Issue 63 (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.

A Holiday Greeting

Click to watch “We Are What We Celebrate,” a gentle sociological discourse about the meaning of holidays.

From My Diary

Hot spots event

In an inspiring session of the Council on Foreign Relations (leading to Christmas) on the record, John,,, and Dan,,, [get from ZK] presented a paper on “….” David Brooks commented that he wondered how it speaks to a world in which economic growth is slow and jobs are scarce and “nobody, on the left or right, knows what to do about it.” I wondered whether we need to find other sources of contentment than materialism—for those who basic needs have been stated—and pointed out that religion was a source of such contentment for many. I hence asked Jon and Dan to add a chapter to their paper dealing with liberalism’s approach to religion. (I should have called it the Fiddle on the Roof syndrome because the peddler is a rich man because he has faith, family and community.) I was surprised to hear Dan respond that religion was based on passion and a democratic world should be based on interests. As I see it, faith includes passion but also belief, and the not all passions are bad. Although we need to find safe ways to express them politically, declaring them illegitimate is neither right nor practical. And a world based on interest is a very cold one.

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When I told my physician that I reached a ripe old age at which I no longer buy green bananas, he recommended that I also not buy lengthy music records.

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In previous publications, we recommended that fiscal policy—both boosting the economy post-recession and combatting the deficit—should be tied to the unemployment rate and economic growth. The Federal Reserve has come out with a similar position in terms of monetary policy. Bernanke announced that the Fed would keep the short-term interest rate near 0% until unemployment is 6.5% or lower.

Gun-Free Homes and Communities

We should not wait for our elected officials, in President Obama’s good words, “to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.” We should do our share. One way to proceed is to mark our homes, apartments and condos, with a “gun free” sign. Parents should notify their friends that they would be reluctant to send their child over for a play date unless the home was safe from guns. Residential communities should pass rules that ban bringing guns onto their premises, clearly marking them as gun free.

Anyone who puts up such signs will become an ambassador for gun control, because they are sure to be challenged by gun advocates to explain their anti-gun positions. Here are some pointers they may wish to use against the typical pro-gun talking points.

Keep reading on The Huffington Post.

Syrian WMD May Soon Slip Away

The Pakistani moment of truth is coming all too soon—in Syria. For more than a decade, security experts agreed that the greatest threat to the security of the United States is the combination of terrorists and WMD. Pakistan was widely considered the place this is most likely to happen.

Now we must expect that shortly jihadists will acquire WMD in Syria as the Assad regime collapses. True, chemical arms are less lethal than nukes, but in Syria they make up in the number and vicious variety what each lacks in relative killing power.

Continue reading at The National Interest.

Cut Medicare? Cut Fraud!

There is reason to believe that if the GOP will agree to raise the taxes on the super rich, President Obama will agree to cuts in Medicare. It is morally abhorrent to cut benefits to any current or future seniors before much greater efforts are made to stop large scale raids on the Medicare coffers by nefarious corporations.

Take the revealing and far from atypical case of Health Management Associates (HMA). According to its own ER doctors, HMA requires that 20 percent of people who step into the ER are admitted to one of HMA’s hospitals — and 50 percent of seniors.

Read the rest at The Huffington Post.

Accommodate Beijing?

Before I left for a meeting in Beijing, the leading China hand at George Washington University, David Shambaugh, advised me to read Huge White’s The China Choice. Shortly after I landed in China, the renowned Harvard scholar Weiming Tu (who now makes his home at the Peking University) asked me if I had read the Australian professor’s book.

The recommendation was well-taken and gladly heeded. White holds that the United States has not made up its mind as to whether it will seek to engage or contain China, but in the meantime there are forces in both societies that push the United States and China down a slippery slope—a dynamic that may end very badly for both sides.

Continue reading at The National Interest.

I Read

In Pakistan, brazen attacks carried out by Sunni militants against religious and ethnic minorities, such as the Hazara, a Shiite minority that came to the country from Afghanistan over a century ago, often go unpunished. While the Pakistani government supposedly severed its ties to Islamists groups in 2001, and its security forces claim to “pursue all criminals, irrespective of sect, caste or religion,” some analysts see a “fatal ambivalence inside the police and military toward jihadi groups.”

Read the full article in The New York Times.

One “common sense” solution often raised in response to Social Security’s solvency problem is increasing the retirement age. People are living longer now than when the retirement age (currently 65) was set, so they can work longer and still enjoy retirement—or so the argument goes. Ezra Klein debunks this myth—propagated by many CEOs, Senators and others who work at comfortable desk jobs that they love and can’t imagine leaving. They wouldn’t be affected by a higher age because they probably wouldn’t have retired at 65 anyway. Who would the change hurt? Those who actually retire at 65—or 62 (despite lower benefits)—because they do not love their jobs or physically cannot keep up anymore. Adding insult to injury, these workers have not seen the same gains in life expectancy as well-off Americans. Since 1977, the life expectancy of the top earners has gone up by 6 years—for those on the bottom half of the income distribution, just 1.3 years.

Read the rest in The Washington Post.

“It’s been almost 30 years since Steve Billet, at the time a newly minted lobbyist for AT&T, pulled up behind a car at a red light in Washington and noticed the bumper sticker: “Don’t tell my mother I’m a lobbyist. She thinks I play piano in a whorehouse.”” The George Washington University and other D.C. schools have kept the supply for the “most remunerative of the world’s more beleaguered professions” humming with its degrees in “political management,” i.e. lobbying.

Reading the rest in The Washington Post.

An article I read before the horrific tragedy in Newton, Connecticut, takes on new significance now as it represents one of the arguments that will likely be raised against those calling for sane gun control laws in this country. Writing in response to the mass shooting at a theater in Aurora, Colorado, Jeffrey Goldberg makes a moderate’s case for solving gun violence with more guns, asking: “when it is too late to reduce the number of guns in private hands—and since only the naive think that legislation will prevent more than a modest number of the criminally minded, and the mentally deranged, from acquiring a gun in a country absolutely inundated with weapons—could it be that an effective way to combat guns is with more guns?” Tom Mauser, who lost his son in the Columbine shooting, says this kind of thinking stems from the fact that as a nation “We’re still at the stage of rebellious teenager, and we don’t like it when the government tells us what to do. People don’t trust government to do what’s right. They are very attracted to the idea of a nation of individuals, so they don’t think about what’s good for the collective.” A society of individual vigilantes with concealed weapons would not have prevented Adam Lanza from taking the lives of 20 six and seven year olds and six teachers and administrators.

Read the full article at The Atlantic.

As Americans slowly dig their way out of the debt after the latest bubble burst—the housing market—some warn that another crisis is already near on the horizon in our higher education system. While universities in the U.S. still rank well globally, exploding spending by universities and ever-higher tuition rates—and the mountains of debt incurred to pay them—have not translated into more valuable degrees. Studies have found that even as students take out more loans to pay for college, those that graduate (only 57% within six years) are learning less and having more difficulty finding jobs. One way forward, already being experimented with by some of the nation’s top universities, is offering “massive open online courses,” which reach many more students at a fraction of the cost.

Read the rest in The Economist.

Upcoming Events

Book Launch for Hot Spots: American Foreign Policy in a Post-Human-Rights World (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2012) by Amitai Etzioni,

Tuesday, January 29, 2013, 4:00PM – 5:30PM

The Elliott School of International Affairs

Lindner Commons: 1957 E Street, NW, Room 602

Please RSVP to by Friday, January 25

SASE 25th Annual Conference – States in Crisis

June 27-29, 2013 – University of Milan

SASE is organized into “networks,” one of which is dedicated to communitarianism and is run by José A. Ruiz San Román. Colleagues interested in presenting a paper or author, or organizing a session should promptly contact Professor Román at [email protected]


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Edited by Ashley McKinless