2.2.14

"The greatest fear I have regarding the disclosures is nothing will change"





 Snowden-Interview: Transcript


Mr Snowden did you sleep well the last couple of nights because I was reading that you asked for a kind of police protection. Are there any threats? 
There are significant threats but I sleep very well. There was an article that came out in an online outlet called Buzz Feed where they interviewed officials from the Pentagon, from the National Security Agency and they gave them anonymity to be able to say what they want and what they told the reporter was that they wanted to murder me. These individuals - and these are acting government officials. They said they would be happy, they would love to put a bullet in my head, to poison me as I was returning from the grocery store and have me die in the shower

But fortunately you are still alive with us.
Right but I'm still alive and I don't lose sleep because I’ve done what I feel I needed to do. It was the right thing to do and I’m not going to be afraid.

"The greatest fear I have", and I quote you, "regarding the disclosures is nothing will change." That was one of your greatest concerns at the time but in the meantime there is a vivid discussion about the situation with the NSA; not only in America but also in Germany and in Brazil and President Obama was forced to go public and to justify what the NSA was doing on legal grounds.
What we saw initially in response to the revelations was sort of a circling of the wagons of government around the National Security Agency. Instead of circling around the public and protecting their rights the political class circled around the security state and protected their rights. What’s interesting is though that was the initially response, since then we’ve seen a softening. We’ve seen the President acknowledge that when he first said "we’ve drawn the right balance, there are no abuses", we’ve seen him and his officials admit that there have been abuses. There have been thousands of violations of the National Security Agency and other agencies and authorities every single year.

Is the speech of Obama the beginning of a serious regulation?
It was clear from the President’s speech that he wanted to make minor changes to preserve authorities that we don’t need. The President created a review board from officials that were personal friends, from national security insiders, former Deputy of the CIA, people who had every incentive to be soft on these programs and to see them in the best possible light. But what they found was that these programs have no value, they’ve never stopped a terrorist attack in the United States and they have marginal utility at best for other things. The only thing that the Section 215 phone metadata program, actually it’s a broader metadata programme of bulk collection – bulk collection means mass surveillance – program was in stopping or detecting $ 8.500 wire transfer from a cab driver in California and it’s this kind of review where insiders go we don’t need these programs, these programs don’t make us safe. They take a tremendous amount of resources to run and they offer us no value. They go "we can modify these". The National Security agency operates under the President’s executive authority alone. He can end of modify or direct a change of their policies at any time.

For the first time President Obama did concede that the NSA collects and stores trillions of data.
Every time you pick up the phone, dial a number, write an email, make a purchase, travel on the bus carrying a cell phone, swipe a card somewhere, you leave a trace and the government has decided that it’s a good idea to collect it all, everything, even if you’ve never been suspected of any crime. Traditionally the government would identify a suspect, they would go to a judge, they would say we suspect he’s committed this crime, they would get a warrant and then they would be able to use the totality of their powers in pursuit of the investigation. Nowadays what we see is they want to apply the totality of their powers in advance - prior to an investigation.

You started this debate, Edward Snowden is in the meantime a household name for the whistleblower in the age of the internet. You were working until last summer for the NSA and during this time you secretly collected thousands of confidential documents. What was the decisive moment or was there a long period of time or something happening, why did you do this?
I would say sort of the breaking point is seeing the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, directly lie under oath to Congress. There’s no saving an intelligence community that believes it can lie to the public and the legislators who need to be able to trust it and regulate its actions. Seeing that really meant for me there was no going back. Beyond that, it was the creeping realisation that no one else was going to do this. The public had a right to know about these programs. The public had a right to know that which the government is doing in its name, and that which the government is doing against the public, but neither of these things we were allowed to discuss, we were allowed no, even the wider body of our elected representatives were prohibited from knowing or discussing these programmes and that’s a dangerous thing. The only review we had was from a secret court, the FISA Court, which is a sort of rubber stamp authority
When you are on the inside and you go into work everyday and you sit down at the desk and you realise the power you have  - you can wire tap the President of the United States, you can wire tap a Federal Judge and if you do it carefully no one will ever know because the only way the NSA discovers abuses are from self reporting.

We’re not talking only of the NSA as far as this is concerned, there is a multilateral agreement for co-operation among the services and this alliance of intelligence operations is known as the Five Eyes. What agencies and countries belong to this alliance and what is its purpose?
The Five Eyes alliance is sort of an artifact of the post World War II era where the Anglophone countries are the major powers banded together to sort of co-operate and share the costs of intelligence gathering infrastructure.

So we have the UK’s GCHQ, we have the US NSA, we have Canada’s C-Sec, we have the Australian Signals Intelligence Directorate and we have New Zealand’s DSD. What the result of this was over decades and decades what sort of a supra-national intelligence organisation that doesn’t answer to the laws of its own countries.

In many countries, as in America too the agencies like the NSA are not allowed to spy within their own borders on their own people. So the Brits for example they can spy on everybody but the Brits but the NSA can conduct surveillance in England so in the very end they could exchange their data and they would be strictly following the law.
If you ask the governments about this directly they would deny it and point to policy agreements between the members of the Five Eyes saying that they won’t spy on each other’s citizens but there are a couple of key points there. One is that the way they define spying is not the collection of data. The GCHQ is collecting an incredible amount of data on British Citizens just as the National Security Agency is gathering enormous amounts of data on US citizens. What they are saying is that they will not then target people within that data. They won’t look for UK citizens or British citizens. In addition the policy agreements between them that say British won’t target US citizens, US won’t target British citizens are not legally binding. The actual memorandums of agreement state specifically on that that they are not intended to put legal restriction on any government. They are policy agreements that can be deviated from or broken at any time. So if they want to on a British citizen they can spy on a British citizen and then they can even share that data with the British government that is itself forbidden from spying on UK citizens. So there is a sort of a trading dynamic there but it’s not, it’s not open, it’s more of a nudge and wink and beyond that the key is to remember the surveillance and the abuse doesn’t occur when people look at the data it occurs when people gather the data in the first place.

How narrow is the co-operation of the German Secret Service BND with the NSA and with the Five Eyes?
I would describe it as intimate. As a matter of fact the first way I described it in our written interview was that the German Services and the US Services are in bed together. They not only share information, the reporting of results from intelligence, but they actually share the tools and the infrastructure they work together against joint targets in services and there’s a lot of danger in this. One of the major programmes that faces abuse in the National Security Agency is what’s called "XKeyscore". It’s a front end search engine that allows them to look through all of the records they collect worldwide every day.

What could you do if you would sit so to speak in their place with this kind of instrument?
You could read anyone’s email in the world. Anybody you’ve got email address for, any website you can watch traffic to and from it, any computer that an individual sits at you can watch it, any laptop that you’re tracking you can follow it as it moves from place to place throughout the world. It’s a one stop shop for access to the NSA’s information. And what’s more you can tag individuals using "XKeyscore". Let’s say I saw you once and I thought what you were doing was interesting or you just have access that’s interesting to me, let’s say you work at a major German corporation and I want access to that network, I can track your username on a website on a form somewhere, I can track your real name, I can track associations with your friends and I can build what’s called a fingerprint which is network activity unique to you which means anywhere you go in the world anywhere you try to sort of hide your online presence hide your identity, the NSA can find you and anyone who’s allowed to use this or who the NSA shares their software with can do the same thing. Germany is one of the countries that have access to "XKeyscore".

This sounds rather frightening. The question is: does the BND deliver data of Germans to the NSA?
Whether the BND does it directly or knowingly the NSA gets German data.  Whether it’s provided I can’t speak to until it’s been reported because it would be classified and I prefer that journalists make the distinctions and the decisions about what is public interest and what should be published. However, it’s no secret that every country in the world has the data of their citizens in the NSA. Millions and millions and millions of data connections from Germans going about their daily lives, talking on their cell phones, sending SMS messages, visiting websites, buying things online, all of this ends up at the NSA and it’s reasonable to suspect that the BND may be aware of it in some capacity. Now whether or not they actively provide the information I should not say.

The BND basically argues if we do this, we do this accidentally actually and our filter didn’t work.
Right so the kind of things that they’re discussing there are two things.  They’re talking about filtering of ingest which means when the NSA puts a secret server in a German telecommunications provider or they hack a German router and they divert the traffic in a manner that let’s them search through things they’re saying "if I see what I think is a German talking to another German I’ll drop it" but how do you know. You could say "well, these people are speaking the German language", "this IP address seems to be from a German company to another German company", but that’s not accurate and they wouldn’t dump all of that traffic because they’ll get people who are targetes of interest, who are actively in Germany using German communications. So realistically what’s happening is when they say there’s no spying on Germans, they don’t mean that German data isn’t being gathered, they don’t mean that records aren’t being taken or stolen, what they mean is that they’re not intentionally searching for German citizens. And that’s sort of a fingers crossed behind the back promise, it’s not reliable.

What about other European countries like Norway and Sweden for example because we have a lot of I think under water cables going through the Baltic Sea.
So this is sort of an expansion of the same idea. If the NSA isn’t collecting information on German citizens in Germany are they as soon as it leaves German borders? And the answer is "yes". Any single communication that transits the internet, the NSA may intercept at multiple points, they might see it in Germany, they might see it in Sweden, they might see it in Norway or Finland, they might see it in Britain and they might see it in the United States.  Any single one of these places that a German communication crosses it’ll be ingested and added to the database.

So let’s come to our southern European neighbours then. What about Italy, what about France, what about Spain?
It’s the same deal worldwide.

Does the NSA spy on Siemens, on Mercedes, on other successful German companies for example, to prevail, to have the advantage of knowing what is going on in a scientific and economic world.
I don’t want to pre-empt the editorial decisions of journalists but what I will say is there’s no question that the US is engaged in economic spying.

If there’s information at Siemens that they think would be beneficial to the national interests, not the national security of the United States, they’ll go after that information and they’ll take it.

There is this old saying "you do whatever you can do" so the NSA is doing whatever is technically possible.
This is something that the President touched on last year where he said that just because we can do something, and this was in relation to tapping Angela Merkel’s phone, just because we can do something doesn’t mean that we should, and that’s exactly what’s happened. The technological capabilities that have been provided because of sort of weak security standards in internet protocols and cellular communications networks have meant that intelligence services can create systems that see everything.

Nothing annoyed the German government more than the fact that the NSA tapped the private phone of the German Chancellor Merkel over the last 10 years obviously, suddenly this invisible surveillance was connected with a known face and was not connected with a kind of watery shady terrorist background: Obama now promised to stop snooping on Merkel which raises the question: did the NSA tape already previous governments including the previous chancellors and when did they do that and how long did they do this for?
This is a particularly difficult question for me to answer because there’s information that I very strongly believe is in the public interest. However, as I’ve said before I prefer for journalists to make those decisions in advance, review the material themselves and decide whether or not the public value of this information outweighs the sort of reputational cost to the officials that ordered the surveillance. What I can say is we know Angela Merkel was monitored by the National Security Agency. The question is how reasonable is it to assume that she is the only German official that was monitored, how reasonable is it to believe that she’s the only prominent German face who the National Security Agency was watching. I would suggest it seems unreasonable that if anyone was concerned about the intentions of German leadership that they would only watch Merkel and not her aides, not other prominent officials, not heads of ministries or even local government officials.

How does a young man from Elizabeth City in North Carolina, 30 years old, get in such a position in such a sensitive area?
That’s a very difficult question to answer. In general, I would say it highlights the dangers of privatising government functions. I worked previously as an actual staff officer, a government employee for the Central Intelligence Agency but I’ve also served much more frequently as a contractor in a private capacity. What that means is you have private for profit companies doing inherently governmental work like targeted espionage, surveillance, compromising foreign systems and anyone who has the skills who can convince a private company that they have the qualifications to do so will be empowered by the government to do that and there’s very little oversight, there’s very little review.

Have you been one of these classical computer kids sitting red eyed during the nights in the age of 12, 15 and your father was knocking on your door and saying "switch off the light, it’s getting late now"? Did you get your computer skills from that side or when did you get your first computer?
Right I definitely have had a … shall we say a deep informal education in computers and electronic technology. They’ve always been fascinating and interesting to me. The characterisation of having your parents telling you to go to bed I would say is fair.

If one looks to the little public data of your life one discovers that you obviously wanted to join in May 2004 the Special Forces to fight in Iraq, what did motivate you at the time? You know, Special Forces, looking at you in the very moment, means grim fighting and it means probably killing and did you ever get to Iraq?
No I didn’t get to Iraq … one of the interesting things about the Special Forces are that they’re not actually intended for direct combat, they’re what’s referred to as a force multiplier. They’re inserted behind enemy lines, it’s a squad that has a number of different specialties in it and they teach and enable the local population to resist or to support US forces in a way that allows the local population a chance to help determine their own destiny and I felt that was an inherently noble thing at the time. In hindsight some of the reasons that we went into Iraq were not well founded and I think did a disservice to everyone involved.

What happened to your adventure then? Did you stay long with them or what happened to you?
No I broke my legs when I was in training and was discharged.

So it was a short adventure in other words?
It’s a short adventure.

In 2007 the CIA stationed you with a diplomatic cover in Geneva in Switzerland. Why did you join the CIA by the way?
I don’t think I can actually answer that one on the record.

OK if it’s what you have been doing there forget it but why did you join the CIA?
In many ways I think it’s a continuation of trying to do everything I could to prosecute the public good in the most effective way and it’s in line with the rest of my government service where I tried to use my technical skills in the most difficult positions I could find in the world and the CIA offered that.

If we go back Special Forces, CIA, NSA, it’s not actually in the description of a human rights activist or somebody who becomes a whistleblower after this. What happens to you?
I think it tells a story and that’s no matter how deeply an individual is embedded in the government, no matter how faithful to the government they are, no matter how strongly they believe in the causes of their government as I did during the Iraq war, people can learn, people can discover the line between appropriate government behaviour and actual wrongdoing and I think it became clear to me that that line had been crossed.

You worked for the NSA through a private contractor with the name Booze Allen Hamilton, one of the big ones in the business. What is the advantage for the US Government or the CIA to work through a private contractor to outsource a central government function?
The contracting culture of the national security community in the United States is a complex topic. It’s driven by a number of interests between primarily limiting the number of direct government employees at the same time as keeping lobbying groups in Congress typically from very well funded businesses such as Booze Allen Hamilton. The problem there is you end up in a situation where government policies are being influenced by private corporations who have interests that are completely divorced from the public good in mind. The result of that is what we saw at Booze Allen Hamilton where you have private individuals who have access to what the government alleges were millions and millions of records that they could walk out the door with at any time with no accountability, no oversight, no auditing, the government didn’t even know they were gone.

At the very end you ended up in Russia. Many of the intelligence communities suspect you made a deal, classified material for Asylum here in Russia.
The Chief of the Task Force investigating me as recently as December said that their investigation had turned up no evidence or indications at all that I had any outside help or contact or had made a deal of any kind to accomplish my mission. I worked alone. I didn’t need anybody’s help, I don’t have any ties to foreign governments, I’m not a spy for Russia or China or any other country for that matter. If I am a traitor who did I betray? I gave all of my information to the American public, to American journalists who are reporting on American issues. If they see that as treason I think people really need to consider who do they think they’re working for. The public is supposed to be their boss not their enemy. Beyond that as far as my personal safety, I’ll never be fully safe until these systems have changed.

After your revelations none of the European countries really offered you asylum. Where did you apply in Europe for asylum?
I can’t remember the list of countries with any specificity because there were many of them but France, Germany were definitely in there as was the UK.  A number of European countries, all of whom unfortunately felt that doing the right thing was less important than supporting US political concerns.

One reaction to the NSA snooping is in the very moment that countries like Germany are thinking to create national internets an attempt to force internet companies to keep their data in their own country. Does this work?
It’s not gonna stop the NSA. Let’s put it that way. The NSA goes where the data is. If the NSA can pull text messages out of telecommunication networks in China, they can probably manage to get facebook messages out of Germany. Ultimately the solution to that is not to try to stick everything in a walled  garden. Although that does raise the level of sophistication and complexity of taking the information. It’s also much better simply to secure the information internationally against everyone rather than playing "let’s move the data". Moving the data isn’t fixing the problem. Securing the data is the problem.

President Obama in the very moment obviously doesn’t care too much about the message of the leak. And together with the NSA they do care very much more about catching the messenger in that context. Obama asked the Russian president several times to extradite you. But Putin did not. It looks that you will stay to the rest of your life probably in Russia. How do you feel about Russia in that context and is there a solution to this problem.
I think it’s becoming increasingly clear that these leaks didn’t cause harm in fact they served the public good. Because of that I think it will be very difficult to maintain sort of an ongoing campaign of persecution against someone who the public agrees serve the public interest.

The New York Times wrote a very long comment and demanded clemency for you. The headline "Edward Snowden Whistleblower" and I quote from that: "The public learned in great detail how the agency has extended its mandate and abused its authority." And the New York Times closes: "President Obama should tell his aides to begin finding a way to end Mr Snowden’s vilification and give him an incentive to return home." Did you get a call in between from the White House?
I’ve never received a call from the White House and I am not waiting by the phone. But I would welcome the opportunity to talk about how we can bring this to a conclusion that serves the interest of all parties. I think it’s clear that there are times where what is lawful is distinct from what is rightful. There are times throughout history and it doesn’t take long for either an American or a German to think about times in the history of their country where the law provided the government to do things which were not right.

President Obama obviously is in the very moment not quite convinced of that because he said to you are charged with three felonies and I quote: "If you Edward Snowden believe in what you did you should go back to America appear before the court with a lawyer and make your case." Is this the solution?
It’s interesting because he mentions three felonies. What he doesn’t say is that the crimes that he has charged me with are crimes that don’t allow me to make my case. They don’t allow me to defend myself in an open court to the public and convince a jury that what I did was to their benefit. The espionage act was never intended, it’s from 1918,  it was never intended to prosecute journalistic sources, people who are informing the newspapers about information that’s of public interest. It was intended for people who are selling documents in secret to foreign governments who are bombing bridges who are sabotaging communications not people who are serving the public good. So it’s I would say illustrative that the president would choose to say someone should face the music when he knows the music is a show trial.

12.11.13

Public safety, US vs. UK

[...]
And so, while Americans have been shocked and stirred to action by Mr. Snowden’s disclosures, Britain is resolutely unmoved. It’s not the old stiff upper lip of stoicism that you’re seeing, but a shrug of resignation and a habit of deference so deeply ingrained we hardly notice it.


Jonathan Freedland is a columnist for The Guardian.

Spring - Twins



Cabe Franklin London
I would just note, as a US citizen who has lived in the UK for 7 years (and in fact now lives just down the road from the Guardian HQ), that the way the two countries' governments - most specifically the police forces - exert authority are very different. Police in the UK don't carry guns and have to do much of their order-keeping work through conversation. The job of being a UK policeman or -woman attracts people who see their job as helping a community thrive.

In the US, of course, police carry guns and this threat of lethal force is part of any citizen interaction they have. Regrettably, it often seems to attract people who simply like to feel powerful and in charge. The fear and power dynamic inherent to this makes the average citizen's relationship to government authority more fraught.

The UK government may surveil more, but they have earned more trust from the UK public than perhaps the US government has. (The UK has had neither a Watergate or a Rodney King.) The IRA bombings of 30 years ago also taught a generation that there were bad guys and good guys and the government were the ones trying to keep them safe from terrorists.

So I would disagree that the attitude is one of deference - it strikes me more as a blend of pragmatism and trust.




Sam Allison Montreal, Canada
Mr. Freedland is repeating myth not fact when he suggests the Brits are more deferential than Americans towards government authority. In fact, Blair but not Bush was ousted because of lies about weapons of mass destruction. Cameron was recently defeated over his desire to possibly to wage war on Syria. In contrast, the USA has marched into many recent wars with little regard for public opinion.
A simple example of US deference to authority is the power of Presidents and Governors to pardon convicted criminals and overturn a jury decision.Neither the British nor the Canadian crown can overturn a decision by a jury. Ford's pardon of Nixon was accepted by a deferential citizenry. It is doubtful whether the Brits or the Canadian "subjects" would have deferred to such a situation involving a Prime Minister.
Attitudes to state power differ within the English speaking world and whether "subjects" of the Crown have fewer rights than "citizens" of the Great Republic is highly debatable. The ordinary "subject" lives a longer and healthier life than the "citizen" which partly reflects their civil liberty to do so.Medicare in Canada and the National Health System in Britain are regarded as increasing civil liberties by their "subjects" yet are regarded as decreasing civil liberties by many "citizens".
State spying is a great topic but a more sophisticated analysis of the different ways this is being done, accepted and opposed in democracies is obviously needed.



Ayn Rant Cleveland, GA
The British attitude toward governance is different from the US's because the British government is far less political and far more trustworthy.

In Britain, a professional civil service runs the country according to the laws passed by Parliament. Civil service is a well-paid, esteemed career, not a political appointment. Political partisanship by a civil servant, or interference with the civil service by an elected politician, is considered a scandal.

In the US, the civil service is run by appointed political hacks rather than career civil servants. Civil servants are not held in high esteem by the American public, and often serve as scapegoats for the neglect and failures of the elected politicians. For example, many Americans strongly support abolishing the IRS but seem unaware that Congress is to blame for the creation of the agency and the preposterous taxation rules that the agency attempts to enforce.

The notion that the citizens of the UK are more subservient to government than citizens of the US is nonsense! They simply have more respect and trust in their government to use coercive power fairly according to the exigencies of the day.

Having lived in both countries, I would say that the American federal and state governments are more intrusive on the daily life and personal freedom of citizens.
Americans complain a lot about politics and government. Brits complain about the economy or the weather, but seem unaware that they have or need a government.



Meredith New York
You may have an idealized vision of the US and the complications in the reactions here to Snowden.
Seems some Repubs want to prosecute Snowden as a weapon against Obama. Civil libertarians support Snowden and his revelations. There are shades of opinion.

It's the US that needs a new version of the Magna Carta, since power here is increasingly concentrated in the few top corporate plutocrats, who sway congress with thousands of lobbyists and campaign donations. They interpret our Constitution to their advantage.

The mass of citizens now has to be content with a small influence compared with that of the small circle of billionaire 'nobility' and their court of compliant politicians. My question to you--is there a British equivalent to the Koch Brothers organization, directing lawmaking at various levels of govt?

Sure we may have a credo of individualism, but that's used by our anti - govt power elite to keep citizens on their own and unprotected from drastic misfortune. Thus our govt was shutdown over a fight to prevent universal health insurance, while all British citizens have had that protection since 1948.

Our Supreme Court has blessed our big money elections. The Brits don't even allow privately paid political ads, costing us millions. The BBC is much better funded than our public media is, thus allowing for more non commercial media influence.

The Snowden affair will be distorted and masked by the powerful looking out for their interests.



ZAW Houston, TX
There's a huge difference between the surveillance done by municipalities and businesses through highly visible cameras and the clandestine wire-tapping done by Intelligence Agencies. The prior is overt - it relies as much on deterrence, as it does on information gathering and recording. We know we're being watched and we know why. The latter is covert - targets don't know they're being watched; the sole purpose is to watch them and gather information. It relies on dishonesty and we're far removed from any benefit it might bring.

I've come to appreciate the value of crime-cameras and other overt surveillance. It's growing in the US and that's a good thing. Clandestine surveillance by the NSA or a foreign government - that's a different story.



Uga Muga Miami
That complacency could be part of the British cultural psyche. Part of empire maintenance is a massive security and intelligence architecture. There's no such thing as having such an architecture, the mindset that goes with it and have it operate just outside home base. There's only one government at a time. When Britain evaporated as a several-centuries-duration World empire, including being the World empire for the one hundred years until the outcome of WWI, it retained the m.o. of a powerful state security apparatus. Probably the Brits taught the American neophytes "everything you ever wanted to know" about international and domestic intelligence operations. This may explain the long-lasting close cooperation with the US on such matters.

The difference is the British never pulled the wool over their own eyes about what was happening and why.



Michael Silverberg Efland, NC
My wife keeps reminding me that I have not lived in Britain (where I was born and educated) since 1973. Nevertheless...
1) When I moved here I was struck but how much more deferential Americans were towards authority than the British.
2) Americans do live under a sort of autocratic tyranny - a document written by long dead 18th century aristocrats. The majority of people living here today may want, for example, to control the availability of unimaginably destructive modern firearms. We are not allowed to because the words of men who knew nothing other than single shot muskets say we can't.
3) The parliamentary system keeps legislators closer to their constituents and less beholden to money.
4) A big difference between the governmental systems of the UK and the US is just how political the US is. Britain has a tradition of a professional civil service who are supposed to do their jobs, especially technical jobs, with political supervision only at the level of cabinet minister. In the US political appointments run deep into state and federal agencies which leads to a natural distrust of those agencies and by extension to government itself.
5) The article and many comments seem to conflate the issue of CCTV with invasions of privacy. CCTV is PUBLIC. instead of a bobby on the corner you have a camera. It is hard to get worked up about that - snooping into your private correspondence is different and the CCTV issue should not be allowed to distract us from that.



Peter C Ottawa, Canada
In Britain, unlike the United States, state sponsored surveillance has never been used for political purposes or to persecute due to politics. Britain has never had a Watergate or McCarthy and would not tolerate either.



Ian SF CA
The Brits have never had a Hoover or Nixon or Cheney or Tea Party, so haven't developed the gut assumption here that some day some ideologue in power will turn the state apparatus against them. To a Brit the state is your protector: to an American, more like a predator.



4.11.13

The existence of spy technology should not determine policy, yet it does and it will for a while

A Manifesto for the Truth
By Edward Snowden

This article by Edward Snowden was published Sunday in Der Spiegel.

In a very short time, the world has learned much about unaccountable secret agencies and about sometimes illegal surveillance programs. Sometimes the agencies even deliberately try to hide their surveillance of high officials or the public. While the NSA and GCHQ seem to be the worst offenders – this is what the currently available documents suggest – we must not forget that mass surveillance is a global problem in need of global solutions.

Such programs are not only a threat to privacy, they also threaten freedom of speech and open societies. The existence of spy technology should not determine policy. We have a moral duty to ensure that our laws and values limit monitoring programs and protect human rights.

Society can only understand and control these problems through an open, respectful and informed debate. At first, some governments feeling embarrassed by the revelations of mass surveillance initiated an unprecedented campaign of persecution to supress this debate. They intimidated journalists and criminalized publishing the truth. At this point, the public was not yet able to evaluate the benefits of the revelations. They relied on their governments to decide correctly.

Today we know that this was a mistake and that such action does not serve the public interest. The debate which they wanted to prevent will now take place in countries around the world. And instead of doing harm, the societal benefits of this new public knowledge is now clear, since reforms are now proposed in the form of increased oversight and new legislation.

Citizens have to fight suppression of information on matters of vital public importance. To tell the truth is not a crime.

Translated by Martin Eriksson. This text was written by Edward Snowden on November 1, 2013 in Moscow. It was sent to SPIEGEL staff over an encrypted channel.


"Yes We Scan"


NYTimes: Clemency for Snowden? U.S. Officials Say No


The chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, and her House counterpart, Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan, gave sharply negative answers on Sunday when asked whether they believed Mr. Snowden had made a case for clemency.

“He was trusted; he stripped our system; he had an opportunity – if what he was, was a whistle-blower – to pick up the phone and call the House Intelligence Committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee, and say I have some information,” Ms. Feinstein said on the CBS program “Face the Nation.” But “that didn’t happen.”

“He’s done this enormous disservice to our country,” she added, “and I think the answer is no clemency.”

Mr. Rogers was equally adamant.

“No, I don’t see any reason” to grant clemency, he said on the same program. “I wouldn’t do that. He needs to come back and own up. We can have those conversations, if he believes there are vulnerabilities he’d like to disclose.”

Dan Pfeiffer, a senior White House adviser, said on the ABC program “This Week” that there had been no consideration of clemency, and that Mr. Snowden should return to the United States to face charges.

Mr. Snowden’s argument – made in a “Manifesto for the Truth” published on Sunday by the German news magazine Der Spiegel and in a letter to American officials handed to a leftist German politician who met with Mr. Snowden in Moscow – was that he has started a useful debate about whether American spies are overreaching with the help of enormously powerful technology and should be reined in.

Federal prosecutors have charged Mr. Snowden with theft and with two violations of the Espionage Act of 1917. But Mr. Snowden, who has taken refuge in Russia, has denied any treasonous intent, saying he disclosed secrets to the news media, not to hostile foreign powers, and did so to push for reform.

“Instead of causing damage, the usefulness of the new public knowledge for society is now clear because reforms to politics, supervision and laws are being suggested,” he wrote in Der Spiegel. “Citizens have to fight against the suppression of information about affairs of essential importance for the public. Those who speak the truth are not committing a crime.”

Indeed, Ms. Feinstein is among those who have raised the question of overreach by the National Security Agency and the need for possible reform, particularly after reports that the agency had long monitored the cellphone of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.

Ms. Feinstein said on Sunday that she strongly supported a White House review to consider a more appropriate framework for intelligence operations. She wants her committee to conduct its own review.

Tapping the private phones of close allies, she said, “has much more political liability than probably intelligence viability, and I think we ought to look at it carefully. I believe the president is doing that.”

As to the question of whether President Obama could have been unaware of such phone monitoring – and whether the Europeans who have expressed outrage over National Security Agency espionage could have been truly surprised that such high-level spying goes on – Mr. Rogers replied: “I think there’s going to be some Best Actor Awards coming out of the White House this year, and Best Supporting Actor Awards coming out of the European Union.”

He said that fundamentally, the security agency was doing the work it had been created to do, a belief that Ms. Feinstein said she largely shared.


_DSC2077


RLS from Virginia

“He had an opportunity – if what he was was a whistle-blower – to pick up the phone and call the House intelligence committee, the Senate intelligence committee, and say I have some information,” Ms. Feinstein said.

Whistleblower Thomas Drake went through all the internal channels. He went to very highest levels at the NSA, to Congress, and the Department of Defense. No one acted on his concerns. Instead, he was prosecuted under the Espionage act. He called the prosecution vindictive and malicious. The case collapsed and he pled guilty to a misdemeanor to end the hell he had been put through.

Feinstein, Rogers, and the Obama administration are wrong to seek the prosecution of Snowden. He revealed illegal and unconstitutional activity. The NSA has violated FISA law (the court has no jurisdiction to authorize domestic-to-domestic surveillance), and Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, one of the authors of the Patriot Act, wrote the following in a letter to Eric Holder:

“I do not believe the released FISA order is consistent with the requirements of the Patriot Act. How could the phone records of so many innocent Americans be relevant to an authorized investigation as required by the Act?”

Snowden also disclosed that the NSA “routinely” lies to members of Congress when it is questioned about the scope of the sweeping surveillance.









6.10.13

The Bull Preachings

WAR And PEACE To WALL STREET


China’s Economy, Back on Track
By HENRY M. PAULSON Jr.
CHICAGO — NEXT month, President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang will use an important meeting — the so-called Third Plenum of the Communist Party’s 18th National Congress — to unveil China’s priorities for reforming economic policy for the next decade.

Yet because it will probably decide only general policies, leaving the specifics for later, some cynics have already begun to dismiss the reforms as too little, too timid and too late. They note that a decade ago, a previous generation of leaders failed to reduce the influence of state-owned enterprises and to complete the economic reforms of the 1990s.

But I believe the prospects for restructuring China’s economy — bolstering the role of the market, expanding opportunities for small and medium-size businesses, allocating capital more efficiently and improving the balance between consumption and investment — are better than at any point since the 1990s. At a time when global growth remains sluggish, reinvigorating such reforms is more important than ever to the world economy.

There are four reasons for my optimism.

First, China’s leaders clearly understand that their growth model needs to change.

In speech after speech, Mr. Xi and Mr. Li have put their political capital on the line by promoting economic reform. They have drawn up blueprints and adopted pilot programs — like a free-trade zone in Shanghai — that will bolster the market and rationalize the allocation of capital, for instance by permitting more foreign competition and greater fluctuation of interest rates.

Other reforms, including liberalizing deposit rates, still need to be put in place, but an experiment to liberalize lending rates is a very positive step. So is Beijing’s signal that it might open more sectors of its economy to competition through a bilateral investment treaty with the United States.

Second, China’s new leaders are strong enough to press for change. The history of Chinese economic reform suggests that vigorous central leadership is essential. Deng Xiaoping was the determined architect behind China’s initial reforms in 1978 and their reinvigoration in 1992. Zhu Rongji, the prime minister under President Jiang Zemin, pushed through reforms of the taxation system and state-controlled industries that paved the way for China’s joining the World Trade Organization in 2001.

But in the decade or so since then, reforms stalled, and a major cause was the evaporation of political commitment in Beijing. The new leaders have signaled that they are prepared to move. An anti-corruption campaign begun by Mr. Xi demonstrates a willingness to take on even the most politically sensitive pillars of the state-led economy.

Third, China no longer has the luxury to delay needed reforms. China’s economic output expanded nearly sixfold between 2002 and 2012, from $1.5 trillion to $8.3 trillion, but that growth fostered complacency. True, it weathered the financial crisis through giant spending on public works, but that only put off the day of reckoning. The presumption that China can simply grow its way out of any problems no longer holds. Growth is slowing, inequality has widened, provincial and local government debts have climbed. China’s export-oriented sectors face harsh headwinds, from sluggish consumer demand in advanced markets to rising labor costs at home.

Fourth, public expectations for change are higher than ever. When the new leaders were appointed last year, they were compared favorably to their immediate predecessors, President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. But the honeymoon for Mr. Xi and Mr. Li, who took over last November, is over.

Increasingly, they are being measured against the bold Mr. Jiang, the Communist Party leader from 1989 to 2002, and Mr. Zhu, the prime minister from 1998 to 2003. And so the necessity for action is greater.

Momentum is building for reforms that would introduce market prices for oil, gas and other natural resources so that prices better reflect supply and demand, rather than official fiat. Distorted pricing has been one cause of China’s energy inefficiency and environmental degradation. Like the new steps toward liberalizing energy prices, Shanghai’s new free-trade zone is another positive indicator. More is needed — broader access to capital, greater investment options and protections from the risk of haphazard capital flows — if Shanghai is to become a global financial center.

A new round of fiscal reforms is also likely, leading to more rational allocation of resources between the central and local governments, which are struggling to rebuild weakened rural pension and health care systems and manage the largest urbanization in human history in a sustainable way, while paying for unfunded mandates from Beijing and maintaining job growth.

This vast array of specific reforms can’t be achieved at a stroke, and certainly not at a single party gathering. But the decisions likely to be taken in November will set China’s economy in a positive — and lasting — new direction. Advanced economies, like the United States and the European Union, depend on it as much as China does.

Henry M. Paulson Jr., the secretary of the Treasury from 2006 to 2009 and a former chairman and chief executive of Goldman Sachs, is chairman of the Paulson Institute, which promotes sustainable growth and a cleaner environment in the United States and China.





Mark Thomason Clawson, MI
"if Shanghai is to become a global financial center" on the scale of China in the world, the second largest economy, that will be tremendous competition for the existing financial centers.

This must have a special appeal to China, and many others, because NYC and London and the Eurozone have failed so badly in the financial crisis they committed and have not cleaned up.

This could have important effects, forcing a clean up of existing financial centers that have been taking for granted and abusing their market power.



Bob North Bend, WA
Paulson is the same guy who said USA economy was in the best shape ever, back in 2007. Right now, about China, he might be right, he might be wrong. Problem is, he has no credibility. He's already shown himself to be a panderer. So, I say, go pander somewhere else -- 'cause I ain't listenin'.



Nathan an Expat China
Nice to see an analysis of China in the NYT that does not position the country as an as some sort of dystopian nightmare and/or emerging military threat. China's leaders' greatest challenge is a population of almost 1.4 billion split almost evenly between groups living in 19th, 20th and 21st Century conditions and mindsets. (The 20th and 21st century group accounts for the country's 600 million Internet users.) It's a challenge similar to what the US would face if Washington was suddenly made legislative capital of not just the US but all of Central and South America and the Caribbean and had to directly govern that developmentally diverse a population. Over the past 30 years China has done a pretty good job lifting 300 million out of poverty and investing heavily in education and infrastructure. Almost everyone in the country is on an upward trajectory economically. Not since the Tang Dynasty have things looked so good for so many. But as Paulson notes the time has come for China to change its unsustainable investment led growth economic model and focus on sustainable growth derived from domestic consumption. Again good news for the average Chinese who will be seeing increased investment in social spending/medical care to help them unlock their wallets. The major foreign policy issue rising China faces is managing their relationship with an increasingly prickly, stagnating or in decline America whose frustrated population all too ready to blame China for its problems.




JE White Plains, NY
Paulson the Wall Street banker who under Bush Jr. as treasury secretary helped his friends on Wall Street raid the government's treasury in broad daylight is now urging China to "liberalize" (open up to the "free market" casino) it's economy!?

Our own country to this day is still suffering from the Wall Street manufactured crisis in 2008 and hasn't recovered. Those bailouts and the continued massive money printing under QE have only kicked the can down the road, and is setting this country up for a much worse financial disaster and hyperinflation.

We need Glass-Steagall to be reinstated via Marcy Kaptur's bill in Congress and John McCain's and Elizabeth Warren's bill in the Senate to shut down the trillions derivatives and other toxic financial instrument, to cancel this bad, illegitimate debt off the government's books, otherwise, not only will our economy keep disintegrating but so will China's as well as the rest of the world.



Nelson Alexander New York
This is almost bizarre. Minus the almost.

Just prior to the financial meltdown in 2007, Paulson was insisting that the Chinese "open up" and adopt our own financial models. Then, stuff happened.

In our own system, the taxpayers were forced, by Paulson et al., to hand billions over to the bankers. Presumably, this is the "free market" system Paulson wanted and still wants China to adopt.

In our own "free market" system, the banks can basically use the state to transfer taxes to themselves whenever they wish...or whenever they declare a "crisis."

Is this the system China should adopt?

Obviously, Pauslon et al., want to "invest in China." Which has a massive, unprotected labor supply...the source of value. Why wouldn't they?

They can even promise the Chinese, their lives will get "better." (As long as American live get "worse.")

As a typical Marxist, I agree that American lives should, must, and will get worse. So be it. But I hate the hypocrisy (or stupidity) of these antiquated capitalist rationalizations.

Paulson, I always thought, is probably a decent man. But he seems to have learned nothing. He needs to read much, much more history and philosophy before he opens his mouth again.



CSW New York City
"The presumption that China can simply grow its way out of any problems no longer holds. Growth is slowing, inequality has widened, provincial and local government debts have climbed. China’s export-oriented sectors face harsh headwinds, from sluggish consumer demand in advanced markets to rising labor costs at home."

Hey, this sounds like a description of the US economy as commandeered, for the past thirty years, by the neo-conservative/liberal crowd starting on January 20th, 1981. Perhaps they can pivot towards Asia and thus give China and other countries (through the TPP agreement) the same advise they gave our presidents. They can prove Einstein's adage wrong by recommending the same strategies but insisting on different outcomes.




Otto Winter Park, Florida
"An anti-corruption campaign begun by Mr. Xi demonstrates a willingness to take on even the most politically sensitive pillars of the state-led economy."

I would like to hope that this is true. However, in the past, "anti-corruption campaigns" have amounted to nothing more than one faction using its superior clout to crush an opposing faction. Since all of China's prominent families are embedded in the nation's major industries in a way that most observers would regard as inherently corrupting, it is difficult to see how any anti-corruption campaigns can be effective at this point.




FEDUP Sunshine State
With an economic power house engine, a government that has the ability to make decisions to direct growth and urbanization, a currency that will soon be acceptable worldwide for international trade and no debt....China is well on its way to become the biggest super power in the world.

Too bad our errant leaders are consumed with war mongering, failure to change ineffective policy, failure to govern fiscally, failure to address severe inequality and failure to help Americans. The American ship is sinking faster than most think.

China is going to pass America as America sinks.




burghardt New York, New York
WIth all due respect, I believe it was the same Mr. Paulson who said in 2007 that, "This is far and away the strongest global economy I've seen in my business lifetime."




Wanted: Hank Paulson


Meanwhile, China charters cautiously on her own:


China’s 1st Pilot Free Trade Zone Opens


Experimental Free-Trade Zone Opens in Shanghai
By DAVID BARBOZA
SHANGHAI — China opened a new type of free-trade zone here on Sunday in a bid to test financial changes that the government said could eventually spread to other parts of the country.

The new zone, which has the backing of the State Council, the Chinese cabinet, was first announced last July. It is expected to allow banks and other businesses within its boundaries to experiment in areas that are tightly controlled in China, including loosening regulation of interest rates and full convertibility of nation’s currency, the renminbi.

By opening the new test zone in Shanghai, a city of 20 million and one of the country’s major financial centers, the government appears to be signaling its determination to ease restrictions on investment while also trying to press ahead with plans to open up its financial system and internationalize its currency, analysts say.

The government has not yet given a detailed outline of how the pilot zone — which covers 29 square kilometers, or about 11 square miles, of ports and logistics areas — is expected to operate. But on Friday, the State Council said foreign and private companies would soon be allowed to invest freely in banks, shipping ventures, travel agencies and health and medical insurers that are set up in the experimental zone.

Restrictions are also being lifted on foreign investment in some telecommunications services and on the production and sale of video game consoles.

The creation of a free-trade zone in Shanghai comes as China’s new leaders try to grapple with how to restructure a fast-growing economy that favors state-run enterprises and restricts foreign investment and the free flow of capital.

The value of real estate in the area near the experimental zone has shot up in recent months, along with the share prices of publicly listed companies operating in or around the zone. But the leaders of multinational corporations have been pressing the government for more details, and it remains unclear how it will interact with other parts of China.

“There’s a lot of interest, but few people know the details yet,” said Stephen Green, a Hong Kong-based economist at Standard Chartered Bank.

But Yao Wei, a Hong Kong-based economist at Société Générale, said in a report this week that the signs were encouraging, and that creating the zone was reminiscent of the bold experiments China made in the previous decades.

“The overarching theme of all the reform in the 1980s and 1990s was, simply put, liberalization,” Ms. Yao wrote. “Local experiments in strategically important cities not only served as policy signals of reform commitment but provided guidance as to the path of upcoming changes.”


China (Shanghai) Free Trade Zone


China (Shanghai) Free Trade Zone

19.9.13

A Plea for Caution From Russia
You do realize it is an opinion article right?

Secretary Kerry Meets With Russian President Putin


By VLADIMIR V. PUTIN


MOSCOW — RECENT events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.

Relations between us have passed through different stages. We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together. The universal international organization — the United Nations — was then established to prevent such devastation from ever happening again.

The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The profound wisdom of this has underpinned the stability of international relations for decades.

No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization.

The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.

Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world.

Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria? After all, after fighting in Libya, extremists moved on to Mali. This threatens us all.

From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression.

No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored.

It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.”

But force has proved ineffective and pointless. Afghanistan is reeling, and no one can say what will happen after international forces withdraw. Libya is divided into tribes and clans. In Iraq the civil war continues, with dozens killed each day. In the United States, many draw an analogy between Iraq and Syria, and ask why their government would want to repeat recent mistakes.

No matter how targeted the strikes or how sophisticated the weapons, civilian casualties are inevitable, including the elderly and children, whom the strikes are meant to protect.

The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen nonproliferation, when in reality this is being eroded.

We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.

A new opportunity to avoid military action has emerged in the past few days. The United States, Russia and all members of the international community must take advantage of the Syrian government’s willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction. Judging by the statements of President Obama, the United States sees this as an alternative to military action.

I welcome the president’s interest in continuing the dialogue with Russia on Syria. We must work together to keep this hope alive, as we agreed to at the Group of 8 meeting in Lough Erne in Northern Ireland in June, and steer the discussion back toward negotiations.

If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust. It will be our shared success and open the door to cooperation on other critical issues.

My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.

Vladimir V. Putin is the president of Russia.


vladimir putin


Citizen Texas
Say what you will about the Russians and Mr. Putin in particular. This reaching out is unprecedented. Surely our country and our leaders cannot ignore this gesture from the Russian government. We, at the very least, should meet this offer in sincerity and in the hope, that something good and lasting will come of the discussions between our two nations. The stakes are far too high to let this moment over take either one of our nations. Put aside mistrust and bad feeling for the moment, and try find and do something positive for the world. The killing needs to stop. We really can live in peace with each other if only we would really try.



Chris McMorrow Waltham, Mass
I wish I could feel that Mr. Putin was being sincere here. If nothing else, he has a fabulous writer.

But at my age, having grown up during the Cold War and witnessed all sorts of tricks, lies, distortions, and manipulations by the old Soviet Regime, I just have some doubts. As an ex-KBG agent, Mr. Putin may not be my age, but he was trained in the old Soviet culture.

I think the main thing that really strikes me here is how myopic the US can be to its image around the world. We pay lip service to the idea that certain actions will "surely win us more enmity around the world," but we usually go on our merry way trying to get our way.

So, the benefit of Mr. Putin's assessment here--even if contrived, manipulative, and written to lecture this country, in and of itself a pretty arrogant act--is how based in realpolitik it is.

But--and this is a very big but--I'm not sure that Russia is in any position to lecture anyone right now, given its long history of isolationism, paranoia, and curbs on basic freedoms inside its borders.

I think it will be interesting for all of us to save this article, and our posts, and see how they stack up against events as they unfold over the next 6 months. We will either be pleasantly surprised, or just surprised as how gullible we really were.




B Henly New York
Putin has consistently given the US sound advice, including on Afghanistan. I happen to believe he is also doing the Obama administration a favor by keeping Edward Snowden quietly in Russia, thereby avoiding the media circus and political distractions that would result from having him in jail on US soil. Having Putin in effect lecture us on our mistakes may stick in the craw of some Americans, but he happens to be right in this case, in spite of his own faults.




Dmitry Mikheyev Moscow, Russia
In full disclosure, I am Russian American, who has no reason to love the KGB and has all reasons to love America. I spent 6 years in GULAG and then was granted political asylum in America. But to me, this ’s stance on Syria makes more sense that anything else I heard from American political-military-industrial-media elite. I admit meeting very smart KGB guys even when they were interrogating me. Putin is obviously one of the most gifted and intelligent world leaders of our time. But of course great brain power can be very dangerous in the wrong hands, right? So what motives him?
Having lived in Moscow for 15 years I am confident that after decades of Communism Russia is obsessed with catching up with the West in technology and living standards. So Russia needs peaceful and stable international environment.
In contrast, the US is a crusading whose global ambition is to "civilize and modernize” the world according to its own image. Putin captured the fundamental paradox of American democracy: Can liberty, democracy and happiness be imposed on others by bombs and destruction?
America should help Russia facilitate solution to the Syrian crisis through negotiations and compromises. America has to learn to live with complexities of the real world. The black-and-white thinking leads to endless wars with others. Such policy will inevitably result in self-destruction.



Lynn Nadel Tucson
Its perhaps sad for us Americans when the President of Russia makes more sense than our own political class. He hit the nail directly on the head with his analysis of American exceptionalism. While not denying that the American idea, as embodied in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, is exceptional, it is also the case that much has happened in the 200+ years since we started, and that as a country we are very far from the 'perfect union' envisioned. Our sense of exceptionalism, pandered to by all political parties, provides an excuse for meddling in other countries' affairs, and for refusing to look beyond our borders for good ideas about such things as health care, maternal leave policies, and more. If we were doing extremely well in these areas perhaps our exceptional claims would stand up, but who is willing to make that argument now.

Chances are the reaction to these words from President Putin will be ignored, or even outright rejected -- but I hope our own President Obama, whom I greatly admire, will use this opportunity to recalibrate how Americans see the world. We indeed are exceptional, but so are the Norwegians, and the French, and the Peruvians, and just about every culture that has carved out its own part of our universe. There is certainly evil in the world, but it cannot be the job of any one country to police the world, and to impose its ideas about how things should and should not be everywhere on this multi-cultural planet.



September1940 Stamford CT
I am shocked that, after reading President Putin's opinion, I feel that he is correct. The Russian President, an ex-KGB agent, a man who has led his county on some of their own missions of destruction, suddenly delivers a message which strikes a chord in me. Why, I wonder, am I reacting this way?

I think it is because, despite the hypocrisies in President Putin's writing, he makes sense - simple, common sense. He appears to cut through all the fog and word-spinning we are used to hearing from politicians - certainly from our own President - and gets to the kernel of the matter.

Force has, indeed, proven pointless. Where are we after the optimism of the so-called "Arab spring?" We still are confronting lunatic fringe elements who are propelling their societies into chaos, in the name of religion. We are constantly at war and finding it too easy to take international law into our own hands; acting unilaterally and, unfortunately, being perceived as the world's bully.

I pray that our President finds the same portion of common sense and manages to get himself under control - his bellicose and nonsensical speeches notwithstanding.

Thousands of people in Syria have been killed prior to the alleged chemical attack. Why did we/the world not respond to their deaths? A dead person is a dead person.

It doesn't matter who offers the olive branch or what it looks like - we must accept President Putin's well-reasoned approach to fending off a rush to military action.



George San Jose, CA
Mr Putin makes many points, some I disagree, some I agree. But all are perfectly valid concerns. I commend Mr Putin for contributing to the discussion.

Mr Putin's main concern is the issue of who's responsible for the recent chemical attack. Mr Obama admits the issue remains in dispute, but believes there is substantial evidence the Syrian government is responsible. Mr Putin believes it may in fact be the Rebels who are responsible. It would be hard to disagree that this is the key issue and deserves full "due process" resolution.

US constitutional law might offer some help here. It requires in a dispute such as this, where a crime may have been committed, for the accuser (Mr Obama in this case) to provide all evidence pertinent to the crime be made available to the accused (Mr Assad, presumably in this case represented by Mr Putin). "All evidence" , meaning that which supports the accuser's claims, and also that which supports the accused claims -- the so-called exculpatory evidence. Mr Obama should immediately provide this evidence to Mr Putin.

US law rules of evidence also require that testimony or claims be of first person origin. No third person testimony -- so-called "hearsay" evidence -- is allowed. Mr Obama should comply, and offer evidence only which can be supported by first person testimony. With names attached.



resident alien DC
Putin's comments about the danger of preaching American exceptionalism may have been irrelevant to the immediate issue but they are important. I was born in the UK. When I was young we Brits believed we were exceptional too, and most other nationalities were flawed (couldn't fight, couldn't produce etc). When kids grow up to believe through implication or actual teaching that they are superior to other peoples it affects how they view the world - after all military action against flawed nations does not matter so much. The fact the 4,000 Americans died in Iraq is apparently more important than the fact the 200,000 Iraqis died. It is fine for Obama to say that America is exceptional in the specific context of being the only country willing to take action to enforce international law and peace because that's true. But the US constitution states that we are born equal and that applies by the way to all people. To suggest that Americans are superior overall is dangerous because it leads to misjudgments such as underestimating the costs of war to the World. That is highly relevant to this issue.



Viktor Pittsfield, MA
As a person that spent 3/4 of my life in the USSR-Russia I have to tell that the history of that country and even its existing state do not make me optimistic in evaluating its actions and intentions. The Communist regime killed many millions of their own citizens, and Chechen war took about 100,000 lives- fully comparable with deaths in Syria.
But, unfortunately, Mr. Putin is right in one, the most important thing: the USA believes in its exceptional role and the force to instill it on the world. America has only 5% of total world population and cannot be a world gendarme forever. Worse, most of Americans, and even our government, do not understand deeply, or at all, national, religious, ethnic, historical and cultural specifics of other nations and tribes, so many of US international actions are useless or even counter-productive. That Russia also got defeated in Afghanistan is not a good solace to our situation in Afghanistan and Iraq.
I do not believe that any limited strike could change the Syria situation to better, rather opposite. So, we have to be more cautious here and, choosing our actions, work with our nations even we do not like them.



AR Chicago
Quite possibly, Putin's intended audience is not the American people, but the citizens of the rest of the world. He wants to be their hero -- standing up to the US, pointing out our hypocrisy.

I don't trust Putin, but I think he is exploiting a weakness that the US needs to correct, namely, that we are far too mired in self-delusional, campaign-style spin -- even on the international stage, e.g. that we'd be welcomed as liberators in Iraq, that President Obama's Syria strategy was a high-level chess game and played out exactly the way he planned.

But foreign policy isn't like campaigning. We have to use logic and earned respect (gravitas) to persuade other countries to join with us on matters such as Syria. We have to marshal our knowledge of their particular cultures and political sensibilities. We can't just go around lecturing people about why don't they care more about the poor Syrian children.


Putin Obama Surveillance





The Story Behind the Putin Op-Ed Article in The Times


The Times editorial department was approached Wednesday by an American public relations firm that represents Mr. Putin, offering the piece.  Also on Wednesday, Mr. Putin’s spokesman, in the course of an interview about Syria, mentioned to The Times’s Moscow bureau chief Steven Lee Myers that an article was in the works.
Mr. Rosenthal agreed to review the article and quickly decided to publish it. It was posted on the Times Web site by Wednesday evening.
“I thought it was well-written, well-argued,” he said. “I don’t agree with many of the points in it, but that is irrelevant.”
“Syria is a huge story and Putin is a central figure in it,” giving the piece great news value, he said. It has created a major stir, including plenty of criticism. Richard Murphy of Fairfield, Conn., wrote to me Thursday with harsh words for The Times’s decision to publish it. He described himself as “horrified” and said that The Times was “aiding and abetting a long-term foe of the United States.”
Mr. Rosenthal rejects that argument.
“There is no ideological litmus test” for an Op-Ed article, he said. In addition, he said, it is not the purpose of the Op-Ed pages to help or hurt the American government. It is to present a variety of interesting and newsworthy points of view, at least some of which will be contrary to The Times’s own point of view, expressed in its editorials.
The Times has published very few Op-Ed pieces by heads of state, Mr. Rosenthal said, partly because they have their own ways of getting their messages out.
This was different, he said, because “everyone wants to hear from Putin right now” and this article was “fascinating and detailed,” providing new information.
I asked him about Mr. Putin’s statement that there is “every reason to believe” that the poison gas has been used by opposition forces, not the Syrian government – which many now do not believe to be true. Mr. Rosenthal said that “falls into the category of opinion.”
Mr. Rosenthal said there was no way of knowing whether Mr. Putin himself wrote the article – “with a public official you can never know,” because they tend to have staffers who write their speeches and other communications. But, he said, it needed virtually no editing and went through almost no changes. “It was an amazingly good translation,” he said.
 The public relations firm that pitched the Putin article to The Times was Ketchum, as others, including Rosie Gray from BuzzFeed, reported Thursday. The relationship between Ketchum and Russia was explored by ProPublica, the investigative reporting organization, last year. In a recent ProPublica post, Justin Elliott summarizes the new developments and recaps what was reported earlier, including that Ketchum received $1.9 million from Russia in the first half of this year
The Washington Post’s foreign affairs blogger, Max Fisher, fact-checked and commented Thursday on the Putin Op-Ed, characterizing it as fascinating, but containing “undeniable hypocrisy and even moments of dishonesty.”   Times readers would benefit from a similar examination.  And a Guardian story reported that, according to his spokesman, Mr. Putin wrote most of the article himself with contributions from his staff.



Putin August first 2013 Snowden/Obama - Double Focus Prism: "The promise given was a necessity of the past: the word broken is a necessity of the present." - Niccolò Machiavelli


Will St Paul, MN
I have no qualms about your publishing the letter. However, I am absolutely aghast that so many or your readers fail to comprehend the multiple layers of propaganda buried within it.

Putin is not a neutral player in the Syrian civil war -- the Russian government is operationalizing the Assad forces.

Putin's goal is to defend a strategic ally, and as the Balkans showed, Russian governments have a tradition of standing on shaky moral grounds to defend their few allies -- including trotting out the famous Russian belief in "non-interference."

Russia plays a hugely diminished role internationally, compared to the grand ideological struggles of the 20th Century that Putin references.

And the idea that Vladimir Putin is somehow the conscience of the world is so preposterous that my mind reels when I read comments about his "reasonable" and "moderate" approach to diplomacy.

How could so many of your readers be so deluded about Putin's motives?

Please, for the sake of journalistic balance and of educating your readership, provide some context here.




Citizen Texas
I would strongly surmise that one of the many reasons this country has so little respect in the world anymore is because of the attitude that this countries government and citizens are constantly shoving down everyone's throats; "It's our way or the highway!" "We are the greatest people in the history of the world." By implication, all that really means is everyone else in the world is inferior to us. "We are the greatest country in the world." Not any more we're not. We gave that up, if we ever had it at all when we started torturing people and water boarding them and throwing them in prison with no trails. Spying on and lying to the American public and to the rest of world doesn't exactly help that "great" image either.
We are not always right. Simple fact. We've lost the ability as a country to really help others, feel any compassion anymore, unless there is something in it for us. If we are so great and perfect, why do we have people in this country going to bed every night hungry?
We have become a country of haves and have not's. Rich against poor. We need to take a long hard look in the mirror and decide if what we are looking at is really that great anymore. I for one don't think so.


S Brooks Chicagoland Suburbs
I had to smile when noticing one of the reader comments that referenced the fact that president Putin held a key position with the KGB and implied that he could never be trusted. I guess the poster is too young to remember that George H Bush was the director of our very own CIA before being elected president of the United States.

Guilt by association is always a risky charge, but it does make for great talking points.



mark22660 Vermont
All this Putin bashing by readers of The New York Times is embarrassing. He's an ex-KBG agent, I'll give you that. He's against gay people and I'll give you that too, but for years this country was as well and there are many who still are.
We also must remember that Bush Sr. had been the head of the CIA, yet we trusted him, even as we went into Panama and slaughtered hundreds upon hundreds of women, children and babies ourselves, while being fed misleading information and lies about why we actually went in and then kept in the dark by the coverup that followed. Bush Jr. did the same in Iraq only this count was over a million of the innocent and Obama continues this tradition to this day in Somalia and Yemen with indiscriminate drone strikes. Most have no idea of this because it's conveniently never reported on. So to come out and make the argument about Putin being ex-KGB or the atrocities that are being committed by the Syrian government is ludicrous and shows that you haven't done your homework and therefore have no real understanding in regards to what our own country has become.We no longer stand for truth or justice and the American way has become a fallacy. We have become the evil doers. We have become a terrorist organization. Today, attempting to report the truth, journalists find themselves becoming enemies of the state or worse, the fear of government retaliation under what I refer to as The Micheal Hastings Act.
This country is not even close to being exceptional



Shark New York, NY
You do realize it is an opinion article right?

A Big Heart Open to God





A Big Heart Open to God




exclusive interview with Pope Francis

Editor’s Note: This interview with Pope Francis took place over the course of three meetings during August 2013 in Rome. The interview was conducted in person by Antonio Spadaro, S.J., editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit journal. Father Spadaro conducted the interview on behalf of La Civiltà Cattolica, America and several other major Jesuit journals around the world. The editorial teams at each of the journals prepared questions and sent them to Father Spadaro, who then consolidated and organized them. The interview was conducted in Italian. After the Italian text was officially approved, America commissioned a team of five independent experts to translate it into English.



Pope Francis


Father Spadaro met the pope at the Vatican in the pope’s apartments in the Casa Santa Marta, where he has chosen to live since his election. Father Spadaro begins his account of the interview with a description of the pope’s living quarters.
The setting is simple, austere. The workspace occupied by the desk is small. I am impressed not only by the simplicity of the furniture, but also by the objects in the room. There are only a few. These include an icon of St. Francis, a statue of Our Lady of Luján, patron saint of Argentina, a crucifix and a statue of St. Joseph sleeping. The spirituality of Jorge Mario Bergoglio is not made of “harmonized energies,” as he would call them, but of human faces: Christ, St. Francis, St. Joseph and Mary.
The pope speaks of his trip to Brazil. He considers it a true grace, that World Youth Day was for him a “mystery.” He says that he is not used to talking to so many people: “I can look at individual persons, one at a time, to come into contact in a personal way with the person I have before me. I am not used to the masses,” the pope remarks. He also speaks about the moment during the conclave when he began to realize that he might be elected pope. At lunch on Wednesday, March 13, he felt a deep and inexplicable inner peace and comfort come over him, he said, along with a great darkness. And those feelings accompanied him until his election later that day.
The pope had spoken earlier about his great difficulty in giving interviews. He said that he prefers to think rather than provide answers on the spot in interviews. In this interview the pope interrupted what he was saying in response to a question several times, in order to add something to an earlier response. Talking with Pope Francis is a kind of volcanic flow of ideas that are bound up with each other. Even taking notes gives me an uncomfortable feeling, as if I were trying to suppress a surging spring of dialogue.

Who Is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?

I ask Pope Francis point-blank: “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” He stares at me in silence. I ask him if I may ask him this question. He nods and replies: “I ​​do not know what might be the most fitting description.... I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.
The pope continues to reflect and concentrate, as if he did not expect this question, as if he were forced to reflect further. “Yes, perhaps I can say that I am a bit astute, that I can adapt to circumstances, but it is also true that I am a bit naïve. Yes, but the best summary, the one that comes more from the inside and I feel most true is this: I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.” And he repeats: “I ​​am one who is looked upon by the Lord. I always felt my motto, Miserando atque Eligendo [By Having Mercy and by Choosing Him], was very true for me.”
The motto is taken from the Homilies of Bede the Venerable, who writes in his comments on the Gospel story of the calling of Matthew: “Jesus saw a publican, and since he looked at him with feelings of love and chose him, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’” The pope adds: “I think the Latin gerund miserando is impossible to translate in both Italian and Spanish. I like to translate it with another gerund that does not exist: misericordiando [“mercy-ing”].
Pope Francis continues his reflection and says, jumping to another topic: “I do not know Rome well. I know a few things. These include the Basilica of St. Mary Major; I always used to go there. I know St. Mary Major, St. Peter’s...but when I had to come to Rome, I always stayed in [the neighborhood of] Via della Scrofa. From there I often visited the Church of St. Louis of France, and I went there to contemplate the painting of ‘The Calling of St. Matthew,’ by Caravaggio.
“That finger of Jesus, pointing at Matthew. That’s me. I feel like him. Like Matthew.” Here the pope becomes determined, as if he had finally found the image he was looking for: “It is the gesture of Matthew that strikes me: he holds on to his money as if to say, ‘No, not me! No, this money is mine.’ Here, this is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze. And this is what I said when they asked me if I would accept my election as pontiff.” Then the pope whispers in Latin: “I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.”

Why Did You Become a Jesuit?

I continue: “Holy Father, what made ​​you choose to enter the Society of Jesus? What struck you about the Jesuit order?”
“I wanted something more. But I did not know what. I entered the diocesan seminary. I liked the Dominicans and I had Dominican friends. But then I chose the Society of Jesus, which I knew well because the seminary was entrusted to the Jesuits. Three things in particular struck me about the Society: the missionary spirit, community and discipline. And this is strange, because I am a really, really undisciplined person. But their discipline, the way they manage their time—these things struck me so much.
“And then a thing that is really important for me: community. I was always looking for a community. I did not see myself as a priest on my own. I need a community. And you can tell this by the fact that I am here in Santa Marta. At the time of the conclave I lived in Room 207. (The rooms were assigned by drawing lots.) This room where we are now was a guest room. I chose to live here, in Room 201, because when I took possession of the papal apartment, inside myself I distinctly heard a ‘no.’ The papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace is not luxurious. It is old, tastefully decorated and large, but not luxurious. But in the end it is like an inverted funnel. It is big and spacious, but the entrance is really tight. People can come only in dribs and drabs, and I cannot live without people. I need to live my life with others.”

What Does It Mean for a Jesuit to Be Bishop of Rome?

I ask Pope Francis about the fact that he is the first Jesuit to be elected bishop of Rome: “How do you understand the role of service to the universal church that you have been called to play in the light of Ignatian spirituality? What does it mean for a Jesuit to be elected pope? What element of Ignatian spirituality helps you live your ministry?”
[3]“Discernment,” he replies. “Discernment is one of the things that worked inside St. Ignatius. For him it is an instrument of struggle in order to know the Lord and follow him more closely. I was always struck by a saying that describes the vision of Ignatius: non coerceri a maximo, sed contineri a minimo divinum est (“not to be limited by the greatest and yet to be contained in the tiniest—this is the divine”). I thought a lot about this phrase in connection with the issue of different roles in the government of the church, about becoming the superior of somebody else: it is important not to be restricted by a larger space, and it is important to be able to stay in restricted spaces. This virtue of the large and small is magnanimity. Thanks to magnanimity, we can always look at the horizon from the position where we are. That means being able to do the little things of every day with a big heart open to God and to others. That means being able to appreciate the small things inside large horizons, those of the kingdom of God.
“This motto,” the pope continues, “offers parameters to assume a correct position for discernment, in order to hear the things of God from God’s ‘point of view.’ According to St. Ignatius, great principles must be embodied in the circumstances of place, time and people. In his own way, John XXIII adopted this attitude with regard to the government of the church, when he repeated the motto, ‘See everything; turn a blind eye to much; correct a little.’ John XXIII saw all things, the maximum dimension, but he chose to correct a few, the minimum dimension. You can have large projects and implement them by means of a few of the smallest things. Or you can use weak means that are more effective than strong ones, as Paul also said in his First Letter to the Corinthians.
“This discernment takes time. For example, many think that changes and reforms can take place in a short time. I believe that we always need time to lay the foundations for real, effective change. And this is the time of discernment. Sometimes discernment instead urges us to do precisely what you had at first thought you would do later. And that is what has happened to me in recent months. Discernment is always done in the presence of the Lord, looking at the signs, listening to the things that happen, the feeling of the people, especially the poor. My choices, including those related to the day-to-day aspects of life, like the use of a modest car, are related to a spiritual discernment that responds to a need that arises from looking at things, at people and from reading the signs of the times. Discernment in the Lord guides me in my way of governing.
“But I am always wary of decisions made hastily. I am always wary of the first decision, that is, the first thing that comes to my mind if I have to make a decision. This is usually the wrong thing. I have to wait and assess, looking deep into myself, taking the necessary time. The wisdom of discernment redeems the necessary ambiguity of life and helps us find the most appropriate means, which do not always coincide with what looks great and strong.”

The Society of Jesus

Discernment is therefore a pillar of the spirituality of Pope Francis. It expresses in a particular manner his Jesuit identity. I ask him then how the Society of Jesus can be of service to the church today, what are its characteristics, but also the possible challenges facing the Society of Jesus.
The Society of Jesus is an institution in tension,” the pope replied, “always fundamentally in tension. A Jesuit is a person who is not centered in himself. The Society itself also looks to a center outside itself; its center is Christ and his church. So if the Society centers itself in Christ and the church, it has two fundamental points of reference for its balance and for being able to live on the margins, on the frontier. If it looks too much in upon itself, it puts itself at the center as a very solid, very well ‘armed’ structure, but then it runs the risk of feeling safe and self-sufficient. The Society must always have before itself the Deus semper maior, the always-greater God, and the pursuit of the ever greater glory of God, the church as true bride of Christ our Lord, Christ the king who conquers us and to whom we offer our whole person and all our hard work, even if we are clay pots, inadequate. This tension takes us out of ourselves continuously. The tool that makes the Society of Jesus not centered in itself, really strong, is, then, the account of conscience, which is at the same time paternal and fraternal, because it helps the Society to fulfill its mission better.”
The pope is referring to the requirement in the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus that the Jesuit must “manifest his conscience,” that is, his inner spiritual situation, so that the superior can be more conscious and knowledgeable about sending a person on mission.
“But it is difficult to speak of the Society,” continues Pope Francis. “When you express too much, you run the risk of being misunderstood. The Society of Jesus can be described only in narrative form. Only in narrative form do you discern, not in a philosophical or theological explanation, which allows you rather to discuss. The style of the Society is not shaped by discussion, but by discernment, which of course presupposes discussion as part of the process. The mystical dimension of discernment never defines its edges and does not complete the thought. The Jesuit must be a person whose thought is incomplete, in the sense of open-ended thinking. There have been periods in the Society in which Jesuits have lived in an environment of closed and rigid thought, more instructive-ascetic than mystical: this distortion of Jesuit life gave birth to the Epitome Instituti.”
The pope is referring to a compendium, made for practical purposes, that came to be seen as a replacement for the Constitutions. The formation of Jesuits for some time was shaped by this text, to the extent that some never read the Constitutions, the foundational text. During this period, in the pope’s view, the rules threatened to overwhelm the spirit, and the Society yielded to the temptation to explicate and define its charism too narrowly.
Pope Francis continues: “No, the Jesuit always thinks, again and again, looking at the horizon toward which he must go, with Christ at the center. This is his real strength. And that pushes the Society to be searching, creative and generous. So now, more than ever, the Society of Jesus must be contemplative in action, must live a profound closeness to the whole church as both the ‘people of God’ and ‘holy mother the hierarchical church.’ This requires much humility, sacrifice and courage, especially when you are misunderstood or you are the subject of misunderstandings and slanders, but that is the most fruitful attitude. Let us think of the tensions of the past history, in the previous centuries, about the Chinese rites controversy, the Malabar rites and the Reductions in Paraguay.
“I am a witness myself to the misunderstandings and problems that the Society has recently experienced. Among those there were tough times, especially when it came to the issue of extending to all Jesuits the fourth vow of obedience to the pope. What gave me confidence at the time of Father Arrupe [superior general of the Jesuits from 1965 to 1983] was the fact that he was a man of prayer, a man who spent much time in prayer. I remember him when he prayed sitting on the ground in the Japanese style. For this he had the right attitude and made the right decisions.”

The Model: Peter Faber, ‘Reformed Priest’

I am wondering if there are figures among the Jesuits, from the origins of the Society to the present date, that have affected him in a particular way, so I ask the pope who they are and why. He begins by mentioning Ignatius Loyola [founder of the Jesuits] and Francis Xavier, but then focuses on a figure who is not as well known to the general public: Peter Faber (1506-46), from Savoy. He was one of the first companions of St. Ignatius, in fact the first, with whom he shared a room when the two were students at the University of Paris. The third roommate was Francis Xavier. Pius IX declared Faber blessed on Sept. 5, 1872, and the cause for his canonization is still open.
The pope cites an edition of Faber’s works, which he asked two Jesuit scholars, Miguel A. Fiorito and Jaime H. Amadeo, to edit and publish when he was provincial superior of the Jesuits in Argentina. An edition that he particularly likes is the one by Michel de Certeau. I ask the pope why he is so impressed by Faber.
“[His] dialogue with all,” the pope says, “even the most remote and even with his opponents; his simple piety, a certain naïveté perhaps, his being available straightaway, his careful interior discernment, the fact that he was a man capable of great and strong decisions but also capable of being so gentle and loving.”
Michel de Certeau characterized Faber simply as “the reformed priest,” for whom interior experience, dogmatic expression and structural reform are inseparable. The pope then continues with a reflection on the true face of the founder of the Society.
“Ignatius is a mystic, not an ascetic,” he says. “It irritates me when I hear that the Spiritual Exercises are ‘Ignatian’ only because they are done in silence. In fact, the Exercises can be perfectly Ignatian also in daily life and without the silence. An interpretation of the Spiritual Exercises that emphasizes asceticism, silence and penance is a distorted one that became widespread even in the Society, especially in the Society of Jesus in Spain. I am rather close to the mystical movement, that of Louis Lallement and Jean-Joseph Surin. And Faber was a mystic.”

Experience in Church Government

What kind of experience in church government, as a Jesuit superior and then as superior of a province of the Society of Jesus, helped to fully form Father Bergoglio? The style of governance of the Society of Jesus involves decisions made by the superior, but also extensive consultation with his official advisors. So I ask: “Do you think that your past government experience can serve you in governing the universal church?” After a brief pause for reflection, he responds:
“In my experience as superior in the Society, to be honest, I have not always behaved in that way—that is, I did not always do the necessary consultation. And this was not a good thing. My style of government as a Jesuit at the beginning had many faults. That was a difficult time for the Society: an entire generation of Jesuits had disappeared. Because of this I found myself provincial when I was still very young. I was only 36 years old. That was crazy. I had to deal with difficult situations, and I made my decisions abruptly and by myself. Yes, but I must add one thing: when I entrust something to someone, I totally trust that person. He or she must make a really big mistake before I rebuke that person. But despite this, eventually people get tired of authoritarianism.
“My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems and to be accused of being ultraconservative. I lived a time of great interior crisis when I was in Cordova. To be sure, I have never been like Blessed Imelda [a goody-goody], but I have never been a right-winger. It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems.
“I say these things from life experience and because I want to make clear what the dangers are. Over time I learned many things. The Lord has allowed this growth in knowledge of government through my faults and my sins. So as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, I had a meeting with the six auxiliary bishops every two weeks, and several times a year with the council of priests. They asked questions and we opened the floor for discussion. This greatly helped me to make the best decisions. But now I hear some people tell me: ‘Do not consult too much, and decide by yourself.’ Instead, I believe that consultation is very important.
“The consistories [of cardinals], the synods [of bishops] are, for example, important places to make real and active this consultation. We must, however, give them a less rigid form. I do not want token consultations, but real consultations. The consultation group of eight cardinals, this ‘outsider’ advisory group, is not only my decision, but it is the result of the will of the cardinals, as it was expressed in the general congregations before the conclave. And I want to see that this is a real, not ceremonial consultation.”

Thinking With the Church

I ask Pope Francis what it means exactly for him to “think with the church,” a notion St. Ignatius writes about in the Spiritual Exercises. He replies using an image.
“The image of the church I like is that of the holy, faithful people of God. This is the definition I often use, and then there is that image from the Second Vatican Council’s ‘Dogmatic Constitution on the Church’ (No. 12). Belonging to a people has a strong theological value. In the history of salvation, God has saved a people. There is no full identity without belonging to a people. No one is saved alone, as an isolated individual, but God attracts us looking at the complex web of relationships that take place in the human community. God enters into this dynamic, this participation in the web of human relationships.
“The people itself constitutes a subject. And the church is the people of God on the journey through history, with joys and sorrows. Thinking with the church, therefore, is my way of being a part of this people. And all the faithful, considered as a whole, are infallible in matters of belief, and the people display this infallibilitas in credendo, this infallibility in believing, through a supernatural sense of the faith of all the people walking together. This is what I understand today as the ‘thinking with the church’ of which St. Ignatius speaks. When the dialogue among the people and the bishops and the pope goes down this road and is genuine, then it is assisted by the Holy Spirit. So this thinking with the church does not concern theologians only.
“This is how it is with Mary: If you want to know who she is, you ask theologians; if you want to know how to love her, you have to ask the people. In turn, Mary loved Jesus with the heart of the people, as we read in the Magnificat. We should not even think, therefore, that ‘thinking with the church’ means only thinking with the hierarchy of the church.
After a brief pause, Pope Francis emphasizes the following point, in order to avoid misunderstandings: “And, of course, we must be very careful not to think that this infallibilitas of all the faithful I am talking about in the light of Vatican II is a form of populism. No; it is the experience of ‘holy mother the hierarchical church,’ as St. Ignatius called it, the church as the people of God, pastors and people together. The church is the totality of God’s people.
“I see the sanctity of God’s people, this daily sanctity,” the pope continues. “There is a ‘holy middle class,’ which we can all be part of, the holiness Malègue wrote about.” The pope is referring to Joseph Malègue, a French writer (1876–1940), particularly to the unfinished trilogy Black Stones: The Middle Classes of Salvation.
“I see the holiness,” the pope continues, “in the patience of the people of God: a woman who is raising children, a man who works to bring home the bread, the sick, the elderly priests who have so many wounds but have a smile on their faces because they served the Lord, the sisters who work hard and live a hidden sanctity. This is for me the common sanctity. I often associate sanctity with patience: not only patience as hypomoné [the New Testament Greek word], taking charge of the events and circumstances of life, but also as a constancy in going forward, day by day. This is the sanctity of the militant church also mentioned by St. Ignatius. This was the sanctity of my parents: my dad, my mom, my grandmother Rosa who loved ​​me so much. In my breviary I have the last will of my grandmother Rosa, and I read it often. For me it is like a prayer. She is a saint who has suffered so much, also spiritually, and yet always went forward with courage.
“This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity. And the church is Mother; the church is fruitful. It must be. You see, when I perceive negative behavior in ministers of the church or in consecrated men or women, the first thing that comes to mind is: ‘Here’s an unfruitful bachelor’ or ‘Here’s a spinster.’ They are neither fathers nor mothers, in the sense that they have not been able to give spiritual life. Instead, for example, when I read the life of the Salesian missionaries who went to Patagonia, I read a story of the fullness of life, of fruitfulness.
“Another example from recent days that I saw got the attention of newspapers: the phone call I made to a young man who wrote me a letter. I called him because that letter was so beautiful, so simple. For me this was an act of generativity. I realized that he was a young man who is growing, that he saw in me a father, and that the letter tells something of his life to that father. The father cannot say, ‘I do not care.’ This type of fruitfulness is so good for me.”

Young Churches and Ancient Churches

Remaining with the subject of the church, I ask the pope a question in light of the recent World Youth Day. This great event has turned the spotlight on young people, but also on those “spiritual lungs” that are the Catholic churches founded in historically recent times. “What,” I ask, “are your hopes for the universal church that come from these churches?”
The pope replies: “The young Catholic churches, as they grow, develop a synthesis of faith, culture and life, and so it is a synthesis different from the one developed by the ancient churches. For me, the relationship between the ancient Catholic churches and the young ones is similar to the relationship between young and elderly people in a society. They build the future, the young ones with their strength and the others with their wisdom. You always run some risks, of course. The younger churches are likely to feel self-sufficient; the ancient ones are likely to want to impose on the younger churches their cultural models. But we build the future together.”

The Church as Field Hospital

Pope Benedict XVI, in announcing his resignation, said that the contemporary world is subject to rapid change and is grappling with issues of great importance for the life of faith. Dealing with these issues requires strength of body and soul, Pope Benedict said. I ask Pope Francis: “What does the church need most at this historic moment? Do we need reforms? What are your wishes for the church in the coming years? What kind of church do you dream of?”
Pope Francis begins by showing great affection and immense respect for his predecessor: “Pope Benedict has done an act of holiness, greatness, humility. He is a man of God.
“I see clearly,” the pope continues, “that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds.... And you have to start from the ground up.
“The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all. The confessor, for example, is always in danger of being either too much of a rigorist or too lax. Neither is merciful, because neither of them really takes responsibility for the person. The rigorist washes his hands so that he leaves it to the commandment. The loose minister washes his hands by simply saying, ‘This is not a sin’ or something like that. In pastoral ministry we must accompany people, and we must heal their wounds.
“How are we treating the people of God? I dream of a church that is a mother and shepherdess. The church’s ministers must be merciful, take responsibility for the people and accompany them like the good Samaritan, who washes, cleans and raises up his neighbor. This is pure Gospel. God is greater than sin. The structural and organizational reforms are secondary—that is, they come afterward. The first reform must be the attitude. The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost. The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials. The bishops, particularly, must be able to support the movements of God among their people with patience, so that no one is left behind. But they must also be able to accompany the flock that has a flair for finding new paths.
“Instead of being just a church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a church that finds new roads, that is able to step outside itself and go to those who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent. The ones who quit sometimes do it for reasons that, if properly understood and assessed, can lead to a return. But that takes audacity and courage.”
I mention to Pope Francis that there are Christians who live in situations that are irregular for the church or in complex situations that represent open wounds. I mention the divorced and remarried, same-sex couples and other difficult situations. What kind of pastoral work can we do in these cases? What kinds of tools can we use?
“We need to proclaim the Gospel on every street corner,” the pope says, “preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing, even with our preaching, every kind of disease and wound. In Buenos Aires I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are ‘socially wounded’ because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this. During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.
A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.
“This is also the great benefit of confession as a sacrament: evaluating case by case and discerning what is the best thing to do for a person who seeks God and grace. The confessional is not a torture chamber, but the place in which the Lord’s mercy motivates us to do better. I also consider the situation of a woman with a failed marriage in her past and who also had an abortion. Then this woman remarries, and she is now happy and has five children. That abortion in her past weighs heavily on her conscience and she sincerely regrets it. She would like to move forward in her Christian life. What is the confessor to do?
“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.
The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.
“I say this also thinking about the preaching and content of our preaching. A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation. Then you have to do catechesis. Then you can draw even a moral consequence. But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. Today sometimes it seems that the opposite order is prevailing. The homily is the touchstone to measure the pastor’s proximity and ability to meet his people, because those who preach must recognize the heart of their community and must be able to see where the desire for God is lively and ardent. The message of the Gospel, therefore, is not to be reduced to some aspects that, although relevant, on their own do not show the heart of the message of Jesus Christ.”

A Religious Order Pope

Pope Francis is the first pontiff from a religious order since the Camaldolese monk Gregory XVI, who was elected in 1831. I ask: “What is the specific place of religious men and women in the church of today?”
“Religious men and women are prophets,” says the pope. “They are those who have chosen a following of Jesus that imitates his life in obedience to the Father, poverty, community life and chastity. In this sense, the vows cannot end up being caricatures; otherwise, for example, community life becomes hell, and chastity becomes a way of life for unfruitful bachelors. The vow of chastity must be a vow of fruitfulness. In the church, the religious are called to be prophets in particular by demonstrating how Jesus lived on this earth, and to proclaim how the kingdom of God will be in its perfection. A religious must never give up prophecy. This does not mean opposing the hierarchical part of the church, although the prophetic function and the hierarchical structure do not coincide. I am talking about a proposal that is always positive, but it should not cause timidity. Let us think about what so many great saints, monks and religious men and women have done, from St. Anthony the Abbot onward. Being prophets may sometimes imply making waves. I do not know how to put it.... Prophecy makes noise, uproar, some say ‘a mess.’ But in reality, the charism of religious people is like yeast: prophecy announces the spirit of the Gospel.”

The Roman Curia

I ask the pope what he thinks of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, the various departments that assist the pope in his mission.
“The dicasteries of the Roman Curia are at the service of the pope and the bishops,” he says. “They must help both the particular churches and the bishops’ conferences. They are instruments of help. In some cases, however, when they are not functioning well, they run the risk of becoming institutions of censorship. It is amazing to see the denunciations for lack of orthodoxy that come to Rome. I think the cases should be investigated by the local bishops’ conferences, which can get valuable assistance from Rome. These cases, in fact, are much better dealt with locally. The Roman congregations are mediators; they are not middlemen or managers.”
On June 29, during the ceremony of the blessing and imposition of the pallium on 34 metropolitan archbishops, Pope Francis spoke about “the path of collegiality” as the road that can lead the church to “grow in harmony with the service of primacy.” So I ask: “How can we reconcile in harmony Petrine primacy and collegiality? Which roads are feasible also from an ecumenical perspective?”
The pope responds, “We must walk together: the people, the bishops and the pope. Synodality should be lived at various levels. Maybe it is time to change the methods of the Synod of Bishops, because it seems to me that the current method is not dynamic. This will also have ecumenical value, especially with our Orthodox brethren. From them we can learn more about the meaning of episcopal collegiality and the tradition of synodality. The joint effort of reflection, looking at how the church was governed in the early centuries, before the breakup between East and West, will bear fruit in due time. In ecumenical relations it is important not only to know each other better, but also to recognize what the Spirit has sown in the other as a gift for us. I want to continue the discussion that was begun in 2007 by the joint [Catholic–Orthodox] commission on how to exercise the Petrine primacy, which led to the signing of the Ravenna Document. We must continue on this path.”
I ask how Pope Francis envisions the future unity of the church in light of this response. He answers: “We must walk united with our differences: there is no other way to become one. This is the way of Jesus.”

Women in the Life of the Church

And what about the role of women in the church? The pope has made ​​reference to this issue on several occasions. He took up the matter during the return trip from Rio de Janeiro, claiming that the church still lacks a profound theology of women. I ask: “What should be the role of women in the church? How do we make their role more visible today?”
He answers: “I am wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of ‘female machismo,’ because a woman has a different make-up than a man. But what I hear about the role of women is often inspired by an ideology of machismo. Women are asking deep questions that must be addressed. The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role. The woman is essential for the church. Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops. I say this because we must not confuse the function with the dignity. We must therefore investigate further the role of women in the church. We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman. Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the church. The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions. The challenge today is this: to think about the specific place of women also in those places where the authority of the church is exercised for various areas of the church.”

The Second Vatican Council

“What did ​​the Second Vatican Council accomplish?” I ask.
“Vatican II was a re-reading of the Gospel in light of contemporary culture,” says the pope. “Vatican II produced a renewal movement that simply comes from the same Gospel. Its fruits are enormous. Just recall the liturgy. The work of liturgical reform has been a service to the people as a re-reading of the Gospel from a concrete historical situation. Yes, there are hermeneutics of continuity and discontinuity, but one thing is clear: the dynamic of reading the Gospel, actualizing its message for today—which was typical of Vatican II—is absolutely irreversible. Then there are particular issues, like the liturgy according to the Vetus Ordo. I think the decision of Pope Benedict [his decision of July 7, 2007, to allow a wider use of the Tridentine Mass] was prudent and motivated by the desire to help people who have this sensitivity. What is worrying, though, is the risk of the ideologization of the Vetus Ordo, its exploitation.”

To Seek and Find God in All Things

At the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis repeatedly declared: “God is real. He manifests himself today. God is everywhere.” These are phrases that echo the Ignatian expression “to seek and find God in all things.” So I ask the pope: “How do you seek and find God in all things?”
“What I said in Rio referred to the time in which we seek God,” he answers. “In fact, there is a temptation to seek God in the past or in a possible future. God is certainly in the past because we can see the footprints. And God is also in the future as a promise. But the ‘concrete’ God, so to speak, is today. For this reason, complaining never helps us find God. The complaints of today about how ‘barbaric’ the world is—these complaints sometimes end up giving birth within the church to desires to establish order in the sense of pure conservation, as a defense. No: God is to be encountered in the world of today.
“God manifests himself in historical revelation, in history. Time initiates processes, and space crystallizes them. God is in history, in the processes.
“We must not focus on occupying the spaces where power is exercised, but rather on starting long-run historical processes. We must initiate processes rather than occupy spaces. God manifests himself in time and is present in the processes of history. This gives priority to actions that give birth to new historical dynamics. And it requires patience, waiting.
“Finding God in all things is not an ‘empirical eureka.’ When we desire to encounter God, we would like to verify him immediately by an empirical method. But you cannot meet God this way. God is found in the gentle breeze perceived by Elijah. The senses that find God are the ones St. Ignatius called spiritual senses. Ignatius asks us to open our spiritual sensitivity to encounter God beyond a purely empirical approach. A contemplative attitude is necessary: it is the feeling that you are moving along the good path of understanding and affection toward things and situations. Profound peace, spiritual consolation, love of God and love of all things in God—this is the sign that you are on this right path.”

Certitude and Mistakes

I ask, “So if the encounter with God is not an ‘empirical eureka,’ and if it is a journey that sees with the eyes of history, then we can also make mistakes?”
The pope replies: “Yes, in this quest to seek and find God in all things there is still an area of uncertainty. There must be. If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good. For me, this is an important key. If one has the answers to all the questions—that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble. Uncertainty is in every true discernment that is open to finding confirmation in spiritual consolation.
“The risk in seeking and finding God in all things, then, is the willingness to explain too much, to say with human certainty and arrogance: ‘God is here.’ We will find only a god that fits our measure. The correct attitude is that of St. Augustine: seek God to find him, and find God to keep searching for God forever. Often we seek as if we were blind, as one often reads in the Bible. And this is the experience of the great fathers of the faith, who are our models. We have to re-read the Letter to the Hebrews, Chapter 11. Abraham leaves his home without knowing where he was going, by faith. All of our ancestors in the faith died seeing the good that was promised, but from a distance.... Our life is not given to us like an opera libretto, in which all is written down; but it means going, walking, doing, searching, seeing.... We must enter into the adventure of the quest for meeting God; we must let God search and encounter us.
“Because God is first; God is always first and makes the first move. God is a bit like the almond flower of your Sicily, Antonio, which always blooms first. We read it in the Prophets. God is encountered walking, along the path. At this juncture, someone might say that this is relativism. Is it relativism? Yes, if it is misunderstood as a kind of indistinct pantheism. It is not relativism if it is understood in the biblical sense, that God is always a surprise, so you never know where and how you will find him. You are not setting the time and place of the encounter with him. You must, therefore, discern the encounter. Discernment is essential.
If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing. Tradition and memory of the past must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God. Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security,’ those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists­—they have a static and inward-directed view of things. In this way, faith becomes an ideology among other ideologies. I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life. God is in everyone’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else—God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life. Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.”

Must We Be Optimistic?

The pope’s words remind me of some of his past reflections, in which as a cardinal he wrote that God is already living in the city, in the midst of all and united to each. It is another way, in my opinion, to say what St. Ignatius wrote in the Spiritual Exercises, that God “labors and works” in our world. So I ask: “Do we have to be optimistic? What are the signs of hope in today’s world? How can I be optimistic in a world in crisis?”
“I do not like to use the word optimism because that is about a psychological attitude,” the pope says. “I like to use the word hope instead, according to what we read in the Letter to the Hebrews, Chapter 11, that I mentioned before. The fathers of the faith kept walking, facing difficulties. And hope does not disappoint, as we read in the Letter to the Romans. Think instead of the first riddle of Puccini’s opera ‘Turandot,’” the pope suggests.
At that moment I recalled more or less by heart the verses of the riddle of the princess in that opera, to which the solution is hope: “In the gloomy night flies an iridescent ghost./ It rises and opens its wings/ on the infinite black humanity./ The whole world invokes it/ and the whole world implores it./ But the ghost disappears with the dawn/ to be reborn in the heart./ And every night it is born/ and every day it dies!”
“See,” says Pope Francis, “Christian hope is not a ghost and it does not deceive. It is a theological virtue and therefore, ultimately, a gift from God that cannot be reduced to optimism, which is only human. God does not mislead hope; God cannot deny himself. God is all promise.”

Art and Creativity

I am struck by the reference the pope just made to Puccini’s “Turandot” while speaking of the mystery of hope. I would like to understand better his artistic and literary references. I remind him that in 2006 he said that great artists know how to present the tragic and painful realities of life with beauty. So I ask who are the artists and writers he prefers, and if they have something in common.
“I have really loved a diverse array of authors. I love very much Dostoevsky and Hölderlin. I remember Hölderlin for that poem written for the birthday of his grandmother that is very beautiful and was spiritually very enriching for me. The poem ends with the verse, ‘May the man hold fast to what the child has promised.’ I was also impressed because I loved my grandmother Rosa, and in that poem Hölderlin compares his grandmother to the Virgin Mary, who gave birth to Jesus, the friend of the earth who did not consider anybody a foreigner.
“I have read The Betrothed, by Alessandro Manzoni, three times, and I have it now on my table because I want to read it again. Manzoni gave me so much. When I was a child, my grandmother taught me by heart the beginning of The Betrothed: ‘That branch of Lake Como that turns off to the south between two unbroken chains of mountains....’ I also liked Gerard Manley Hopkins very much.
“Among the great painters, I admire Caravaggio; his paintings speak to me. But also Chagall, with his ‘White Crucifixion.’ Among musicians I love Mozart, of course. The ‘Et incarnatus est’ from his Mass in C minor is matchless; it lifts you to God! I love Mozart performed by Clara Haskil. Mozart fulfills me. But I cannot think about his music; I have to listen to it. I like listening to Beethoven, but in a Promethean way, and the most Promethean interpreter for me is Furtwängler. And then Bach’s Passions. The piece by Bach that I love so much is the ‘Erbarme Dich,’ the tears of Peter in the ‘St. Matthew Passion.’ Sublime. Then, at a different level, not intimate in the same way, I love Wagner. I like to listen to him, but not all the time. The performance of Wagner’s ‘Ring’ by Furtwängler at La Scala in Milan in 1950 is for me the best. But also the ‘Parsifal’ by Knappertsbusch in 1962.
“We should also talk about the cinema. ‘La Strada,’ by Fellini, is the movie that perhaps I loved the most. I identify with this movie, in which there is an implicit reference to St. Francis. I also believe that I watched all of the Italian movies with Anna Magnani and Aldo Fabrizi when I was between 10 and 12 years old. Another film that I loved is ‘Rome, Open City.’ I owe my film culture especially to my parents who used to take us to the movies quite often.
“Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones. There is a nice definition that Cervantes puts on the lips of the bachelor Carrasco to praise the story of Don Quixote: ‘Children have it in their hands, young people read it, adults understand it, the elderly praise it.’ For me this can be a good definition of the classics.”
I ask the pope about teaching literature to his secondary school students.
“It was a bit risky,” he answers. “I had to make sure that my students read El Cid. But the boys did not like it. They wanted to read Garcia Lorca. Then I decided that they would study El Cid at home and that in class I would teach the authors the boys liked the most. Of course, young people wanted to read more ‘racy’ literary works, like the contemporary La Casada Infiel or classics like La Celestina, by Fernando de Rojas. But by reading these things they acquired a taste in literature, poetry, and we went on to other authors. And that was for me a great experience. I completed the program, but in an unstructured way—that is, not ordered according to what we expected in the beginning, but in an order that came naturally by reading these authors. And this mode befitted me: I did not like to have a rigid schedule, but rather I liked to know where we had to go with the readings, with a rough sense of where we were headed. Then I also started to get them to write. In the end I decided to send Borges two stories written by my boys. I knew his secretary, who had been my piano teacher. And Borges liked those stories very much. And then he set out to write the introduction to a collection of these writings.”
“Then, Holy Father, creativity is important for the life of a person?” I ask. He laughs and replies: “For a Jesuit it is extremely important! A Jesuit must be creative.”

Frontiers and Laboratories

During a visit by the fathers and staff of La Civiltà Cattolica, the pope had spoken about the importance of the triad “dialogue, discernment, frontier.” And he insisted particularly on the last point, citing Paul VI and what he had said in a famous speech about the Jesuits: “Wherever in the church—even in the most difficult and extreme fields, in the crossroads of ideologies, in the social trenches—there has been and is now conversation between the deepest desires of human beings and the perennial message of the Gospel, Jesuits have been and are there.” I ask Pope Francis what should be the priorities of journals published by the Society of Jesus.
“The three key words that I commended to La Civiltà Cattolica can be extended to all the journals of the Society, perhaps with different emphases according to their natures and their objectives. When I insist on the frontier, I am referring in a particular way to the need for those who work in the world of culture to be inserted into the context in which they operate and on which they reflect. There is always the lurking danger of living in a laboratory. Ours is not a ‘lab faith,’ but a ‘journey faith,’ a historical faith. God has revealed himself as history, not as a compendium of abstract truths. I am afraid of laboratories because in the laboratory you take the problems and then you bring them home to tame them, to paint them, out of their context. You cannot bring home the frontier, but you have to live on the border and be audacious.”
I ask for examples from his personal experience.
“When it comes to social issues, it is one thing to have a meeting to study the problem of drugs in a slum neighborhood and quite another thing to go there, live there and understand the problem from the inside and study it. There is a brilliant letter by Father Arrupe to the Centers for Social Research and Action on poverty, in which he says clearly that one cannot speak of poverty if one does not experience poverty, with a direct connection to the places in which there is poverty. The word insertion is dangerous because some religious have taken it as a fad, and disasters have occurred because of a lack of discernment. But it is truly important.”
“The frontiers are many. Let us think of the religious sisters living in hospitals. They live on the frontier. I am alive because of one of them. When I went through my lung disease at the hospital, the doctor gave me penicillin and streptomycin in certain doses. The sister who was on duty tripled my doses because she was daringly astute; she knew what to do because she was with ill people all day. The doctor, who really was a good one, lived in his laboratory; the sister lived on the frontier and was in dialogue with it every day. Domesticating the frontier means just talking from a remote location, locking yourself up in a laboratory. Laboratories are useful, but reflection for us must always start from experience.”

Human Self-Understanding

I ask Pope Francis about the enormous changes occurring in society and the way human beings are reinterpreting themselves. At this point he gets up and goes to get the breviary from his desk. It is in Latin, now worn from use. He opens to the Office of Readings for Friday of the 27th Week in Ordinary Time and reads me a passage from the Commonitorium Primum of St. Vincent of Lerins: “Even the dogma of the Christian religion must follow these laws, consolidating over the years, developing over time, deepening with age.”
The pope comments: “St. Vincent of Lerins makes a comparison between the biological development of man and the transmission from one era to another of the deposit of faith, which grows and is strengthened with time. Here, human self-understanding changes with time and so also human consciousness deepens. Let us think of when slavery was accepted or the death penalty was allowed without any problem. So we grow in the understanding of the truth. Exegetes and theologians help the church to mature in her own judgment. Even the other sciences and their development help the church in its growth in understanding. There are ecclesiastical rules and precepts that were once effective, but now they have lost value or meaning. The view of the church’s teaching as a monolith to defend without nuance or different understandings is wrong.
“After all, in every age of history, humans try to understand and express themselves better. So human beings in time change the way they perceive themselves. It’s one thing for a man who expresses himself by carving the ‘Winged Victory of Samothrace,’ yet another for Caravaggio, Chagall and yet another still for Dalí. Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning.
“Humans are in search of themselves, and, of course, in this search they can also make mistakes. The church has experienced times of brilliance, like that of Thomas Aquinas. But the church has lived also times of decline in its ability to think. For example, we must not confuse the genius of Thomas Aquinas with the age of decadent Thomist commentaries. Unfortunately, I studied philosophy from textbooks that came from decadent or largely bankrupt Thomism. In thinking of the human being, therefore, the church should strive for genius and not for decadence.
“When does a formulation of thought cease to be valid? When it loses sight of the human or even when it is afraid of the human or deluded about itself. The deceived thought can be depicted as Ulysses encountering the song of the Siren, or as Tannhäuser in an orgy surrounded by satyrs and bacchantes, or as Parsifal, in the second act of Wagner’s opera, in the palace of Klingsor. The thinking of the church must recover genius and better understand how human beings understand themselves today, in order to develop and deepen the church’s teaching.”

Prayer

I ask Pope Francis about his preferred way to pray.
“I pray the breviary every morning. I like to pray with the psalms. Then, later, I celebrate Mass. I pray the Rosary. What I really prefer is adoration in the evening, even when I get distracted and think of other things, or even fall asleep praying. In the evening then, between seven and eight o’clock, I stay in front of the Blessed Sacrament for an hour in adoration. But I pray mentally even when I am waiting at the dentist or at other times of the day.
“Prayer for me is always a prayer full of memory, of recollection, even the memory of my own history or what the Lord has done in his church or in a particular parish. For me it is the memory of which St. Ignatius speaks in the First Week of the Exercises in the encounter with the merciful Christ crucified. And I ask myself: ‘What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What should I do for Christ?’ It is the memory of which Ignatius speaks in the ‘Contemplation for Experiencing Divine Love,’ when he asks us to recall the gifts we have received. But above all, I also know that the Lord remembers me. I can forget about him, but I know that he never, ever forgets me. Memory has a fundamental role for the heart of a Jesuit: memory of grace, the memory mentioned in Deuteronomy, the memory of God’s works that are the basis of the covenant between God and the people. It is this memory that makes me his son and that makes me a father, too.”








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Laura Brooklyn
I am not a Catholic, but I am a Christian. To be completely honest, I have not felt proud to even call myself a Christian lately because of the hateful ignorance that has tarnished our faith. I worry I will be misunderstood.
Pope Francis has truly opened my eyes and made me proud to be associated with a faith of compassion, simplicity, and humanity. When I read last week that he was phone calling distraught parishioners who had written to him I was curious. He actually called a woman who is pregnant out of wedlock and is being pressured by her married boyfriend to have an abortion. The Pope called to offer his support and to personally baptize this child when born. Not to shun her for misbehavior.
These are acts of kindness, and I see the Pope as a man who is living life by the example of Jesus. We seem to have strayed from what Jesus sought to teach us: to be kind, loving, accepting of others and to live a life of service.
Thank you Pope Francis for your "radical" ideas which are not new at all, just lucid and human.


mc Nashville, TN
As a former Catholic who became disgusted with the church's insane focus on sex, while poverty and injustice and financial crime (i.e., theft) thrived, I am relieved to see that Pope Francis appears to be a voice of sanity.

I hope he lives long and his influence prevails. There are many Catholics who are more like Francis than Benedict--but in the last 30 years only the strident hateful voices of the rightwingers in the Church have been given the megaphone.

It's probably too late for me--but maybe my children will find they can stand to attend such a church.




MIcah NY
We have a new, young, flashy priest in our parish who speaks very well after having spent 5 years in Rome under the last pope -- in 2 recent sermons he posed the question: what is the central defining characteristic of a christian catholic? his answer both times was something about fidelity to dogma, causing me to head slap audibly (the 2nd time). Our pope is making clear to all who missed the lesson in Sunday school and seminary: the central, unique, onlyest, singular, wonderful, mystical, fantasmogorical definitional characteristic of a catholic christian is LOVE. Love is how they will know us; salvation not condemnation; spirit of the law (love), rather than letter of the law, rendering unto god what is god's and to Obama what is Obama's; and never, but never, casting the first stone. I can say that I have waited my whole life for a pope like this and I shall savor every moment of his papacy. Francis says we lost the fragrance of the gospel -- well it's springtime in the church and I can smell the flowers again.



Zander1948 upstate ny
He is MY Pope! I have been waiting for words like these from the Vatican. Now I am waiting for actions to match. I can only pray that some crazy anti-abortion person does not try to do something drastic to stop him. It sounds as if he is more like "the nuns on the bus," who have been admonished for not making stopping abortion their top priority. Instead, their top priorities have been working (and living among) the poor, stopping human trafficking, improving education in high-poverty areas, and living simply themselves. Habemus Papa!




Curt Montgomery, Ala.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is authentic leadership. I'm a conservative Catholic and even I, staunchly pro-life, am delighted to read, "The proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives.” There is a shepherd in Rome and his name is Francis.



MF Piermont, NY
Looks like the Catholic Church has stumbled accidentally on its own Gorbachev. (And I sure hope the Pope has a good bodyguard because he is going to have to watch his back.)

I am relishing the image of the heartburn he must be giving the archconservative right wing that elected him.




mikeyz albany, ca
As a proud, card-carrying atheist, I have to say I am very impressed with this pope. He seems like the first pope with humanity and common sense in many a year.



Matthew Carnicelli Brooklyn, New York

It's a miracle. Somehow, despite both John Paul II and Benedict's best efforts, an authentic free thinker slipped through the cracks.

My only advice would be to make sure that he has a dedicated food taster checking his food in advance.

We wouldn't want the scenario immortalized in Godfather III re-enacted once again...