Category: Current Affairs

Brazil: An Introduction to a Rising Global Power

Brazil CoverBrazil may have lost badly to Germany in the 2014 FIFA World Cup Semifinals on Tuesday, but they are still competing on the world stage and may soon contend with Germany and other more established countries in the global economy. Indeed, a new book by Michael Reid argues that Brazil deserves consistent international recognition and attention, as it may well be one of the world’s most influential nations by 2030. In Brazil: The Troubled Rise of a Global PowerThe Economist‘s Latin American columnist describes the country’s tumultuous history, notes its achievements, and assesses the challenges that face Brazil if it is to live up to its potential.

Tom Jobim, the composer of “The Girl from Ipanema,” once said that “Brazil is not for beginners,” and Reid‘s book is both a guide for the perplexed and an insightful meditation for the already informed. To initiate the wholly uninitiated—and to whet your appetite—here are a few key pieces of information about Brazil’s economy and culture.

  • The nation is the world’s fifth largest country by area. It is in equal in size to the United States, and all twenty-eight countries of the European Union would fit comfortably inside Brazil’s territory.
  • Brazil is a deeply religious country, with a mix of Christian and African religions. Many Brazilians pray to both a Catholic saint and an African orixá (deity).
  • The country’s population of 200 million makes it the world’s fourth most populous democracy.
  • Brazilians love football so much that on days when the national team is playing in the World Cup, the country completely shuts down, and the streets of major cities effectively fall silent.
  • Brazil has the seventh-largest economy, but it is the third-largest exporter of food and the six-biggest manufacturing power.
  • In Brazil, loyalty to the family is key, and the family is in some ways the central institution of Brazilian society.
  • Brazilians devote more of their disposable income to beauty and personal care products than anyone else in the world.
  • The nation is both self-sufficient in oil and the world leader in plant-based fuels.

If you are interested in learning more about Brazil’s past, present, and possible future, don’t miss your chance to win a copy of Brazil: The Troubled Rise of a Global Power through our Goodreads giveaway. Make sure to enter by the end of the month!


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Brazil by Michael Reid

Brazil

by Michael Reid

Giveaway ends July 31, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

 

Recommended Reading for the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue

Unbalanced: The Codependency of America and China by Stephen RoachThe U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) is taking place in Beijing, China on July 9–10. In his new book, Unbalanced: The Codependency of America and China, Stephen Roach addresses the current and prospective state-of-play in the economic relationship between China and the United States. As the S&ED approaches, we’ve asked him to weigh in on several key aspects of this important exchange between the world’s two largest and leading economies.

Yale University Press: What is the S&ED and why is it so important?

Stephen Roach: In an effort to formalize and coordinate high level exchanges on economic and financial issues between the U.S. and Chinese governments, a Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED) was launched in December 2006 by Former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. In 2009, the Obama Administration broadened the focus of the dialogue to include foreign policy and security discussions—hence, inserting an ampersand into the acronym (S&ED)—and reduced the frequency of engagement from twice a year to an annual meeting. The summit continues to rotate back and forth between Washington and Beijing. It brings together on a regular basis the largest delegation of senior government officials of both nations. Its core mission is to generate a “dialogue that will focus on addressing the challenges and opportunities that both countries face on a wide range of bilateral, regional, and global areas of immediate and long-term economic and strategic interest.” Bottom line: The S&ED is now the main event in the U.S.-China debate.

YUP: What is the mood heading into the upcoming S&ED?

SR: Not good. Tensions have intensified recently on three key fronts—trade and currency (again), cyberhacking, and maritime and territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas. Unsurprisingly, both nations are blaming the other for causing these problems. These are classic symptoms of the blame-game of codependency that I stress in Unbalanced—a penchant for partners to hold the other accountable for problems of ones own making. For its part, U.S. complaints are undoubtedly exaggerated by the domestic political cycle—a fairly typical outbreak of China bashing that has broad bipartisan appeal heading into national elections. China is also shaped by its own political agenda—ironic for a one-party system but in keeping with President Xi Jinping’s grass roots appeal for restoration of the so-called China Dream.

YUP: What do you see as the key issues in the U.S.-China economic relationship that you would like to see addressed at this year’s S&ED?

SR: The main problem with the economic relationship is that it has moved into the danger zone of a destructive codependency, where, as I wrote in a recent op-ed on Project Syndicate, both the U.S. and China are focused more on frictions than on synergies. The challenge is to embrace the opportunities of a more constructive interdependency. In that vein, I would like to see progress on two fronts—moving ahead on a U.S.-China bilateral investment treaty (BIT) and reestablishing military-to-military exchanges on the increasingly contentious cybersecurity issue.

YUP: How can the U.S. benefit from a bilateral investment treaty with China?

SR: China is at the early stage of a powerful transformation—moving from a manufacturing-led investment and export growth strategy to a services-led consumer society. In Unbalanced, I estimate that the growth in Chinese services will amount to some $12 trillion between now and 2025. In an environment of ever increasing IT-enabled global connectivity, many services have been transformed from nontradables to tradables. In the book, I calculate that the tradable portion of China’s coming bonanza in services growth could amount to between $4 and $6 trillion by 2025. No one is better positioned than the United States—the world’s largest and most competitive services economy—to garner a significant share of China’s coming wave of services development. The key will be having access to the growth in China’s domestic services market—a critical objective of a bilateral investment treaty.

YUP: Will China enjoy equal benefits from a bilateral investment treaty with the United States?

SR: Yes, that’s precisely the point. What we get on access to Chinese markets they will rightfully want and demand from us. That’s not to say that each nation replicates precisely the same industry and product-specific access of the other. There will be differences in what each would consider “out-of bounds”—the so-called negative list characteristic of all trade negotiations. But there can be no mistaking that China is now moving aggressively to invest in foreign markets, including those in the United States. According to a tabulation by the consultancy Rhodium Group, China’s outward-bound foreign direct investment into U.S. markets has just surpassed American fixed investment into China for the first time ever. Just as U.S. companies have sought to capture share in Chinese markets, it is only logical that China’s increasingly globalized multinationals seek to do the same in the United States. Both nations benefit from this aspect of economic integration—consistent with the familiar “win-win” mantra of globalization. Furthermore, if China and the United States reach accord on a rules-based framework of market access, that could well set the stage for broader trade liberalization, including China’s participation in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) that the U.S. is currently negotiating with eleven other countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Excluding China from TPP would be a mistake. Progress on a BIT could well avoid such a blunder. That would be icing on the cake.

YUP: But any treaty between nations would need to be approved by the U.S. Senate. What are the chances that a dysfunctional Congress would agree to such an action?

SR: Given the political polarization in Washington, there is little possibility of Senate approval of a BIT with China in the foreseeable future. Realistically, however, U.S. and Chinese negotiators still have considerable ground to cover before presenting any such accord to their respective governments for ratification. The soonest I could envision that occurring would be late 2015 or early 2016—hopefully squeezing through a narrow window in the U.S. political cycle between the upcoming off-year elections and the next Presidential campaign. While this may seem unrealistically optimistic—especially in light of the long and arduous negotiations that preceded China’s accession to the WTO in 2001—there is growing support for such action by trade experts in both countries. An especially strong appeal for a BIT was recently made on the op-ed pages of The Wall Street Journal by none other than Ambassadors Charlene Barshefsky and Long Yongtu, the two principal negotiators of the China-U.S. WTO accord. Notwithstanding the compelling arguments and growing support outside the Washington Beltway for a U.S.-China BIT, it would be naïve to presume that Congress will suddenly put aside its long-standing anti-China biases. That remains a major fly in the ointment.

YUP: How do the charges and counter-charges over cyberhacking affect the relationship and can the upcoming S&ED do anything to calm the waters on this key issue?

Stephen Roach

Stephen Roach: Photo by Tony Rinaldo

SR: Painfully, cyber-espionage has become a way of life in the Internet Era. In terms of the U.S.-China relationship it has become an increasingly contentious issue in the past eighteen months following the January 2013 release of a report by a leading cyber security firm Mandiant that documents alleged hacking of U.S. companies by a cyber intelligence unit embedded in the Chinese army. That report served as the basis of a recent U.S. Department of Justice indictment of five officers in the People’s Liberation Army on charges of espionage, theft of trade secrets, identity theft, and fraud. Following that indictment, China has withdrawn from the military-to-military exchanges that were established at last year’s S&ED in July 2013, denying the validity of U.S. allegations and arguing that the evidence of U.S. cyber hacking provided by former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, portrays equally egregious violations by the United States. This is a classic example of how the finger pointing of codependency can get partners into serious trouble. A resumption of military-to-military exchanges on cyber issues offers the only viable avenue of resolution. The S&ED is the best platform to accomplish that objective.

YUP: How do China’s economic leaders currently view the U.S. economy?

SR: They still view the U.S. economy with great admiration—as the largest and strongest economy in the world and as an economy that sets the bar very high in terms of innovation, technological change, and entrepreneurial start-ups. In the same sense, they recognize that the U.S. was seriously wounded by the Great Financial Crisis of 2008-09 and will take a long time to return to its former pre-crisis health and vigor. China continues to worry about macroeconomic imbalances—its own as well as those of the United States. It is attempting to address its imbalances by shifting to more of a consumer-led growth strategy. It is disappointed that America does not seem to be addressing its imbalances after the turmoil of such a wrenching crisis—preferring, instead, to sustain an historic shortfall of domestic saving and thereby still rely on others, such as China, to fill that void. China views this as an inherent source of macro-instability in the U.S. that leads to trade and currency tensions that always seem to be debated at S&EDs. The current Dialogue is hardly an exception in this regard—epically in light of the U.S. Treasury’s recent expression of concern (PDF) over a supposed shift in Chinese currency policy.

YUP: What do you advise as the steps needed to correct the “imbalance” in our two economies?

SR: The solution is conceptually quite simple—China needs to save less and consume more. America needs to do the opposite—consume less and save more and deploy that saving toward rebuilding competitiveness by investing in human capital, infrastructure, and manufacturing capacity. But talk is cheap—the heavy lifting of implementation is where the rubber meets the road. China. I believe, is on that road to rebalancing. The United States, I fear, is not. Instead, we remain fixated on the excesses of debt- and asset-driven consumer-led growth as the crux of the American Dream. In a codependent relationship, this asymmetrical response is troubling. America is likely to feel pressure as China shifts from surplus saving to saving absorption and thereby provides support for the safety net of its own citizens rather than offering such support for American citizens. In response, the United States will find itself lacking the external source of saving it has long relied on as the sustenance of its unbalanced growth. This is the subtext of what is likely to be an equally asymmetrical engagement at the upcoming S&ED in July 2014. It’s the “S” that remains the big problem for Washington—a failure to comprehend the strategic imperatives of America’s rebalancing agenda.


Stephen Roach is senior fellow, Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and School of Management, Yale University. Prior to that he was Chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, and for the bulk of his career on Wall Street was Chief Economist of Morgan Stanley. Prior to joining Morgan Stanley in 1982, Mr. Roach served on the research staff of the Federal Reserve Board and was also a research fellow at the Brookings Institution. He holds a Ph.D. in economics from New York University. Roach has written extensively for the international media and appears regularly on television around the world.

Jennifer Taub Explains Everything You Need To Know About the Housing Market Crisis

TaubThe United States is still struggling to understand and recover from the financial crisis that flared up in 2007-8. The story of the housing market, subprime mortgage lending practices, and the mistakes responsible for the crisis is both complex and essential to understand in order to avoid repeating. In this exceptionally informative Q&A, Jennifer Taub, author of Other People’s Houses: How Decades of Bailouts, Captive Regulators, and Toxic Bankers Made Home Mortgages a Thrilling Business, explains what you need to know about the housing market failure.

Yale University Press: There are numerous news stories of late, which talk about the comeback of the housing market, in particular in urban centers like New York City. Is the housing crisis—and the associated economic downturn—safely behind us?

Jennifer Taub: Stories of all-cash bids for New York City apartments and soaring sales of luxury homes in San Francisco belie the hard reality that the housing market has not recovered. After a few years of gains, we now see signs of stagnation. According to new data from Standard & Poor’s, home prices appear to be flattening. Volume is also down with sales of new and existing homes falling.

Applications for home purchase mortgage loans slid by nearly 18% this April compared to last year, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Completed home mortgage loans (including refinancings) dropped more; this quarter they were down 58% compared to the same time last year. This is the lowest level since 2000, according to Inside Mortgage Finance.

This is a tale of two recoveries. Wealthy purchasers seeking investment properties or vacation homes can draw upon stock market gains to bid up prices. In contrast, most Americans rely upon wages for income and their main assets are their homes. This means a shortage of willing and able buyers and sellers.  As recently described by Neil Irwin in the New York Times, there are more than 2 million “missing” households, those who under normal circumstances are of the right age to purchase homes but are not taking that step.  Many are renting or living with parents and other extended family members. This is likely because unemployment is still high, wages are low, and those with jobs feel less secure and are burdened by debt.

Meanwhile, the shortage of sellers stems from the fact that about 9 million households are still deeply underwater on their mortgages (owing more on their home loan than their property is worth). Thus many people cannot sell without facing a loss.

YUP: Are there still problems with bank lending practices and if so what are they? Do we need more regulation or less, in your opinion?

Jennifer Taub

Jennifer Taub

JT: Banks and bankers behave badly when there are incentives—including competitive pressures—to do so. Ideally, consumer protection regulation acts as a counterweight. Sensible regulation creates a level-playing field so that responsible lenders are not at a disadvantage when they avoid abusive and deceptive practices that are profitable to them in the short run, yet harm consumers and society in the long run.

There are incentives for banks to return to high-risk mortgage lending. Most of the pick-up in home loans we saw in recent years was due to an extraordinary level of mortgage refinancings. With interest rates now rising, refinancings have dropped off. With the decline in volume, we should be concerned that originators will once again push predatory mortgages and unreasonably relax underwriting standards.

There are also significant problems with payday loans—money lent in advance of the borrower’s paycheck. More than 12 million Americans use payday loans. At a March hearing conducted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, experts revealed that payday loans are not really short-term in nature and can turn into a debt trap. Many large banks are now backing away from offering these or providing financing to payday lenders. However these fringe lenders are still flourishing.

Proponents of payday loans suggest restricting them will hurt those Americans who have little other sources for credit. A good alternative might be postal banking as suggested by Professor Mehrsa Baradaran. This would involve the U.S. Postal Service taking deposits, making small loans, and providing bill payment services.

YUP: Do the conditions that caused the prior market meltdown still linger and are we still vulnerable to a similar financial crisis?

JT: Unfortunately, yes. In 2009 Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke defended the multi-trillion-dollar bailouts, explaining that “it wasn’t to help the big firms that we intervened. . . . When the elephant falls down, all the grass gets crushed as well.” Today, the elephants are larger than ever, and the grass is still crushed.

The top banks are bigger than they were before the crisis, and they still borrow excessively in the short-term and overnight markets to purchase risky securities, leaving them vulnerable to runs. The Dodd-Frank Act provided the regulators plenty of tools to prevent another meltdown. So far, the modest improvements to the safety of the system are encouraging, but woefully inadequate.


Read an excerpt of Other People’s Houses on Salon


YUP: What should be done?

JT: It’s time now for more bold action, such as the 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act sponsored by Senators Elizabeth Warren, John McCain, Maria Cantwell, and Angus King. We should also reduce banks’ dependence on short-term wholesale funding. In addition, we should create a pre-paid risk fund to finance the “orderly resolution” process created under Dodd-Frank, so that the banks themselves have to front the resolution process instead of the taxpayers. Such an upfront assessment was included when Dodd-Frank was in progress, but, under pressure from the banks, it was removed before the law was enacted.

YUP: How did we get to this point? Was this just a one-off market failure for 2008 or an indication of a larger pattern with banks and financial institutions? 

JT: The 2008 meltdown was not a one-off market failure; it was a repeat performance, a more severe relapse of the same underlying disease that caused the S&L debacle in the 1980s.  In both cases the same reckless banks, operating under different names, failed, while the same lax regulators overlooked fraud and abuse. Furthermore, today as the legal problems plaguing JPMorgan Chase demonstrate, the situation is essentially unchanged.

Though deregulation and desupervision enabled the S&L crisis the subsequent legal reforms failed to eliminate risk to borrowers, lenders, taxpayers, or to the entire system. Instead, risk grew, but through sophisticated financial innovation, it was strategically directed away from Wall Street to homeowners and taxpayers.

We are repeating the cycle. Today, our biggest banks are larger than before the crisis, are still excessively leveraged, are bumbling and behaving badly, sometimes criminally, but with little to no personal accountability. This poor conduct goes well beyond abusive consumer lending practices.  With scandal after scandal, we see that these financial firms are too big and too complex for their own executives to manage and for the government to regulate or prosecute.

The problem is amplified when after a crisis, the strongest survivors swallow up the failing competition along with the target’s troubled corporate cultures and toxic assets. We saw this with JPMorgan Chase and now fresh evidence includes Bank of America’s announcement in late April of this year that it submitted incorrect data to the Fed as part of the annual stress tests. In an accounting error related to sales of bonds inherited from Merrill Lynch, Bank of America overstated its equity capital by $4 billion. The Fed required the bank to suspend a dividend increase and stock buyback plan.


Listen to Jennifer Taub on The Takeaway (starts 28:01)


YUP: While there are headlines about this spike in luxury apartment buildings, there are also statistics that the amount of “underwater houses” is on the rise (an underwater house is a home mortgage with a higher balance outstanding than the market value of the home.) What are the latest statistics on underwater homes: are there improvements?

JT: Despite some improvement in home prices, many millions of homeowners in America remain deeply underwater on their mortgages. These include families who purchased homes at inflated values or who were encouraged to take on more debt as property values rose during the bubble. Collectively, the negative home equity holds back our nation’s economic recovery.

According to RealtyTrac, more than 9 million homes have mortgages that are “seriously underwater” meaning the borrower owes at least 25% more on the loan than the home’s estimated market value. This is about 17% of all properties with mortgages. While this is an improvement from early 2012 when 12.8 million homes were deeply underwater, the housing market and the economy are stagnating in part due to this problem. By comparison, CoreLogic calculates that 6.5 million of mortgaged homes are underwater, down from an estimated 11.2 million in 2010.

YUP: At your book’s core is the story of Nobelman v. American Savings Bank.  In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that even filing for bankruptcy would not provide any help for underwater homeowners: that the mortgage loan principal could not be reduced.  Is this still the status quo? Are there any indications that policy might change here to help distressed homeowners and stave off foreclosures?

JT: Our nation’s bankruptcy system is designed to offer a fresh start to borrowers who owe more than they own or who cannot make ends meet. Before the Nobelman decision in 1993, struggling homeowners in more than twenty states could turn to bankruptcy courts to save their homes. An underwater borrower could reduce the outstanding mortgage loan balance to the sunken value of their home. And, knowing this relief was available, lenders were more willing to voluntarily restructure mortgage loans.

The Nobelman decision is still the law of the land. This means that middle class homeowners are singled-out. Whereas the amount owed on a boat or vacation home can be reduced in bankruptcy, a purchase mortgage on a principal residence cannot. There is a solution— a simple amendment to the Bankruptcy Code. Such a proposal passed in the House in 2009, but over industry opposition and without support from the Obama Treasury department this important amendment failed in the Senate.

This simple amendment should have been included in the Bush bailout legislation in 2008. On the campaign trail, then-candidate Barack Obama had vocally supported changing “our bankruptcy laws to make it easier for families to stay in their homes” and to remove what he called a “Washington loophole” that “if you’re a family that owns one house, bankruptcy judges are actually barred from helping you keep a roof over your head by writing down the value of your mortgage.” However, in late September of 2008, while the bailout legislation stalled, he suddenly reversed his position encouraging the exclusion of bankruptcy reform from the legislation.

YUP: In your book, you point to the increasingly popular view that the 2008 meltdown in the housing market was the fault of borrowers. That these “subprime” borrowers had no business taking out loans for homes they could not afford, and that was the reason for the bursting of the housing bubble. Is that a fair assessment, in your view?


Read Joe Nocera’s op-ed “Bankrupt Housing Policy” in the New York Times.


JT: Subprime mortgage borrowers have been unfairly scapegoated. If every single subprime mortgage had defaulted, as author and former investment banker Nomi Prins has noted, the total unpaid principal would have been a fraction of what was committed by the Fed, Treasury, and FDIC in the financial crisis.

It is not credible to blame homeowners alone for the crisis. True, some homeowners participated in fraud, and others were simply unrealistic or were speculating that housing prices would continue to rise.  However, a much larger number were victims either of abusive lending practices or of the housing bubble and burst that diminished their home values and retirement savings.

It was the desire of banks to make profitable trades, and hedge funds and other large institutions to speculate in mortgage-linked securities that drove the production of unsafe mortgage loans and brought down the system. It was the side bets, made knowingly by some and unknowingly by others, that put far more at risk than the total value of all the subprime mortgages.

The most influential bankers testified under oath that they alone should take the blame. Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan told the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission: “Over the course of the crisis, we, as an industry, caused a lot of damage. Never has it been clearer how poor business judgments we have made have affected Main Street.” In addition, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon told the Commission, “I blame the management teams 100% . . .and no one else.”

YUP: Is there anything the average citizen can do to help bring about change to protect themselves from predatory lending and under-regulated banks?

JT: Consumers concerned about a predatory or misleading banking practices can contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was created under Dodd-Frank. They can seek assistance from an attorney with consumer law expertise.  Those frustrated with too big to fail banks can also move their savings to a smaller institution. For example there are nearly 7,000 community banks in about 50,000 locations in this country as well as thousands of credit unions.

Consumers should share their stories with and express their concerns to their state and federal representatives. Phone calls, emails and letters matter greatly. To stay informed on legislation and policy matters, they can also follow the work of advocacy organizations including Americans for Financial Reform, Better Markets, and The Center for Responsible Lending.


Jennifer Taub is an associate professor at Vermont Law School, where she teaches courses on contracts, corporations, securities regulation, and white-collar crime. Formerly she was an associate general counsel at Fidelity Investments. She frequently speaks and writes about the financial crisis of 2008. She lives in Northampton, MA.

Yale Press Podcast: Author Jennifer Michael Hecht on Suicide

Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against ItThere is a certain myth to the idea that most suicides occur around the holidays; in fact, it’s usually in spring and summer that see the highest rates of this irretrievable act. In our latest episode of the Yale Press Podcast, Jennifer Michael Hecht, author of Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against Itspeaks poignantly to the value of  recovering the most powerful historical and contemporary arguments against the act.  The book, based on research as well as personal experience — has been well received by critics: it’s what David Brooks has called “eloquent and affecting” in his New York Times column, what Maria Popova claimed as “more than a must-read — it’s a cultural necessity” on Brain Pickings, and what Andrew Sullivan has treated readers to with a series of videos with an Ask Anything series with Hecht on The Dish.

podcast-logo1

Listen to Jennifer Michael Hecht on the Yale Press Podcast on iTunesU!

As we close our #YUPapr conversations this month about “Ancient Texts, Modern Beliefs”, Hecht‘s argument importantly shapes how we have perceived our own humanity as an object of faith and community, and for our modern society and its set of beliefs, the message is clear: don’t go, stay.

Every Pope a Saint? The Politics of Canonization

For our #YUPapr conversations this month about “Ancient Texts, Modern Beliefs”, a closer inspection of contemporary religious practices—and their comparative differences— is important for our consideration of changing beliefs in the greater context of world history. Here, Yale University Press author Michael Coogan discusses the upcoming April 27 canonization of two popes and the rapidly increasing rate of sainthood for modern Bishops of Rome, offering some perspective on the changing political nature of the Church in today’s society.

Michael Coogan—

On April 27, ornately robed clerics will celebrate the canonization of two recent popes, John XXIII and John Paul II. In the modern Roman Catholic Church until the last few decades, canonization­—declaring someone a saint—was rare and occurred only after a protracted process. Successive steps lead to canonization: first, one is declared “Servant of God,” then “Venerable,” then “Blessed,” and finally “Saint.” From the beginning of the fourteenth century to the mid-twentieth, only two popes were canonized and another three were declared “Blessed.” Not so any more: since the papacy of John Paul II a flurry of canonizations has been underway, not just for ordinary individuals deemed holy, but also for modern popes.

GWB LB DIGITAL 12:35 Statements with Pope John Paul II.

Pope John Paul II

Remarkably, all of the popes since the mid-twentieth century, except of course for those still alive, are on the path to canonization: Pius XII (1939–1958, declared Servant of God in 1990 and Venerable in 2009), John XXIII (1958–1963, declared Servant of God in 1965, Venerable in 1999, and Blessed in 2000), Paul VI (1963–1978, declared Servant of God in 1993 and Venerable in 2012), John Paul I (1978, declared Servant of God in 2003), and John Paul II (1978–2005, declared Servant of God in 2005, Venerable in 2009, and Blessed in 2011). Why this sudden, almost automatic rush to sainthood for recent popes?

Part of the answer lies in nineteenth-century realpolitik. For more than a thousand years, the pope was not just the spiritual head of the Roman Catholic Church, but also a monarch, the ruler of the Papal States in the central Italian peninsula. As sovereigns of this territory, popes engaged in diplomacy and war to maintain and expand their control. In the nineteenth century, however, the papal domain was virtually eliminated by the unification of Italy under Garibaldi and his successors, culminating with the capture of Rome by Italian forces in September 1870. All that was left of papal territory was tiny Vatican City. Only a few months before, when the fall of Rome was already inevitable, the First Vatican Council, at Pope Pius IX’s prompting, declared the doctrine of papal infallibility. If the popes could not be political sovereigns, it seems, they could at least have absolute spiritual authority, especially, as the official wording has it, when they say they are speaking infallibly on an issue of faith or morals.

Although there has been only one technically infallible pronouncement since 1870—Pius XII’s proclamation in 1950 of the doctrine of the Assumption, that Mary, the mother of Jesus, had been bodily taken up to heaven at her death—papal authoritarianism has expressed itself in other ways, as when John Paul II asserted in an apostolic letter that women could never be priests, and then Cardinal Ratzinger (later Benedict XVI) subsequently called this teaching infallible, unchangeable, and binding on all Catholics forever.

By the second half of the twentieth century, even the popes’ spiritual authority was being eroded, because of flawed leadership. Pius XII’s silence about the Holocaust was moral cowardice, if not latent anti-Semitism. Paul VI’s insistence on banning artificial contraception in his encyclical Humanae Vitae, against the opinion of a majority of his advisors, effectively ended papal authority for many Catholics. John Paul II’s clericalism led to years of denial and coddling of predatory priest pedophiles and their episcopal superiors, which further diminished the Church’s authority as well as its coffers. Significantly, these last two issues concern what the current pope has called an obsessive preoccupation with sex and reproduction; it is of more than tangential interest that of the thousands of men and women put on the path to sainthood by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, only a tiny percentage were married. Most openly sexually active persons, it seems, can’t really be saintly.

The haste to canonize the last five deceased popes is an effort to shore up the diminished spiritual authority of the papacy. If every pope is a saint, who could dare disagree with them? Surely they are being elevated to sainthood not mainly because of their personal holiness but because they were popes, even though as popes most of them were deeply flawed. Is flawed leadership no bar to sainthood?

Among the popes whose canonization process John Paul II sped up was none other than Pius IX, declared Servant of God in 1907, but Venerable only in 1985 and Blessed in 2000: the most authoritarian pope of the nineteenth century was propelled toward sainthood by one of the most authoritarian popes of the twentieth. The Vatican is locked in a time warp of absolute monarchical authority, and popes canonizing their predecessors is an attempt to preserve and enhance it. The joint canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II—the first a darling of liberal Catholics, the second a favorite of traditional Catholics—is calculated to appeal to different constituencies. Even sainthood is political, and it is disingenuous to pretend that it is not.


Michael Coogan is the author of The Ten Commandments: A Short History of an Ancient Text, out this month from Yale University Press.

mdc2

Michael Coogan

coogan_book

.

The Catholic Church’s Role in World Development

Last week, President Obama and Pope Francis met for almost an hour in a much-anticipated private visit in which they discussed, among other issues, income inequality and global peace. Indeed, in his first year as Pope, Pope Francis has emphasized the necessity to care for the poor, both from the standpoint of the Church and in political terms. This special emphasis on the plight of the poor has touched many, and drawn particular attention to the Church’s role in addressing these needs. In his book Earthly Mission: The Catholic Church and World Development, Robert Calderisi places the role of the Church in global and historical context. This book takes on the Catholic Church’s practical role in developing nations, particularly in the last 60 years. In so doing, Calderisi touches on the relationship between religion and politics, the economy, and social progress.

Earthly MissionIndeed, in looking at both individual people and official institutional practice and dogma, this book obliquely raises the question, “What is the Church?” The tension between the institution and the individual occurs throughout Earthly Mission, in ways one wouldn’t always expect. The institution has often, but not exclusively, played a “conservative” role; in fact, the term “conservative” takes on wider meaning than a distinct place on the political spectrum. There are institutional, national, and economic issues at stake in the meeting between the Catholic Church and international development, not to mention the actions of persons outside the institution.

In addition to keen historical and economic investigation, Calderisi draws from the stories of people he met in fourteen developing nations from Rwanda, to Argentina, to Bangladesh. He speaks to cab drivers in Italy, economists in the Philippines and pastors in Tanzania. This approach gives Earthly Mission the insight that comes from individual experience alongside broader analysis with hard data.

The scope of the Catholic Church’s role in world development is vast and complex, and Earthly Mission includes the range from hopeful moments where poverty has been alleviated and to the most difficult ones. Calderisi examines heartbreaking moments in world history, such as the horrors of the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s. Calderisi speaks to those who were there and grapples with the incomprehensible violence.  “Church leaders did nothing to prevent the butchery,” he explains, “and some even seemed to encourage it.” The heroism of some individuals is set up against failures of courage on the other. Priests, nuns and lay Catholics all participated, some as victims, others as perpetrators.

In the end Earthly Mission provides a dynamic picture of the intersection between religion and politics and the diverse ways that appears in different places on the globe. It is in part a story of the Church’s institution meeting governmental institutions, and the individuals in between. “Diverse and all too human in its internal organization,” Calderisi writes, “the Church has varied greatly in its responses to social challenges. Vagaries of character, pressures of circumstance, and instincts of self-preservation have sometimes won out over the eternal truths to which it is dedicated.” Laying his cards on the table, Calderisi himself does not give up hope for the Catholic Church, yet leaves the story open for readers to draw their own conclusions as to whether the Catholic Church, as a whole, has been a force for good.

The Political Decisions that Keep Guantanamo Bay Open

Listen to the podcast interview for The Terror Courts on iTunesU!

terrorCourtsOn the Yale Press Podcast, in conversation with Yale University Press Director John Donatich, author Jess Bravin revealed: “It was one of the commission’s big advocates, Senator Lindsey Graham, who told me, in effect, that you needed to put the 9/11 defendants on trial by military commission in order to justify the existence of military commissions . . . Justice in this case has been delayed in order to add to the creditability of military commissions by giving them marquee-level defendants to prosecute.”

Jess Bravin’s The Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantanamo Bay has won numerous accolades for debunking presumptions like these about Guantanamo Bay and the military commissions. Terror Courts was a 2013 top political book pick by many, including the Washington Post and Publishers Weekly. Rolling Stone called it “captivating,” the New York Times labeled it a “welcome addition to the history of national security legal policy dilemmas in the Bush era.”

With The Terror Courts releasing in paperback this month, we are pleased to share an excerpt from the conversation between YUP Director John Donatich and Bravin. Guantanamo Bay once garnered enough public attention that then presidential candidate Barack Obama made closing the detention camp a campaign promise. John Donatich asks Bravin about the potential for sustained public outcry as the detainees cases drag on in the permanent military commissions:

John Donatich: What do you think now, with the hunger strikes getting more attention, at what point do you think Guantanamo will be an issue that Congress has no choice but to address, and will there be any kind of sustained public outcry against what’s happening?

Jess Bravin: Well there is no public outcry against what’s happening there that I can tell, there are certainly people that have been concerned about it, but it’s not an issue that motivates mass attention in the United States.

I think that if the congress remains as it is now—divided partisan control in the two chambers, and no constituency for addressing Guantanamo, it’s hard to image much happening from Capitol Hill. I think the initiative lies almost completely with President Obama. In his first term he was willing to expend zero political capital towards his campaign promise of closing Guantanamo and significantly altering the way that military trials worked—well, he did alter the way military trails work on paper, I have to say that. He did sponsor legislation that did afford defendants greater protections than they had previously, but in terms of closing the place and just closing the book on this post 9/11 experiment in parallel justice, he hasn’t really done anything to accomplish that after discovering there was some political price to pay for trying back in 2009.


Listen to their complete conversation on the Yale Press Podcast, now available through Yale University on iTunesU.

Jess Bravin

Jess Bravin

Q&A With Author David Sedlak on the Future of Clean Water

water

With the planet’s clean water sources strained by over-population and pollution, Yale University Press sat down with Water 4.0 author David Sedlak to talk about the future of urban water systems. For more on what we must do to protect our most precious resource, visit water4point0.com.

 

Yale University Press: In Water 4.0, you discuss the four stages of urban water solution’s history. Can you explain them for us?

David Sedlak: Whenever people congregate in big groups they need access to a water supply.  The first revolution in urban water occurred when the Romans created a complex system of dams, aqueducts, underground water pipes and sewers that could provide people with a daily allotment of water that was comparable to what we use today.  When medieval villages started growing into cities during the second half of the nineteenth century, they adopted this approach, creating bigger and better water systems in cities like Paris, London and New York.  The plentiful water supply made it possible to keep the streets free from the muck that had plagued medieval cities.   It also created a new problem by spreading disease to communities that drew their water downstream.  After a few decades of outbreaks of cholera and typhoid fever, desperate engineers created drinking water treatment processes that made it possible to safely consume water from sewage-contaminated rivers.  The spread of this second revolution in urban water technology extended average life spans by almost a decade in the US.  Cities grew without worrying about the effects of water pollution until the environmental impacts of sewage discharged by cities became too obvious to ignore.  Between the 1950s and 1970s, the third revolution in urban water systems resulted in the construction of sewage treatment plants that eliminated the dead fish and noxious odors that had become commonplace downstream of cities.  As discussed in the book, a confluence of factors—including climate change, population growth and underinvestment in upkeep of pipes and treatment plants—is leading to a need to embark on a fourth revolution.

 

YUP: What were the major benefits that arose from the first three advances in the harnessing and treatment of water? Were there any drawbacks from each? 

DS: The first advance—an imported water supply and the use of water as a means of waste disposal—liberated people from the burden of having to haul and store water as well as the messy job of managing their own wastes.  Unfortunately, the dilution of feces and urine with large quantities of water made it virtually impossible to capture and reuse the nutrients locked up in the wastes.  By discharging sewage above a neighbor’s drinking water supply, the first set of innovations also spread waterborne disease to downstream communities.

The second advance—drinking water treatment—largely solved the problem of waterborne disease in developed countries, an advance that has been recognized by the US National Academy of Engineering as one of the top four most important technological advance of the twentieth century.  The main drawback of the newly created drinking water treatment system was related to a lack of knowledge about the risks to public health posed by the use of lead pipes and chlorine—two problems that many cities are still struggling with today.

Finally, the third advance—widespread construction of sewage treatment plants—helped to achieve the goal of making it possible to swim and fish in our lakes, rivers and estuaries.  Here, the main drawbacks were related to our inability to use the enthusiasm for building sewage treatment plants to create a system that assured that the plants would be maintained in the future.

 

YUP: So now that we approach the “Water 4.0” stage, where do we go from here? What responses and approaches are on offer?

DS: To get a better idea of what the future holds, we can look to the cities that are on the front lines of the struggle.  In cities where existing water supplies are unable to keep up with demand, we are seeing the traditional approach of water conservation and the development of more imported water sources being taken as far as they can go.  Some of these cities are starting to experiment with new approaches for turning water that hasn’t been seen as being fit for consumption—seawater, sewage, stormwater runoff—into drinking water.  In cities where too much water is posing problems, the tried-and-true engineering approaches of digging bigger underground drainage tunnels are being abandoned in lieu of green roofs, rain gardens and stormwater retention ponds.  The big challenge is to figure out which of the many possible approaches and specific technologies is actually practical, given financial limitations and need to maintain the reliable performance that we demand of our water systems.

 

YUP: What are some of the technology-based solutions that could be pursued?

DS: As communities struggle to address the inadequacies of their existing systems, a number of new technologies are emerging as candidates for the fourth revolution.  On the water supply side, water reuse and seawater desalination are becoming inexpensive and reliable enough to start replacing imported water supplies.  Newer technologies like urban stormwater capture and closed loop water systems in buildings have the potential to help cities break free of the need for centralized water treatment and distribution, but they are not as well developed.  Also, new technologies that employ the latest developments in information technology, wireless communication and materials science are creating opportunities to conserve water in ways that seemed impossible twenty years ago.  On the wastewater side, new technologies are creating modular sewage treatment plants that could be installed in a basement or in an unobtrusive shed in a neighborhood.  These tiny treatment plants extract the energy and nutrients in sewage and reuse the water for landscaping or non-potable applications within buildings.

 

David Sedlak. credit Peg Skorpinski

David Sedlak. credit Peg Skorpinski

YUP:  In your book, you note that cities are historically the first to both show manifestations of water pollution problems as well as find solutions. Are there cities around the world that are ahead of the curve with their water treatment and conservation? Are their methods adaptable in the U.S?

DS: Many people consider Singapore to be at the leading edge of new water technologies.  The Singaporeans certainly have made great efforts to advance water recycling, desalination and water conservation, but to me the most amazing thing about Singapore has been their success in capturing and using most of the rain that falls within the city.  If other cities around the world were to adopt Singapore’s practices of urban stormwater capture and use, it would go a long way toward solving many water supply problems.    This could also help cities avoid much of the damage caused by excess stormwater runoff.  Adopting this approach elsewhere is going to take some effort because Singapore receives a lot more rainfall than cities in places like California, Texas and Arizona where water supply concerns are greatest.

Israel is another example where progress is being made, particularly with respect to cost-effective seawater desalination.  Desalination currently accounts for almost 20% of Israel’s urban water supply, and the national plan calls for it to increase to 30% in the near future.  Cost has always been the big impediment to widespread investment in seawater desalination.  The Israelis were able to cut the costs of  this process by adopting a standardized set of designs, employing the latest energy-saving technologies and linking the plants together via the country’s regional water canal.  The development of widely adopted conventions for plant design and permitting as well as sharing the costs and benefits of desalination regionally could offer similar benefits for US cities, but we still have not resolved our concerns about the large amounts of energy consumed by the desalination process.

 

YUP: Is there any good news in the race to confront the newest wave of urban water challenges? Do we see anything particular from the entrepreneurial or research and development communities that is taking positive shape?  Or are we looking at the likelihood that another crisis will be needed to activate meaningful pursuit of new solutions?

DS: Overall, it’s a good news-bad news situation.  The good news is that the latest technological developments coupled with research and experience gained in the cities that are on the frontline of the challenge are providing us with the tools needed to meet our future urban water needs without compromising on safety and reliability.  The bad news is that our expectations that water services will always be inexpensive is discouraging investments in developing the technologies more quickly or in retooling our water systems before they reach a state of crisis.  Hopefully, by paying attention to the high price of inaction and understanding the technologies that can help to solve our problems, we will be empowered to act before change is forced upon us in a crisis.

 

YUP:  What can a concerned citizen do? Do you have any advice for them?

DS:  There are a number of things that you can do to support your urban water systems and to pave the way for change.  The easiest and most direct actions involve water conservation. Upgrading to the latest versions of water-saving appliances is a good investment that can substantially reduce water consumption while saving energy.  It is also becoming easier to reduce outdoor water use without compromising aesthetics through the use of modern irrigation controllers that fine-tune watering based upon weather and soil conditions.  You also can choose household products more wisely, with an eye to the fact that all of the chemicals that you use in and around your home have the potential to end up in a nearby river or the drinking water of your downstream neighbors.  Although water conservation and consumer choices are powerful tools, the most important thing that you can do to bring about change is to become more actively involved in the decision-making process.  By bringing knowledge of the stakes and the range of solutions to discussions with elected officials and the people in charge of planning for future investments in your water system, you can assure that the next generation of urban water will be here when it is needed.

 

YUP:  David, anything else you want to add?

DS:  Concerns about the future of urban water systems are not limited to the dry Southwest.  Increasingly, cities in the southeast, like Atlanta, Tampa and Dallas, are struggling to provide enough water for their cities in dry years.  In the future, concerns about the costs and environmental impacts of imported water coupled with growing water demands is likely to make this issue more relevant to the rest of the country.  Furthermore, water supply problems and the solutions being developed in the United States have important implications for cities facing climate change and population growth in developed and developing countries around the world.

Members of the public are often surprised when they learn about the presence of hormones, drugs and personal care products in their water supply.  As explained in this book, the presence in drinking water of low concentrations of chemicals that were flushed down the toilet should not be a surprise.  The challenge we face is to determine which, if any, of those chemicals could pose a risk to our health or the health of waters where treated sewage is discharged and to design ways to prevent the chemicals from getting there in the first place.


David L. Sedlak is the Malozemoff Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, co-director of the Berkeley Water Center, and deputy director of the National Science Foundation’s engineering research center for Reinventing the Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure (ReNUWIt). He is a leading authority on water technology. He lives in Berkeley, CA.

Why Does (Striking Down) Net Neutrality Matter to You?

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the Federal Communications Commission cannot prevent Internet service providers from striking deals with content providers to provide preferential access and services to consumers who pay for these benefits. This means that a company like Verizon can negotiate with Netflix, for example, so that higher-paying customers can enjoy faster loading times or simply receive content first. While large Internet service providers are emphasizing their continued goal to maintain an open Internet and preserve net neutrality, Harvard professor Susan Crawford, author of the book Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age believes the court ruling is damaging the net neutrality of the open Internet in favor of a competitive market that does not actually exist.

Captive Audience_Jacket

In a recent op-ed article for Newsday, Crawford points out that a key problem in the case is the fact that Internet service providers are not being treated as telecommunications services, or “common carriers,” like telephone companies—which would require government oversight and regulation—but as private businesses.

Her critique of the court decision adds another layer to the larger issue of current telecommunications policy in the United States. By providing corporate Internet service providers with a monopoly over the American market to the point that the U.S.—despite having been a pioneering force in the Internet revolution—is paying exorbitantly high prices for mediocre internet speeds that are being surpassed by nations around the world who pay less. As an example, Crawford writes:

[I]n Stockholm, a city I had just visited, 100 percent of the businesses and 90 percent of the homes have fiber optics. In New York, where I also live, I pay four times as much as someone in Stockholm does for service that is an 18th as fast.

To read the full op-ed, click here.