Century Marks

Century Marks

It’s your life

Billionaire Warren Buffett says that his dad gave him a terrific gift: “He told me, both verbally and by his behavior, that he cared only about the values I had, not the particular path I chose. He simply said that he had unlimited confidence in me and that I should follow my dreams. I was thereby freed of all expectations except to do my best.” Buffett says that he and his wife tried to raise their children the same way. Their “It’s your life” message to their kids had an interesting consequence: not one of their three children completed college (Warren Buffett in his foreword to Forty Chances, by Howard G. Buffett, Simon & Schuster).

Test of faith?

“God bless America” has almost become the standard way for U.S. presidents to end major speeches. The practice began with President Nixon during the Watergate scandal in 1973. The practice didn’t catch on with presidents Ford or Carter, but it was picked up by Reagan. David Domke and Kevin Coe, authors of The God Strategy: How Religion Became a Political Weapon in America, say the phrase is used as a simple way for presidents and politicians of all stripes to pass “the God and country test” (Huffington Post, January 28).

Papal politics

Pope Francis, known for his simplicity, humility, and empathy for the poor, is politically savvy and can use his power in an authoritarian manner when it suits his purpose. Cardinal Raymond Burke, former archbishop of St. Louis, found that out the hard way. Burke declared in 2009 that no Catholic could in good conscience vote for President Obama. He has been the only Catholic leader with significant stature to publicly criticize Francis. One week after Burke faulted Francis for downplaying the issues of abortion and homosexual unions, Francis removed Burke from the Vatican Congregation of Bishops, which had given the cardinal the power to select bishops in the United States (Rolling Stone, January 28).

Student activists

A dozen smartly dressed students tried to get a hearing with the Duke University board last October to deliver a petition signed by 2,000 students. The petition called for greater social responsibility and more transparency about the university’s nearly $6 billion endowment fund. The students didn’t get access to the board, but the board already had on its agenda a modified version of a proposal from DukeOpen, the student group behind the effort. The trustees agreed to expand the investment oversight committee and establish a Social Choice Fund within their investments, which will invest only in socially responsible funds. The university president committed the school to undertake a yearlong study of the endowment’s transparency (Nation, January 25).

National mood

When Americans were asked in January how likely they were to be positive about the current state of the country, only 33 percent of white respondents said they were positive about it, but 57 percent of nonwhites said they were. While President Obama wasn’t mentioned in the survey, his being a nonwhite occupant of the White House might make nonwhites feel more positive about the nation. From the end of the Clinton administration to the end of Bush’s, white and nonwhite responses were much more closely aligned (Gallup, January 28).