Friday, October 9, 2015

Friday BookReview: the KELO decision on eminent domain


Here are excerpts from Jeff Jacoby's 2009 review of Little Pink House: A True Story of Defiance and Courage:

On June 23, 2005, the US Supreme Court handed down one of the most reviled decisions in its history. By a vote of 5 to 4, the court ruled in Kelo v. City of New London that local governments may seize people's homes and businesses through eminent domain in order to make the land available to new owners for redevelopment. In so doing, the majority decided that the words "public use" in the Fifth Amendment -- "nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation" -- did not mean what they said. Property could be confiscated for entirely private use, the court ruled, so long as the government expected some eventual public benefit, such as an expanded tax base or new jobs.

"Promoting economic development is a traditional and long-accepted function of government," wrote Justice John Paul Stevens, in a rather bloodless majority opinion joined by Justices David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Anthony Kennedy. "[T]here is no basis for exempting economic development from our traditionally broad understanding of public purpose."

But as Justice Sandra Day O'Connor pointed out in a vigorous dissent, the Supreme Court had never held that economic development alone could justify the use of eminent domain. After all, she observed, practically any lawful use of private property will generate some incidental public benefit. If it takes no more than that to satisfy the Constitution's command that only land required "for public use" may be condemned, "then the words 'for public use' do not realistically exclude any takings, and thus do not exert any constraint on the eminent domain power."

O'Connor's dissent, in which Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas joined, put the bottom line starkly: Kelo meant that property owners could be stripped of their land whenever the government decided that some other owner -- some wealthier owner -- could use it to make more money or generate more business. "The specter of condemnation hangs over all property," warned the dissenters in a passage that was widely quoted and struck a chord with the public. "Nothing is to prevent the State from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory."


Even before Kelo, the use of eminent domain had expanded beyond the classic case in which private property is taken to make way for a highway or post office or other public facility. In the 1954 case of Berman v. Parker, the Supreme Court had unanimously permitted eminent domain to be deployed for what was then called "urban renewal." It upheld property takings within a blighted area of Washington, DC, where two-thirds of the housing was beyond repair; the property was then sold to new owners for redevelopment. The Public Use Clause encompassed "public purpose," Berman held -- and eliminating the harm caused by blight was a legitimate public purpose. Property owners could be forced to yield to a government seeking to clean up a dirty, dangerous, impoverished slum.

But Fort Trumbull -- the New London, Conn., neighborhood at the heart of the litigation in Kelo -- was no slum.

To be sure, it was no Greenwich, either, as I discovered in 2001, when I visited New London to learn more about the eminent-domain litigation that was just then getting underway. Home to an ill-smelling sewage plant, separated from the rest of New London by railroad tracks, Fort Trumbull was nobody's idea of chic. The Revolutionary-era fort that gave the neighborhood its name was neglected and overrun with weeds.

On the other hand, many of Fort Trumbull's families were conscientious about their properties, into which many had invested much sweat equity -- stripping and refinishing hardwood floors, putting in flowerbeds, installing new plumbing, replacing broken sidewalks. Matt Dery, a lifelong resident of Fort Trumbull, described to me how he had bought the house next to his parents' home, gutted it to the studs, and renovated it by hand, working on it every day for a year before getting married and moving into it with his bride. Susette Kelo bought a 110-year-old Victorian cottage overlooking the Thames River and researched 19th century building styles to find a historically-appropriate paint color; she settled on Odessa Rose, a shade of pink. Mike Cristofaro showed me the yews and fruit trees his parents had planted in their back yard on Goshen Street; they had transplanted them from their first house in New London -- a house the city had seized through eminent domain 30 years earlier.              
Mrs. Kelo

In short, Fort Trumbull was like countless other working-class American neighborhoods -- homey but humble, cherished by its residents though not likely to inspire covetous glances from outsiders.

But everything changed when Pfizer, the giant pharmaceutical corporation, decided in 1998 to build its new research headquarters along the river just south of Fort Trumbull. City officials were thrilled to have landed a Fortune 100 company; at one point the mayor called it "the greatest thing that's ever happened to New London." To pave the way for Pfizer's arrival, the city charged the New London Development Corporation (NLDC) with clearing out the adjoining neighborhood and replacing its modest homes and shops with something more posh: offices, a conference center, upscale condominiums, a luxury hotel.

No public use was envisioned for the new construction. Nearly all of it was to be privately owned and operated. The NLDC's goal was to make Pfizer happy, and Pfizer executive George Milne put his company's wish list in writing. "Our New London expansion requires the world-class redevelopment planned for the adjacent 90 acres in … Fort Trumbull," he wrote in 1999, itemizing the amenities Pfizer was looking for: "a waterfront hotel with about 200 rooms, a conference center and physical-fitness area, extended-stay residential units, and 80 units of housing." Accommodating the families already living in Fort Trumbull, however, was not a part of the Pfizer/NLDC vision. As another Pfizer executive condescendingly told the Hartford Courant: "Pfizer wants a nice place to operate. We don't want to be surrounded by tenements."

Ruthlessly, the NLDC began to obliterate the old neighborhood. Property owners were pressed to sell their homes. If they refused, they were told, the city would condemn their property and acquire it by eminent domain. Most of the homeowners, many of them elderly, bowed to the pressure and left. A handful of holdouts, including Kelo, the Derys, and the Cristofaros, refused, and fought city hall all the way to the Supreme Court.


Little Pink House is the story of that fight, and it is told with verve and passion by journalist Jeff Benedict. Though not a neutral narrative -- Benedict doesn't hide his admiration for Kelo and the other property owners who battled to save their homes -- it is fair and deeply informed. To recreate the small-town political street fight that led to a notorious Supreme Court landmark, the author conducted hundreds of interviews over three years with nearly everyone who played a role in the case. He also reviewed a vast paper trail, from transcripts and government memos to private journals, letters, and e-mails.

The result is a brisk and absorbing case study in how easily government and the politically well-connected can muscle past the rights of ordinary citizens. It is also a heartening reminder of how seriously Americans regard their liberties, and the grit with which they are capable of defending them.

At the heart of Little Pink House are two compelling women. One is Kelo... whose sole asset was the fixer-upper on the water she had fallen in love with at first sight. It was the only property she had ever owned and it meant the world to her. "I have never been happier in my life than I am now," she wrote on her first night in the house in 1997, "sitting on the porch rocker watching the water go by."

The other central figure is Claire Gaudiani, the flamboyant and hard-driving president of Connecticut College, who agreed to lead the NLDC and made it her aim to carry out the most sweeping redevelopment in New London's history. A highly accomplished Renaissance woman, Gaudiani tended to be imperious and relentless when pursuing a goal. She insisted that redeveloping Fort Trumbull would be a boon to New London's poor -- she compared her mission at the NLDC to those of Jesus and Martin Luther King -- yet she seemed oblivious to the price Fort Trumbull's homeowners were being asked to pay. "Anything that's working in our great nation," she blithely declared, "is working because somebody left skin on the sidewalk."

A key theme of Little Pink House is the social and economic inequality between those who wanted Fort Trumbull razed and rebuilt -- the powerful Pfizer Corporation, Connecticut Governor John Rowland (later convicted in an unrelated corruption scandal), the high-living Gaudiani -- and the far-from-wealthy property owners who went to court to save their homes. "They were largely a lunch-pail group," Benedict writes of the plaintiffs,
" -- a carpenter, an auto mechanic, a nurse, a self-employed businessman, and some senior citizens hoping to spend their final days in the homes they had occupied for decades. Most of them had dirt under their nails at the end of the workday."
What they didn't have was the pull to prevent New London from dispossessing them for the sake of a powerful company and higher tax revenues. Such disparities are nearly always present when the eminent-domain power is abused -- a point that wasn't lost on the Kelo dissenters. "Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random," Justice O'Connor wrote.

The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms. As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more.


More than 200 years before Kelo, Supreme Court Justice William Paterson characterized eminent domain as "the despotic power . . . of taking private property when state necessity requires." To seize private property absent such "state necessity" is worse than despotic, it is unconscionable. Unfortunately it is not uncommon; what happened in New London has happened innumerable times in recent years... 

But the court's execrable decision wasn't the last word. Its effective repeal of the Fifth Amendment's Public Use Clause sparked a nationwide backlash and, as Benedict observes in an epilogue, galvanized a movement for reform at the state level:

As of 2008, two state supreme courts have rejected the notion that the government can take private property to generate tax revenues or create jobs, and three others have cast doubt on its validity. . . . [S]even states have passed constitutional amendments to ban taking private property for economic development and 42 of the 50 states have passed legislation to protect property owners from abusive eminent domain practices.

Susette Kelo's little pink house still stands: It was moved last year to a new location in downtown New London, where it has been designated a historic landmark and has become the home of a local preservationist. The revival of Fort Trumbull, meanwhile, has yet to begin. Nearly four years after the Supreme Court allowed New London to confiscate homes and shops in the name of economic development, nothing has been built where the old neighborhood used to stand.

UPDATE: The Kelo decision occurred during the presidency of George W. Bush. Many people were puzzled that he didn't take the debate to the public, explaining the importance of what had happened.

Among those loudly cheering the stomping of the small homeowners was one Mr. Trump of New York City. Even today, why doesn't some candidate at the GOP debates step up and nail the Donald for being on the side of the progressively greedy propertied class?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

October 7: The Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary

The Church celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary  in commemoration of the victory of Christian forces at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. The call to arms against the Ottoman Muslim Turks was sounded by a Dominican Pope: Pius V. It was largely Catholic city-states and military orders who answered his call. They were led by Don Juan of Austria. The events are memorialized in G.K. Chesterton's poem on Lepanto.

Rather than act as the military commander, Pope Pius V called on laymen to do their protective duties as holders of the civic sword. The Pope led Rome and the Christian world in prayers -- notably the beautiful reflection on the life of Christ known as the Rosary.

The Church dedicates this day not to the men of the sword but to Our Lady of the Rosary. This is not a day to  forget the men of the sword, but to keep the sword under religious discipline. There is great significance in tying devotion to Our Lady with the martial vigor of statesmen-warriors. It is a feast day reminding us and celebrating the Christian order of chivalry.

The lessons for men today should be obvious. The duty of clergymen to lead us in the sacrifice of prayer must often be matched by the duty of laymen to lead us in the sacrifice of protective wars.

Video Update: Spanish-speaking Catholics deepen our sense of history in reminding us that before Lepanto there was the centuries-long battle to evict the Muslim Moors from Spain (completed 1492 just before Columbus discovered the New World). From Lepanto came Miguel de Cervantes who would write the great Spanish classic, Don Quixote. Here is an excellent short video on the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the historic battle:

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Anarchy and chaos are sown by the Dragon -- men fight for beauty and order

Men are the ones who draw boundaries; conquer enemies; form nations.

Certainly the most heartening news of late is that one of our own American bishops understands the towering importance of masculinity, and of forming bands of brothers. Uniting ourselves with Jesus (the true Man in Full) as we take up the sword of the Spirit, is the best way to show a blinded world the burning glory of the Eternal Father.

Bishop Thomas Olmsted heads up the Catholic church in our nation's 6th largest city: Phoenix. His recent exhortation to the men of the diocese is a trumpet blast.


"Do not be fooled by those voices wishing to erase all distinctions between mothers and fathers, ignoring the complementarity that is inherent in creation itself. Men, your presence and mission in the family is irreplaceable! Step up and lovingly, patiently take up your God-given role as protector, provider, and spiritual leader of your home."  

"The joy of the Gospel is stronger than the sadness wrought by sin! A throw-away culture cannot withstand the new life and light that constantly radiates from Christ. So I call upon you to open your minds and hearts to Him, the Savior who strengthens you to step into the breach!" 

"Since the Church as 'field hospital' after battle is an appropriate analogy, then another complementary image is appropriate for our day: the Spiritual Battle College. The Church is, and has always been, a school that prepares us for spiritual battle, where Christians are called to 'fight the good fight of faith' (1 Timothy 6), to 'put on the armor of God', and 'to be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil' (Ephesians 6:11)."

The voice of one bishop speaking to men as men ("Pray Brethren") is worth a hundred speaking to the sisters and brothers ("Ladies and Gentlemen") that we hear so often. Almost all of Christ's discourses in the Gospels were addressed to bodies of men or that select band of brothers: the Apostles. Such language, instead of encouraging an audience of spectators and consumers, shapes by the proclaimed Word a public of men acting together to play our role in salvation history and the life of our nation. 

The three loves of men -- as friends, as husbands, and as fathers -- is quite unlike almost any episcopal documents of the last several hundred years, not because he urges us to be good husbands and fathers but because he understands that masculine fraternity (the love of brothers) is the relationship that is missing in the struggle against Satan.   

Take a look at the entire Apostolic Exhortation.  

Monday, October 5, 2015


The Physical Ecology, Communal Loyalties, and Geopolitics of the Caucasus 

by A. Joseph Lynch 

Physical Ecology: Natural Resources and Physical Geography 

The region of the Caucasus is geographically treated as an isthmus, an extended land bridge between two bodies of water. The Caucasus region runs north and south bordered on the east by the Caspian Sea and on the west by the Black Sea. This earthquake-prone region is also found at the meeting point of tectonic plates: the Eurasian plate in the north and the Arabian plate in the south. The collision of these plates has created the geographic feature that gives the region its name: the Caucasus Mountains (which runs west to east from the Black Sea to the Caspian). Due to its presence along the Eurasian Plate, the Caucasus - not the Alps or the Pyrenees - is also the location of Europe's tallest mountain, Mt. Elbrus (rising 18,510 feet and located within Russia. The Russian-hosted Sochi Olympics was also held within the Russian Caucasus).

The Caucasus Mountains form two distinct chains, the Greater Caucasus (which form the border between Georgia and Russia) and the Lesser Caucasus (which stretches through Armenia and forms a border between Armenia and Azerbaijan). While this terrain leaves Armenia mountainous, it also gives Georgia and Azerbaijan some valleys and plains sandwiched between the Greater and Lesser Caucasus. The region is also sometimes described as the north Caucasus (or Ciscaucasus) and as the south Caucasus (or Transcaucasus - the area south of the Greater Caucasus). In the north are found areas of Caucasian Russia (e.g. Chechnya, Dagestan, and North Ossetia) while the south Caucasus includes the three nations of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.

As a mountainous region, the Caucasus is also home to many important mineral resources such as alunite, gold, chromium, copper, iron ore, mercury, manganese, molybdenum, lead, tungsten, uranium, zinc, and coal. Although the region is considered rich in energy resources (i.e. natural gas and oil), these resources are largely limited to Azerbaijan on the southwestern Caspian coast. Armenia imports energy resources from Russia while Georgia is rich in hydroelectric power.

Communal Loyalties: Ethnicity, Language, and Religion 

The region of the Caucasus has a total population of around 24 million people: 7 million living in the Russian north Caucasus and 17 living in the south. Of these 17 million, about 9.5 million live in Azerbaijan, 4.5 million in Georgia, and 3 million in Armenia. The Caucasus is also an ethnically diverse region, with over 50 different ethnic groups scattered throughout the divisive mountainous landscape. For simplicity, languages and ethnic groups of the Caucasus may be considered in three broad categories: the indigenous Caucasian peoples and languages (such as the Georgians, Avars, and Chechens), the Turkic-speaking peoples (like the Azeris and Turkmens), and the Indo-European speakers (including Armenians, Ossetians, Kurds, and Slav/Russians).

The Caucasus is also the meeting place of Islam and Christianity, with Christian Russia to the north and the Islamic Middle East to the south. Within the broader region, however, there is no clear north-south line between the two religious civilizations, as the northern Caucasus is populated by Muslims within the umbrella of Russia while two of the three nations in the southern Caucasus - Armenia and Georgia - are Christian. Armenia is considered the first to make Christianity the state religion in A.D. 301 (twelve years before it became legal in the Roman Empire through Constantine's Edict of Milan). Georgia to the north made Christianity the state religion in A.D. 337, the same year Constantine died. These two Christian nations, however, hold differing Christian churches; Georgian Orthodoxy forms the core of one nation while the Armenian Apostolic Church is the majority in the other. While the Georgian Orthodox Church is in communion with the broader Orthodox community, the Armenians are treated as "Oriental Christian" in that they reject the Christological formulations of the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451).

Christianity is not the only religion in the region to face intra-religious differences. Sunni and Shiite Muslims also comprise a significant presence in the Caucasus. Sunni Muslims make up the majority population in the north Caucasus while Shiite Muslims are dominant in Azerbaijan. Ethnicity also plays an important role in conjunction with religion. Azerbaijan, for example, may be a Shiite nation akin to Shiite Iran, but its Turkic backgrounds gives it close bonds with Turkey to the west and the other Turkic nations across the Caspian Sea. In the north, many of the Sunni Muslims of the northern Caucasus practiced a mystical form of Islam known as Sufism. Sufism is also open to inculturation to local custom and tradition. Imported to the region following the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, was Salafism (or Wahhabism), a virulent form of Islam that originated in the Arabian peninsula and supported today by the Saudis. Wahhabi extremism has overrun the region's Sufi nationalist movement and today is organized around the creation of a "Caucasian Emirate" which would span the northern Caucasus region.

Geopolitics: Political Geography and Foreign Policy

The geopolitical situation of the Caucasus is complicated, to say the least. Historically the entire region has experienced an ebb-and-flow of invaders from the north (Orthodox Russia) and the south (Islam). The small nations of the Caucasus tended to be unable to protect themselves from outside aggression. Sometimes these nations have formed alliances with a larger power, only to later stand alone during an invasion. Georgia, for example, entered into a defensive alliance with the Russian Empire against the Persians, but received no Russian aid when the Persians attacked. To Georgia's dismay, Russia soon simply annexed a weakened Georgia instead of supporting it as an independent nation with civic and religious roots much older than those in Moscow. The Soviets later pitted regional ethnic groups against each other and did what it could to weaken and suppress Christianity. Long histories like those of the Caucasus play a large role in the region's geopolitics today.

Georgia and Russia still experience poor relations. Several breakaway regions are supported by Russia while Georgia has sought to deepen its ties with the European Union. In August 2008, the first European war of the 21st century ensued between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. After recognizing them as independent of Georgia, Russia occupied both to ensure their autonomy from Tbilisi. Russian relations with Armenia, however, remain strong. Russia has played a significant role as protector of Christians in the Mideast - and the Christian Armenians have long looked to Russia as a protector. Armenia's border with Islamic Turkey, combined with the memory of the Armenian Genocide of 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks, is reason enough for the small, landlocked nation to keep a strong relationship with its Slavic, Christian brother nation to the north.

Armenia and Azerbaijan, however, have had a history of confrontation. Following the fall of the Soviet Union and Armenian independence, Armenia sought to capture the Armenian-populated region of Azerbaijan's Nagorno-Karabakh (see map above). Although initial fighting stretches into the 80s, 1992-1994 saw much of the heavy military engagements which left over 30,000 dead. Although Russian diplomacy brought about a cease-fire in 1994, Azerbaijan, along with its ethnic and religious ally, Turkey, have had closed borders with Armenia ever since. Today, Armenia is dependent on maintaining good relations with Georgia and Iran for its trade. Tensions over Nagorno-Karabakh have increased in 2015, with the Armenian president calling the region "an inseparable part of Armenia" and violence spreading along the broader Armenian-Azerbaijani border.

Some Additional Resources

For more information on Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, visit their pages on the CIA World Factbook.

The video series, Geography Now!, offers additional information on Armenia and Azerbaijan worth watching.

The Anthropology of Accord has also written previous Map on Monday posts on neighboring Iran and Turkey along with a post on Turkic peoples (which includes the Azeris of Azerbaijan).

Strafor has also released two short videos on the geopolitics of the Caucasus region and Russia's north Caucasus.

For more excellent maps of the region, visit this series of Caucasian maps.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

October 4: Feast of Saint Francis

From an essay by Samuel Gregg:

"Franciscan peace is not something saccharine. Hardly! That is not the real Saint Francis! Nor is it a kind of pantheistic harmony with forces of the cosmos. That is not Franciscan either! It is not Franciscan, but a notion that some people have invented!"
These words were not articulated by a representative of the Texas oil industry. They were spoken in a homily given by Pope Francis himself during a much-publicized visit to Assisi in October 2013. Moreover, after emphasizing how Saint Francis [d. 1226] underscored man’s need to respect the natural world and “help it grow, to become more beautiful and more like what God created it to be,” the Pope added: “above all, Saint Francis witnesses to respect for everyone, he testifies that each of us is called to protect our neighbor, that the human person is at the center of creation, at the place where God—our creator—willed that we should be.”

Such ideas about Saint Francis don’t fit well with some portrayals of the medieval hermit and friar that have emerged in recent decades. Many of these have been exploit Francis for numerous contemporary religious and political agendas, ranging from pacifism to radical environmentalism. Franco Zefferelli’s well-known 1972 film "Brother Sun, Sister Moon" presented the saint, for example, as a type of winsome eccentric who was all about shattering conventionality. In his 1982 book Francis of Assisi: A Model of Human Liberation, the liberation theologian Leonardo Boff portrayed Francis as one who, conceptually speaking, would help us move away from a world dominated by “the bourgeois class that has directed our history for the past five hundred years"...

The text to which I always turn whenever claims about Francis of Assisi are made is Augustine Thompson O.P’s meticulously researched Francis of Assisi: A New Biography (2012). The real strength of this biography is the way it rigorously analyzes the documentary record and sources and shifts out what is reliable from that which is hearsay and legend.

So what are some aspects of Saint Francis’s life detailed in Thompson’s book that will surprise many? One is that although he sought radical detachment from the world, Francis believed that he and his followers should engage in manual labor in order to procure necessities like food. Begging was always a secondary alternative (29). Another is that Francis thought that the Church’s sacramental life required careful preparation, use of the finest sacred vessels (32), and proper vestments (62). This is consistent with Francis’s conviction that one’s most direct contact with God was in the Mass, “not in nature or even in service to the poor” (61). While Francis is rightly called a peacemaker and one who loved the poor, Thompson stresses the saint’s “absolute lack of any program of legal or social reforms” (37). The word “poverty” itself appears rarely in Francis’s own writing (246). It seems Francis also thought that it was absolute rather than relative poverty which “always had a claim on compassion” (40).

When it came to Catholic dogma and doctrine, Francis was no proto-dissenter. He was, as Thompson puts it, “fiercely orthodox” (41), even insisting in later life that friars guilty of liturgical abuses or dogmatic deviations should be remanded to higher church authorities (135-136). Hence it shouldn’t surprise us that Francis’s famous conversation in Egypt in 1219 with Sultan al-Kamil and his advisors wasn’t an exercise in interfaith pleasantries. While Francis certainly did not mock Islam, the saint politely told his Muslim interlocutors that he was there to explicate the truth of the Christian faith and save the sultan’s soul (66-70). Nothing more, nothing less.

by Bernardo Strozzi (d. 1644)

Francis is of course especially remembered by Christians and others for his love of nature, so much so that another saint, John Paul II, proclaimed him the patron saint of “those who promote ecology”... Francis’s deep affinity with nature and animals was underscored by those who knew him. The killing of animals or seeing them suffer upset him deeply (56). In this regard and many others, Francis didn’t see the natural world and animals as things to be feared or treated solely as resources for use (57).

Unlike many other medieval religious reformers, however, Francis rejected abstinence from meat and wasn’t a vegetarian. Nor was there a trace of pantheism in Francis’s conception of nature (56). Francis’s references and allusions to nature in his writings, preaching, and instruction were overwhelmingly drawn from the scriptures rather than the environment itself (55). More generally, Francis saw the beauty in nature and the animal world as something that should lead to worship and praise of God (58)—not things to be invested with god-like qualities. G.K. Chesterton’s 1923 popular biography of Francis makes a similar point: though he loved nature, Francis never worshipped nature itself. Francis’s relationship to nature, Thompson observes, shouldn’t be romanticized. The saint even viewed vermin and mice, for example, as “agents of the devil” (225).

No one should be stunned by any of this. Saint Francis of Assisi was, after all, a Catholic. He therefore accepted the Jewish and Christian insight that not only is the Creator the Lord of his creation, but that the summit of his created world is man. Awareness of this basic truth, according to Saint Ignatius of Loyola—the founder of the Jesuit order to which Pope Francis belongs—is central to growing closer to God. In his 'Spiritual Exercises,' Ignatius identifies the “fundamental principle” for overcoming self as knowing that:
"Man has been created to praise, reverence and serve our Lord God, thereby saving his soul. Everything else on earth has been created for man’s sake, to help him achieve the purpose for which he has been created. So it follows that man has to use them as far as they help and abstain from them where they hinder his purpose."
Neither Ignatius of Loyola nor Francis of Assisi treated the created world as a rosy abstraction. Appreciating and respecting the environment didn’t mean disdaining everything else—including human beings, human work, and human creativity—or forgetting that, as the Church Father, Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, once wrote: “The glory of God is man fully alive.”

However much legend and mythology has blurred the real Francis of Assisi over time, the genuine drama of his life and the forces he unleashed in medieval Europe mean that he’s perhaps fated to have any number of ideological programs thrust upon him. In the end, however, we should remember that while Francis of Assisi continues to have many things to say to everyone today, at the core of all those things is the Catholic vision of God, man and the world.

One can safely say that, for Saint Francis himself, any other interpretation would be impossible.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, October 3

by David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


EXECUTING SHIITES IN SAUDI ARABIA: France asks Saudis not to execute a Shiite protester. Several voices ask if the Saudis should really control Mecca. Not surprising that one is from Tehran, Iran. Even more unsettling would be questions from within as Saudi rule is narrowing within the larger multi-clan ruling household. This report of a change in rule may be a fantasy but the description of the situation and the prominence of the King's son in the overt aggression in Yemen is important.

STONING SATAN - FOCUSING HATRED: Every Muslim has a duty once in his lifetime to make a Haj, a pilgrimage to Mecca. This ends with the ritual of stoning the Devil. Stampedes during the ritual have caused many deaths. This year (2015) over 700 pilgrims died.

The question of whom should we hate is deeply human. The organization of personal or national emotions around primary evil characters - the Axis of Evil by the US, the Great Satan by Iran, patriarchy by feminists, my mean dad or horrific ex-husband by so many is blinding. Satan is our one permanent enemy - to know him is to hate him. It is especially dangerous to hate one's non-Satanic enemies because it often blinds us from more effectively fighting them when necessary and forgiving them when possible.


PUTIN AT UN: The reorganization of states after WWII started "in our country" at the Yalta conference was how Vladimir Putin began his speech to the UN. He was of course right, but the geographical illiteracy of so many listeners may have missed that the Black Sea city of Yalta is in Crimea. He has significant cultural historical legitimacy to say "our country."

An excellent overview of Putin's proposal to ally with Assad's state against ISIS and the religious war against the nations. Putin outlined an alliance of nations just like the alliance against Hitler. He is gaining allies and we should not begrudge his leadership.

GLOBALISM VS NATIONALISM - THE US HOSTS THE CHURCH AND CHINA: Pat Buchanan understands the nations; he doesn't understand the Argentine Pope and he most definitely does not understand the change in the center of gravity of Christendom from the West to the entire species. He is one global Catholic thinker, though, who has a realistic enough map in his head that he notes both Pope Francis and President Xi Jinping visited the US in September 2015. There are few questions more important for the future of world peace than how the US and China relate. Does the tilt toward Asia imply a policy of encirclement a la Marco Rubio? The Xi-Obama meeting revealed no answers on that broadest of policy questions. One short synopsis of the stakes with China. Another discussion of the South China Sea from the Chinese perspective. That old global power Britain has an Asian tilt of its own and it is not military encirclement. The invitation for the US to concentrate more on Asian infrastructure rather than border disputes is still open according to Xi.


CATHOLICS AND ANGRY CONSERVATIVES: George Will uses the occasion of a papal visit to school Catholics about their ancient and backward religion. Pope Francis has evoked the deep anti-religious streak in the secular neo-conservative project. Between Donald Trump and Pope Francis, the notion that Fox News is a voice for conservatives, intellectual gravity, or religion in public life is being upended. Hopefully, they will admit this and their conversation will get better. The work of Fox judicial consultant Judge Napolitano was particularly galling.

THE POPE'S OWN WORDS: There have been embarrassingly gullible reports from American political conservatives that the papacy of Pope Francis was a kind of liberal coup against the good popes - John Paul II and Benedict XVI. This neglects to mention the many thoroughly corrupt cardinals and bishops who were elevated by these good men. The openly apostate German hierarchy thrived under Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II. Pope Benedict's CDF head was Cardinal Levada of San Francisco. And if the face of orthodoxy is meant to be the pompous and duplicitous closet queenship of Raymond Burke, then may God protect the orthodox. Pope Benedict was not ousted by a liberal coup. He knew he could not govern his deeply corrupted Curia. The corruption came in every ideological flavor. If one thinks orthodox pronouncements make one immune to careerism and homosexual subcultures then the biographical lessons from Archbishop Nienstedt of St. Paul and Cardinal Spellman of New York have not yet been learned. A cult built on deceit is indifferent to the external uniform which conceals the inner rot. We again urge Catholics to read the Pope's biography, The Great Reformer, or at least our review.

Last week we highlighted the Pope's words to the US Congress. (Here is the transcript of the Pope's address to Congress). Here are a few more selected quotes from his encounters that the liberal media and conservative doomsayers seemed to miss.

The following quotes from Pope Francis come from his interview during the flight back to Italy (see the transcript for his full comments):
ABOUT ANNULMENTS: "In the reform of the procedure and the way, I closed the door to the administrative path, which was the path through which divorce could have entered. You could say that those who think this is 'Catholic divorce' are wrong because this last document has closed the door to divorce by which it could have entered. It would have been easier with the administrative path. There will always be the judicial path. This document, this ‘motu proprio’ facilitates the processes and the timing, but it is not divorce because marriage is indissoluble when it is a sacrament. And this the Church cannot change. It's doctrine. It’s an indissoluble sacrament. The legal trial is to prove that what seemed to be a sacrament wasn't a sacrament."
WOMEN PRIESTS: "Third, on women priests, that cannot be done. Pope St. John Paul II after long, long intense discussions, long reflection said so clearly. Not because women don’t have the capacity. Look, in the Church women are more important than men, because the Church is a woman. It is 'la' church, not 'il' church. The Church is the bride of Jesus Christ. And the Madonna is more important than popes and bishops and priests. I must admit we are a bit late in an elaboration of the theology of women. We have to move ahead with that theology. Yes, that’s true."
The following quotes from Pope Francis come from his speech to the United Nations (see the transcript for his full speech):
ON REFORMING THE UN (we hear the man from the South talking): "The need for greater equity is especially true in the case of those bodies with effective executive capability, such as the Security Council, the Financial Agencies and the groups or mechanisms specifically created to deal with economic crises. This will help limit every kind of abuse or usury."
TO LIVE IN DIGNITY (a Catholic Peronist): "In practical terms, this absolute minimum has three names: lodging, labour, and land; and one spiritual name: spiritual freedom, which includes religious freedom, the right to education and other civil rights."
A REFLECTION ON MAN (clarity on Male and Female Distinctions and the sanctity of the unborn): " 'Man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature” (BENEDICT XVI,) Creation is compromised 'where we ourselves have the final word… The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any instance above ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves' (ID.) Consequently, the defence of the environment and the fight against exclusion demand that we recognize a moral law written into human nature itself, one which includes the natural difference between man and woman (cf. Laudato Si’, 155), and absolute respect for life in all its stages and dimensions (cf. ibid., 123, 136). 
FRATERNITY OF THE COWBOYS: "El Gaucho Martín Fierro, a classic of literature in my native land, says: 'Brothers should stand by each other, because this is the first law; keep a true bond between you always, at every time – because if you fight among yourselves, you’ll be devoured by those outside.' " 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Friday BookReview: Reevaluating CHIANG KAI-SHEK

This is a 1945 magazine cover of Chiang. [Another portrait of him, during this same period, was the centerpiece of Tiananmen Square -- see bottom of post].

Four years later, after his nationalist army was defeated by the Communists, he led the Kuomintang government in exile in Taiwan until his death in 1975.

Take a look at a short newsreel.

With his wife, a graduate of Wellesley (Hillary Clinton's alma mater)

President Roosevelt and his generals were often driven to complete distraction by the cantankerous Chinese leader. But in recent years, there have been big changes in how Chiang Kai-shek is viewed.

Here are excerpts from the 'Washington Post' review of Generalissimo by Jay Taylor:
Chiang Kai-shek ranks as one of the most despised leaders of the 20th century. Famously derided as "Peanut" and "General Cash-My-Check," the leader of China's Nationalist government bedeviled the Allied war effort in World War II with his lackluster defense of his country. His corrupt and brutal regime squandered billions of dollars in American aid and drove the Chinese into the arms of the communists. He died in exile a deluded despot, relegated to a footnote in modern Chinese history. Or so the conventional story goes. 
Now, however, Jay Taylor's new biography, The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China, challenges the catechism on which generations of Americans have been weaned. Marshaling archival materials made newly available to researchers, including about four decades' worth of Chiang's daily diaries and documents from the Soviet era, it torpedoes many of that catechism's cherished tenets. This is an important, controversial book. 
Taylor, who was a U.S. Foreign Service officer in Hong Kong during the Cultural Revolution, argues that, far from being incompetent, Chiang was a farsighted, disciplined and canny strategist who repeatedly predicted major geopolitical events and made the most of the weak hand he was usually dealt by allies and enemies. His five decades of participation, at the highest levels, in world-changing events may be unsurpassed in the 20th century. For all his flaws as a political leader, Chiang laid the foundation not only for Taiwan's prosperity, but also for its transformation into the only democracy in the Chinese-speaking world, and one of the few in Asia. 
[The book] is especially timely appearing as it does during a period of flux and promise in the delicate dance between Taiwan and China. A new closeness is apparently taking hold: trade agreements are being signed, direct flights are being established and Chinese tourists are flocking to the island. There's even talk of a peace treaty. So the book naturally raises the question: Whose vision of China's future is really winning? Is it Chiang's dream of a more free-wheeling nation, or the image of a revolutionary utopia championed by his communist nemesis, Mao Zedong? 
Taylor reveals intriguing details, such as Chiang's decades-long secret communications, after his 1949 defeat, with Mao's No. 2, Zhou Enlai. He describes Mao receiving instructions and trunks full of Mexican silver dollars from Soviet leader Joseph Stalin -- without which, Taylor argues, the fabled Long March probably would have been impossible. He debunks the view that Chiang's entire military record was one of abject failure and sheds fresh light on Chiang's ties to the United States during the Cold War conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. Chiang strenuously warned President Lyndon B. Johnson against being drawn into the latter war. And Taylor adds depth and detail to the saga of the 1970s U.S.-China détente and Washington's eventual recognition of Beijing, describing how Chiang concealed his bitter loathing of President Richard Nixon... 
Born the son of a village salt merchant and raised by his widowed mother, Chiang Kai-shek rose to rule the world's most populous country. After revered revolutionary Sun Yat-sen died in 1925, Chiang seized power. In 1927, he launched a bloody purge of the Chinese Communist Party, which had been cooperating with Sun's Nationalist Party, touching off decades of civil conflict. Soon after, he married Sun's sister-in-law, Mayling Soong, the youngest daughter of a wealthy and powerful Shanghai family and a formidable figure in her own right. 
In the 1930s, he tried to hold Japan's armies at bay while battling the communists -- until 1937, when full-scale war erupted with Japan, and he joined forces with Mao. After Pearl Harbor -- Chiang had long predicted that Japan would target the United States -- he joined the Allies. As World War II ended, he resumed fighting the communists. After his defeat, he retreated to the island of Taiwan, then called Formosa. 
Over the next quarter-century in exile, Chiang ruled despotically while playing a key role as the United States' closest Cold War ally in the Pacific. His son, Chiang Ching-kuo (whom Taylor profiled in a well-regarded earlier book), succeeded him after his death in 1975. Since the late 1980s, Taiwan has metamorphosed into a prosperous, vibrant democracy. 
Chiang has been widely dismissed as a brutal, corrupt and incompetent military dictator who cared nothing for ordinary Chinese, let others fight the Japanese in order to conserve his resources for battling the communists and contributed little of value to China, Taiwan or 20th-century history. The Generalissimo evidently believed that to answer such charges would be demeaning and futile... 
Taylor's rehabilitation of Chiang's reputation mirrors a similar -- though unofficial -- phenomenon now underway in China, where the nationalist leader was long denounced as a "bandit" and a "running dog of the American imperialists." On the mainland, Chiang is now widely regarded as a Chinese patriot who made valuable contributions to the modern nation. Moreover, although they may not care to admit it, the leaders in Beijing have looked to Taiwan as a model for what a prosperous and free Chinese society might be like. And as China sheds its Maoist legacy, rendering the Chairman's rule a three-decade aberration, even mainstream Chinese scholars are suggesting that the country might have been better off had Chiang triumphed in 1949. 
Perhaps Chiang has emerged victorious after all. For surely today's China resembles his vision more closely than it does Mao's.

[Laura Tyson Li, Taiwan correspondent for the Financial Times from 1994-98, is the author of "Madame Chiang Kai-shek: China's Eternal First Lady."]

From a more recent analysis in 'Foreign Policy' magazine:
During World War II, it was sometimes hard to know who hated the Chinese Nationalist commander Chiang Kai-shek more: his sworn enemy, the Chinese Communist Party, and its leader Mao Zedong — or the Americans. It is a little known fact that at least twice during the long course of the war, senior officials of the United States considered assassinating Chiang, who was fighting the Japanese on the side of the Americans. During the Cairo Conference in November 1943, attended by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Chiang, Roosevelt met privately with his senior commander in China, Maj. Gen. Joseph Stilwell. “Big boy,” Stilwell said when he got back to China’s wartime capital Chongqing, quoting Roosevelt to his chief of staff, Gen. Frank 'Pinky' Dorn, “if you can’t get along with Chiang and can’t replace him, get rid of him once and for all. You know what I mean. Put in someone you can manage”... 
This American (and Chinese) vexation with Chiang persisted for decades — even after he fled to Taiwan — resulting in a widespread conventional wisdom that he was one of the great incompetents of history. Indeed, it would be pointless to deny his faults. Especially after the United States came into the war at the end of 1941, he frequently refused to go on the offensive against Japan, keeping several hundred thousand of his best troops in reserve to guard against the expansion of Mao’s party in the north. At Cairo, Roosevelt wondered aloud to his son Elliot “why Chiang’s troops aren’t fighting at all”... 
And yet, the view of Chiang in the United States has softened in recent years — a trend marked by the 2009 book The Generalissimo, a major biography by the historian Jay Taylor, which gave Chiang more credit for his brave leadership under impossible circumstances than previous historians. The view of Chiang has also shifted on both mainland China and Taiwan, reflecting changing political circumstances in both places. For Beijing, which just held a splashy military parade on Sept. 3 to celebrate its wartime victory over Japan, there have been far fewer negative comments about Chiang, intransigent anti-Communist though he was. Conversely, on Taiwan, the one part of China that he was able to preserve from Maoist dictatorship, Chiang’s stature has steadily declined. 
Why the shift? Especially in the United States, there’s the realization that getting rid of Chiang would in all likelihood have not produced a happy result. It is hard to imagine that it would have altered the tragically paradoxical outcome of World War II in Asia: The United States fought for four years to prevent a hostile power, Japan, from controlling China, only to see the country fall to a Communist dictatorship closely allied to the Soviet Union, an even more menacingly hostile power. 
Furthermore, many Americans at the time subsequently underestimated both the magnitude of the task that Chiang faced as his country’s wartime leader and his achievements against extraordinary odds. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine any alternative Chinese figure doing much better. 
Contrary to popular perception, for example, Chiang did fight: He mounted a brave, veritably suicidal, resistance to the initial full-scale Japanese invasion of 1937. According to Stilwell’s replacement, Gen. Albert C. Wedemeyer, the battle for Shanghai, in which China lost thousands of its best troops, was at the time the world’s bloodiest battle since Verdun in 1916. Japan’s military leaders had predicted that the war in China would be over quickly. It could have been — if Chiang surrendered and joined forces with the Japanese in a renewed effort to eradicate the Communists. But while that may have been tempting, Chiang never did. His defiance tied down a million Japanese troops who otherwise would have been available for battle against American forces. For the first four years of its eight-year war of resistance against Japan, until Pearl Harbor pushed the United States into the battle in December 1941, China fought alone. 
Wedemeyer with villagers

It was this that so impressed Wedemeyer. While Stilwell saw the Chinese leader as “a grasping, bigoted, ungrateful little rattlesnake,” Wedemeyer was unrestrained in his admiration. Chiang’s call on China’s people to “sacrifice and fight to the bitter end” was, Wedemeyer believed, “more gallant and resolute than Churchill’s famous ‘blood, sweat and tears’ speech.” Given his situation, moreover, his military strategy of “endeavoring to dissipate Japanese strength and forcing the enemy to overextend his lines” made perfect sense, Wedemeyer felt, and so did his diversion of troops to prevent Communist expansion. Chiang understood — as most Americans, focused exclusively on the defeat of Japan, did not — that once the war ended there would be a fight to the finish between him and the Communists. Chiang maintained, to any Americans who would listen, that if successful the Communists would impose a totalitarian dictatorship allied with the Soviet Union. And Mao’s total victory in 1949 proved him right.

"You must all be aware that modern war is not a mere matter of military operations. It involves the whole strength and all the resources of the nation. Not only soldiers, but also all citizens without exception, take part."