Expanding Opportunity Requires Addressing Economic Inequality

Elizabeth Bruenig writes:

The impact of inequality on the overall economy and political climate means that, unless inequality itself is reduced, individual initiative won’t have much impact and conditions for ordinary people in America will continue, in key ways, to worsen.

Sanders himself agrees. “You have an economic situation where a tiny number of people have enormous amounts of wealth,” Sanders told me at his Senate office Wednesday morning, “and politically, you have the Koch brothers and a handful of billionaires buying elections.” Sanders pointed out that the top 1 percent of earners would rake in roughly 83 percent of the benefits of President Trump’s tax cuts, a series of policies for which Koch-led groups spent more than $20 million. As Yale University political scientist Jacob Hacker pointed out in The Post, the decision to supply a generous tax cut to the rich — greatly encouraged by the vast wealth of billionaire donors — is a de facto decision to reduce expenditures that help ordinary Americans, “like public investments in infrastructure, education, research and development, and the regulation of labor and financial markets.” Put simply, inequality allows the wealthiest Americans to exert undue control over politics, thereby maintaining the conditions that made them rich in the first place, and hamstringing government efforts that could increase opportunities for the rest of us.

And inequality weakens the economy itself. Economic researchers have argued that American inequality worsened and prolonged the negative effects of the Great Recession and that continued inequality has left less well-off families more vulnerable to economic shocks going forward, meaning that future crises might unfold even more disastrously than the last.

Most important, rising inequality can swamp the gains that broadening opportunity is supposed to deliver….

If Democrats want to formulate a bold, enduring political vision that will speak to the future that Americans want for themselves, they need to accept that opportunity is a result and companion of equality, not a separate choice altogether.

Cardinal Joe Explains Why the Church Must Stand with Workers During This Second Gilded Age

Christopher White reports:

Pope Francis has “catapulted” the concerns of working people and placed them at the center of the conversation for the Church, said an all-star panel assessing Francis’s influence on the labor movement.

Newly elected Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey joined with Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark and Richard Trumka, president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), at Seton Hall University on Tuesday evening to offer reflections on the significance of the first five years of the Francis papacy for working men and women.

The event, titled “Solidarity is Our Word,” served as a commemoration of the long history of the American Catholic Church’s support of the labor movement, an honest reckoning with its current challenges, and a celebration of a pope that has given it a megaphone in recent years.

You can read his full report here.

At RNS, Jack Jenkins explains why Catholic bishops are backing unions at the Supreme Court:

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in January sided with unions in a case before the Supreme Court, submitting an amicus brief in support of public-sector unions and their right to collect money from nonmembers for collective bargaining….

The precise issue in the case hasn’t been addressed by a full assembly of the bishops. But their brief argues that ruling against the unions would “constitutionalize” a “‘right-to-work’ position” — the phrase used to describe state-level laws that prohibit the practice of requiring all who benefit from a union contract to pay dues that fund their union representation. The brief points out that not only has no U.S. bishop ever publicly supported right-to-work laws, but that the group has also been “generally been very inimical” to the idea, and that some individual bishops or state conferences have even spoken out against them.

To wit, they note bishops opposed the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 — the law that created right-to-work laws — and have supported its repeal.

Finally, here are some live-tweets from the recent event:

Why I’m (Still) Angry at Stephen Hawking

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I get really mad at Stephen Hawking sometimes.

I think about this man – this great, honorable man who taught us so much about the world – and I find myself frustrated by him. Frustrated by his atheism. Confused by his outlook on life – by his unrelenting stance on the meaninglessness of the universe beyond random chance. How could he not see God in that which he studied?

For me, Hawking’s life and death are intimately personal. The disease from which he suffered is one I know too well. My grandmother was diagnosed with ALS with dementia in 2009. She died less than a year later.

I see Steven Hawking, and my first instinct is that it’s not fair. It’s not fair that his family got so much longer with him than I got with my grandma. It’s not fair that he got to live so long with this disease and that because his access to technology and his own body supported him for so long, he’s seen as a miraculous success for this disease with no cure.

But there’s also something about Hawking and his view of life that deeply troubles me. I know well the suffering Hawking had to experience in his life. There were likely moments where he struggled to speak something he desperately needed to express to a loved one, who could not decipher the meaning behind the words that his mouth could not enunciate. He will have woken up one day unable to move his fingers – later, unable to support his body on his legs, and still later unable to eat, drink, swallow. His mind was trapped inside a body that could no longer contain him, and he was given an expiration date and no hope of a cure.

As a devout Catholic and as someone who watched my grandmother and my family grapple with ALS, I have trouble reconciling Hawking’s atheism with his disease – almost as much trouble as I have reconciling his genius, his love of the cosmos, with his belief that there is nothing beyond it. I cannot bear to think that this suffering that he underwent, that my grandmother underwent, and that thousands of individuals per year undergo has no purpose – that it simply is. Read More

98-Year-Old Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt is Loyola-Chicago’s Biggest Fan

Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, a 98-year-old nun, serves as the team chaplain for the Loyola-Chicago men’s basketball team, which won its first NCAA tournament game in decades with a thrilling buzzer beater earlier today. You can watch Sister’s Jean’s post-game interview with Rosalyn Gold-Onwude here:

She was also profiled by the New York Times yesterday:

Coach Porter Moser and his players had the most to do with Loyola’s bid to go to the N.C.A.A. tournament this week, the program’s first appearance in the field in 33 years. But even they acknowledge that Sister Jean’s presence and influence are undeniable.

She has her own plaque in the university’s hall of fame. She has had her own bobblehead night. And inside the weight room at Loyola’s athletic center, Sister Jean’s words, “Worship, work, win,” are displayed prominently. But it is the words painted on another wall outside of Gentile Arena — a quote from St. Ignatius of Loyola — that may better point to the power of her personality:

Go forth and set the world on fire.

“She exemplifies that,” Moser said. “She lights up every room she goes into. She’s always smiling. She has an energy about herself. I connect with that.”

Analyzing Pope Francis’ First 5 Years

Elise Italiano and Christopher White write:

Pope Francis’ invocation to “make a mess” or to shake things up is largely reflective of the colorful and accessible language he uses so frequently. While critics charge that he is theologically imprecise, we believe the pope’s language expresses closeness to the people of God — like a shepherd who smells like his sheep.

His call to make a mess is intuitive for those of us who find little resonance with current political parties uninterested in coming together for the common good, economic systems that are consumer-driven and transaction-based, and communities or parishes that are self-referential and detached from the real needs of those around us.

His image of the church as a field hospital — made messy by its blood, sweat and tears and one that tends to visible wounds with compassion — is an image of a church that is compelling and one we want to be a part of because we know it’s one that responds to real-life experiences rather than remote or abstract ideas.

Young people want to be the first responders in this type of church.

John Gehring writes:

While Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI often spoke about environmental stewardship, Francis is the first pope to write an encyclical focused on the environment. He views climate change as an urgent moral challenge, and urges world leaders to act swiftly to curb our addiction to oil. But Pope Francis isn’t getting his talking points from the Democratic Party or liberal pundits. He is prioritizing and building on the traditional platform of Catholic social teaching in ways that have not been accentuated in recent decades.

In short, he’s not going rogue. As the Vatican’s Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church — released during Pope John Paul II’s papacy — puts it, wealth “exists to be shared,” goods have a “universal destination,” and “any type of improper accumulation is immoral.” The catechism of the Catholic Church refers to “sinful inequalities” that are “in open contradiction to the Gospel.”

Pope Francis is a reformer not because he breaks with orthodoxy. What his opponents miss or deliberately distort is that the Francis revolution is about rescuing doctrine from a dry religious legalism that has no life, and renewing the best of Catholic tradition with an eye to the future. This should be a project Catholics on the right and left can get behind.

Crux has an article featuring commentary from numerous Catholic leaders:

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York

When he visited New York in 2015, I saw, first-hand the tumultuous and enthusiastic reception of hundreds of thousands – millions, really – of New Yorkers to Pope Francis.  To this day, people will approach me to say, “I’ve been away from the Church for years, but Pope Francis is drawing me back,” or “I’m not a Catholic, but I sure love this pope.”  To me, that remains his greatest gift, to take the Church’s timeless teaching and present it in a new, daring, exciting way.  He is helping people take a fresh look at the Catholic Church, and thereby come to know Jesus, and experience His love and mercy….

Sister Sharon Euart, Executive Director of the Resource Center for Religious Institutes and former Associate General Secretary to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Pope Francis has employed a new language of word and gesture to electrify people by the essential joy of the Gospel. His preference for the forgotten – women, men and children on the margins of Church and society – forces Catholics to look beyond sectarian concerns to embrace a wounded world. His message of love and his tender concern for all people spans divisions to unite distant and disparate people. His efforts to build communion (union-with) amid cacophony and conflict motivates us to go beyond the superficial to recognize the fundamental dignity of others.

Catholic Students Join in National Walkout over Gun Violence

Students from across the country walked of class and participated in other forms of protest today, one month after the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The students protested for concrete action in response to continued gun violence. Students from Catholic schools across the country participated. Millennial Catholic Michael Bayer highlighted a number of these protests and displays of solidarity on twitter: