Coronavirus, indicating that it had consistently under promised and over delivered.  The Administration recently announced that it will not meet its goal of getting 70% of adults at least partly vaccinated by July 4.  I stand by my grade, and think any open-minded American will agree.  The Administration’s failure to meet its goal arises from the lethargy and obstinacy of too many Americans.  As my mother used to say:  You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

In a note last week on Infrastructure, I opined that Republican Senators working on a bipartisan infrastructure bill would be unable to muster support for their effort among 10 members of their caucus – the threshold to avoid a Senate filibuster.  While remaining mindful of another of my mother’s sayings – “There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip” — and despite my suspicion that the Progressives apparently outraged by the compromise could be as intransigent as the Republican Freedom Caucus has been in the past, there is at the time this is posted at least the prospect of passage of a bipartisan bill allocating sums to refurbish our infrastructure that will exceed all such predecessor laws. If such a measure does become law, it will in our toxic political environment be a notable and heartening achievement by the bipartisan Senate group, Mr. Biden, and his team.  Hopefully, the doubts I expressed in my infrastructure post about the bipartisan group’s ability to get legislation enacted will prove to be woefully wrong-headed. 

On Infrastructure and the Art of the Possible: a Correction

A good friend kindly pointed out to me that I incorrectly indicated in this post that the infrastructure proposal currently being put forth by the bipartisan Senate group including U.S. WV Sen. Joe Manchin and U.S. UT Sen. Mitt Romney is valued at approximately $IB ($billion), when the package is in fact valued at approximately $1T ($trillion).  I appreciate his calling my attention to the oversight; apparently it is true, as apocryphally attributed to the late U.S. IL Sen. Everett Dirksen (whose gravelly voice I fondly remember from my youth):  “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.”  😉    

On Infrastructure and the Art of the Possible

At the time this is typed, the Biden Administration and the Senate are wrangling over what constitutes infrastructure, how much to spend, and how to pay for it.  Let’s leave taxes – a weighty subject worthy of its own note – for another post.

As to what constitutes infrastructure:  I am more aligned with the Republicans’ view than with the Democrats’.  The recent Texas power grid failure, the Solar Winds hack, the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack, and the recent internet cloud provider Fastly “glitch” (that affected, among others, the United Kingdom’s main public service portal and The New York Times) demonstrate the current vulnerability of many of the critical aspects of our infrastructure – both those under government and private control – to natural hazards and terrorist threats.  I would submit that we should focus our infrastructure investment – through governmental direct spending and tax concessions (buttressed by regulation and oversight) to those private entities controlling critical aspects of our infrastructure  — on roads, bridges, rail, public transit, national broadband expansion, reinventing our electric power grid, securing the safety of our water supply, and other like priorities.  There are some areas, arguably tangential to these “core” priorities, in which I would like to see us invest, including some climate-related initiatives, support for semiconductor chip industry, and technology to mine and exploit rare earths (a vital arena in which China currently wields almost monopolistic influence).  Although I have sympathy for a number of the priorities that the Administration and Democrats have sought to shoehorn within their definition of infrastructure – childcare assistance, elderly and disabled care, electric vehicle incentives, workforce development programs, and paid family leave — these are not infrastructure.  I would submit that Democrats’ attempt to include funding for these priorities within their infrastructure proposal risks, in an old business phrase, sacrificing the good for what they consider the perfect.

I am certainly not versed enough to know how much total infrastructure spending is appropriate or how whatever is finally enacted should be allocated among different core infrastructure priorities.  That said, based upon reports of their respective positions, I am again closer to the Republicans’ position than I am to the Democrats’.  The Republicans want to fund part of the new infrastructure program out of previously-enacted COVID relief; Democrats do not.  My view:  with the nation approaching herd immunity, vaccine doses going unused, the economy rebounding faster than the economic community expected, jobs going unfilled, and annualized inflation currently running well above 40-year norms, I harbor doubts that all of the still-unspent COVID relief is truly needed (there are undoubtedly areas in which unspent sums will still provide value).  To the extent that the enacted excess can be identified, it should be shifted to other national priorities including infrastructure.  We do not need gratuitous spending.  A notable segment of financial analysts, contrary to the belief of the Fed and the Administration, clearly feels that unhealthy inflation levels and a deepening federal debt are indeed potential respective outcomes of the Fed’s monetary policies and the Administration’s fiscal policies.  As all readers of these pages are aware, I have no economic background, but I share that segment’s uneasy sentiments. On infrastructure, we should spend what we need to spend, not feather ancillary aspirations. 

As all who care are aware, the White House called off infrastructure negotiations with a Republican Senate group led by U.S. WV Sen. Shelley Moore Capito right before the President left for Europe because it considered the Republican proposals unacceptably stingy.  This was seemingly a wise move, inasmuch as a bipartisan group of five Democrat and five Republican Senators including U.S. UT Sen. Mitt Romney and U.S. WV Sen. Joe Manchin has since agreed upon a heftier infrastructure package, with an expenditure approximating $1B over five years, focusing on core infrastructure and funded in part by repurposing some COVID relief funds.  As he returns from overseas, President Biden will confront conflicting priorities:  to get as much of his agenda through Congress as he can before the 2022 campaign season truly heats up, contrasted with a desire to strike a deal with Republicans that will demonstrate to the centrist Americans who voted for him that he is able to accommodate competing views as he claimed he could during his presidential campaign. 

Otto von Bismarck, German Chancellor in the late 1800s, is generally credited with the observation, “Politics is the art of the possible.” The President is facing the reality that the vast majority of his party will wish him to use the Senate’s reconciliation process to push through their laundry list of priorities, and will threaten not to support a measure that they consider but half a loaf.  On the other hand, I fear progressives’ preferred approach will feed the Republicans’ claim that Mr. Biden has proven to be more “socialist” than he promised during the campaign, in my view thereby endangering Democrats’ electoral prospects in 2022 and 2024.  If advising Mr. Biden, I would suggest that he tell Sen. Romney and his four Republican colleagues in the bipartisan group that if they can get five more Republicans to publicly indicate by June 30 that they will vote for the bipartisan group’s proposal, Mr. Biden will publicly support it – and tacitly dare disgruntled progressive Democrats to oppose it.  At the same time, I would further suggest to the President that he tell Mr. Manchin and the Democrats in the bipartisan group that if the bipartisan Republicans cannot garner the support of five additional members of their caucus by June 30, it will prove that his and these centrist Democrats’ professed faith in bipartisanship and Republican goodwill was a pipedream, and that Democrats should stand together to use the Senate’s budget reconciliation process — including tax increases to be determined — to enact the expansive infrastructure priorities that the Administration originally proposed.

My guess: Mr. Romney and his colleagues will not be able to get another five Republican votes. The Democrats will have to go it alone on this, and, where they can, other measures. The dishearteningly intractable partisan posture maintained by most official Republicans and many Trump voters since Mr. Biden’s inauguration is certainly worthy of a post; but this note is best left to infrastructure.

On Messrs. Gutekunst and Rodgers

As every American sports fan is now aware, Green Bay Packer Quarterback and reigning National Football League Most Valuable Player Aaron Rodgers has indicated that he wishes to leave the Green and Gold.  Although Mr. Rodgers has expressed affection and respect for the team’s coaching staff, fans, and the city of Green Bay, it is apparent that he has been irritated with Packer General Manager Brian Gutekunst ever since Mr. Gutekunst traded up in the first round of the 2020 draft to select Utah State University Quarterback Jordan Love.  (Mr. Rodgers has nonetheless also professed his love for Mr. Love personally.)  (An aside:  despite Mr. Rodgers’ positive remarks about the coaching staff, one has to wonder about his true estimation of its competence, given the key blunders it made in last season’s playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  They have certainly made me wonder.)    

Mr. Rodgers is 37 and certainly toward the end of his career, but his performance last season, taken together with the manner in which Tom Brady, 43, led the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl victory, would seemingly indicate that he is capable of several more very productive – and perhaps elite — seasons. 

I concede that I have paid less attention to the machinations between the Packers and Mr. Rodgers than I would have several years ago.  In addition to Mr. Rodgers’ professions of respect and affection for just about everybody in Green Bay except Mr. Gutekunst, I do understand that a number of learned analysts have speculated that Green Bay might garner as many as three first round draft choices from the right bidder in trade for Mr. Rodgers.  It also appears from my limited information that — in my estimation, most crucially — Mr. Gutekunst has done a good job leaving the impression that he wants Mr. Rodgers to start in Green Bay for the foreseeable future. 

If I was advising Mr. Gutekunst, I would suggest that his dispute with Mr. Rodgers is, at bottom, a public relations battle … and that he holds the better hand.  Mr. Rodgers has several years remaining on his contract.  Unless the Packers are confident that Mr. Love will quickly have the necessary skills to lead the team to a championship, the Packers should hold firm and not make a trade.  Mr. Rodgers will then be left with two options:  play or retire.  If he actually gets on the field, no one that has ever seen him perform could believe that he will ever devote less than maximum intensity to his performance.  If Mr. Rodgers plays well, Mr. Gutekunst will look like an empowered genius for sticking to his guns and the team gains further time for Mr. Love to gain experience; if Mr. Rodgers plays poorly, his antics will cause him, and not Mr. Gutekunst, to bear the onus if the team starts slowly.  On the other hand, if Mr. Rodgers retires in the face of consistent Packer declarations that they want him to stay, the perception will seemingly be that he chose to leave Green Bay, not that the Packers discarded him – which will enable Mr. Gutekunst to avoid at least some of the imbroglio that engulfed former General Manager Ted Thompson when he engineered Quarterback Brett Favre’s departure and will perhaps cause generally patient and good-natured Green Bay fans to provide Mr. Love greater leeway than will be the case if they believe that the team could have continued to enjoy the services of Mr. Rodgers.

There is, of course, the contrary notion:  if the Packers can indeed get three first round picks for Mr. Rodgers, squandering that many additional first rounders over a few-year period in the event Mr. Rodgers actually retires rather than play in Green Bay would deprive the team the opportunity to build an elite squad that would consistently challenge for a championship for a decade.  Trading Mr. Rodgers nonetheless seems to me a more dicey strategy.  First — and I may have to eat these words — I don’t think Mr. Rodgers will retire. Second, the NFL is a “Quarterback League”; unless the coaching staff is confident that Mr. Love will soon be good enough to win a championship, the team will probably need to sacrifice a couple of the first round picks it obtains in a Rodgers trade to move up in a future draft to secure a prospective elite quarterback talent.  [Even this will still be a gamble (consider Alex Smith, drafted ahead of Mr. Rodgers, and the six quarterbacks drafted before Mr. Brady)]. Third, Mr. Gutekunst has not shown the drafting acumen to provide confidence that he would effectively exploit the high-level picks he would have at his disposal.  

A final aside:  I find Mr. Rodgers’ fit of pique absurd.  I would submit that it is of no account, in this context, how well he has performed during his career, or whether Mr. Love will be a worthy replacement.  Many that follow these pages are now retired; many worked for significant operations; all are well aware of the emphasis that sophisticated organizations place upon succession planning.  Hiring someone you believe will be a suitable successor for a key employee who is unquestionably nearing retirement is simply what smart firms do.  Mr. Gutekunst was apparently willing to place a large wager – indeed, one that may well determine his professional destiny – on his selection of Mr. Love.  Despite my misgivings regarding his acumen, that’s his job.  Given the number of years remaining on Mr. Rodgers’ contract, Mr. Gutekunst was presumably — and arguably reasonably — calculating that he was providing his coaching staff several years to groom Mr. Love to assume his projected responsibilities.  Mr. Rodgers is by all accounts highly intelligent; he should understand and have taken no offense at this.  He’s indulging in a hissy fit.  That said, while in the long run, Mr. Gutekunst’s legacy in Green Bay will probably be judged primarily by the performance of Mr. Love, or whomever else ultimately replaces Mr. Rodgers, in the short run, the Packer General Manager’s standing will likely depend upon how adroitly he handles the current contest of wills with Mr. Rodgers.

On Illegal Immigrant Amnesty and Student Loan Forgiveness: A Postscript

As I’ve indicated before, I’m not sure that the comments entered in these pages are readily available to anyone but me.  What follows is part of a comment provided by a close friend, in which he noted a conceptual gap in what I had put forth in this post:

“I continue to find the student loan issue more vexing. There are studies that suggest that blanket forgiveness is regressive as the highest balances are carried by people of greater wealth and ability to pay. Is there a ‘way back’ or ‘earn back’ approach similar to your comments on immigration? One historical example … is student loan forgiveness [for teacher-borrowers that teach] in disadvantaged areas. There have to be many workable additional options.”

As a matter of principle, I absolutely agree, as our friend suggests, that student loan debtors seeking dispensation should provide consideration in return.  A financial condition — which I have suggested is appropriate for illegal immigrants seeking a path to legal status — seems inconsistent where the intent is to relieve a financial burden. A requirement that the borrower seeking dispensation contribute hours within a wider menu of community services than currently included in student loan forgiveness programs – with such hours to be annually certified by the governmental and/or authorized nonprofit provider receiving the assistance — appears a way to provide taxpayers recompense for the student loan assets they are affirmatively waiving.

Since higher loan balances are generally held by those with a greater ability to repay – and by those who arguably should have been relatively more cognizant of the risks inherent in the obligations they were assuming – it also seems appropriate to limit the amount of debt that can be expunged.  A January, 2021, post by Value Penguin (never heard of it; love the name; it came up in a quick internet search for student loan debt information) indicates that while the average student loan debt load – the statistic most frequently quoted — is almost $33K, the median debt load is $17K.  Although I understand that President Biden campaigned on a pledge to expunge up to $10K of student debt per borrower, I would be willing to increase that to $20K if the dispensation was linked to a community service or some other verifiable non-financial obligation.

On Illegal Immigrant Amnesty and Student Loan Forgiveness

It is a bit unusual to address in the same post whether legal amnesty should be granted to aliens who knowingly entered the country illegally [let’s put Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients aside] and whether the federal government should expunge billions of dollars of college student loan debt, but I would suggest that these issues are perhaps alike in the most fundamental respect:  each pits principle against pragmatism.

Before former President Donald Trump lent respectability to racially-biased xenophobia, both parties had generally agreed for decades that while America was refreshed and renewed by the entry of immigrants — those, in former President Ronald Reagan’s words, “from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness toward home” – we nonetheless needed border security:  an effective and humane way to determine which, and how many, immigrants would be allowed to enter our nation.  Today, it is commonly acknowledged that we have millions of people living here who knowingly broke the law when they entered our country.  One can have sympathy for why they did what they did, and indeed, might even feel that if presented the same desperate options, might well do what they have done; but the fact remains that they are, in fact, law breakers.  It is not only xenophobes who resent their presence; there are citizens who sincerely believe that the law is to be obeyed.  I have also seen indications that many of our legal residents born outside this country, who had to wade through endless bureaucracy to secure their legal status here, do not have much sympathy for those who “skipped ahead.”  For me, these are genuine issues of principle not easily dismissed. 

At the same time, we are obviously not going to deport millions of illegal immigrants.  We don’t have the resources to find them and deport them, and it seems universally accepted by economists that even if we did, such action would have an extremely adverse effect on American life and our economy.  The pragmatic answer would appear to be to give those among this group who have not engaged in other criminal activity – again, reportedly the vast majority — a path out of the shadows to legal status, which would at least have the advantage of increasing our revenues through increased tax receipts, perhaps buttressed by a financial penalty (calibrated according to means) for having broken the law.  While such a step would concededly provide an incentive for further illegal entry, our ever-more sophisticated border security is arguably the best way to address this concern. 

Since World War II, the most certain ticket to economic security in America has been a college degree.  Despite our growing need for tradespeople, such remains the case to this day:  the college educated fared much better during the Great Recession and the COVID crisis than those possessing lower levels of academic achievement.  It is accordingly not surprising that given the ever-increasing costs of college education during the last generation, ever-increasing percentages of aspiring college students were willing to take on ever-increasing levels of readily-available debt to go to college – including a number that failed to obtain a marketable skill or were not suited, for various reasons, for a college regime.  One can sympathize with their aspirations.  At the same time, one can also sympathize with the millions of other college students – some with a degree, some not – who have either paid off or are paying off their loans because it was what they agreed to do.  I have seen indications that at least some these do not favor student loan forgiveness for those who will benefit from dispensation of obligations that they knowingly assumed.

On the other hand, the billions in student loan debt owed by those who lack the means to repay it constitutes a millstone around the neck of our future economic growth.  As someone very close to me is fond of saying in a number of contexts:  “We’re going to pay, one way or the other.”  If these heavily-indebted people are consequently saddled with lesser career opportunities and lower credit ratings during their earning years, thus limiting their means to borrow for houses and “big ticket” durable goods and potentially increasing the welfare rolls, we are perhaps putting a permanent kink into our economic hose.  (Who is going to buy the Baby Boomers’ homes?  The electric cars?)  Forgiveness of much if not all of this debt seems a means of spurring long term economic growth that will benefit not only those whose loans were forgiven but those who paid off their debts.

In our polarized political world, we strike stridently from our corners – insist that the way we look at an issue is the only right way.  TLOML and I have close relationships with some born outside this country who stood in line to earn their legal status.  We have very close relationships with certain citizens who assumed, and have paid off, hefty levels of student debt.  If our nation enacts laws setting a path to legal status for those who knowingly entered the country illegally and/or forgiving large levels of willingly incurred student loan debt, the conservative part of me will be sharply offended for those who “played by the rules.”  I nonetheless believe that we should set a path to legal status and effect forgiveness of a significant level of student loan debt because the practical part of me believes that these approaches will lead to the best long-term outcome for the United States of America.

I readily concede that what I suggest here is “best” is more accurately described as, “arguably the best we can do.”

On Cheney for President

“Expelling Liz Cheney from leadership won’t gain the GOP one additional voter, but it will cost us quite a few.”

  • Tweet by U.S. UT Sen. Mitt Romney, May 10, 2021

Let’s put aside for the moment what matters:  our continuing existential threat arising from the dumbfounding choice by the majority of organizational Republicans nationwide to deny truth and seek in various ways to undermine democracy in order to run headlong into the embrace of former President Donald Trump and Trumpism – a movement which, as I have previously indicated in these pages, I consider a devolutionary step toward fascism.  Instead, let’s consider the possible political ramifications of U.S. House of Representatives Republicans’ recent expulsion of U.S. WY Rep. Liz Cheney from their leadership in the context of the 2024 presidential race.

I am now an admirer of Rep. Cheney.  If reports I’ve seen are accurate, she and I probably have significant substantive domestic policy differences.  Furthermore, as far as I know, she has never separated herself from the Bush Administration’s 2003 decision to invade Iraq – a decision driven in major part by her father, former Vice President Richard Cheney – which I consider to be the worst American policy mistake in the last 50 years.  I don’t care.  What matters is where we are today.  She clearly believes that being an American comes before either political party affiliation or attempting to cling to power for power’s sake, so in this most meaningful regard, she has my complete support (as does Sen. Romney and a few other Republicans).

In their haste to solidify the allegiance of the lowest and/or most credulous elements of their base by clinging to the demonstrable myths that Mr. Trump actually won the election and that there was no Trump-inspired insurrection last January 6, Republican party leadership has apparently accepted the notion that it can win (albeit perhaps through chicanery) the presidency and elections in swing areas without the support of the independents and conservatives who value truth and reality.  However, surveys show that over 25% of Republicans and over 60% of Independents opposed Ms. Cheney’s removal from Congressional Republican leadership.  These are seemingly ominous portents for Republicans.  Organizational Republicans are apparently calculating that enough politically center/right Americans will be sufficiently offended by President Joe Biden or some aspect of the Democratic agenda that they will be able to look in the mirror and say, “I am willing to vote for a candidate who I know is espousing a lie about the 2020 presidential election.  I am willing to vote for a candidate who I know rationalizes an insurrection.”  I think – I hope — it’s a bad bet.

Although the Founding Fathers envisioned the legislative branch – the Congress – as the primary protector of our democracy against any potential encroachment by the executive branch – the president — it is clear that at the present time, the vitality of our system of government rests almost entirely upon the character of the president.  I hope that for the good of the country, Ms. Cheney runs for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 2024.  It’s hard to imagine her winning the nomination (although she might do well in the early primaries if she was the only anti-Trump candidate), but her candidacy would force the Republican field to take stands on uncomfortable general election questions regarding Mr. Trump (assuming he’s not a candidate himself):  Do you believe that Joe Biden legally won the 2020 election?  Do you agree that it was overwhelmingly Trump supporters that invaded the Capitol on January 6, 2021?  Do you believe that Mr. Trump played a significant role in inciting the insurrection?  Do you condemn any action by any state legislature to override a state’s majority vote?  Do you agree that Congress should not accept the Electoral College votes of any state in which its legislature has overridden the state’s majority vote, even if the action benefits you?  Requiring the Republican field to face these types of questions would potentially create a split among the Republican electorate that would be very difficult to mend for the general election.  I would submit that the Republican disarray that Ms. Cheney could cause by mounting a presidential campaign is the most patriotic step she could take.  In the current environment, it would certainly be a courageous step undeniably involving an element of physical danger.

In exiling Rep. Ms. Cheney from Republican Congressional leadership, I would suggest that in addition to turning its back on the truth, Republican leadership may have made a pivotal political mistake.  Ms. Cheney is not U.S. NE Sen. Ben Sasse, or U.S. IL Rep. Adam Kinzinger, or even, at this stage in his career, Mr. Romney.  Whether or not she retains her Congressional seat in the 2022 election, she has the marquee name, the gravitas, and now the record to command as much free media in a presidential run as any candidate could ask for.  If Ms. Cheney was to launch such an effort, it might well ultimately cause Republicans to ruefully recall the political wisdom of former President Lyndon Johnson, who, when asked why he did not replace the then-Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Edgar Hoover, famously replied:  “Better to have your enemies inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent, pissing in.”

On the Israeli – Palestinian Conflict

Although a cease fire in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the Gaza Strip may be in effect by the time this note is published, the one thing all observers agree upon is that, from the larger perspective, the conflict seems endless and “intractable.”  I would pose that at this point there are no winners, only losers; and that Israel is the only party in a position to break the cycle. 

 (To set a context here:  in a view not universally shared, I consider Israel strictly a sovereign nation, and not a manifestation or fulfillment of religious faith.  I am an Irish Catholic, but if either Ireland or the Vatican – sovereign nations like Israel — implement a policy which I perceived as contrary to American interests, I would not feel divided loyalty.  I would submit that the only meaningful religious element of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is this:  the Almighty is not in favor of His [please excuse the male pronoun ;)] people killing or harming each other, no matter by what faith path they have chosen to reach Him.  Let’s keep God out of this; all human beings deserve the opportunity to live in freedom, peace and security.)

(To set further context:  accompanying my reaction that criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinian civilians is warranted is the countervailing memory of a learned American foreign policy figure intoning years ago that Israel was the only nation in the volatile Middle East where America knew it could safely land a plane at any time under any conditions.  I would suggest that such remains true to this day.  Additionally, Israel is, and for the foreseeable future will be, our most effective and reliable regional ally in combatting Iranian terrorism and aggression.  No matter its faults, America needs a strong and secure Israel.  I would venture that President Biden, if not all members of his party, is acutely aware of our need to balance these competing realities.)

I don’t think that it is much disputed in the international community that the settlements Israel has established in the Palestinian territories that it has occupied since the 1967 Middle East war are contrary to international law.  Any comparison of maps of Israel, Palestine and the surrounding environs respectively depicting the region as it existed before 1949, after the establishment of Israel in 1949 through 1967, after the 1967 Middle East War, and evolving to the present day demonstrates Israel’s expansion into land intended by the international community to be inhabited and controlled by the Palestinians when Israel was founded.  While it must be noted that Israel gained a foothold in the occupied territories not because it attacked, but because it was attacked, the increased settlement activity in occupied territories by Israel in recent years seems gratuitous usurpation.  I have seen reports that the most recent conflict was precipitated in part by Israel’s eviction of Palestinians from an East Jerusalem neighborhood (subject to correction by more informed eyes, I am not aware whether this neighborhood was originally part of Israel under the United Nations charter, or an area since claimed by Israel as part its sovereign territory).  Ignoring Palestinians’ frustration serves no purpose.

Given the Holocaust, Israel is and throughout our lifetimes will understandably always be anxious given its close proximity to states and peoples that have for the most part hated it and the Jewish people, have denied its right to exist, and have literally sought to expunge it.  [As the old saying goes, if they really are out to get you, you’re not paranoid  ;)].  The Palestinian terrorist organization, Hamas, allegedly aided by Iran, has launched over 3000 missiles into Israel in the last ten days; this, too, cannot be ignored.  My general concern with Israel’s posture today:  through its own diligence and hard work, and its longstanding relationship with and aid from the United States, it is arguably the strongest military power and maintains the most sophisticated intelligence network in the Middle East.  Its security has been further enhanced by the split in the Arab world that has caused Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni Gulf Coast nations to currently have greater concerns about Iran than they do about Israel.  Its “Iron Dome” defense system has performed extraordinarily well and for the most part shielded Israeli citizens from harm.  While it is not hard to imagine what we would do if either Canada or Mexico launched over 3000 missiles into the United States, the fact remains that Israel faces no existential threat from the rag-tag Palestinians. 

More than one former Israeli soldier has publicly criticized Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory (do an internet search, “Project Outreach – Avner Gvaryahu”).  I have heard at least one former Israeli soldier actually compare Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to apartheid.  One American journalist visiting Gaza has described Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as “unconscionable” – “effectively imprison[ing] … people.”  I would offer that Israel has pushed its advantage in East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank because it can – and because such favors the political prospects of its Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.  It seems inevitable that such provocations will trigger a response. 

Although Israeli leadership says it “targeted” Hamas leadership and tunnels with its recent strikes into Gaza, there appears to be disproportionate collateral damage among Palestinian civilians, including children.  What unfolded seems akin in kind if not in scale to the inhumanities currently being visited on Yemeni in the Yemen civil war; both conflicts are being pursued by interests that have no regard for the devastation being suffered by innocents caught in the middle.  In the Yemen conflict, the Biden Administration discontinued equipping the Saudis’ military operations.  In Gaza, the situation is more complex, but I would submit that the Administration needs to maintain meaningful pressure on Mr. Netanyahu to halt not only the recent hostilities but to roll back Israel’s aggressive efforts in the occupied territories.  I would argue to Mr. Netanyahu that adoption of a softer policy is in Israel’s long term best interests.  Perhaps counter-intuitively, undue aggression weakens his nation’s stability.  Israel’s perceived disregard for Palestinian civilians:  reduces sympathy for Israel in the international community; threatens its existing relationships with Arab nations (Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Morocco and, informally, Saudi Arabia), and thus, Israel’s security; antagonizes American progressives and liberals, and thus weakens Israel’s alliance with the United States – the linchpin upon which its security rests; exacerbates unrest within Israel between Jewish and Arab Israelis, weakening Israel as a state; and, perhaps most vitally, seems an affront to the principle that justified Israel’s founding — that persecuted and downtrodden innocents deserve respite. 

At least since the time of the Obama Administration, Mr. Netanyahu has seemed to take solace from his support among Republicans, and may believe that such will sustain America’s relationship with Israel despite progressives’ increasing criticism.  If he has made such a calculation, it seems to me that his confidence is misplaced.  I would point out to him that some of those now expressing fealty to Israel count among their ranks those that have sought to whitewash Trump insurgents’ attack on America’s democracy, are attempting to rewrite history by denying that former President Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election, and provided at best lukewarm condemnation of the white supremacists who marched through Charlottesville, VA, in August, 2017, chanting, “Jews will not replace us.”  Indeed, this group includes past Holocaust deniers.  Can Israel really have confidence that its long-term security will be protected by the likes of these?

There is no question that Israel has the right to defend itself.  While it cannot afford to slacken its military and intelligence readiness, its defense in the coming decades may well rest at least as heavily upon its efforts to lower the Palestinian region’s tribal temperature.  It should extend the carrot while retaining the stick.  It should sincerely embrace the effort to find a viable Israel/Palestine two state solution – for its own sake as well as that of the Palestinians.