Monday, August 01, 2011


When in Rome....?


by Eduardo Galeano
translated from Spanish by Mark Fried

Manual labor was for slaves.
Though not enslaved, day laborers and artisans practiced "vile occupations." Cicero, who practiced the noble occupation of usury, defined the labor hierarchy:
"The least honorable are all that serve gluttony, like sausage-makers, chicken and fishmongers, cooks...."
The most respectable Romans were warlords, who rarely went into battle, and landowners, who rarely set foot on their land.
To be poor was an unpardonable crime. To dissemble their disgrace, the formerly wealthy went into debt and, if lucky, pursued successful careers in politics, which they undertook in the service of their creditors.
The sale of sexual favors was a reliable source of wealth. So was the sale of political or bureaucratic favors. These activities shared a single name. Pimps and lobbyists were both called proxenetas.

from MIRRORS: Stories of Almost Everyone, published by Nation Books, 2009

Eduardo Galeano is a Uruguayan essayist, journalist and historian. His works transcend orthodox genres, and combine documentary, fiction, journalism, political analysis, and history. The author himself has denied that he is a historian: "I'm a writer obsessed with remembering, with remembering the past of America above all and above all that of Latin America, intimate land condemned to amnesia."

Born in Montevideo (1940) into a middle-class Catholic family of Welsh, German, Spanish and Italian ancestry, he was educated in Uruguay until the age of 16. "I never learned in school," he once said. "I didn't like it."

In adolescence Galeano worked in odd jobs – he was a factory worker, a bill collector, a sign painter, a messenger, a typist, and a bank teller. His first article was published in 1954.

After living in exile in Argentina and Spain, he returned to Uruguay in 1985.

(information from

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Monday, November 16, 2009


Welcome to Tantrumville

The following is from a column that ran today in the Boston Globe. Guest columnist Steve Almond compares our economic system to a children's playground.

"The one challenging thing about the playground," he writes, "is that you have to do a lot of resource management. Because there’s always some moment when my daughter and another child decide, more or less simultaneously, that they want to ride the last open swing.

Which means I have to launch into The Speech, the one that begins, 'OK, honey: there’s just one swing left and this nice little girl wants to play on it now. So we’re going to have to share. I know it’s hard to share, but we can do something else fun for a few minutes, and then we’ll get a turn.'

Does this work?


The rest of the time, you wind up in Tantrumville.

But that’s part of growing up. It doesn’t mean you stop giving The Speech. Because we all want our children to learn how to share. We all know that there are a limited number of swings in the world at large, and our children are eventually going to have to learn how to defer their own desires for the sake of the common good.

In fact, most parents are mortified when their children refuse to share on the playground, when they hoard toys, when they decide it is their right to smash a sand castle they played no part in building.

These basic rules of the playground are sometimes given a more sophisticated, adult name: socialism. Which makes all us good parents de facto socialists.

Welcome, comrades!"

Tantrumville seems like a good name for some current behavior on the playground that is Washington, D.C. Almond's analogy also got me to thinking: Is Obama a socialist? It is obvious that he is not, but would it be so bad if he was?

A recent issue of The Nation featured the story of the Berlin Wall coming down from the point of view of the people who were once behind it. In that issue, Ronald Grigor Suny writes,

"The events of 1989 are most often depicted as the failure of socialism. It's a powerful interpretation that has served to discredit alternatives to the capitalist system, which is said to have triumphed, and to bestow upon capitalism an aura of legitimacy based not only on a reading of recent history but also on assumptions about the natural order
, not least human nature. Capitalism, it is proposed, is the normal state of human traffic in what people make and value and need; socialism is the deviation. Capitalism responds to the nature of 'man'--acquisitiveness, competition, egoism and the insatiable need for more. Socialism stands in the way of initiative, creativity and competition. Going by its nom de guerre, communism, it proposes radical equality in a world of unequals. Therefore, it can be maintained only by the coercive power of an entrenched elite and a repressive state."

Suny is a college professor, so his writing style isn't as much fun as Almond's is to read, but he is on to something. Is a playground without parents, or a society without a strong central government, destined to be a replay of "Lord of the Flies"? I'm no socialist (at least not anymore) but that version of capitalism seems to call for more, not less government.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009


By the way....

Libby Gruner, who writes the "Mama Ph.D." column for Inside Higher Ed, had a perceptive take on the Lipman column:

--Joanne Lipman notes in the New York Times that women's advances in the work force seem to have stalled since 9/11/2001, despite the fact that women make up half the work force, and "mothers are the major breadwinners in 40 percent of families." As one of those major breadwinners, I could wish that Lipman had followed through on her analysis of the reasons for women's lack of progress in the work force. Instead, the article ends with advice that sounds like it came from a women's magazine, not the "paper of record: she advises women to be self-confident, have a sense of humor, and "don’t be afraid to be a girl." It's not quite clear how following this advice would have kept reporters from making fun of Hillary Clinton's "cankles," however, let alone how it would help women achieve pay equity.


Words from two wise men

This is from a Boston Globe editorial. The subject was high school dropouts.

Two luminaries of education passed away last week...

Theodore Sizer, who was 77, was involved in education from the ivory tower of Harvard to founding a coalition of small schools that includes several Boston public pilot schools. He likely would have said the retention is possible only if teachers have the chance to make a connection. In 1996, he said to the Christian Science Monitor, “Is there a teacher who knows my youngster well enough to write a good college reference? The answer in a lot of schools is no.’’

In expressing how it was possible to adopt the assumption that all students can succeed against a fatalistic acceptance at the outset of the school year that a certain percentage will fail, he recalled to USA Today in 1996 about the time that he was called upon as a 21-year-old second lieutenant in the Army to train new soldiers how to fire weapons.

“Nobody said, ‘Well, some of them don’t test well,’ ’’ Sizer said. “There wasn’t an assumption that some can’t learn. It was: ‘Lieutenant, I give you an order.’ I watched semiliterate dropouts whose home language wasn’t English take off like rockets and become superb people.’’

....Gerald Bracey, who was 69, probably would have complemented Sizer’s passion for classroom intimacy with a call to stop teaching to the test. The longtime policy critic and former analyst for the National Education Association said of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind, “If 2000 was the year that testing went crazy, 2001 was the year it went stark raving mad . . . What say we take a moment to consider a few of the personal qualities that standardized tests do not measure: creativity, critical thinking, resilience, motivation, persistence, humor, reliability, enthusiasm, civic-mindedness, self-awareness, self-discipline, empathy, leadership, and compassion.’’

Bracey was also well known in education circles for bipartisan skewering of politicians, including President Obama, and media coverage for painting public schools as so bad that no one wants to actually help them. In one of his last contributions in September to the education policy magazine Phi Delta Kappan, Bracey said, “Americans never hear anything positive about the nation’s schools and haven’t since the years before Sputnik in 1957.’’

In 1996, Sizer told The Boston Globe that it should be no surprise that students drop out of “big, standardized, mechanized’’ schools. The surprise will be when we stop delivering such schools to the students.

I have a son and a daughter. My daughter went to a small high school where everybody knew each other's business. She flourished under the ability to shine and excel in a smaller fish tank. My son went to one of the larger public high schools in the state. He enjoyed the relative anonymity and the opportunity that provided for concentrating on what interested him. Both were good students who got into good colleges: She went to a smallish college in the mountains and he is currently at a big city university.

What the two of them taught me is that one size does not fit all. In a majoritarian republic, we sometimes forget that.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009


The more things change.....

I just saw this Joanne Lipman column in the New York Times, about the lack of progress in women's happiness since the 1980s. Here is a sample:

Even the positive numbers we’ve heard about during the recession are misleading — the ones that seem to indicate that women have suffered fewer job losses than men. The reason? Women are still concentrated in lower-paying fields, rather than the high-paying industries like finance and real estate that were hardest hit....
...I don’t think it’s a coincidence that exactly at this moment [9-11], women began losing ground — and not just in measurable ways, like how many women make partner or get jobs as chief executives. I’m referring to how we are perceived. The conversation online about women, as about so many other topics, degenerated from silly and snarky to just plain ugly — and it seeped into the mainstream. Recently, before a TV appearance, I did an Internet search on one of the interviewers so I could learn more about her — and got a full page of results about her breasts...

I would have like some more specifics and concrete suggestions about how to change all this, like exactly why 9-11 changed things. If you ask me, Lipman is one of the privileged 1% and not very representative of the women I know. Her point about perception being the problem is right on, though.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a column about how couples who both do more housework have sex more often. The writer (a woman) took it as a given that the wives were doing almost twice as much housework as the husbands and that women worked only 19 hours a week outside the home. Not sure where she got her sample. The comments on the WSJ website were pretty revealing as well, with lots of references to men "helping" with the housework, as if it were the wife's natural duty and he was putting himself out purely to please her. Sort of like some of my friends who used to say their husbands were "babysitting" while they went to book club meetings. Excuse me? (I used to say.) Do you babysit when he works late or stops off for a beer? Is he not the kids' other parent?

I am very uncomfortable with the kind of feminism that argues that women are in some way "better" than men, because it is the kind of thinking that feeds into the notion that we should each stay in our own sphere. Anybody who has followed the careers of Hillary Clinton or Tzipi Livni -- not to mention Margaret Thatcher and Madeleine Albright -- should be disabused of the illusion that a woman-led world would be more peaceful than the present state of affairs. How about this: We let each individual person spend his or her time doing what they love and excel at? Then we might see a better world and lot less wasted effort.

Oh, and our sex lives would probably be pretty awesome as well.

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Friday, October 23, 2009


Is this love -- or possession?

I am amazed that there is not any outcry about a story, The Snatchback, that is running in the November Atlantic. I only know what is in the article, but that documents a disturbing instance of cultural and economic imperialism.

The Atlantic promo copy reads "If your ex-spouse has run off and taken your children abroad, and the international legal system is failing to bring them back, what are you to do? One option is to call Gus Zamora, a former Army ranger who will, for a hefty fee, get your children back. Operating in a moral gray area beyond the reach of any clear-cut legal jurisdiction, Zamora claims to have returned 54 children to left-behind parents. Here’s the story of number 55."

In the story, an aggrieved Florida man with no clear legal standing in the child's life hires a mercenary to kidnap his ex-wife's child from the boy's birth father.

Unless there are circumstances that did not appear in the Atlantic article, this is a clear-cut case of a rich American trying to buy himself a son. He goes down to Costa Rica, meets a young (and it turns out, not so stable) pregnant woman and brings her to the states with a translator to teach her English. She ends up divorcing him and going back to Costa Rica, but he wants to keep her child even though the birth father has custody according to Costa Rican law. The rich American says the kid is his because he has spent money on his medical bills and upbringing, and because he claims the Costa Rican courts are corrupt. Maybe their legal system is not all it should be but they appear to have made the right choice in this case. The kid says he wants to go back to his rich stepfather instead of staying with his not-rich father. No surprise there. If this guy Todd really loves the boy he should have left Andres with his biological family and set up a bank account for his education. As the story is explained in the Atlantic, it is all about control and entitlement, nothing to do with love. This stepfather says he loves his son. Any legal standing he has in the child's life was obtained after the custody issue arose.

Here are some comments from the website, written by people who have some familiarity with the heartbreak of international custody battles.
Tea wrote:

"The father did NOT kidnap his child. The father said he agreed to let his son live with her in the US and apparently was fine with the idea of only temporarily having his son stay with him until he found out the truth about her. He went to court in Costa Rica where the mother and the son were, when he found out about her habit, and fought her for custody. He won custody and she had visitation. During one of her visitations she and the stepfather kidnapped the child. How can you just take the child out of the country when you have lost custody and only have visitation rights? You can't that's why they had to sneak over the border....
Reverse the situation. What if the father was the recovering addict having just lost custody, had just showed up at the kid's school in FL and taken him off the street like she did? Would anyone even be asking if that was okay? Would it matter if he had a custody order from Costa Rica saying he had custody but no one had ever challenged it in Costa Rica, but in a United States court he had lost custody and everyone involved was currently in the United States. Which order would stand?"

Someone with the screen name LDJVR weighed in with this:

"The mother took the child to Costa Rica and handed him to his father instead of leaving him with the stepfather. Send the child to his father! Stepfather is not in the picture here.
The father should not need a lawyer. No legal birth parent should need to spend thousands in legal fees. All legal birth parents should need to do is report the child missing. The abducting parents or grandparents should pay all cost to have the child returned (IMMEDIATELY) and should be responsible for any legal cost. This child has been kidnapped from his father and his homeland! Does Secretary of State Clinton know about this?!?!? What an embarrassment to our country!"

A couple of the posters compared this to the Elian Gonzalez case, although in this case it is the US side that possesses the asymmetrical resources. I wonder what the Atlantic meant in publishing such an account. The reporter went with the US kidnappers and even interviewed the birth father while knowing there was a plot to break up his family. Doesn't that make her a co-conspirator?

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Friday, July 24, 2009


The police work for us.

I'm a public servant. I work for the county, and although I mostly deal with students I am paid with tax money and therefore I am the employee of everyone who lives in the county. There are one or two people at my workplace who seem to feel that it is the public's job to make them feel good and to be nice to them.

They are wrong.

Professor Gates:
Tired and offended, but not a criminal

The public is made up of individuals. In our case they are
individuals who need information or services from us. Most of the individuals are pleasant, gracious people who are appreciative of our efforts. A few of the individuals are just plain jerks. In between are people who may be having a bad day. We may be the ninth or tenth person that they have encountered in a short time with an answer or a policy that disappoints them. It does not hurt us any to try and be understanding, even with the jerks. We will not always succeed in making the individual feel better. We very frequently are unable to solve their problems, but it is part of our job to attempt to treat everyone with respect.

We may occasionally have to call for backup from a supervisor, or even from the sheriff's department, when someone's behavior is threatening or disruptive. Sometimes we need to find someone -- preferably a co-worker but even a bystander can help -- to translate for the individual. It does not help to treat a Spanish or Tewa speaking member of the community with contempt.

I thought about all this when I read about the encounter between Professor Henry Louis Gates (I don't know the guy, so I'm not comfortable calling him Skip) and three Cambridge, Massachusetts, police officers. Police are supposed to be trained to stay cool under pressure. It emerges that Gates may have been verbally abusive and therefore the officer was under pressure. He was obviously not in fear for his life or safety, only his ego and sense of authority were in jeopardy.

It does not sound like this police officer is a racist, but I would like to know what was in the call that the neighbor made to the police department. The root of this is with the neighbor, who was worried about something that caused three officers to show up for what should have been a simple ID check. They were there to serve and protect. They may have forgotten that Gates and his driver were entitled to service and protection as well.

The police appear to have overreacted to the excited and insulted behavior of a tired, sensitive man who has been subjected to racism throughout his life. That is not their job. They are his employees, just as much as they are the employees of the neighbor who called them. Gates should not have to pretend that his behavior was perfect in order to prove that the police behaved inappropriately.

They owe him an apology.

Sergeant James Crowley:
Unprofessional, maybe, but not a racist

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Monday, May 18, 2009


George W. Bush Spoke at Notre Dame

-- Before 9-11, Iraq, Afghanistan, Waterboarding and Signing Statements, but After He'd Presided Over a Record Number of Executions as Texas Governor.

He made the most of the opportunity to push his political agenda, and to equate privatization with charity.
Bush didn’t get a totally resounding welcome at Notre Dame. When he delivered the commencement speech in 2001, many students wore armbands protesting his support of capital punishment. Here is what he said:

Text of President Bush's commencement address at Notre Dame University on May 20, 2001 in Notre Dame, Indiana

Thank you all. Thank you very much. Thank you. Please be seated.

Thank you, Father Malloy (ph), and thank you all for that warm welcome, Chairman McArtin (ph), Father Scully (ph), Dr. (Nathan) Hatch, Notre Dame trustees, members of the class of 2001.

I have spoken on this campus before. It was in 1980, the year my dad ran for vice president with Ronald Reagan. I think I really won over the crowd that day.

In fact, I'm sure of it because all six of them walked me to my car.

That was back when Father Hesburg (ph) was the president of this university during a tenure that in many ways defined the reputation and values of Notre Dame. And it's a real honor to be here with Father Hesburg (ph) and with Father Joyce (ph). Between them, these two good priests have given nearly a century of service to Notre Dame. I'm told that Father Hesburg (ph) now holds 146 honorary degrees.

That's pretty darn impressive, Father, but I'm gaining on you. As of today, I'm only a 140 behind.

Let me congratulate all the members of the class of 2001. You made it, and we're all proud of you on this big day.

I also congratulate the parents who after these years are happy, proud and broke.

I commend this fine faculty for the years of work and instruction that produced this outstanding class.

And I'm pleased to join my fellow honorees as well. I'm in incredibly distinguished company with authors, executives, educators, church officials and eminent scientists.

We're sharing a memorable day and a great honor, and I congratulate you all.

Notre Dame, as a Catholic university, carries forward a great tradition of social teaching. It calls on all of us, Catholic and non-Catholic, to honor family, to protect life in all its stages, to serve and uplift the poor.

This university is more than a community of scholars. It is a community of conscience and an ideal place to report on our nation's commitment to the poor and how we're keeping it.

In 1964, the year I started college, another president from Texas delivered a commencement address talking about this national commitment. In that speech, President Lyndon Johnson issued a challenge. He said: This is a time for decision. You are the generation which must decide. Will you decide to leave the future a society where a man is condemned to hopelessness because he was born poor? Or will you join to wipe out poverty in this land?

In that speech, Lyndon Johnson advocated a war on poverty which had noble intentions and some enduring successes. Poor families got basic health care. Disadvantaged children were given a head start in life.

Yet, there were also some consequences that no one wanted or intended. The welfare entitlement became an enemy of personal effort and responsibility, turning many recipients into dependents.

The war on poverty also turned too many citizens into bystanders convinced that compassion had become the work of government alone.

In 1996, welfare reform confronted the first of these problems with a five-year time limit on benefits and a work requirement to receive them. Instead of a way of life, welfare became an offer of temporary help, not an entitlement but a transition. Thanks in large part to this change, welfare rolls have been cut in half. Work and self respect have been returned to many lives. This is a tribute to Democrats and Republicans who agreed on reform and to the president who signed it, President Bill Clinton.

Our nation has confronted welfare dependency, but our work is only half done. Now we must confront the second problem -- to revive the spirit of citizenship, to marshal the compassion of our people to meet the continuing needs of our nation. This is a challenge to my administration and each one of you.

We must meet that challenge because it is right and because it is urgent.

Welfare as we knew it has ended but poverty has not. When over 12 million children live below the poverty line, we are not a post- poverty America. Most states are seeing the first wave of welfare recipients who have reached the law's five-year time limit. The easy cases have already left the welfare roles.

The hardest problems remain: People with far fewer skills and greater barriers to work. People with complex human problems like illiteracy and addiction, abuse and mental illness. We do not yet know what will happen to these men and women or to their children. But we cannot sit and watch, leaving them to their own struggles and their own fate.

This is a great deal at stake. In our attitudes and our actions we are determining the character of our country. When poverty is considered hopeless, America is condemned to permanent social division, becoming a nation of caste and class, divided by fences and gates and guards.

Our task is clear, and it's difficult. We must build our country's unity by extending our country's blessings. We make that commitment because we're Americans. Aspiration is the essence of our country. We believe in social mobility, not social Darwinism. We are the country of the second chance where failure is never final. And that dream has sometimes been deferred. It must never be abandoned.

We are committed to compassion for practical reasons. When men and women are lost to themselves, they are also lost to our nation. When millions are hopeless, all of us are diminished by the loss of their gifts.

And we're committed to compassion for moral reasons. Jewish prophets and Catholic teaching both speak of God's special concern for the poor. This is perhaps the most radical teaching of faith that the value of life is not contingent on wealth or strength or skill, that value is a reflection of God's image.

Much of today's poverty has more to do with troubled lives than a troubled economy. And often when a life is broken, it can only be restored by another caring, concerned human being.

The answer for an abandoned child is not a job requirement, it is the loving presence of a mentor. The answer to addiction is not a demand for self sufficiency, it is the personal support on the hard road to recovery.

The hope we seek is found in safe havens for battered women and children in homeless shelters and crisis pregnancy centers, in programs that tutor and conduct job training and help young people who may happen to be on parole.

All these efforts provide not just the benefit but attention and kindness, a touch of courtesy, a dose of grace.

Mother Teresa said that what the poor often need, even more than shelter and food, though these are desperately needed as well, is to be wanted. And that sense of belonging is within the power of each of us to provide.

Many in this community have shown what compassion can accomplish. Notre Dame's own Lou Nanny (ph) is the former director of South Bend Center for the Homeless, an institution founded by two Notre Dame professors. It provides guests with everything from drug treatment to mental health services to classes in the great books to pre-school for young children.

Discipline is tough. Faith is encouraged, not required. Student volunteers are committed and consistent and central to its mission.

Lou Nanny (ph) describes its mission as repairing the fabric of society by letting people see the inherent worth and dignity and God-given potential of every human being.

Compassion often works best on a small and human scale. It is generally better when a call for help is local, not long distance. Here at this university you've heard that call and responded. It is part of what makes Notre Dame a great university.

This is my message today. There is no great society which is not a caring society, and any effective war on poverty must deploy what Dorothy Day called the weapons of spirit. There's only one problem with groups like South Bend Center for the Homeless: They're aren't enough of them.

It's not sufficient to praise charities and community groups. We must support them, and this is both a public obligation and a personal responsibility.

The war on poverty established a federal commitment to the poor. The welfare reform legislation of 1996 made that commitment more effective. For the task ahead, we must move to the third stage of combating poverty in America. Our society must enlist, equip and empower idealistic Americans in the works of compassion that only they can provide.

Government has an important role. We will never be replaced by charities. My administration increases funding for major social welfare and poverty programs by 8 percent. Yet government must also do more to take the side of charities and community healers and support their work.

We've had enough of the stale debate between big government and indifferent government.

Government must be active enough to fund services for the poor and humble enough to let good people in local communities provide those services.

So, I've created a White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

Through that office we are working to ensure that local community helpers and healers receive more federal dollars, greater private support and face fewer bureaucratic barriers. We have proposed a compassion capital fund that will match private giving with federal dollars.

We have proposed allowing all taxpayers to deduct their charitable contributions, including non-itemizers.

This could encourage almost $15 billion a year in new charitable giving.

My attitude is, everyone in America, whether they are well off or not, should have the same incentive and reward for giving.

And we're in the process of implementing and expanding charitable choice, the principle already established in federal law that faith- based organizations should not suffer discrimination when they compete for contracts to provide social services.

Government should never fund the teaching of faith, but it should support the good works of the faithful.

Some critics of this approach object to the idea of government funding going to any group motivated by faith. But they should take a look around them. Public money already goes to groups like The Center for the Homeless and, on a larger scale, to Catholic Charities. Do the critics really want to cut them off? Medicaid and Medicare money currently goes to religious hospitals. Should this practice be ended? Child care vouchers for low-income families are redeemed every day at houses of worship across America. Should this be prevented? Government loans send countless students to religious colleges. Should this be banned? Of course not.

America has a long tradition of accommodating and encouraging religious institutions when they pursue public goals.

My administration did not create that tradition, but we will expand it to confront some urgent problems.

Today I'm adding two initiates to our agenda in the areas of housing and drug treatment. Owning a home is a source of dignity for families and stability for communities. And organizations like Habitat for Humanity make that dream possible for many low-income Americans.

Groups of this type currently receive some funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The budget I submit to Congress next year will propose a three-fold increase in this funding, which will expand home ownership and the hope and pride that come with it.

And nothing is more likely to perpetuate poverty than a life enslaved to drugs. So we propose $1.6 billion in new funds to close what I call the treatment gap -- the gap between the 5 million Americans who need drug treatment and the 2 million who currently receive it.

We will also propose that all these funds, all of them, be open to equal competition from faith-based and community groups.

The federal government should do all these things, but others have responsibilities as well, including corporate America. Many corporations in America do good work and good causes, but if we hope to substantially reduce poverty and suffering in our country, corporate America needs to give more and to give better.

Faith-based organizations receive only a tiny percentage of overall corporate giving. Currently six of the 10 largest corporate givers in America explicitly rule out or restrict donations to faith- based groups regardless of their effectiveness.

The federal government will not discriminate against faith-based organizations and neither should corporate America.

In the same spirit, I hope America's foundations consider ways they may devote more of their money to our nation's neighborhood and their helpers and their healers. I will convene a summit this fall asking corporate and philanthropic leaders throughout America to join me at the White House to discuss ways they can provide more support to community organizations, both secular and religious.

Ultimately, your country is counting on each of you. Knute Rockne once said, "I have found that prayers work best when you have big players."

We can pray for the justice of our country, but you're the big players we need to achieve it. Government can promote compassion. Corporations and foundations can fund it, but the citizens -- it's the citizens who provide it.

A determined assault on poverty will require both an active government and active citizens. There's more to citizenship than voting, though I urge you to do it. There's more to citizenship than paying your taxes, though I'd strongly advise you pay them.

Citizenship is empty without concern for our fellow citizens, without the ties that bind us to one another and build a common good. If you already realize this and you're acting on it, I thank you.

If you haven't thought about it, I leave you with this challenge: Serve a neighbor in need, because a life of service is a life of significance.

Because materialism ultimately is boring, and consumerism can build a prison of loss. Because a person who is not responsible for others is a person who is truly alone. Because there are few better ways to express our love for America than to care for other Americans. And because the same God who endows us with individual rights also calls us to social obligations.

So let me return to Lyndon Johnson's charge: You're the generation that must decide. Will you ratify poverty and division with your apathy? Or will you build a common good with your idealism? Will you be a spectator in the renewal of your country, or a citizen?

The methods of the past may have been flawed, but the idealism of the past was not an illusion. Your calling is not easy, because you must do the acting and the caring. But there is fulfillment in that sacrifice which creates hope for the rest of us. Every life you help proves that every life might be helped. The actual proves the possible, and hope is always the beginning of change.

Thank you for having me, and God bless.

As was his wont, Bush gave lip service to Catholic teachings. This was not the case with some other Notre Dame Commencement speakers, who have included Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Condeleeza Rice.

Apparently many Catholic leaders would prefer to be shined on by hypocrites rather than engage in the kind of social outreach that might genuinely reduce the number of abortions.

Mary Ann Glendon wrote an excellent book years ago, Abortion and Divorce in Western Law. In it she made a very good argument for laws that are more woman, child and family friendly -- including but not limited to prohibiting elective abortions. Her book provided several examples to support the argument that outlawing the procedure is not, by itself, the most effective way to end the practice. She cited countries with restrictive laws and poor safety nets, where illegal abortions are common, as well as countries where abortion is allowed but rarely practiced because women do not see pregnancy as a life tragedy.

Don't get me wrong. Professor Glendon is profoundly pro-life, and even declined personally to attend the Notre Dame ceremony this year. As a scholar and law professor, though, she has always been able to recognize the power of context.

I am one of the people who feels that Obama is capable of changing the context enough to vastly reduce the demand for abortions in this country. That is not pro-death. As a Catholic I am embarrassed that my church leaders are so determined to make our faith community a subsidiary of the religious right -- and thus of the Republican Party. I would hate for my own parish to lose its tax exempt status, but with all this politicking it is harder and harder to justify.

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