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Protesting the War in Gaza

Protesting the War in Gaza

April 26, 2024  |  129 words  |  Politics

This week the ongoing pro-Palestinian protests, which at times have included some unforgivable excesses directed at Jewish students, spread from a few high-profile universities on the East Cost to many different college campuses across the United States.

These events have been examined and analyzed by a variety of responsible media outlets, especially in the last couple of days, and I have nothing much to add.

Except to repeat the observations already cited by others:  Concern for the plight of innocent Palestinian citizens is not the same as support for the militant Hamas group.  And criticizing the Biden administration’s ongoing funding of foreign aid to Israel, given the indiscriminate way the Netanyahu government there has chosen to prosecute its’ war against Hamas, should not automatically brand one as an anti-Semite.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.

www.robertjcavanaughjr.com

bobcavjr@gmail.com

Use the contact form below to email me.

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Digital Discrimination

Digital Discrimination

November 15, 2023  |  542 words  |  Politics, Economics

In a recent editorial the Wall Street Journal takes issue with a new rule the Federal Communication Commission is considering to prevent what is referred to as “digital discrimination.”  This proposed action is a by-product of the 2021 infrastructure bill that included a directive for the FCC to monitor disparities in broadband access “based on income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion, or national origin.”

The esteemed WSJ sees such a statute as a simple case of “identity politics” run amok.  Especially since by its own admission the FCC has found “little or no evidence” indicating “intentional discrimination by industry participants.”  But to my way of thinking that is hardly the point, as the agency now seeks to hold broadband providers liable for any actions or “omissions” – intended or not – that result in a disparate impact.

As we all know, high-speed internet access has become a pre-requisite to full participation in the life of the nation, just as access to basic electrical service was in a previous generation.  The Rural Electrification Act of 1936 addressed a glaring omission at the time:  Americans who lived in outlying areas had limited access to electricity because private utility companies claimed it was not economically feasible to run power lines out to them.  Back then those providers worried about recouping the upfront costs of installing the elaborate infrastructure needed to get things up and running.

Sound familiar?  It is amusing (and more than a little annoying) to read the WSJ register the following objection to the FCC’s new rule:  “Wireless carriers might also be prohibited from building out 5G networks in suburbs and city downtowns before inner cities and rural areas.”  Yes, that is correct, Mr. Editorial Writer.  The federal government is trying to prevent inner cities and rural areas from being left behind when it comes to something as vital as broadband access.

The short, punchy piece then gives readers a concise example of what I like to think of as WSJ-style unintended humor, by way of a primer on how the free market operates to elegantly solve all of society’s problems:

Companies don’t have unlimited capital so they typically prioritize network upgrades in areas where they can earn a higher return on the investment, which they then use to finance improvements in lower-income and rural areas.”

Ah, if only the latter part of that statement were true, what a wonderful world this would be!  The FCC would have no reason to draft a new policy rectifying disparate impacts, since the citizenry would already be enjoying “digital equity” from sea to shining sea.  

But of course that is not the world we live in.  Our world requires a regulatory body like the FCC to provide oversight of a burgeoning industry, so the vagaries of the for-profit marketplace do not inadvertently leave certain underrepresented and disadvantaged populations out of the digital mix.

Which, if you think about it, should not really bother the folks over at the WSJ.  Since this proposed rule will merely codify what their editorial board believes is the established and oh-so socially-conscious standard operational procedure of the nation’s kindhearted broadband providers. 

Even if some of the statutory language being employed by the FCC strikes the WSJ as identity politics run amok.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.

www.robertjcavanaughjr.com

bobcavjr@gmail.com

Use the contact form below to email me.

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Fair Play: An Appreciation

Fair Play: An Appreciation

October 30, 2023  |  488 words  |  Movies, Sexual Politics

After making a splash at the Sundance Film Festival in January, the new movie Fair Play received only a limited theatrical release in September before its streaming debut on Netflix earlier this month.  It is billed as a drama/mystery/thriller, and after watching it last night I would add the word “tragedy” to that list as well.

The writer-director Chloe Domont has delivered a richly detailed story of young love gone awry in the workplace, as told from the woman’s point of view.  The male lead (Luke) finds it increasingly difficult to cope with the female lead’s (Emily) professional ascent.  Adding to the mix is how they are both putting in killer hours as junior analysts at the same cutthroat Manhattan hedge fund. 

Ms. Domont has said in interviews the story is based on her own experience in the film and TV industry, where her success so far (she is only 36) has not felt like a “total win,” because as she “got big” the men she has dated have tended to feel small.

From what I can gather from reviews and internet postings the movie is being celebrated as an exhilarating tale of female empowerment.  And it is certainly that.  But I believe Domont has created a complex work of art by not settling for simply mounting a stirring example of that popular polemic.

The male lead (played Alden Ehrenreich) is more than a bundle of insecurities who starts whining and lashing out the minute his girlfriend scores a big promotion.  And the female lead (played by Phoebe Dynevor) is not just a single-minded careerist out to use and abuse her boyfriend on a relentless climb up the corporate ladder.

These lovers come across as sympathetic characters right from the start.  They are each presented as intelligent, hard-working, and confident in their abilities.  It is obvious they are crazy about each other and care about the other’s welfare.  This immediately draws the audience in and makes viewers interested in how their story will unfold.

Which is why I think this film ultimately qualifies as a tragedy, more than anything else.  Both protagonists end up betraying their better nature in a quest for success, by failing to live up to their bright promise.  Not just as a happily-ever-after couple, because we all know there is never any guarantee of that.  But as decent and reasonable human beings.  

We see their once-strong relationship slowly unravel, as a series of stressful situations prompts each of them to take turns cracking under enormous pressure.  The coarser side of their respective personalities is revealed in those moments, completely eroding what they shared at the opening credits.  The writer-director leans in to this coarseness, giving it full expression and letting the audience gauge its corrosive effect.

It is the overriding sense of “there but for the grace of God go I” that makes Fair Play a compelling – and at times unsettling – cinematic experience. 

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.

www.robertjcavanaughjr.com

bobcavjr@gmail.com

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The Dissemination of Distorted Information

The Dissemination of Distorted Information

October 16, 2023  |  113 words  |  Religion, Politics

Those of us who attend religious services on the weekends are routinely instructed by our clergy to show love for the “stranger,” with an emphasis on extending such love no matter how unusual or off-putting that stranger may initially appear to us.

It is a noble aim, as so many old-timey religious nostrums are.  But this one tends to go by the wayside at the first sign of trouble.

Also undermining the cause is the way many of the podcasts we listen to and YouTube videos we watch and twitter feeds we check on tend to work against developing a better understanding of the “other,” and serve instead as disseminators of distorted information.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.

www.robertjcavanaughjr.com

bobcavjr@gmail.com

Use the contact form below to email me.

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Is the Pope Catholic?

Is the Pope Catholic?

September 12, 2023 | 1,624 words | Religion, Politics, Economics

Asking whether the Pope is Catholic used to be one of those funny rhetorical question that do not require an answer.  Like asking does a bird fly, or if a bear defecates in the forest.  But these days that first question is not so funny to some people, and not so rhetorical.

In the decade since Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina was elected/elevated to the papacy as Pope Francis, the complaints levied against him by conservative critics, especially conservatives here in the United States, have grown more pronounced with each passing year.  What started as semi-polite sniping over his so-called fuzzy pastoral emphasis has evolved into almost open warfare over much more serious issues.  He is now routinely accused of undermining the faith, and teaching error.  “Schism” is a word his critics are referencing quite a bit lately, when discussing the current pontiff and what lies ahead.

After ten years of this persistent opposition, Francis is now starting to return fire.  At age 86, and with his health having started to fail, he might be sensing the impending end of his run, as older people frequently do.  Last month he described the loudest conservative voices in American Catholicism as backward-looking moralists (“indietristi”) who are disconnected from the roots of the Catholic tradition and its history.  That tradition and history, as Francis understands it, is about the ongoing discernment needed to help live the Gospel message in current realities.

So who is right?  We are each expected to choose a side in this raging controversy, to either condemn Francis and champion his critics, or vice versa.  But my mind does not work that way.  I see merit on both sides.  The concept of unchanging truths the conservatives rally behind resonates with me.  On the other hand, I also think knowing the mind of Christ is no easy task, and is always a work in progress.  With Pope Francis being rather conspicuous in making a case for the latter approach.

I guess I have not been able to muster the same level of outrage toward Francis that his harshest critics exhibit on a regular basis.  Is encouraging priests to welcome and minister to people who are gay, divorced and remarried, as Francis does, a blatant violation of established doctrine?  Instead of dismissing the effort out of hand, as conservatives are wont to do, maybe we should be having an intelligent discussion about what the word “welcome” means in this context.

And why are we arguing about who is more Pro-Life?  Pope Francis has always upheld church teaching on abortion, and has been unequivocal in his defense of the innocent unborn.  Why do conservatives find fault  when he adds: “equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned.”  The latter concern does not undermine the integrity of the former position.

That Catholics of goodwill are so contentious, with the opposing camp picking apart every utterance and perceived mis-step the current pontiff makes, is a sign of the times.  The relentless partisanship of our politics has spilled over into every other aspect of our lives.  Another factor contributing to the alarm some folks are feeling is how different Francis is, stylistically and in doctrinal emphasis, from his two immediate predecessors, John Paul II (1978-2005) and Benedict XVI (2005-2013).

Both those men participated in and were products of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the big worldwide conclave in which the Catholic Church finally set aside its long-running objections to the American Experiment, and signaled that liberal democracy based on pluralism could be a legitimate form of social organization.  A little late to the party, you might say.  But better late than never, right?

These two helped craft the famous “liberating” documents that came out of that Council’s deliberations, yet as pope each went on to steer the U.S. hierarchy in a decidedly conservative theological direction.  As if to counterbalance what they still considered to be a very real problem, namely, the overwhelmingly secular influence of American culture.  

It has been clear from the start of his papacy that Pope Francis does not see this course-correction project as his top priority.  He is more interested in other things, like promoting from-the-ground-up collaboration within the church, which may lead to including lay people and even women in decision-making roles.  This is a hot-button issue for conservatives, who think such collaboration is opening a Pandora’s box that will result in confusion and error, and possibly even schism.

Hence all the talk of Francis “flipping the script” in a big, dramatic way.  But I find that to be largely a matter of interpretation.  He is, in fact, repeating many of the same themes his immediate predecessors stressed.  JPII and Benedict XVI did more than just push a conservative theological line, after all.  They also spoke and wrote extensively about the much broader mosaic of Catholic teaching around protecting life and promoting human flourishing.  Just as Francis does.

It is certainly true Francis does not mince words when speaking extemporaneously, especially when it comes to the economic stuff.  JPII and Benedict XVI were erudite and maintained proper decorum in their public statements, and this made it possible for conservatives to truncate the elaborate economic teaching they put down on paper, and frame it in a very limited way that flatters their preferred agenda.

Francis may be a little salty at times when responding to journalists, but in his plain-spoken way he is merely reiterating long-held church teaching on economic/social justice and care for the less-advantaged.  And he has made it impossible for conservatives to misconstrue his meaning on that score.

Conservatives really liked the staunchness and fidelity the last two popes displayed on certain theological subjects, and continue to cite those men wistfully.  But only because they conveniently overlook everything else those popes had to say that they do not much care for.

This current pope says quite a lot conservatives don’t much care for, and he seems to draw more than a few moral equivalencies they take issue with.  Such as tying together violations of pelvic theology conservatives consider to be doctrinally pre-eminent, with lying and cheating at the office to advance one’s career.  It seems Francis never tires of calling out those who are pre-occupied with sins below the waist but don’t lose any sleep over the exploitation of workers.  

There’s the rub, as far as I am concerned.  Conservatives can tell themselves their argument with Francis is over sexual morality or worship styles or climate change or a myriad of other things.  But what really sticks in their crawl is the way this pope openly challenges a revered concept like enlightened self-interest, and in the process comes across as anti-American or even worse, anti-capitalist.

In this regard Francis is not flipping the script at all.  Quite the contrary.  He is working from a very old and familiar one, at least in its broad outline.  A script used by every Catholic pope since our nation’s founding, each of whom have regarded the American Experiment with suspicion.

Over the last couple of centuries, a steady stream of pontiffs has issued periodic warnings about “Americanism” and “modernist” trends.  True, in the early days Catholic objections were centered on the separation of church and state, originally feared to be a danger to both individual souls and the state at large.

But Catholic tradition and history is about learning how to live out the Gospel message in current realities.  And so we find the nature of Rome’s complaint about the United States may have changed in some of the particulars, but remains in essence what it has always been:  It is our celebration of the individual, at the expense of concern for the common good, that has come under constant scrutiny.

We Americans have always taken issue with this Catholic critique of our way of life.  We do not appreciate being lectured on the common good.  And we certainly don’t appreciate having this same, tired lecture delivered by an aging pontiff from a backward Third World country who lacks a proper understanding of our singular achievement, a robust engine of economic growth predicated on small government and limited taxation.

Today’s conservatives continue to miss the larger message Rome has been trying to send them for centuries, and are pre-occupied instead by the new emphasis Francis is placing on being more pastoral toward those who have fallen short of their baptismal promise, and more inclusive toward those outside the mainstream.  Or how he consistently decries economic injustice and the treatment of migrants, while insisting on a universal right to health care, housing, and decent jobs.

Even though every pope in the modern era has talked and written at length about the very same things.  Including his two immediate predecessors.  

Accusing this pope of undermining the faith and teaching error is a very serious charge.  I have read the relevant papal documents promulgated over the last decade, the ones now being used as the basis for these mutinous claims.  And I just do not find the egregious violations of doctrine his detractors are coming up with.  If you are worried Pope Francis may be creating confusion and spreading doubt by unpacking the Gospel message and applying it to current realities, as some of his critics most assuredly are, the solution to that problem is to be a better teacher, not to skimp on the teaching.  

Shouldn’t we be trying to educate people in the fullness of the faith?  That is how I see Francis, that is how I experience his pontificate.  His critics strike me as wanting to “keep it simple, stupid” out of fear the rank and file may be too cognitively-limited to grasp the whole truth in all its splendor.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.

www.robertjcavanaughjr.com

bobcavjr@gmail.com

Use the contact form below to email me.

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Pro-Trump, or anti-Democrat?

Pro-Trump, or anti-Democrat?

August 28, 2023  |  762 words  |  Politics, Philosophy, Economics

There are now four big legal cases pending against former President Donald Trump. He is facing dozens of criminal charges and will go on trial several times in the next 18 months, as he campaigns to become president again in the 2024 election.

None of these embarrassing entanglements has made a dent in Mr. Trump’s popularity among the Republican faithful, a fact that baffles many interested observers, including me.

What is the source of this man’s enduring appeal? Those who are experiencing hard times have looked past his days as a ruthless, publicity-hungry real estate speculator, and bought into his newly-minted man-of-the-people schtick. They are inexplicably filled with hope as he riffs off-handedly about reviving manufacturing, bringing back jobs, limiting immigration, etc. They are sympathetic when he rails against “media elites” who persecute him at every turn.

Others of a religious bent are captivated by his role in the repeal of Roe v. Wade, and consider him as nothing less than having been ordained by God to restore the moral fiber of the nation. They will readily quote Bible passages in support of their far-fetched assertion. All this love and devotion, despite a documented history of fleecing the people in his employ and taking license with women of his acquaintance.

But lately it has occurred to me the real reason Mr. Trump sits atop the polls is a silent majority of sensible, often quite successful voters who are not so much smitten with him, as they are virulently anti-Democrat. The people I have in mind are frequently put off by Trump’s antics. But they stick with him because they really aren’t that fussy about who heads the Republican ticket. They just don’t want another four years of Joe Biden – or any other Democrat – in the White House.

This contingent will back Trump despite everything, until another legitimate contender emerges from the Republican field. Since he has captured the disgruntled white working class, along with white evangelicals and other conservative Christians, that might be a tough nut for a challenger to crack.

This calculus may not bother Democrats, who relish having Donald Trump as a foil. But it’s very bad news for the country as a whole.

Reflexively voting for your party’s presidential nominee while being less than thrilled with the actual candidate is nothing new. But in Mr. Trump’s case we have now reached a new low. Republican loyalists are being confronted with a meritless, emotionally-driven carnival barker in the mold of Lonesome Rhoads, the fictional character from that wonderful 1957 film, A Face in the Crowd.

Trump’s egregious behavior makes him patently unfit for high office, let alone re-election to the highest office in the land. Given his dubious track record, such hardcore Republican partisanship by otherwise level-headed voters can only be attributed to an unmitigated belief in the American Experiment, as spelled out in our founding documents.

According to those documents, freedom of opportunity – an “absence of obstacles,” as James Madison put it – is the most important ingredient in the pursuit of happiness.

This fancy talk translates into a maniacal insistence on lower taxes and smaller government. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez may epitomize what many of us would like to see in an elected official: yesterday’s humble waitress is today’s confident U.S. representative. But when she touts the Democrat party line on free healthcare, free college tuition, etc., many Americans write her off as just another purveyor of unwieldy and un-workable policies.

If I were a high-priced political consultant I might see this as an open-and-shut case of the Democrats needing much better “messaging” around their core issues. But I’m not, so I find myself inclined instead to view this as a thorny problem for the other major party. It is Republicans who must admit their laissez-faire approach to economic life has left too many of their fellow citizens outside the “circle of exchange,” as a famous papal encyclical described the situation in 1991, after a decade of Reaganomics.

It is Republicans who need to show concern over our finding a political and economic system that organically breeds fairness. Since we already know how to deliver outsized prosperity to the clever and advantaged like clockwork.

These “freedom first” voters should really stop complaining about what they ominously describe as encroaching socialism, because such complaints are downright unseemly when issued by the well-off. Better they step back and take stock, and own up to the obvious excesses and blatant oversights of the political/economic system we have now. And maybe ask themselves: Can Donald Trump help me with that discernment?

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.

www.robertjcavanaughjr.com

bobcavjr@gmail.com

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