Brian Keaney

Category: Political

A Truly Catholic Political Dialogue

Originally posted at Millennial.

ImageThe presidential election has shown us just how deeply our house is divided.  I dare you to find a card-carrying Republican who has anything good to say about President Obama, or a registered Democrat who is willing to utter a nicety about Governor Romney.  This great political schism has been growing for years and, unfortunately, I don’t see an end in sight.

Consider the Cardinal Newman Society, which does some excellent work around the issue of Catholic identity on college campuses.  They have been near-fixated on the issue of the Health and Human Services contraception mandate largely.  This is not, I suspect, because it has a direct impact on the implementation of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, but rather stems from a general conservative bias against the president.

When On All Of Our Shoulders was released earlier this month, the Society attacked it on the grounds that the lengthy list of Catholic thinkers who signed it were “distorting Church teaching in favor of left-leaning politics to take political shots at vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.”

Put aside, for a moment, that the statement begins by explicitly saying that they “do not write to oppose Ryan’s candidacy or to argue there are not legitimate reasons for Catholics to vote for him.”  Let’s also ignore the fact that this is only tangentially related to issues of Catholic higher education in that several of the signatories teach at Catholic colleges.  Instead, let’s take a look at all the places where the Cardinal Newman Society has shown that the statement distorted Church teaching.

Sorry, I can’t find any.

They do not, in fact, cite a single instance where the statement strays from Catholic teaching.  Instead, the Society makes an ad hominem attack on one of the signatories who, in all fairness, appears to have his own issues with dissent from some fundamental teachings of the Church.  Lacking any substantive complaints about the document itself, they attack the credibility of one of the dozens of people who signed it, and in so doing hope to discredit the entire statement.

Like so much of our political commentary today, the Society’s response appears to simply be a Pavlovian reaction by a conservative Catholic organization to a statement critical of a fellow conservative Catholic.  They are attacking our guy, so clearly they are wrong.

I would have much preferred to have read a thoughtful response, something that moved the ball forward instead of just circling the wagons.  Lest you think such a discussion is impossible in today’s hyper-partisan atmosphere, I will instead point you towards a conversation taking place on what Anna Williams at First Things has called A Truly Catholic Economy.

George Weigel began with a thoughtful essay on how a “robust economy makes possible the empowerment of the underprivileged—the true “preferential option for the poor” in Catholic social doctrine, according to John Paul’s 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus—even as it helps conserve public resources by making the resort to welfare less necessary.”

It is a good start but, as David Cloutier explains, it is missing several important considerations.

Mr. Weigel presents a romanticized view of the work world as it presently exists. We need to take seriously our dependence on exploited, low-wage labor, which we manage to do without too much social chaos only because of a number of subsidies. I’m not saying here that people need to have “cushy” jobs. I’m saying that people who work erratic hours at the local supercenter still need health care and rent, and it’s pretty hard to imagine them raising a child and doing all that without the subsidies. Let’s get real about just wages, and then we can talk about the dignity of work and the need to reduce welfare spending.

Cloutier then engages even further on an informed comment left by a reader.  This is the type of exchange of ideas that we as a nation can benefit from, and I hope other bloggers pick up on the thoughts presented by Weigel and Cloutier and run with them.

There are no simple answers to the problems that we will have to confront in the next four years, and I don’t propose to have any of them.  What I do know, however, is that we are much less likely to find them when what passes for dialogue consists mainly of pointing fingers and calling names.  What we need is a reasoned, rational debate that is all too rare today.

As Americans, we should rise above the current dismal state of political discourse.  As Catholics, this is precisely what we are called to do.


The final ride

Here in the Hub of the Universe and surrounding environs, there is a debate ongoing about the merits of a bill that would allow doctors to write prescriptions to kill their patients.  Not all patients and all the time, but those who are suffering from a terminal illness and wish to call it quits.

I have a tough time getting worked up about it either way.  On the one hand, I say that if you want to shuffle off this mortal coil, who am I to say you should be forced to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune?  On the other hand, I know that if I saw a distraught looking man standing on the precipice ready to jump, I’d do whatever it took to stop him.


Still, these are people who are likely in great amounts of pain, and are in all likelihood going to die soon anyway.  Additionally, it’s not as if Billy Costigan will be asking his doctor, “Why don’t you just give me a bottle of scotch and a handgun to blow my fucking head off?”  Presumably their deaths would be a little more dignified than that.

Still, I am ultimately pursuaded that the state should only be sanctioning death in the rarest of rare cases, such as during a just war, or when society has no other way to protect itself.  Even in other times when a death may be morally justified, it still should not receive the approbation of the state.  If every human life has an intrinsic value, and I believe it does, then society should not be condoning any taking of it.

I was also pleased to see in the press an argument made with a philosophical flair that is all too rare in the General Court.

“I think we as a society, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, using our intellect and our ingenuity and combined energies, we define ourselves not by allowing our citizens to die with dignity but by empowering our citizens to live with dignity while they’re dying,’’ said state Representative John Rogers, Democrat of Norwood. “And in that distinction, we define ourselves as a great, humane society.”

I do appreciate Rep. Rogers’ distinction, and hope that it carries weight with his colleagues.

On a related note, some time ago I noted in this space that

I’ve often said I don’t want to die an old man in my bed.  I’d much rather go out in a blaze of glory when a bolt on the world’s fastest roller coast snaps, or by falling off a 500 foot cliff after surmounting Everest.

Little did I know that I might be on to something.  In the roller coaster scenario, I had anticipated dying in a horrific accident that would likely leave tens dead, hundreds bereaved, and thousands scarred.  It need not, however, if the coaster itself is designed to kill you.

If ever built, the Euthanasia Coaster would consist of a 12-car train capable of holding a total of 24 passengers. Riders would climb 1670 feet before dropping down an equal distance on the other side, which would result in the train traveling at 220 mph. The drop leads to the first of seven clothoid inversions which get smaller and smaller before a sharp turn returns the train to the loading platform.

For a total of 60 seconds, passengers would experience 10 g forces, enough to incite cerebral hypoxia, or lack of oxygen supply to the brain. The first two loops are designed to be lethal, while the additional five are added for good measure.

Those on board would feel no pain, but rather experience gray out, tunnel vision, and eventually black out as they lose consciousness thanks to the speed in which they enter the coaster’s several inversions.

Fortunately, the coaster is “[m]ore of a tongue-in-cheek social statement than a serious project.”  I can only imagine the battles on Beacon Hill over permitting for that thing, but man, what a way to go.

Governor Patrick, tear down these walls

As the MNPA reported today, “Something extraordinary happened today on the editorial pages of Massachusetts daily newspapers. More than 20 of the state’s newspapers agreed to jointly run an editorial endorsing reforms to the public records and open meetings laws that would help bring about increased government transparency.”   I’m happy to lend this space as well for the cause as well.


The walls Beacon Hill has erected between itself and those it governs have taken on two dramatically different faces.

Outside, they show decades’ of  wear at the hands of those fighting for  better access to their government. Inside, they’re increasingly pocked with a taint that thrives in the absence of light.

That taint, most recently seen in a disturbing chain of high-profile corruption cases, suggests any benefits such barriers provide to the efficiency of lawmaking are grievously undermined by the efficiencies they also provide to those more interested in lawbreaking.

The felony convictions of three successive House speakers — and a Probation Department scandal that threatens to reach into every corner of public service — clearly indicate state transparency laws are in dire need of improvement.

Central to that effort is eliminating exemptions that free the governor’s office, Legislature and judiciary from having to live by the meeting and records laws that apply to every other public office in this state.  Just as important is making it easier and more affordable for people to take advantage of the access already protected by a law that predates e-mail and the Internet.

It’s an area where minor advances have been made but substantive reform has been routinely killed or ignored.

Given recent scandals and polls showing a deep and growing distrust in government, we hope this year is different.

That notion will soon be tested on several fronts as lawmakers consider a number of initiatives.

One bill seeks to reduce the cost of obtaining records, requiring state agencies to make commonly sought public documents available electronically. It would also cut administrative costs and processing time associated with such records requests.

Another would strengthen the enforcement and investigatory powers of the Supervisor of Public Records.

A third would assess penalties against lawmakers who purposely skirt access laws and would cover the legal fees of those who successfully challenge them. And several seek to breach that battered and stained wall around Beacon Hill, subjecting the Legislature to the state’s Open Meeting Law.

Critics of the measures have focused on the financial and manpower burdens they impose on records keepers. Yet this push for more easily accessible records, already successfully implemented in other states,  holds the promise of reducing those burdens.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, following the June conviction of his predecessor, Salvatore DiMasi, vowed to regain voters’ faith in state government.

“Today’s news delivers a powerful blow to the public’s trust in government,” he wrote then. “One of the things that I find most disturbing – and the thing I am most committed to changing – is the public’s view of politicians and public sector employees.”

Fewer walls — legal, financial and technological — would go a long way toward that goal.

Sir, I disagree

I saw some football players running in the rain tonight, no doubt training for the upcoming season.  I have high hopes that this is the year the program will turn around, what with a new coach and new athletic facilities, and it was good to see them out as a team getting in shape.  By the looks of several of them without shirts on, this was not their first run of the summer.  In an entirely non-homosexual (and, more importantly, non-pedophile) way, I was quite pleased to see them.

I’m also hoping that a combination of a better team, a better stadium, and Friday night games will put more rear ends in the seats, particularly those of students.  I’d love to see as many or more students at Stone Park as I saw at Needham High’s gym for basketball games last year.

During those games I, and many around me, did more than chuckle when one or two of them would yell “Sir, I disagree,” at a bad call.  They were using the most respectful possible language, but the sentiment underneath it was the undoubtedly the same as mine when what I yelled at a ref was enough to cause a Franciscan priest – who, it should be noted, daily prayed “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace” – to resort to physical violence.  It was funny because we all knew that when those kids called the ref “sir,” they really meant, “you asshat.”

I don’t know why I was thinking of this, but I did when Brian Keaney the writer mentioned today that his barber calls him “sir.” In a blog post that mentions the riots that ripped apart large chunks of Britain in the past few days, he writes

Nobody in London can talk about anything else. Western power is draining down the economic plughole but that’s too large a concept for people to really come to terms with. But a bunch of thugs in hoodies kicking in shop fronts and helping themselves to phones and watches – that’s something that everyone has an opinion about.

To the older Brian Keaney I must say, “sir, I respectfully disagree.”  Obviously I am far too removed from the barbershops of London to know what the local scuttlebutt is, so it is with his assessment of the first world that I take issue.  Sure, the Mexican standoff the Congress engaged in with our economy resembles a bloody Tarantino film more than, say, the filibuster of Mr. Smith (not to mention left our representatives looking unworthy of the venerable institution in which they serve).

Sure, the markets collapsed when one of the same companies that did such a bang up job determining the relative safety of mortgage securities determined that the Isle of Man posed less of a threat than US T-bonds (though, in a delicious irony, may have made them even safer).  Sure, we are still rebuilding a country we broke when we went to war based on lies, a war that has left us broke and up to our eyeballs in debt.

Still, I don’t see anyone rushing for the exits.  How many of those shopkeepers who had their livelihoods destroyed by some skunk smoking hoodlums are going to moving to Syria, or Egypt, or Tunisia?  How many of those who are privileged enough (in the same way that 56 men were privileged enough to put their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor on the line) to be making positive changes in the Arab Spring would give their left arm to get a visa to live in Greece or Portugal or another country dealing with a debt crisis of their own making?  Hell, even if Hollywood has given up, the nonsense they produce is still filling up theaters better than anything coming from Bollywood.

We know that history did not end with the fall of the Berlin Wall.  That said, western states admittedly do not today hold the same power – diplomatic, military, economic, social, or otherwise – they did in the post-war period, just as NBC News and the New York Times do not hold the same power or influence they did in the pre-Twitter era.  Times change, and the world along with it.

This thought was hammered home last night when I finally got across the street to see Midnight in Paris. What I wouldn’t give to spend a night drinking at a Parisian cafe with Hemingway (who, unlike The Most Interesting Man in the World, I would have to battle the irresistible urge to thank should he punch me in the face) while Cole Porter played in the corner. As Picasso’s mistress illustrated so beautifully, however, there is no such thing as a Golden Age.

[Rather than give this blog entry yet another sharp right turn into a new topic, I’ll simply add apropos of Midnight in Paris that I watched Out Cold on TV again tonight.   It had even more Casablanca homages – right down to the white dinner jacket – than I had remembered, but for the first time I noticed that it had several actors who had minor roles in The Office.  I really hope David Koechner isn’t such a creep in real life.  I think I might like him if he was normal. Also, it took seeing Owen Wilson in a Woody Allen film to see the similarities between them.]

No, the type, way, and amount of power the president or the prime minster wields today is not the same as it was when the elder Brian Keaney was my age.  It won’t be the same when I am his age.  I don’t expect to find an empty basin when I get there, however.

My life is very different today than it was when I spent nights sitting in the bird’s nest rooting for the Cards.  Even at the outset of the China Century I wouldn’t trade those days for all of their tea, however.  With that in mind, I do not hesitate for a moment to say that whatever my personal or nation’s problems may be, no matter how severe the  setbacks we face are, I have no doubt that our best days are ahead of us.

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Negotiation 101

Luca, the morning after.

“Let’s cut to the chase,” the woman on the other end of the phone said to me.  “How much do you want?”

I’ve often said that I prefer Aristotle to Plato because the former gets right to the point while the later meanders through hundreds of pages and you still don’t have any answers at the end.  This woman was clearly an Aristotelian – or at least wanted to get me off the phone – and I liked that about her.  I did want answers to some of my questions first, but that was simply for my own edification and I wanted my money more.  I decided to skip the lesson.

When my Jeep blew up and then spent the night at the bottom of the ocean it was, needless to say, totaled.  The woman who asked me how much I wanted was asking how much I wanted the insurance company to pay.  I threw out a high number.  It wasn’t unreasonable, but it was higher than I was expecting to get.  It was a good deal more than what their original offer to me was.

She told me she couldn’t go that high and gave a number a few hundred dollars less.  If I wanted to make a case for my original figure, she said, I would have to go to a supervisor.  Deciding that a reasonable offer in the hand was worth two in the bush, I decided not to fight it any further.  There was no guarantee that I would get it, and considering that this woman clearly just wanted to get me off the phone by offering the maximum there was even the chance it could go down.

While I’m no dope, I am certainly not an expert negotiator.  I’m no lawyer, only an amateur politician, and haven’t really had all that many high stakes negotiation opportunities.  President Obama, on the other hand, is a lawyer, is a professional politician, and daily has to negotiate on matters that are literally life and death for billions of people around the world.  How, then, he completely capitulated on the debt ceiling deal astounds me.

Other more astute observers have pointed this out already, but I figure that if I was able to get the insurance company to give me $1,100 more for my Jeep than I paid for it, the President of the United States should be able to get a better deal than he did.

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There is a bar down the Cape that I’ve jogged and driven past many, many times, but in ten years had never ventured inside.  Looking for a somewhat quiet place to catch up with an old friend last weekend, I took her there for a little pregaming before we really went out.  With most of the place empty, we made a little small talk with the bartender.  In the course of our brief conversation, I mentioned to him that I was a recovering addict.

This wasn’t a Sam Malone moment, and I was not confessing a long hidden heroin addiction.  No, I told him that I had been long involved in politics, but was somehow able to recover from all the koolaid drinking.  Lately, however, I’ve been thinking about taking another couple sips and getting back into the game.

No one in my family has ever quite understood my interest in politics, but one has always been actively opposed to it.  As the person who worries about me most on this planet, she has never wanted my paycheck to be dependent upon the whims of a voter.  When I mentioned to her that I had spoken to a friend about jumping back onto a campaign, she was, needless to say, less than thrilled.

Why, she asked me, would I want to associate myself with all the scumbags and scandals we see on TV every night?  I did not point out that the vast majority of people serving in public office are good and honorable people, and that you don’t read about them in the papers for the same reason that you don’t read about all the planes that land safely at Logan every day.

Instead, I invoked the memory of a long-dead Irish philosopher and reminded her that all that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.  Why let the sleazebags win?  Why step aside and let those who are corrupt walk right into office with nary a word opposing them?  Why not stand up for the good guys, and try to do some good – or at least oppose the bad – in the halls of power?

I know she was not convinced, but I believe it is a compelling argument.  Besides, as an addict I can rationalize anything.

A question for Antonin Scalia

Official portrait of Supreme Court Justice Ant...
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On my nightstand I have a copy of Fortune magazine with a rather lengthy interview with Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts.  I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet because I’ve been reading a collection of poems by Henry Wadsworth Longellow.  I’ve never been a fan of poetry, but I enjoy these enough that I at least want to complete the section on The Seaside and the Fireside (more the former than the latter) before I move on.

I did read the much publicized interview with Justice Antonin Scalia in California Lawyer magazine, though.  In it he said the 14th Amendment does not cover women or gays, as a class, because that’s not what the framers or ratifiers of the amendment had in mind when they proposed and passed it.  Personally I think that the word “all” in “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States” is pretty clear, but then again I don’t sit on the court.

I can see his logic, however, and I don’t think the rest of his answer got the attention it deserved, as so often happens.  That aside, I’d like to pose a question to him.  When the framers of the bill of rights were drawing up the 2nd Amendment, they wanted to ensure you could have a musket in your house.  They had no concept of handguns, shotguns, or automatic weapons.

Would the good justice then support as Constitutional a ban on every type of gun developed after 1791?  I doubt it.

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Governor Simba

Much has been said of yesterday’s election – most of it before anyone ever cast a ballot – so I won’t waste my few faithful readers’ time offering the same thing you can get in 100 other places.  What I do want to do is offer an observation I haven’t seen anywhere else today.

A little more than four years ago I woke up at what seemed like an ungodly hour (in reality it was about a half hour before a standard hotel check out time), cursing the voters of this fair Commonwealth and the $3,000+ in booze my coworkers and I consumed the night before.  I don’t get hungover so I wasn’t really hurting, but the sun did seem obnoxiously bright that morning as I stepped out onto Comm Ave.

I had to be back at campaign headquarters in a couple hours, so I decided to kill the time – and to soak up the booze still sloshing around inside me – by going out for breakfast.  I knew what the papers were going to say and, being on the loosing campaign, I wasn’t interested in reading it.  I do, however, remember seeing the headline on the Globe, screaming out from behind the glass: “Patrick roars to victory!”

This morning when I checked, I was surprised to see almost exactly the same headline: “Patrick roars to 2d term.”  I’m now left with two questions.  First, with all the layoffs on Morrisey Boulevard, is the person writing headlines at the Boston broadsheet the same person who was writing them four years ago?  Secondly, is our governor a lion?

Nine years and 15 minutes

Praise Allah.

The planned burning of Korans by a fringe preacher in Florida didn’t happen, but the lunatic who threatened to light the match got his 15 minutes of fame and then some.  When I first heard of how small his congregation is, under 50 members, I began to wonder why he was getting so much attention.

Why were national commentators writing and blabbering on about him on cable news networks?  This should have been a story that was covered by local press, and then maybe picked up by the wires.  It should have been one of those oddball stories you see in a little box to the side, not the main headline.

I think the reason it got so much attention isn’t because it was a notable event in and of itself, though when the president of the United States and General David Petraeus start talking about it, that is sure to get it some attention.  No, I think it fits into a larger narrative in the media and American society today about Islam, and that explains the way a small town preacher ended up with more reporters on his front lawn than parishioners in his pews.

Sizable segments of the American public, and Republicans in particular, believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim – with, wink wink, all that entails.  This is despite the controversy in the waning days of his election about offensive remarks his Christian pastor made from the pulpit.  Hands were wrung and teeth were gnashed over the fact that then-candidate Obama sat in this church for decades and had his children baptized –  Christened, even – by a reverend who made remarks many, myself included, found objectionable.  How soon we forget.

Part of this anger and vitriol we see being spewed towards the president, Muslims, and, before them, immigrants, I think  has to do with the xenophobic tendencies we see arise in this country (and probably elsewhere) during times of economic stress.  This being a particularly bad downturn, we see the anger magnified by that much more.

Someone has to be blamed for all the job losses and suffering we have endured over the past few years.  It certainly couldn’t be our fault for not keeping our skills current enough, or not saving enough money, or believing that dieing industries would provide stable jobs until our retirements when all signs indicated otherwise.  It couldn’t be that Wall Street bankers let us borrow too much money too easily and on usurious terms, and then gambled with the payments we made on those loans.  After all, they are mainly white men.  No, it must be the fault of other people we can’t see, who don’t look like us, don’t speak our language, don’t practice our religion, and don’t have any issues doing jobs that we are too good to do.

As we approached the anniversary of the most traumatic day in most of our lifetimes, Muslims became a focal point for all of the stress, all of the anger, all of the uncertainty in our lives.  How dare they build a cultural center on the same island as the World Trade Center?  Don’t they know this is sacred ground?  Don’t they know that this used to be a Burlington Coat Factory?

Pastor Terry Jones admitted that he’d never opened a Koran before.  He didn’t know what it said.  He couldn’t point to any particular chapter, verse, or even theme that he found objectionable.  He didn’t even care about all that love thy neighbor talk he could find in his own holy script.  No, he was mad as hell and he had to direct that anger somewhere lest it eat away at him.

I was in Washington, D.C. on September 11, 2001.  I saw the worst, and, it must be said, the best of humanity on that day.  In addition to the fighter jets buzzing over my head, I also experienced the rally around the flag sentiment that surrounded and pervaded the nation in the days and weeks that followed.

Yesterday, the ninth anniversary of that day, we saw much of the bumper sticker politics that convey trite and empty patriotism common in the days that followed the attacks.  Never Forget.  Home of the Free.  United We Stand.  Yes, united we stand, unless your president is black, you’ve lost your job, or a Mexican moved into the foreclosed home down the street.  Then it’s every man for himself.


St. Patrick’s Day my senior year of college was probably the worst of my life.  I wasn’t one to normally attend Eucharistic adoration, but we all knew that war in Iraq was imminent and so I went to offer up a couple prayers, for whatever they were worth, for peace.  At the end Fr. Bob stood on the altar and told us that the president would be addressing the nation shortly to announce that we were going to war for the second time in my college career.

I watched, with hundreds of my classmates and the rest of the world, as President Bush gave Saddam Hussein 48 hours to leave Iraq or face the full fury of the American military.  I was with a number of my Irish-Catholic friends that night, but we did not celebrate our patron’s feast day.  No, instead we dreaded a war that I believed then to be unjust and one that would drag in more than one of our classmates before it was over.

For the next several months my AIM away message gave the number of Americans and Iraqis who had died, gone missing, or were captured.  I stopped only when President Bush declared mission accomplished on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, but little did I know how wrong either of us was to believe that.

Had I continued, today it would reflect that the body count has risen to over 100,000 people.  That’s 100,000 dead mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and children, the vast majority of whom did absolutely nothing wrong but had the extreme misfortune to be born in what was once the cradle of civilization.

Tonight I watched a very different president give a very different speech.  I could go on and on about how extremely generous he was to the administration who created the mess he inherited, but I won’t.  Instead, I want to give another number.  This number represents the number of Americans who lost their lives in Iraq since that Monday night in March.  That number is 4,417.


Many good things have happened in Iraq since then, and for that we should be glad.  However, I am sure that comes as little comfort to the families, to the mothers, to the fathers, to the husbands, wives, and children, of those 4,417 American men and women.

I still don’t know much my prayers are worth, but tonight I’ll be once again offering them up for peace in our world, for peace in Iraq, and that those 4,417 Americans and 100,000 Iraqis may rest in eternal peace.