Sunday, April 17, 2016

Is Francis Berning?

Jeffrey Sachs in Toya, Mali, with school official Mahamadou Alamin. Photo by Sebastien Cailleux/Condé Nast, 2009.

Dr. Google and I stumbled into a couple of odd things while we were trying to figure out the Bernie-Bergoglio kerfuffle that seem, to me, to have some clarifying value, taken together.

1. Just a year ago, in April 2015, the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences held a Plenary Meeting on Human Trafficking: Issues beyond Criminalization, to which the development economist Jeffrey Sachs was invited, and later in the month a panel discussion on sustainable development with the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, as a result of which the chancellor of the Academy, Mgr. Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, took a certain amount of heat from conservative Catholics, on the grounds that both Dr. Sachs and Secretary General Ban are known supporters of abortion rights.

Including some heat at the conservative Catholic website First Things from Stefano Gennarini, Director of the Center for Legal Studies at the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam) in New York and Washington:
The views expressed by Sánchez Sorondo are especially perplexing in light of the cooperation of PAS with Sachs and Ban Ki-moon specifically on “climate change” and “sustainable development.” When the logic of these theories is carried out to their full extent they inevitably collide with the Church’s teaching on abortion and population control.
(Then the encyclical Laudato Si' came out in May and Gennarini apologized for his ignorance of the Church's teaching on the logic of climate change and sustainable development. Ha ha, no he didn't, he just ignored everything about Laudato Si' except for its boilerplate assertions of the "pro-life" position, as if that was the only really important stuff the Pope really had to say.)

So before Mgr. Sánchez responded, as he eventually did, the president of the Academy, the distinguished British sociologist Margaret Archer, put out a pretty sharp-tongued response of her own:
I was frankly amazed at the distorted criticism (First Things May 29 2015) you chose to aim at the Chancellor of the two Pontifical Academies....
1. Is your sole concern with human dignity confined to the period between conception and live-birth?
If so, this is a travesty of Catholic Social Teaching, whose concern is not confined to the newborn but extends to the development of all those potentialities and powers that exist only in potentia at birth (such as walking and talking) that develop or can be irreparably damaged throughout life. This is why, from Rerum Novarum onwards, CTS has defended the ‘living wage’ (sufficient on which to raise a family), morally deplored poverty, and all social conditions that militate against human well-being during the life-course (which, if you recall we were exhorted to enjoy ‘in abundance’).
2. Why are you so totally uninterested in vicious practices, such as human trafficking that are an offence to the human dignity and right to life that you purport to defend?....
3. Why do you direct a hate message to Bishop Sánchez Sorondo alone?
Various Cardinals were present at different meetings. Instead, blame me, blame PAS. We are respected academics who take full responsibility for our actions and have, according to our Statutes, the duty and privilege of advising the Church on matters of Social Doctrine and its application. I am appointed by the Pope and responsible directly to him. I’m afraid that leaves you and your cohort out in the cold. Moreover, we work pro bono and are therefore are self-supporting, which makes me wonder which lobbyists meet your salary bill?....
The Secretary General is to be shunned too! Well, that was not the attitude of Pope Francis who invited him to a private Audience, immediately prior to our joint PAS/PASS meeting on 28 April – to discuss climate change and human trafficking. Do you really have a higher moral standard than the Pope? Or is your own minimalistic version of the Creed, consisting of the single item: ‘’We believe in the ethical depravity of abortion’ considered to be an improvement?
Preach it!

2. To get to the other thing, I need to offer some background on that Dr. Sachs, who is, of course, the one who has been showing up this year as foreign policy adviser to Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and his presidential campaign, and certainly in some very important ways on the side of the angels, but with some big caveats.

This is the same Sachs who was famous a couple of decades ago for his work developing "shock therapy" for Bolivia and the post-Communist economies of Poland and Russia, selling off state assets so rapidly that you could hardly tell where they went. Since then he has claimed his own views were misunderstood, though the Russian economy is still 100% in the hands of a criminal oligarchy, and he has also done lots of work, in Africa particularly, with his Millennium Promise Alliance (incorporated in the state of Delaware), "engaging partners from the private and public sectors, national governments, and individuals" in an effort to "address the inter-connected challenges of poverty", which certainly sounds like a good thing.

(Though Wikipedia has posted a warning at the top of the article complaining that it "promotes the subject in a subjective matter without providing real information", I guess as when it refers to Sachs as "the internationally renowned economist", which is definitely not Wikipedia style. There's another warning at the top of its Sachs biography asserting that "A major contributor to this article appears to have a close connection with its subject"; one sentence originally read, "He is widely considered to be the world's leading expert on economic development and the fight against poverty", before the editors changed it to "one of the world's leading experts".)

More recently yet, he has been promoting the idea of an "Alliance of the Radical Center" party, putting him in the ideological company (guilt by association trigger warning!) of such figures as Matt Miller, Amitai Etzioni, and Thomas P. Friedman, better known as Thomas L. Friedman, the Mustache in the Middle, espousing a kind of neoliberalism of the left. A kind of what? Well, he's well to the left of Friedman or Miller in demands for attention to poverty, but he's also a violent opponent of budget deficits—just last summer he mounted a big attack on Paul Krugman on the issue, claiming that economic recovery from the 2008 collapse in the US hasn't been hurt by the massive deficit reduction since 2011 (he doesn't seem to think the crappiness of the new jobs is a problem, here or in Africa, although in other contexts he agrees very strongly on efforts to raise wages). Which may make him sound like an odd comrade for Bernie, who argues consistently that there's been no real recovery at all, but he's also pals with Bono, Youssou Ndour, and Tommy Hilfiger.

And then because he also seems to be personally offended by the Clinton Foundation, as if it was his direct rival for some kind of prize, he gets cited by the Daily Caller, Breitbart, Weekly Standard, and other less attractive companions. I wonder if it really is a personal animus, going back to the Russian economic restructuring, when he may have felt frustrated by opposition from the Clinton administration, including the normal leftist economist Joseph Stiglitz in the president's Council of Economic Advisors and maybe the president himself.

Meanwhile you'd think the Clinton Foundation and Millennium Promise Alliance would be able to work together, as they did for instance a decade ago with financing from Swiss Re in projects in Mali, Ethiopia, and Kenya. Both have terrific friends ranging all the way from George Soros to Angelina Jolie, both have exciting ideas and in at least some cases, fairly questionable results, and everybody needs to get a grip.

As New Left Observer wrote back in 2005, Jeffrey Sachs is complicated.

Anyway(this is the other thing I found out that nobody else has reported), on April 4 this year—just ten days before Dr. Sachs was scheduled to speak at yet another PASS conference, this one celebrating the 25th anniversary of John Paul II's encyclical Centesimus Annus on workers' rights and other social issues—he was in South Bend Indiana, together with Bishop Sánchez, speaking on a keynote panel at a Notre Dame conference For the Planet and the Poor. I'll bet they had dinner together too, these guys really do hang out all the time.

Which would explain just about all the mystery of how Bernie Sanders got invited to the Centesimus Annus conference on Friday.

3.  Now let's just take a look on the evidence of how that happened:

On Friday April 8 the Sanders campaign announced that the candidate had unexpectedly been invited to the conference too, and would leave for Rome right after Thursday night's Democratic debate:
"I am delighted to have been invited by the Vatican to a meeting on restoring social justice and environmental sustainability to the world economy," Sanders said in the release....
Mons. Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of the academy, also discussed Sanders's scheduled visit in a phone call.
"It does not signify any support of the campaign," Sorondo explained. "We want to establish a dialogue between North America and South America so we thought to invite a (U.S.) politician. The President of Bolivia will also be there. Perhaps the others (candidates) would have been interested but they did not request to come."
Asked if Sanders had requested an invitation, he said, "He has expressed an interest many times in the Pope's encyclical and it's clear that he has an interest in studying it. It might have that effect, (of looking like they approve of campaign) but we are not looking to support the campaign."
I.e., Sánchez did not answer the question. (I wish US media would stop referring to the bishop as "Sorondo", that's his mother's name.) Though one of his sentences may have done so indirectly, without getting his permission for it.

But Dr. Archer definitely answered the question, in a phone call with Bloomberg News, saying, with a very startling use of that same sharp tongue that we enjoyed so much at the top of the post, that:
while she “quite liked” Sanders’ program on paper, his failure to contact her first is a breach of protocol. “The president of the academy organizing this event has not been contacted with monumental discourtesy,” she said, referring to herself. Sanders “made the first move two or three days ago,” Archer said. She did not know whom he or his representatives contacted. “His use of it is clearly a pretext,” she said. “There are just 20 academics and there will be nothing of policy relevance.”
(The presidents of Bolivia and Ecuador are hardly academics, but never mind.) Bishop Sánchez, by this time in New York, explained that
he extended the invitation to Sanders, though he repeatedly declined to say who initiated the contact.... Asked when the invitation was extended, he said, “Quite some time ago.”
Though it hadn't been accepted early enough to get into the conference program, or for Dr. Archer to have heard about it. And then, to Reuters, the same day, in direct response to Archer's complaint,
"This is not true and she knows it. I invited him with her consensus,"
at which point Archer and Sánchez both seem to have stopped taking phone calls, and things began working themselves out in a more or less transparent way, a Sanders party of ten (including four grandchildren and Dr. and Mrs. Sachs) heading off to Rome on schedule and Sanders delivering a 15-minute speech (the text of which was released very promptly) to the conference and managing what he referred to as a five-minute visit with the Pope the next morning, and the Pope describes as "una stretta di mano, niente di più; questa si chiama educazione, non immischiarsi in politica" (a handshake, nothing more; that's called manners, not getting mixed up in politics) with the Sanderses and "another couple" (the Sachses, to whom he apparently wasn't even introduced?) as he was rushing from breakfast to his flight to Lesbos.

And then there's the video of Senator Sanders entering the conference room and making his way to the panel, where he deliberately stiffs Archer as she rises to welcome him and hastens past to shake hands with the president of Bolivia:

(Bernie could have used some of that educazione the Holy Father mentioned.) And the Times did eventually think of contacting Sachs:

Reached in Vienna, where he was en route to the Vatican conference, Mr. Sachs, who is a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Sanders, said he was involved in the invitation, but only as a messenger. The Vatican, he said, “reached out to me to ask me how they could reach him. And I said I was happy to forward the invitation to him. Which I did.”
4. I think the Vatican reached out to ask him to pass the salt in South Bend on April 4, and that is clearly where the invitation materialized, and that there is a serious amount of lying and truth-skirting going on here, though probably very little or none on poor Bernie's own part. Or that of Margaret Archer, who was clearly very shocked to see the Pontifical Academy getting coopted into an American election campaign. It was mainly Sachs and Sánchez, and I think Sánchez got rolled, put in an awful and embarrassing position that he should have seen coming.

The same goes for Sanders, who has been made to look like a ridiculous liar, with his fantasy that Pope Francis was singling him out for special attention just before the New York primary, and the many thousands of dollars spent (by whom? the campaign?) on the chartered jet and other expenses, and the fact that he had nothing more original to say to the conference than Hillary Clinton did to the Goldman Sachs audiences in 2013 (his speech was his stump speech graced with a long quotation from John Paul's 1991 encyclical), and that the Pope was annoyed enough to resort to some pretty waspish sarcasm: "ha avuto la gentilezza di salutarmi. L’ho salutato, ho stretto la mano a lui, alla moglie e a un'altra coppia che era con lui.... E se qualcuno pensa che dare un saluto sia immischiarsi in politica, gli raccomando di trovarsi uno psichiatra! (ride)" (He was kind enough to come and say hello. I greeted him, I shook hands with him and his wife and another couple that was with him.... And if anybody thinks that to say hello is to get mixed up in politics, I'd advise that person to find a psychiatrist [laughs]).

You may feel this is just one of the silly campaign things, and I'm sure it will be forgotten very soon, maybe before I've managed to post this (another ridiculously long effort for a very small payoff), but it raises to me real issues of judgment. Meeting with the Pope is a big item in the foreign policy portfolio, and it's been very badly and completely unnecessarily blown; and leaving the campaign at this crucial moment to visit Rome looks as panicky as McCain's housing-crisis campaign suspension in 2008. Just a few months ago people like me were all worried that Bernie Sanders didn't seem to have any foreign policy advice. Now he's got some, and I'm not sure it's an improvement.

The New Left Observer ended up its treatment ten years ago with
Sachs's enormous ego, which exposes almost anything he does to the suspicion that he's in it mostly for the attention. But while his work in Russia, though it drew attention, was mostly destructive - something he still can't admit to - his concerns today are a lot more admirable. His criticisms of American warmongering and Western indifference to the poverty of a billion or two of our fellow humans are mostly on the side of the angels. Maybe the best summing up of the latest incarnation of Jeffrey Sachs comes from David Ellerman: "I hope he gets what he wants, but that he doesn't get any credit for it."
One more incarnation in, it's time to ask again what that "what he wants" really is.

Totally agree. Glad that the Vatican wouldn't do something like that, even for a decent, compassionate, righteous candidate. They shouldn't have been tricked into appearing to do it, either.

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