WASHINGTON, March 11, 2013 — What will be in the news in the week ahead? Unless North Korea drives all other news from the front pages by making good on its threat to attack the U.S. and South Korea with a nuclear weapon, the front pages will announce the election of a new pope by Sunday, March 17. Negotiations will continue (unsuccessfully) in hopes of preventing a default when the government hits its debt ceiling on March 27, and there will be jockeying to take credit for the guardedly optimistic news coming from the U.S. economy.
Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum: Habemus Papam!
The conclave to choose the next Roman Catholic pope will begin on Tuesday. The longest conclave since 1900 lasted just five days and 14 ballots, so the odds are high that a new pope will be announced by Saturday. “Conclave” comes from the Latin cum clave, or “locked with a key.” The door leading to the cardinals is locked, both to keep cardinals in (during the Middle Ages elections sometimes took over a year, so locking the cardinals in ensured that they’d get about the business of electing a pope more quickly), and to keep others out (in the past, there were attempts to influence the election).
The cardinals won’t be kept locked up the entire time this time. Many of them are elderly, and sleeping on a cot, even under the Sistine Chapel ceiling, is hard on them. The limited public restrooms at the Sistine Chapel aren’t conducive to good hygiene. So for the second time since 1878, the cardinals will be allowed out twice a day to use the facilities at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where they will also eat, sleep, and shower.
The discussions leading up to the conclave and the politics of the conclave itself will be kept strictly secret, under penalty of excommunication for anyone who leaks information, but odds makers have been handicapping cardinals from the United States, Montreal, Argentina, Brazil, Africa and Europe.
The Catholic Church is steadily becoming a less European institution. Over the last century, it has gone from being a predominantly European church with Italians dominating the Curia, to predominantly Latin American and African, though with half the elector cardinals still being European. The odds are good that the next pope will not be from Europe.
The odds are excellent that the next pope will not take the name Peter II, either. Popes are allowed to choose their own names, but the name of Peter, the first pope, has been kept sacrosanct. Until the 6th century, popes used their given names, but in 532, a priest named Mercury dropped his pagan name to become John II when he was elected pope. Marcellus II, in 1555, was the last pope to keep his own name.
Since then popes have generally named themselves after predecessors who helped them rise through the church hierarchy. Thus from 1667 to 1774, six of the 12 popes were named Clement. Seven of the next 11 popes took the name Pius. Cardinal Angelo Roncalli broke that tradition in 1958 when he took his father’s name and thus became John XXIII.
Among the papal names of the past unlikely to be chosen by the next pope are Eusebius, Formosus, Agatho, Linus, Romanus, and (this is no joke) Hilarius. When the next pope is elected and accepts his election, he will be asked, “By what name shall you be called?” He will choose his name (he will presumably have given it some thought beforehand and won’t blurt out a name he’ll regret), and then the senior Cardinal Deacon will proclaim him from the balcony of Saint Peter’s.
The continuing fiscal crisis
The President’s charm offensive continues in Congress. The deadline for raising the debt ceiling is looming on March 27, while Congress is scheduled to leave town on March 22. While GOP lawmakers say that they’re pleased that the president is finally paying attention to them, the odds are extremely remote that they’ll craft a package to cut the deficit and raise the debt ceiling in 11 days.
The sequester only cuts discretionary spending and is a short-run solution to the debt. Senate Democrats are considering a measure to fund government operations through September, at the same time cutting a further 5 to 8 percent from discretionary spending, but this leaves the long-run problem, entitlements, unchecked.
According to AP reports: “He is moving in the right direction. I’m proud of him for doing it. I think it’s a great thing,” Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said. “I’m welcoming (him) with open arms. I think the president is tremendously sincere. I don’t think this is just a political change in tactic. I think he would actually like to solve the problems of this country.”
Coburn said he was puzzled that it took so long for Obama — whom he called a friend after last week’s dinner — to make the effort to work across party lines. “It shouldn’t be news that the president is reaching out in a bipartisan fashion,” Coburn said.
Obama seems to be making up for lost time after four years of frosty relationships with Capitol Hill. The White House said Obama planned to meet with the Senate Democratic Caucus on Tuesday, House Republicans on Wednesday and Senate Republicans and House Democrats on Thursday. Last week, Obama had Ryan and the Budget Committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, to lunch at the White House the day after he dined with a dozen Republican senators.
Obama’s relations with members of his own party aren’t good. He has very few people in the House, and only a few more in the Senate. He’s been accused of trying to be above the fray of Washington politics, but he’s left with a great deal of power and not enough influence. If he finally understands that he needs help from Congress, and from both sides of the aisle, we will see a much more charming President Obama this term, but he has years of neglect to recover from.
Jobs, jobs, jobs
The unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent in February, its lowest rate in four years. This wasn’t simply the result of more discouraged workers leaving the job force, though over 100,000 did just that. In addition, the number of long-term unemployed rose by 100,000 to 4.8 million, and job force participation fell by 0.1 percent, back to its 30-year low of 63.5 percent.
Still, 236,000 jobs were added last month, according to Friday’s jobs report, raising the average for the last four months to 200,000 jobs per month, fueled entirely by the private sector.
Hiring is up, corporate profits are up, and the stock market is up. Is the economy on the mend? Slowly. The stock market owes some of its boom to the Fed, which by keeping interest rates close to zero with its loose monetary policy has kept bond yields and other asset yields extremely low, pushing more money into the stock market. In a word (or six), the Fed is inflating the market.
That will produce some economic good news, even if it’s a sugar rush rather than genuine improvement: As the stock market rises, so do 401(k) accounts and other retirement funds. That makes people feel wealthier, and people who feel wealthier are more likely to buy new cars, new TVs, and even new houses. The hope will have to be that the wealth effect outweighs the income lost to higher payroll taxes ($1,000/year for the median family).
With these statistics, expect the economic news this week to be a mixed bag. How mixed will depend on who reports it. The White House will report a glass half full and filling, Republicans a glass half empty and emptying, and economists a glass that’s too big for the amount of water in it.
This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.