• Quick Hits: Faith and Politics; Climate Change; Iranian Nukes

    A few quick hits before the weekend and next week’s healthcare conference.

    Faith and Politics: Demonstrating the principles we discussed at the most recent roundtable lunch, Congressman Paul Ryan took on the social-justice teachings of the Catholic Church this week and revealed that “Cafeteria Catholicism” is a bipartisan practice.

    Climate Change: New data and analysis reveals that some Antarctic ice sheets are melting from underneath.  It’s 2012, could we have a real debate about climate?

    Iranian Nukes: Is Iran building a nuclear bomb?  That’s the question we explored with David Albright a couple of weeks ago.  Now the head of Israeli Defense Forces has weighed in, too.  He doesn’t think so—and that paints an interesting picture of the dynamics leading up to the next round of international negotiations in May.

  • God and American Politics

    I just returned from the Pell Center round-table with Professor Dan Cowdin on the role of God in American politics.  It was a lively conversation that affirmed just how intimately intertwined are issues of faith, identity, and public values.

    As the conversation ensued, we made reference to several texts from American history.  I’ve linked to each below.

    President John F. Kennedy’s Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association (1960)

    Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail (1963)

    Governor Mitt Romney on Faith in America (2007)

    President Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address (1865)

    The contrast between Kennedy and Romney is provocative.  Where both tried to assuage concerns over their respective faiths, Romney also lamented the decline of religion in the public square.  They provide snapshots of the relationship between faith and politics at two points in time–the differences marked by decline in the authority of mainline Protestant churches and the rise of evangelical Christians aligned with the politics of the Republican party over issues of life.

    In King’s letter we find an eloquent justification, on religious and moral grounds, for civil disobedience–a polite way of saying “law-breaking.”

    And in Lincoln’s address, the man who saved the Union sees in the Civil War a great moral cleansing of divine purpose.

    Regardless of where you come down on the role that faith and God should play in American politics, these documents provide much for us all to consider as we head into the political season.

  • The Briseno Family: Heroes among Heroes

    In 2004, I was working as a legislative assistant in the U.S. Senate when I came across a story about a grievously wounded soldier from Northern Virginia and his devoted parents who refused to give up on him.

    The soldier is Jay Briseno.  An Army reservist, he deployed to Iraq in 2003 and was shot in the back of his neck, severing his spinal cord.  In the course of surgeries trying to save his life, Jay suffered multiple cardiac arrests and severe brain damage.

    He has been called the most severely wounded soldier to survive the war, and will likely be dependent on others for his care for the rest of his life.

    Someone, I read, told Mr. and Mrs. Briseno that they should institutionalize their son and, in essence, prepare for him to die.

    That person didn’t know Joseph and Eva Marie Briseno, their love for their son, or their faith.  He didn’t know Jay, either.

    The Brisenos upended their lives to care for their son.  They brought him home to familiar surroundings. Because Jay needed 24 hour nursing care—something the VA did not provide—they moved the mattress from their bed into the basement where Jay’s hospital bed lay so they could attend to him throughout the night.  Both parents were ultimately forced to quit their jobs so they could care for their son, and, in the process, become champions for the needs of disabled veterans.

    I’ve been on Mr. Briseno’s email distribution list since 2004.  To this day, I continue to receive periodic updates about Jay’s progress, requests for prayers when things are rough, and news about other members of the Briseno family.  I treasure each and every note.  They are a window into the life of a remarkable group of American heroes—one of whom was wounded in Baghdad.

    Since those early days, it seems as though the support of the community has made some things better for the Brisenos.  The VA provides more care, local businesses and charities have stepped up to help modify the Briseno home to better serve Jay,  and Jay, himself, has endured countless procedures to keep him stable and to improve his quality of life.

    But now, almost a decade after his wounding, Jay is still dependent on his Mom and Dad.  They continue to care for him.  They will always love him.

    I learned today that the Brisenos have been selected as one of six finalists for the Pentagon Federal Credit Union Foundation’s “Hero at Home Video Contest.”  The public is going to decide the winner based on the number of “Likes” their video gets on YouTube by noon (eastern time) on April 23.  The winner will be announced, officially, by 6 PM on that same day.

    You can see all the stories of devoted loved-ones here.  I’ll be voting for the Brisenos, but you should vote for the care-givers that touch you.

    If ever there was a contest where everyone deserved to win, this would be it.  And if ever there were stories about patriotism, selfless love, and devotion—these are them; and they deserve to be heard.

  • Roundtable Question: What Role for God in American Politics?

    The Pell Center’s next roundtable lunch and conversation will be:

    The Time: Wednesday, April 18, at 12:00 PM.

    The Place: Wakehurst 003–Basement

    The issue: God and American politics.

    Featuring: Dr. Dan Cowdin, Associate Professor Religious and Theological Studies and Dr. Jim Ludes, Executive Director of the Pell Center.

    “Pay Caesar what belongs to Caesar — and God what belongs to God.”

    — Jesus Christ in Mark (12:17)

    “I certainly believe in the separation of church and state. I do not believe in the separation of faith and politics.”

    — Rick Warren on ABC News “This Week,” April 9, 2012

    Jesus Christ drew a distinction between God and government that has resonated across the millennia.  In the midst of a U.S. presidential campaign, however, religious language and fervor often blur the distinction, leading to political conversations that sound and feel theological.

    So the question for this roundtable is:

    What is the proper role for God in American politics?  Should the Gospel be the basis for public policy?  Do some politicians exploit—with or without distortion of God’s word—faith for political gain?

    Share your thoughts here, and RSVP to [email protected] to join us for lunch on April 18!

    (Note: The blog is open to all to participate, but lunch is open only to members of the SRU Community: students, staff, and faculty.)

  • Energy Geopolitics: Thinking about China’s Defense Spending

    Webster’s defines “geopolitics” as:

    1. a study of the influence of such factors as geography, economics, and demography on the politics and especially the foreign policy of a state
    2. a governmental policy guided by geopolitics
    3. a combination of political and geographic factors relating to something (as a state or particular resources)

    And during the Cold War we talked about geopolitics, or so it seemed, with a lot more frequency than we have in recent years.

    But competition for energy supplies makes us think about geopolitics.

    And here, my mind can’t help but be drawn to China.

    A couple of key points from the International Energy Agency:

    • 48% of global growth in energy demand between now and 2035 will come from China.  In fact, by the end of that time, China is projected to use 170% of the energy that the United States uses.
    • While the bulk of that demand for energy will come in the form of energy for industry (read: coal), China’s burgeoning middle class will also consume more and more petroleum.

    And here’s where things get a bit provocative on the energy geopolitics front.

    Until the mid-1990s, China was a net exporter of energy.  But since that time, it has imported more and more of its energy, and those projections only grow.

    Out of curiosity, I decided to track China’s defense spending against the percent of its energy that is imported.  The above chart depicts the data.

    Now as my friend and former colleague Bernard Finel always reminds me, correlation is not causation, but the trend lines here are fascinating for what they suggest about China’s increase in defense spending in relation to its need for foreign sources of energy.

  • New Event: Healthcare Reform and Rhode Island

    On Monday, April 30, 2012, the Pell Center for International Relations will host a half-day conference on the state of healthcare reform in Rhode Island.  Featuring keynote remarks from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, and a who’s-who of healthcare officials and policy makers, the conference is intended to take stock of what’s planned and what’s possible as we await the Supreme Court’s decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. The current agenda with confirmed speakers is below, or you can download a .pdf here.

    Seating is limited.  RSVP to [email protected].

    Healthcare Reform and Rhode Island:
    The Law, the Politics, and the Implementation

    A Half-Day Conference and Conversation hosted by the Pell Center at Salve Regina University

    Monday, April 30, 2012

    12:30 PM      Registration

    1:00 PM        Welcome from the University

    1:05 PM        Panel I: The Policy and Politics of Healthcare Reform

    What are the key features of the Affordable Care Act?  What are they intended to do?  How were they developed?  How did policy and politics come together in the crafting of the legislation?  What are the key political and policy issues today?  What is the Supreme Court considering?  How will it affect the debate moving forward?


    Jordanna Davis, Senior Associate, Sachs Consulting
    Darrell West, Vice President and Director, Governance Studies, Brookings
    Linda Katz, Co-Founder and Policy Director, The Economic Progress Institute

    2:15 PM        Panel II: Healthcare Reform Implementation in Rhode Island

    While the national political debate simmers, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act continues.  How has the law already affected the State of Rhode Island and the people who live here?  What are consumers likely to see affect them in the coming months and years?  How will the citizens of the state be affected by major changes from Washington?


    Jane Hayward, President, RI Community Health Center Association
    Christopher Koller, Health Insurance Commissioner, Office of Health Insurance Commissioner, State of RI
    Peter Andruszkiewicz, President, BCBS of RI
    Dennis Keefe, President & Chief Executive Officer at Care New England
    Elizabeth Roberts, Lt. Governor of Rhode Island

    3:30 PM        Keynote Address: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse

    Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is a key player on healthcare in the United States Senate.  Elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006, he is a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee and has made lowering costs and increasing the quality of care a priority issue.

    4:30 PM        Conclude

  • Dennis Weichel: American Hero

    Specialist Dennis Weichel of the Rhode Island National Guard is an American Hero.  He deployed to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda.  He died saving a little girl from being struck by a truck.

    After more than ten years of persistent conflict around the world, there are some who would say that we have grown desensitized to the loss of American lives overseas.  But Specialist Weichel, the father of three children himself, reminds us of the sacrifice and honor of America’s men and women in uniform.

    People who served with him, remember Specialist Weichel as a giving person.  WPRO quoted Staff Sergeant Ronald Corbett as saying, “He would have done it for anybody.  That was the way he was. He would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. He was that type of guy.”

    Specialist Weichel, posthumously promoted to Sergeant, died protecting an innocent.  He will be buried next week in Rhode Island.


  • Energy, Iran, and Cybersecurity: Up-coming events at the Pell Center

    Wednesday, April 4, 2012 at 6:30 PM

    Energy Geopolitics: Supply, Demand, and U.S. Foreign Policy with William Sweet, Author and Journalist (a joint event with Newport CIV)

    In the last year, global energy markets were shaken by Middle East instability while Japan grappled with the worst nuclear power disaster in history.  The future of energy is a future of increasing demand and pressure on supplies, whether political, environmental, or economic.  China will consume 50% of all the new energy brought online over the next 25 years such that by 2035, the International Energy Agency projects, China will consume almost twice the energy of the United States.  The implications for U.S. foreign policy, and for American consumers, cannot be over-stated.

    In this presentation, William Sweet, author and journalist, explores the shifting contours of energy supplies and U.S. foreign policy.

    Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 6:00 PM (Note earlier start time!)

    Iran’s Nuclear Program: Possible Futures and U.S. Policy with David Albright, Founder and President of the Institute for Science and International Security

    “Is Iran building a nuclear bomb?”  That’s the question that has dominated U.S.-Israeli relations for sometime, and it–and the related set of questions of what one would do about it–have filled newspaper columns with talk of another Middle East War.

    In this talk, David Albright discusses what the west knows about Iran’s nuclear program, and what the United States and its allies might do to limit Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

    Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:30 PM

    Cybersecurity: Order or Anarchy? with Victor Fay-Wolfe, University of Rhode Island Digital Forensics Lab (a joint-event with Newport CIV)

    The penetration of computer networks into modern society is no longer new.  But the recognition of the threats associated with modern information technology is just beginning to gain widespread recognition.  While technical experts have long-warned of a digital-Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government is taking an increasingly active role in defending cyber as a new domain of battle, while law enforcement focuses increasing resources on investigating cyber crimes.

    TO RSVP FOR THESE EVENTS, EMAIL: [email protected] or call 401-341-2927.

    Seating is limited!


  • Quick Hit: Shadow War between Israel and Iran not so Shadowy

    Over the last several years, scientists associated with Iran’s nuclear program have been killed in a series of attacks.  According to NBC News, the United States believes Israel is behind these killings–part of a shadow war to slow or halt Iran’s nuclear program.

    Just last month, the Washington Post reported:

    A scientist linked to Iran’s nuclear program was killed in his car by a bomb-wielding assailant on Wednesday [January 11, 2012], a bold rush-hour attack that experts say points to a further escalation in a covert campaign targeting the country’s atomic officials and institutions. The precision hit in a northern Tehran neighborhood killed the 32-year-old chemical engineer employed at Iran’s main uranium-enrichment facility and brought to four the number of Iranian scientists killed by bombs in the past two years.

    Today, it looks as if Iran has retaliated with attacks in India and in the Republic of Georgia.

    In India, the wife of an Israeli diplomat escaped injury when the car she was riding in to pick up her children from school was bombed by an assailant on motorcycle.  Another attack was thwarted in the Republic of Georgia at about the same time, according to ABC News and the Washington Post.

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Iran.  As and reported for the Washington Post:

    Ticking off a list of recent attempts around the globe to attack Israelis and Jews, all of which he said were successfully thwarted, Netanyahu called Iran “the greatest exporter of terror in the world.”

    “In all these cases,” Netanyahu said, “the elements behind the attacks were Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah.”

    All of this is set against the backdrop of rising international concern of Iran’s nuclear program, with many openly discussing the possibility of an Israeli strike against Iran this spring.

  • Roundtable: What does American “strength” mean in the 21st century?

    A B-2 bomber drops its payload. What defines U.S. “strength” in the 21st century?

    The Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy presents its second roundtable for the spring 2012 semester.

    This roundtable will focus on the question posed by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius:

    What does American “strength” mean in the 21st century?  Is it a recovery of the kind of power and prerogative the United States had, say, in the Ronald Reagan years?  Or is it something more aligned with changes in the global balance?

    Dr. James M. Ludes of the Pell Center and Dr. William Leeman of the History Department will lead the discussion on Thursday, February 16th, from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 pm in the library at Ochre Court.

    Pell Center Roundtable lunches explore emerging issues in a small group setting intended to encourage an exchange of views.

    Seating is limited to 15 members of the Salve Regina Community. Please R.S.V.P. by February 13, 2012 to [email protected]