Friedman and Bruni

In “Germany, the Green Superpower” The Moustache of Wisdom says contradictory feelings surface after a week in Berlin.  Mr. Bruni, in “Catholicism Undervalues Women,” says no matter the pope’s words, his church remains a patriarchy.  Here’s TMOW, writing from Berlin:

A week at the American Academy in Berlin leaves me with two contradictory feelings: one is that Germany today deserves a Nobel Peace Prize, and the other is that Germany tomorrow will have to overcome its deeply ingrained post-World War II pacifism and become a more serious, activist global power. And I say both as a compliment.

On the first point, what the Germans have done in converting almost 30 percent of their electric grid to solar and wind energy from near zero in about 15 years has been a great contribution to the stability of our planet and its climate. The centerpiece of the German Energiewende, or energy transformation, was an extremely generous “feed-in tariff” that made it a no-brainer for Germans to install solar power (or wind) at home and receive a predictable high price for the energy generated off their own rooftops.

There is no denying that the early days of the feed-in tariff were expensive. The subsidies cost billions of euros, paid for through a surcharge on everyone’s electric bill. But the goal was not simply to buy more renewable energy: It was to create demand that would drive down the cost of solar and wind to make them mainstream, affordable options. And, in that, the energiewende has been an undiluted success. With price drops of more than 80 percent for solar, and 55 percent for wind, zero-carbon energy is now competitive with fossil fuels here.

“In my view the greatest success of the German energy transition was giving a boost to the Chinese solar panel industry,” said Ralf Fücks, the president of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, the German Green Party’s political foundation. “We created the mass market, and that led to the increased productivity and dramatic decrease in cost.” And all this in a country whose northern tip is the same latitude as the southern tip of Alaska!

This is a world-saving achievement. And, happily, as the price fell, the subsidies for new installations also dropped. The Germans who installed solar ended up making money, which is why the program remains popular, except in coal-producing regions. Today, more than 1.4 million German households and cooperatives are generating their own solar/wind electricity. “There are now a thousand energy cooperatives operated by private people,” said the energy economist Claudia Kemfert.

Oliver Krischer, the vice chairman of the Green Party’s parliamentary group, told me: “I have a friend who comes home, and, if the sun is shining, he doesn’t even say hello to his wife. He first goes downstairs and looks at the meter to see what [electricity] he has produced himself. … The idea now is that energy is something you can [produce] on your own. It’s a new development.” And it has created so much pushback against the country’s four major coal/nuclear utilities that one of them, E.On, just split into two companies — one focusing on squeezing the last profits from coal, oil, gas and nuclear, while the other focuses on renewables. Germans jokingly call them “E.Off” and “E.On.”

One problem: Germany still has tons of cheap, dirty lignite coal that is used as backup power for wind and solar, because cleaner natural gas is more expensive and nuclear is being phased out.

So if that’s the story on renewable power, how about national power? Two generations after World War II, Germany’s reticence to project any power outside its borders is deeply ingrained in the political psyche here. That is a good thing, given Germany’s past. But it is not sustainable. There is an impressive weight to Germany today — derived from the quality of its governing institution, its rule of law, and the sheer power of its economy built on midsize businesses — that is unique in Europe.

When you talk to German officials about Greece, their main complaint is not about Greek fiscal policy, which is better lately, but about the rot and corruption in Greece’s governing institutions. The Greeks “couldn’t implement the structural reforms they needed, if they wanted to,” one German financial official said to me. Athens’ institutions are a mess.

 With America less interested in Europe, Britain fading away both from the European Union and the last vestiges of it being a global military power, France and Italy economically hobbled and most NATO members shrinking their defense budgets, I don’t see how Germany avoids exercising more leadership. Its economic sanctions are already the most important counter to Russian aggression in Ukraine. And in the Mediterranean Sea, where Europe now faces a rising tide of refugees (and where Russia and China just announced that their navies will hold a joint exercise in mid-May), Germany will have to catalyze some kind of E.U. naval response. The relative weight of German power vis-à-vis the rest of Europe just keeps growing, but don’t say that out loud here. A German foreign policy official put their dilemma this way: “We have to get used to assuming more leadership and be aware of how reluctant others are to have Germany lead — so we have to do it through the E.U.”

Here’s my prediction: Germany will be Europe’s first green, solar-powered superpower. Can those attributes coexist in one country, you ask? They’re going to have to.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

Like a Pringles vendor sounding an alarm about obesity, Pope Francis fashioned himself a feminist last week.

You are not reading The Onion.

It was an epic mismatch of messenger and message, and I say that as someone who is thankful for this pope, admires him greatly and believes that a change of tone even without a change in teaching has meaning and warrants celebration.

But a change of tone in defiance of fact should be flagged (and flogged) as such. And neither Pope Francis nor any other top official in the bastion of male entitlement known as the Vatican can credibly assert concern about parity between the sexes. Their own kitchen is much too messy for them to call out the ketchup smudges in anybody else’s.

Francis actually went beyond concern. He vented outrage, calling it a “pure scandal” that women didn’t receive equal pay for equal work.

He left out the part about women in the Roman Catholic Church not even getting a shot at equal work. Pay isn’t the primary issue when you’re barred from certain positions and profoundly underrepresented in others.

Pay isn’t the primary issue when the symbolism, rituals and vocabulary of an institution exalt men over women and when challenges to that imbalance are met with the insistence that what was must always be — that habit trumps enlightenment and good sense.

Let’s be clear. For all the remarkable service that the Catholic Church performs, it is one of the world’s dominant and most unshakable patriarchies, with tenets that don’t abet equality.

For women to get a fair shake in the work force, they need at least some measure of reproductive freedom. But Catholic bishops in the United States lobbied strenuously against the Obamacare requirement that employers such as religiously affiliated schools and hospitals include contraception in workers’ health insurance.

Never mind that only a small minority of American Catholics buy into the church’s formal prohibition against artificial birth control. Some Catholic leaders don’t merely cling to that hoary stricture; they promote it, despite its disproportionate effect on women’s autonomy.

And how does their vilification of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an organization that represents 80 percent of American nuns, square with women’s equality? In 2012 the group was denounced by the Vatican and put under the control of three bishops charged with cleansing it of its “radical feminist” inclinations, including more attention to the poor than to sexual mores.

To his credit Pope Francis declared a truce with the nuns just last month. Also to his credit, he has signaled sympathy for women trying to limit the size of their families and has urged church leaders not to get too caught up in issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

And the trend line in the Vatican and in Vatican City government is apparently toward a greater number of female employees, though in 2014, according to The Associated Press, they held less than 20 percent of the jobs. That needn’t be the case, even factoring in women’s exclusion from the priesthood.

But the church’s refusal to follow some other Christian denominations and ordain women undermines any progress toward equality that it trumpets or tries. Sexism is embedded in its structure, its flow chart.

Men but not women get to preside at Mass. Men but never women wear the cassock of a cardinal, the vestments of a pope. Male clergy are typically called “father,” which connotes authority. Women in religious orders are usually called “sister,” which doesn’t.

And things could be different. Traditions change. History and mythology yield to fresh interpretation.

Yes, the Bible says that all 12 of Jesus Christ’s apostles were men. But I’ll see you that dozen and raise you one Mary Magdalene, to whom Jesus supposedly appeared first after the resurrection. Isn’t her role as foundational to the church’s birth?

Isn’t it more important that there be enough priests to bring the Eucharist to Catholics than that all those priests be men?

Can the church afford to alienate a generation of young women mystified by its intransigence?

“They’ve grown up in a world where all doors have been open to them,” said Kathleen Sprows Cummings, director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame. “And it just strikes a disconnect when they see the church with no female leadership — at least they’re not the ones at the altar.”

Francis hasn’t sanctioned any discussion of putting them there. When pressed about that by an Italian reporter last year, he reminded her that “women were taken from a rib.”

Was he ribbing her? He laughed and said so. But the metaphor remains, and it casts women as offshoots, even afterthoughts.

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