Issue 53 (2012)

Communitarian Observations

I often write about rather different matters, but in my mind they all deal with one core question: the guidance our shared values, especially the common good, provide to our public policies.

From My Diary

President Obama explained that we do not plan to make Afghanistan into an America because that would “require many more years, many more dollars, and most importantly, many more American lives.” General Petraeus said “We are not, of course, trying to turn Afghanistan into Switzerland in a decade or less.” Sure, that’s easy to agree with. But can they tell us what they do plan to turn Afghanistan into? Romania? Uzbekistan? Libya? Once that image is laid out, it becomes clearer that the war in Afghanistan is not only a mission impossible, but the likely outcome is very troubling.

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Jon Stewart, where are you when we need you? NPR reports that from now on the State Department will brief Secret Service agents about to go overseas on which bars and clubs to avoid. I wonder how the State Department diplomats will find out this information and what will happen when their cables describing these joints appear on WikiLeaks—and how we will pay those establishments that sue for being mislabeled brothels. Above all, I urge Congress members, who are all up in a lather about the misconduct of the Secret Service to remember—people who live in glass houses should not throw stones,

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I get my news, old fashioned way, from the New York Times, the ever more anemic Washington Post, NPR—and, when the TV is on, from the BBC. But NPR and the BBC do not do news weekend evenings, so I turned after a long absence to CBS. I found that the news here has turned into sound bites: a minute or so on Syria, a few words on the elections in France, and so on. But I did learn a great deal about medications the commercials feel I must have.

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A recent New York Times column explains that obituaries these days must be entertaining. This Economist obituary of Lyn Lusi, who helped found a hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo, did much better than that. It is lyrical.

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I have a soft spot in my heart for Google. I benefit so much from it, and it is so well done and often seems to be on the side of the angels. However, if it violated the law, to fine it $25,000 (0.001% of its daily earnings) is a bad joke—and one that is very often repeated. (On the miniscule fines for corporations and the reasons they are so low, see “Going Soft on Corporate Crime” and “The U.S. Sentencing Commission on Corporate Crime: A Critique.”)

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The New Yorker reports, “In an average year, roughly a hundred thousand Americans are killed or wounded with guns.” My colleagues in statistics will be perplexed, as should all others. Average of what? 1900-2000? 1990-2000?

Why Occupy May Day Fizzled

Occupy Wall Street called on the masses to skip work and school on May 1, and to close their wallets. All this was supposed to amount to a general strike, if not an American Spring. Some even talked about bringing down capitalism. But the small demonstrations in many American cities and in other cities across the world had little effect.

Rush hour on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, supposed to be a major center of protest, flowed. In Los Angeles, two blocks were closed by the authorities in anticipation of possible disruptions. Reports were that protesters in New York did not shut down traffic, as they planned to do.

Read the rest at CNN.

The Fantasy of Zero Nukes

Nowhere is President Obama’s tendency to confuse speech making with policy making more evident than in his treatment of nuclear weapons, the greatest threat to both U.S. security and world peace.

The main hot spots are well known: North Korea, Iran and Pakistan. Instead, the president has focused for the last three years on Russia. President Obama believes that the best way to deal with WMD is to lead by example. He holds that, as the United States and Russia recommit themselves to nuclear disarmament, other nations will be inspired to either give up their nuclear arms or refrain from acquiring any. It is a policy Keith B. Payne fairly labeled “nuclear utopianism.”

Read the rest at The National Interest.

When to Intervene

Does the responsibility to protect doctrine allow for the toppling of regimes? A recent Clinton Global Initiative panel discussion refocused the debate about the conditions under which one nation is justified in intervening in the internal affairs of another nation.

Michael Gerson, a George W. Bush speechwriter and Washington Post columnist, made a strong case for intervening only when our national interests are involved. I agreed but argued for an exception, what might be called a moral minimum. I suggested that indeed if our interests are not significantly affected, we should stay out, both because otherwise we undermine the most elementary foundation of the international order—the Westphalian norm—and because once we march in, we tend to leave behind a sociological mess when we finally find an exit.

Read the rest at The National Interest.

Recent Publications

“Privacy and the Private Realm.” Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research 25.1 (March 2012) p. 57-66.

Rights have been long understood, first and foremost, as protection of the private from the public, the individual from the state. Typically, early explorations of the right to privacy concerned the protection of diaries and protection of the home from quartering soldiers. True, over the ages we also came to recognize positive rights (such as socioeconomic rights) and the government’s duty to protect citizens from violations of rights by other actors besides the state. However, when violations of privacy are discussed, the first violator that typically comes to mind is ‘‘Big Brother’’ that is, the state. This article focuses on the growing threat to privacy from private actors, especially profit-making corporations.

The Limits of Privacy is now available in Spanish: Los Limites de la Privacidad (Madrid: Edisofer S. L., 2012).

The Best Government Money Can Buy

The New Republic profiles the single largest campaign contributor in America politics, Harold Simmons, the 80-year-old head of Contran Corp (a chemicals and metals conglomerate). In this election cycle, he has donated $18.7 million dollars to Republican political organizations (including Karl Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC and organizations supporting the Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, and Perry campaigns) and has plans to double that contribution by the election. Simmons has a long history of making large campaign contributions in order to advance his business interests. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Simmons and his company Waste Control Specialists spent about $2 million lobbying successfully to change a number of Texas laws, which allowed the company to take charge of nuclear waste disposal in the state. In the year after the passage of a law opening the WCS dump to all but 14 states, the stock of its parent company increased by 64%—and Simmons’ net worth increased from $5 billion to $9.6 billion.

Upcoming Events

Religion and Politics in a Transatlantic Perspective:

A French Embassy Rendezvous

Featuring: Aude Jehan, Eliot Sorel, Robert P. Jones, and Amitai Etzioni

Thursday May 10, 2012, 12:00pm – 2:00pm

Center for Transatlantic Relations

SAIS-Johns Hopkins University

1717 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Room 500

Washington, DC 20036

For information on attending, click here.

I Read

On Trusting China—And Us

Kenneth Lieberthal and Wang Jisi of Brookings have published a report on Addressing U.S.-China Strategic Distrust. They analyze this mutual distrust from both the American and Chinese perspectives and suggest that its three main sources are “different political traditions, value systems and cultures; insufficient comprehension and appreciation of each others’ policymaking processes and relations between the government and other entities; and a perception of a narrowing gap in power between the United States and China.” For more discussion, see China: Making an Adversary.

The New York Times reports that Facebook will soon allow users in the U.S. and the U.K. to mark their organ donor status on their pages in an attempt to encourage more people to sign up to become donors. Experts suggest that the move may lead to an increase in donations because, for those who have not listed a preference on their drivers’ licenses, it can act as an informal record of patients’ wishes to be used by their families. For a communitarian approach to organ donation, which made a similar suggestion years ago, click here.

Stephen Marche’s feature story in The Atlantic about “the epidemic of loneliness” notes: “The decrease in confidants—that is, in quality social connections—has been dramatic over the past 25 years. In one survey, the mean size of networks of personal confidants decreased from 2.94 people in 1985 to 2.08 in 2004. Similarly, in 1985, only 10 percent of Americans said they had no one with whom to discuss important matters, and 15 percent said they had only one such good friend. By 2004, 25 percent had nobody to talk to, and 20 percent had only one confidant.”

In the New Yorker, Nathan Heller examines the subset of Americans who live by themselves—one third of all U.S. households have only one resident, and five million adults younger than 35 live alone. Some experts, like NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg, see living alone as a natural consequence of women’s lib, urbanization, technology, and longevity and note that many who live by themselves are practicing a form of American individualism, “building the world they want.” Other experts (following communitarian reasoning) have expressed concern for the aggregate effect living alone could have on American society and institutions.


The Responsive Communitarian Platform can be found here. We invite all those who agree to endorse it by sending an email to[email protected] with the subject “endorse RCP.” For a list of those who have already endorsed it, click here.

The following are the most recent endorsers of the Responsive Communitarian Platform: Irene Brunstein

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The following are the most recent endorsers of the Diversity Within Unity Platform: Dave Finnigan; Juggling for Success; Climate Change is Elementary

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