Pope Francis's views on climate change shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, notes Jeet Heer at The New Republic, who cites "longstanding traditions in Catholic social thought criticizing unfettered capitalism." Those traditions raise difficult questions for conservative Catholic politicians, including Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor.
"I don't get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinal or my pope," Bush said this week. "I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm."
The problem with that answer is that politics has always been and always will be about who we are as people. Our views on political questions such as the economy, the environment, abortion or civil rights depend on our beliefs about our duties to others, about the right way to live our lives. These are fundamentally moral issues. Bush's remarks make it sound as though he thinks of politics as some big game of Risk, in which the players' choices do not reflect on them as people.
To be sure, we can debate which responses to climate change are cost-effective, or whether federal welfare programs help or hurt the poor. These are debates over the means, but on moral questions like these, religious leaders have every authority to insist on the ends.
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What's in Wonkbook: 1) Papal encyclical 2) Opinions, including Ip and Irwin on the Federal Reserve 3) Nine are dead after a shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, and more
1. Top story: Pope issues encyclical on global warming
Francis's widely anticipated letter calls on rich nations to deal with climate change. "The pope’s 180-page encyclical on the environment is not only a moral call for action on phasing out the use of fossil fuels, as was expected. It is also a document infused with an activist anger and concern for the poor, casting blame at the indifference of the powerful. ... In a press conference on Thursday in Vatican City to mark the release of Francis’s encyclical, Cardinal Peter Turkson, who wrote a draft and is the pope’s point-man on social justice issues, said it was imperative for 'practical proposals not to be developed in an ideological, superficial or reductionist way.' " Stephanie Kirchgaessner in the Guardian.
The document is cautious on questions of science. Francis "may have bent over backward to offer a cautious interpretation of the scientific facts. For example, a substantial body of published science says that human emissions have caused all the global warming that has occurred over the past century. Yet in his letter, Francis does not go quite that far, citing volcanoes, the sun and other factors that can influence the climate before he concludes that 'most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases' released mainly by human activity. Michael E. Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, pointed out that the bulk of the evidence suggests that solar changes and volcanoes have slightly counteracted the warming effect of greenhouse gases." Justin Gillis in The New York Times.
The pope is making the environment an issue of social justice. "The Catholic Church’s historic emphasis on social justice makes this focus in the encyclical no more surprising than its position on climate change. But nevertheless, the social inequalities that are so often tied to environmental crises are among the document’s most important points. ... Experts have long argued that deforestation, biodiversity loss, water shortages and poor water quality, loss of traditional lands and any number of climate change effects have disproportionate impacts on developing countries and the world’s poorest people. These inequalities, and the moral imperative to correct them, is likely to be a major focus in the encyclical and could be an area that extends the document’s reach beyond the Catholic community in an even bigger way than its discussion of climate science. One reason for the issue’s resonance is that Pope Francis, himself, is from Argentina, where many of the above environmental problems are of deep concern." Chelsea Harvey in The Washington Post.
American Catholics are split on the issue, like the rest of the country. "American Catholics are about as divided on the matter of climate change as the rest of the general public, the Pew Research Center found in a survey ahead a major statement on the environment by Pope Francis. Seventy-one percent of U.S. Catholics believe the Earth is warming, Pew found in a survey released on Tuesday, but fewer than half think it’s caused by human activity or think it's a very serious problem. All three figures are similar to the general public’s views on the issue. Catholics' opinions on global warming break down along party lines. Eighty-five percent of Catholic Democrats believe in global warming and 64 percent call it a 'very serious problem,' according to Pew. Only 51 percent of Catholic Republicans believe the Earth is getting warmer, and it’s viewed as a serious problem by 24 percent of them." Devin Henry in The Hill.
Bush and Santorum rejected the pope's message. "In his first official day on the presidential campaign trail, Bush, who is Catholic, told a town hall event in New Hampshire that Pope Francis should steer clear of global affairs. ... At least five of the Republican presidential contenders are Catholic. Two so far – Bush and Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator and devout Catholic – have come out against the pope on climate change. .... Santorum told a Philadelphia radio station earlier this month: 'The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we’re good at, which is theology and morality.' Three other Catholic Republican hopefuls: Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal and Marco Rubio, have yet to speak out on the encyclical." Suzanne Goldenberg and Sabrina Siddiqui in the Guardian.
O'Malley is publishing a clean-energy agenda. "The former Maryland governor, who is a practicing Catholic, plans to issue a white paper Thursday morning that declares that the United States has a 'moral obligation' to address climate change and outlines steps he would take to accelerate a move toward clean energy -- including several that build upon Obama administration policies and some that depart from them. ... O’Malley argues that a full embrace of clean energy presents the biggest job creation opportunity the country as seen in a century. Among other initiatives, O’Malley will call for expanding an Obama administration effort to regulate emissions from power plants to include other sources of greenhouse gases, such as cement and fertilizer plans and existing oil and gas wells." John Wagner in The Washington Post.
2. Top opinions
IP: Let the economy overheat. "The Federal Reserve signaled Wednesday, with some trepidation, that it remains on track to raise interest rates later this year. Ordinarily, with unemployment now approaching levels associated with an economy at full strength, the case for raising rates would be open and shut: the Fed would not want unemployment to drop so far that the economy overheats and inflation takes off. But these are not ordinary times. An overheating economy right now would be welcome: It would help nudge inflation back to more normal levels, restore some of the long-term growth potential lost since the financial crisis, and boost ordinary workers’ wages more effectively than remedies such as big increase in the minimum wage, which can reduce employment for the low-skilled." The Wall Street Journal.
IRWIN: Does it matter just when the Fed raises rates? "If there’s one message that Janet Yellen, Federal Reserve chairwoman, tried to hammer home in her news conference on Wednesday, it is this: Don’t make so much effort to discern the precise timing of the Fed’s decision to raise interest rates... What really matters, she assures the world, is what happens after that. ... But read an analyst note from a Wall Street investment firm, or tune into a few minutes of CNBC, and you’ll see the opposite tone — downright obsessiveness with whether the Fed raises its short-term interest rate in September, or in December, or in 2016. Ms. Yellen and Wall Street are both right, and they’re both wrong. Ms. Yellen is asking markets to think about interest rates as an economist, which makes sense given that she is one. To an economist, market interest rates reflect the entire expected future path of short-term interest rates. ... But the traders who obsess over these things have a point, too. Predicting what interest rates will be in two or three or five years is a wide-open thing; the Fed can predict what they will do, but words (and projections) are cheap, and always subject to change."The New York Times.
LANE: The trade deal in the Pacific wouldn't harm workers. "Trade deals, by definition, affect industries that produce tradeable goods, such as cars or coal. ... Only about 10 percent of union members produce tradeable goods; the rest work in construction, government and other sectors outside the flow of global commerce. For these workers, cheap imports are either irrelevant or, to the extent they consume them, beneficial. What's more, the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP — the first trade deal that would be considered under fast track — exposes U.S. industry to only a smidgen of new low-wage competition. Ninety-two percent of the trade affected by the TPP would be with countries that are either high-wage (e.g., Japan and New Zealand), already have bilateral free trade with the United States (e.g., Chile and Peru) or both (e.g., Canada and Australia)."The Washington Post.
3. In case you missed it
The House will vote on trade again Thursday. "Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives will try to revive legislation central to President Barack Obama's Pacific Rim trade deal on Thursday by offering up a simpler version of a bill that failed dramatically last week. ... Under the new plan, lawmakers are expected to debate and vote on whether to give Obama "fast-track" authority to speed the 12-nation TPP through Congress, this time without a companion measure to renew an expiring program helping U.S. workers hurt by trade. If the new bill succeeds in the House, it would have to win Senate approval as well, with a vote possibly coming next week." Krista Hughes and Richard Cowan for Reuters.
The Fed will raise rates before the end of the year. "The Federal Reserve on Wednesday signaled that the U.S. economy is nearly ready to stand on its own but sought to assure investors that the process would be gradual. Officials at the nation’s central bank voted unanimously to leave the benchmark federal funds rate unchanged at zero during their regular policy meeting in Washington. But... most believe they will raise it for the first time in nearly a decade sometime this year." Ylan Q. Mui in The Washington Post.
Nine are dead after a shooting at a black church in Charleston. "A white gunman opened fire Wednesday night at a historic black church in this city’s downtown, killing nine people before fleeing and setting off an overnight manhunt, the police said. At a news conference with Charleston’s mayor early Thursday, the police chief, Greg Mullen, called the shooting a hate crime. ... The pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41, and his sister were among those killed, said J. Todd Rutherford, the minority leader of the State House of Representatives. Mr. Rutherford, who has served in the State Legislature with Mr. Pinckney since 1998, recalled him as a tireless leader with a booming voice and a mission to serve. ... Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. said the city was offering a reward for information leading to the arrest of the gunman." Jason Horowitz, Nick Corasaniti and Ashley Southall in The New York Times.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) calls for a 14.5 percent flat tax. "Tax plans increasingly have become a defining issue for Republicans in the 2016 nomination fight, and Mr. Paul’s proposal represents one of the more detailed—and aggressive—so far. ... It would require substantial spending cuts to avoid adding to deficits—an amount roughly equal to all deficit reduction the federal government has done since 2010. He predicted his plan would boost economic growth by nearly a percentage point a year. The plan would eliminate payroll taxes on workers, as well as gift and estate taxes and all duties and tariffs. His flat tax would apply to all personal income, including wages, salaries, dividends, capital gains, rents and interest. It would exempt the first $50,000 of income for a family of four. The plan would eliminate many deductions but preserve two widely used ones, for mortgage interest and charitable contributions." John D. McKinnon and Janet Hook in The Wall Street Journal.
California regulators say an Uber driver is an employee. "The ruling could set a broad precedent if it is upheld, said Richard Reibstein, a lawyer at Pepper Hamilton who focuses on independent contracting. That could be problematic for Uber and other companies in the burgeoning sharing economy. California is the ride-hailing app’s home market, and according to a report it released earlier this year, it has the most drivers in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Nationwide, more than 160,000 drivers picked up at least four riders a month, the data showed. For Uber, the implications of counting its drivers as employees rather than contractors are substantial. It would suddenly have to pay for employees' health care benefits, worker’s compensation and payroll taxes, and be on the hook for costs like gas and car maintenance." Thad Moore in The Washington Post.
Why did NAFTA succeed, where TPP is struggling? "It's important to recognize a key procedural difference. In 1993, 'fast track' authority had passed years earlier, so Congress would be voting to ratify NAFTA itself, and the text was open for review. The fact that the treaty itself was finalized and made public meant that legislators knew better how it would affect their districts. Since earmarks were still allowed, Republican leadership could hand out sweeteners to those who might face labor's wrath if they voted against the accord. President Clinton, too, bargained members off the fence with side deals... The overall political climate also plays a role. Although both sides during the two fights had polls to support their positions, today’s fast-track fight has played out against the backdrop of higher awareness of economic inequality, and some evidence that trade deals exacerbate it." Lydia DePillis in The Washington Post.