Saturday, October 31, 2015

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, October 31

by David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch 


Pope Benedict XVI explained the misinterpretation of the Second Vatican Council as a pitting of the "Council of the Fathers against the Council of the Media." Pope Pius IX said Church councils are interpreted first by Satan, then by man, then by the Holy Spirit.

From October 4-25, 2015, the fourteenth General Synod of Bishops since Vatican II met to discuss the mission and vocation of the family. Two hundred and seventy-nine priests, bishops, and male representatives of religious orders voted by paragraph to accept the 94 paragraphs of the final document. All paragraphs received 2/3 of the synod fathers' vote. We will see the full English translation soon. Until then, concluding that the synod is ambiguous about the indissolubility of marriage by highlighting the translations of 3 or 4 paragraphs on the pastoral care of the divorced might be an overreach.

One text we do have is the Oct 17th one that Pope Francis gave as a commemorative address on the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI creating Synods to carry on the work of the Council. It was an important talk about the nature of the Church and was especially significant to the Eastern Orthodox Churches for whom questions about the Petrine office and a Eucharistic Bishop-centered ecclesiology are essential. Pope Francis, who always refers to himself as the Bishop of Rome, understands this. Catholics who know that the great decentralization of Christianity is the Catholic insistence on the full Presence of Paschal Mystery at every Mass on the planet through the last two millennia also understand this definition of decentralization. You can bet that Eucharistic interpretation was not quite what the American media had in mind when they headlined: "Pope calls for more decentralization."

The address by an Eastern orthodox Bishop to the Council, Russia's Metropolitan Hillarion, shows why the Synod of the Fathers is much more compelling than the synod of the press. The alliance between the Russians and Americans as Christian nations has been proposed both for the war to defend the family and the war to defeat ISIS and the Salafist jihadists.

This really was a synod in the likeness of Pope Francis. His closing address again forced our eyes outward to humanity where Christ offers His mercy. When he says this is the central mission of the Church, he then quotes Pope Benedict and St. Pope John Paul II. But you must read his talk, not a report of it. How strange that St. John Paul II who integrated Divine Mercy Sunday into the Liturgical Year and elevated the devotions of St. Faustina and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy is never castigated for not understanding the "limitations of Mercy."


MIDEAST - OUR REAL STRATEGIC ALLIES ARE NOW ON THE GROUND WITH US: The US is embedding ground troops with Iraq soldiers which puts us shoulder-to-shoulder, soldier-to-soldier with Iranian troops who have already shed real blood in the war against ISIS. Russia has seriously integrated its forces with Syria in fighting the Salafist Sunni movements that would eliminate religious freedom for Shiites and Christians. We are now aligned with the right allies though our Congress hasn't acknowledged this. The great strategic task ahead is to support a Sunni force that will organize a new government in the war zone territories of Syria/Iraq. That Sunni entity would be better organized by Jordan than Saudi Arabia, who continues their aerial persecution of the Shiites of Yemen.


A QUANTUM LEAP IN FREEDOM IN CHINA ON ONE CHILD POLICY WHILE US THREATENS THEIR MARITIME BOUNDARIES: Under Mao Tse-tung (d. 1976), China had a vigorous pro-natal policy. The fertility rate (projected births per woman during child bearing years) in China in 1970 was 5.5. In 1980 the one child policy was adopted as part of the modernization reform movement led by Deng Xiaoping. Many of his practical policy changes led to a spectacular reform. Not so the brutal restriction of family life. In 1984 there was a change in policy to allow many rural couples more children. The news of the policy change came from the central news agency reporting the decisions of an October 2015 meeting of top party leaders known as the Fifth Plenum. China's legislature meets in March 2016 when the plan will be outlined. China's population is 1.37 billion. Last year 116 boys were born for every 100 girls. The worldwide ratio is 105 boys to 100 girls.

China has built new islands off its shores to extend its claims in the South China sea. The US recently sent a US warship to sail within 12 miles of the new islands to show we do not accept their territorial claims. Are those infrastructure additions where we want to draw a line with China? The so called "realists" who now shape foreign policy thinking in the US government and academia treat all emerging powers as natural enemies of the dominant power (that would be the US). This social Darwinist theory of the nations informs both the neoconservatves of the Republican Party and interventionist liberals of the Democrats.


SATAN SHOWS HIS FACE: Senseless violence is not an adequate description of the mass killings plaguing our nation.

FEMALE COMMAND - REFORM IS NOT PERMITTED: "You want toxic, I will show you toxic" - Fort Carson and Colonel Tammy.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Friday BookReview: Nelson Rockefeller

The result of good breeding, shored up by piles of gold

Yes, folks, that is America's vice-president during her bicentennial year -- as he salutes student demonstrators in Binghamton, New York.

Behind Mr. Rockefeller at the campaign stop is Bob Dole, whom President Ford had chosen as his running mate (they would be defeated by Carter/Mondale).

The recent biography by Richard Norton Smith has received high praise. Mr. Smith has been the director of five of the presidential libraries. Here are excerpts from a review in the 'Wall St Journal':
It was the most memorable scene from the 1964 Republican National Convention in San Francisco: Nelson Rockefeller standing tall on the speakers’ platform, insistent on having his say—“This is still a free country, ladies and gentlemen”—as conservative yahoos below sent up a roar of hatred to this embodiment of the despised Eastern Establishment who dared denounce extremism. Operatives of the party’s impending presidential nominee, Barry Goldwater, aware of the damage the nationally televised scene was doing to his image, frantically tried to quiet the delegates, but to no avail. 
So the scene made its fateful impression, not only of extremism on display but of its brave antagonist. Rockefeller, wrote Norman Mailer in 'Esquire' later that year, “had an odd courage which was profound—he could take strength from defying a mob. Three hundred thousand years ago, a million years ago, some gorilla must have stood up to an enraged tribe and bellowed back and got away alive and human society was begun. So Rocky finally had his political moment which was precisely right for him.” 
Richard Norton Smith builds a 20-page prologue around that telling moment in his splendid biography of Rockefeller. On His Own Terms is a clear-eyed, exhaustively researched account of a significant and fascinating American life. 
In retrospect, Rockefeller’s moment in San Francisco told of more than his courage and a changing GOP. It also vividly suggested that, if he wanted to be president, he was in the wrong party. It was not the first such suggestion. Franklin D. Roosevelt had tried to get Rockefeller, his coordinator of inter-American affairs during World War II, to change his political affiliation. Harry Truman, too, had urged him to become a Democrat. Rockefeller’s answer: “If I became a Democrat, I’d always be in the position of holding the party back, whereas if I stayed a Republican, I’d be pushing the party forward.” He wanted the presidency but, as Mr. Smith’s title suggests, on his own terms. 
When Rockefeller made his entry into elective politics, running for governor of New York in 1958, he proved a terrific campaigner, plunging into crowds, heartily offering a “Hiya fella!” to one and all, enthusiastically eating blintzes and giving voters the impression that he was a backslapping regular guy. In a year in which the GOP nationally suffered its worst defeat since 1936, he crushed incumbent Democratic Gov. Averell Harriman by 557,000 votes. 
In contrast with his New York campaigns, Rockefeller’s repeated efforts to win the presidency in the 1960s “appeared amateurish,” Mr. Smith notes... 
But Rockefeller was unmistakably different, not least in his strong support for the civil-rights movement. (He provided money to Martin Luther King Jr. and his crusade at various junctures, such as when he helped pay the bail costs for hundreds of youngsters who had been jailed after marching in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963.) “The struggle for racial equality is as much a part of his family lineage as oil wells and art museums,” Mr. Smith observes. Rockefeller’s grandfather had endowed Atlanta’s Spelman College to educate black women; his father had supported the United Negro College Fund and the Urban League. When Rockefeller was vice president under Gerald Ford in the mid-1970s, his support for filibuster reform in the Senate and for a tough Voting Rights Act fired Southern opposition and, by some accounts, led to his being dropped from the 1976 ticket. 
During Rockefeller’s 35 years of public life, two things were kept largely hidden. One was his compulsive philandering, which only began to come to light in 1979 with his sensational death in the company of his latest mistress. (It had not taken an aggressive press long to shred the official fiction that his fatal heart attack had occurred when he was at his desk, working in his office, alone except for a security aide.) The other hidden trait was his dyslexia, a condition that is generally characterized, as Mr. Smith says, by “poor reading, writing, and spelling skills, the misuse of words, and the transposition of numbers.” This difficulty helped to shape his approach to public life, giving him a preference for the visual over the written and a pronounced inclination to rely on supposed experts as a kind of “intellectual security blanket.” 
Rockefeller liked to use visual aids to get his points across. Early in the Eisenhower administration, when he became undersecretary at the new Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, he insisted on a bigger conference room, opening up his own wallet to equip it. He turned the large space into “the Chart Room” and took over an adjoining room to serve as a staging area, from which the charts could be rolled out on tracks. 
His difficulty reading persuaded him that, as he said, “the best way to read a book is to get the author to tell you about it.” When he was governor of New York and trying to fathom the moral complexities of abortion, he saw a reference to Thomas Aquinas in a newspaper editorial and asked a staffer to arrange a meeting with the eminent theologian. 
When venturing forth to meet a new challenge, Rockefeller resorted almost reflexively to summoning experts to advise him. After he left HEW in late 1954, he became a special assistant to President Dwight Eisenhower for “psychological warfare” (or, as Ike later described it, for “Cold War strategy”), with a vague mandate to explain America to the world. Taking the mandate and, to the dismay of the State Department, running with it, Rockefeller assembled a panel of academic heavyweights in advance of the 1955 Geneva Summit. The group’s brainstorming led to Eisenhower’s proposal there for “open skies” aerial inspection of military facilities on American and Soviet soil. Rejected by the Soviets, the proposal proved a propaganda coup for the U.S., showing the Soviets to be not as committed to nuclear disarmament as they pretended. The brainstorming group’s success, Mr. Smith observes, “foreshadowed [Rockefeller’s] later reliance, as governor of New York and would-be president, on a dizzying array of study groups, commissions, and grand planners.” Yet doubts arose about the practice. “He is too used to borrowing brains instead of using his own,” Ike once observed... 
Rockefeller had no liberal guilt about his inherited wealth. Once, on the campaign trail, a young woman asked him how it felt to be rich. “Fine!” he replied. “How’s it feel to be good-looking?” 
... After his death, no less a conservative than William F. Buckley, long impressed by Rockefeller’s staunch anticommunism and more recently by his ability as governor to learn from his mistakes, wrote—in a judgment that would have appalled the yahoos at the 1964 convention—that it was “altogether possible” that Rockefeller “would have been a great president.”

Here are some lines by Mark Tooley, from his interesting profile of Nelson Rockefeller as Social Gospel Christian: "He was an enthusiast for American democracy and hated Communism. One campaign aide who worked for him, Reagan, and Goldwater claimed Rockefeller was the most passionately anti-Soviet of all of them."

"The grandson of America’s first billionaire, Rockefeller was born into a pious Baptist home where liquor, smoking and profanity were prohibited, family prayers were a daily ritual, and the Sabbath always sacred. His grandfather, John Sr., the builder of an oil empire, was a conventional but not very theologically minded Baptist. His father, John Jr., the heir and only son, was devout but committed to modernizing Christianity under the guidance of experts he would fund. His counsel for philanthropy was Raymond Fosdick, a backslidden Baptist who championed cautiously progressive causes. Fosdick was brother to the great liberal preacher Harry Emerson, a zealous foe of 'fundamentalism' who had survived a Presbyterian heresy trial.

"John Jr. so admired Rev. Fosdick that he funded his tracts and built a cathedral for him on New York’s upper West side, Riverside Church, where Protestantism and modernity were merged together by Fosdick’s sermons and the church’s progressive iconography. The church was and is next door to Union Seminary, once Baptist, and long an academy of liberal Protestantism, also supported by the Rockefellers. In the same neighborhood in the late 1950s the Rockefellers also built the soaring Interchurch Center as headquarters for liberal Protestant denominational and ecumenical agencies.

"Earnest, chaste, sober, punctilious, generous, and committed to social uplift, John Jr. and his more exuberant wife Abby raised their five sons to be conventionally moral but theologically liberal Baptists who would perpetuate the family tradition of high-minded philanthropy..."

UPDATE: This is a 1932 photo of Nelson with his grandfather -- John D. Rockefeller (bottom right) -- the founding patriarch. Take a look at this five-minute video.

[Nelson's father, John Jr., is in the center. He spent his life as a philanthropist, and died in 1960.
Richard Norton Smith -- in this lengthy interview with Brian Lamb -- said of John Jr.: "I think, of all the Rockefellers, he was probably the most complicated figure."

Mr. Smith also tells of Richard Nixon's secret visit to Rockefeller in July 1960, as he unsuccessfully urged him to be his vice-presidential running mate. The NY governor asked for two changes in the party platform: a stronger civil rights plank, and a promise to spend more on defense. He had not been happy with President Eisenhower's cost-cutting measures.]

Monday, October 26, 2015

Map on Monday: EGYPT

The Physical Ecology, Communal Loyalties, and Geopolitics of Egypt 

by A. Joseph Lynch

Physical Ecology: Natural Resources and Physical Geography

Although Egypt is a geographically large nation (about the size of Texas and New Mexico combined; twice the size of France; and three times the size of Germany), Egypt's physical geography is dominated by the desert. The western two-thirds of Egypt is formed by the appropriately named Western Desert, while the desert of Egypt's eastern third gives way to the rugged and semi-mountainous Red Sea Hills (see physical geography map at right). The physical geography of the Sinai Peninsula (about the size of West Virginia) in Egypt's northeast is a continuation of the rugged landscape of Egypt's eastern desert. The triangular shape of the Sinai forms two inlets to the Red Sea: the Gulf of Suez (where the Suez canal allows shipping from the Mediterranean and acts as an important geostrategic choke point) in the west and the Gulf of Aqaba in the east (which is also Israel's one outlet to the greater Red Sea).

Although Egypt is dominated by deserts, the heart of the nation is the Nile River which runs from the country's south to the north, passing through the fertile Nile Delta before emptying into the Mediterranean. The Nile is the life of Egypt. In fact, the vast majority of Egypt's population lives around the Nile; 98% of the population lives on 3% of Egypt's land. The Nile provides Egypt with a rich source of agricultural products along with hydro-power. Egypt's other national resources include coal, natural gas, crude oil, iron ore, and phosphates. Where crude oil and natural gas are found in the Western Desert and the Gulf of Suez, coal deposits were discovered at the northeastern portion of the Sinai peninsula.

Communal Loyalties: Ethnicity, Language, and Religion

Population density map of Egypt
Egypt's population of around 90 million is concentrated along the Nile River (see image at left for Egypt's population density).  Egypt's large population alone makes it the largest nation in north Africa and third largest on the African continent (behind only Nigeria at 173 million and Ethiopia at 94 million). Egypt is also the Islamic Mideast's most-populous nation and the sixth largest Muslim country overall. This is quite a feat considering Egypt's population in 1798 was a mere three million.

Ethnic Egyptians comprise around 91% of the total population, with the rest made up of small groups of Turks, Greeks, Bedouins, etc. Egypt also hosts about 1.5 million refugees from places like Iraq, Palestine, and Sudan. Various Arabic dialects form the dominant language of Egypt, although historically Greek, Italian, French and modern-day English have played an important role. Islam, particularly Sunni Islam, forms Egypt's primary religious identity. Shiites number between 1-2 million while over 15 million Egyptians are registered Sufis (the actual number of Egyptian Sufis is thought to be much higher). Salafis - who account for the vast number of Islamic jihadis - number about six million. Around 9% of Egypt consists of Coptic Christians. While 90% of these Christians identify as Oriental Orthodox, there are also Egyptian Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and even some Protestants.

Geopolitics: Political Geography and Foreign Policy

Egypt borders Israel and the Gaza Strip to the northeast, Saudi Arabia to the east, Sudan in the south, and Libya to the west. Egypt's location makes it a gateway or bridge between the broader Mideast, and the African continent. Its Mediterranean coast and long history with its European neighbors to the northwest gives Egypt an important link to Europe. Where Sunni Islam connects Egypt to Muslim brethren throughout the region, the substantial numbers of Orthodox Christians undoubtedly draws Russian attention as Russia has played a historic role in protecting Christian minorities in the Middle East.

Egypt's recent political history has been one of turbulence since the military's coup d'├ętat in the 1952 Revolution brought General Muhammad Naguib to power as the first President of the Republic of Egypt. Naguib, however, soon fell from power and was replaced by President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Nassar's nationalization of the Suez Canal led to an attack launched by France, Britain, and Israel seeking to reclaim the canal for western control. Subsequent pressure from the US and USSR led to the withdrawal and humiliation of the invaders and the strengthening of Nassar. He sought to spread Pan-Arabism, doing so by creating a short-lived confederation of Egypt, Syria, and North Yemen under the United Arab States. While this attempt failed, Egypt did provide North Yemen with 70,000 troops in its civil war with the South. Nassar was also in power during another conflict with Israel - 1967's Six-Day War - which ended in a humiliating defeat of Egypt.

The death of Nassar in 1970 brought Anwar Sadat to power. Until Sadat, Egypt had a Soviet orientation - but Sadat chose to realign Egypt with America. Sadat also launched a surprise attack on Israel in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, and later used the results of the war to reclaim the Sinai Peninsula which it had lost to Israel in 1967. Sadat, however, was assassinated by an Islamic extremist in 1981. The long rule of Hosni Mubarak lasted from 1981 until his removal from power in 2011. The 2011 Revolution, like the Revolution of 1952, relied on the Egyptian military's involvement. The rapid fall of the Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsi following the Revolution happened at the hands of the military. Indeed, today's President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, was the head of Egypt's military before being elected.

Some Additional Resources 

For more information on Egypt, visit its page on the CIA World Factbook.

Stratfor on Egypt's Geographic Challenge: Stratfor - short for Strategic Forecasting, Inc. - is a private global intelligence company that offers geopolitical insight into the interplay of nations. Stratfor has developed an excellent series of short (~2-4 minute) videos which provide the viewer with a specific nation, along with its basic history, geography, culture, and geopolitical allies and adversaries. In the following video, they present the geographic challenges facing Egypt.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, October 24

by David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


When the Synod on the Family ends, hopefully so-called conservative Catholics will see how hysterical and inaccurate were the prognosticators about the plot to change Catholicism. Pope Francis lets a lot of people talk, but the general relator of the Synod was Hungarian Cardinal Erdo who was much more prepared than last October for the Germanic attempt to alter Church teaching on homosexuality and marriage. This is a Germanic effort with some Italian support. It is a "fringe of the rich secularized West," as Cardinal Sarah said in his Elijah-like intervention. His landmark speech characterized two demons against marriage: the gender ideology of the West and the violence of ISIS. "Homogamy and Polygamy" are the enemies, he says.

What if the American conservatives, instead of sowing seeds of doubt against the Pope, would take this very Catholic position in our own discussions of foreign policy and our own war against ISIS? We cannot fight this religious war as atheist libertines. We cannot make our military open to female soldiers, homosexuals, and transsexuals -- and think we can win the hearts and minds and battles before us. The synod of the Church is laying out the parameters for the new debate. Cardinal Sarah says the Americans are much more with the Africans than the western Europeans. The eastern Europeans are very different than the Germans and Italians. About half the American bishops identify with the homosexual wing of the German and Italian conferences. But American liberals are congenitally inclined to hear the voice of Africans. Thus, even Cardinal Wuerl who is usually on the softer side of clergy debates has favored African bishops over Europeans. The great triumph of Pope Francis is a clarification that the divide between Africa and Germany is not susceptible to compromise or local options of decision making. There is, as he has often said and several cardinals said, the smoke of the Evil One in proposals to destroy marriage. For those who are publicly orthodox but have always favored the gay agenda, like Bishop Donald Wuerl, he is dismayed that the gentleman's agreement between bishops not to disagree publicly has been breached. But it is not the work of a gentleman to allow a wolf to play the shepherd. The Catholics in Europe who have had to live under widespread episcopal corruption, can thank the Aussies, the Africans, and the Americans for confronting the soft, rich, and thoroughly corrupt prelates of Western Europe. They can also thank Pope Francis for letting a hundred flowers bloom so the Vine and Branches could emerge.

Cardinal Sarah has exposed the common source of the jihadist and secular atheists of gender ideology. He recalls a precedent of what appeared to be opposites - Nazism and Soviet Communism - as twin ideologies of the Evil One. Let us hear him and give thanks for this Synod born in "confusion" and ending in a stark clarification that there are many bishops and cardinals in the Catholic Church who have abandoned the purity code at the heart of our sacramental life.

Russian Metropolitan Hilarion wrote fraternally to the Synod, imploring the bishops to uphold Scripture and Tradition on marriage, and avoiding the error of mainstream Protestantism. Hilarion sees in the Protestants a "betrayal of Christianity" in their willingness to "accommodate themselves to a secular, godless and churchless world" by supporting homosexual marriage.


AFGHANISTAN: A map shows areas of Taliban control. Now free from the restraints of office, Hamid Kharzai is more openly talking about the role of Pakistan in sheltering and instigating the worst of the Salafist jihadists. He has always looked to India as a traditional Afghan ally. The Indians know all too well the taste of Salafist bombings from Pakistan bases. The new Afghan president has been more likely to favor Pakistan over India. One commentator gives a short synopsis of the Pakistani role in Taliban dominance in Afghanistan.

PAKISTAN: The Russians and the Chinese have infrastructure deals. But everyone who deals with Pakistan must at some time deal with its major role in backing the Salfist Sunni movement that is at the heart of the modern-day jihad. Here is a case in 'Foreign Affairs' for ending the alliance with an unworthy ally.


LANGUAGES OF THE WORLD: A nice graphic of the world languages of the future.

DEEP STATE: A turkish term (derin deviet) often used to describe the state behind the state that "really runs things" despite elections or changes in figurehead positions. This need not be a derogatory term. Any government of "laws and not men" must have a deep state. The nation itself is a web of loyalties that abide even when leadership is ineffective or corrupt.


WOMEN AND THE MILITARY: Real gender equality means women register for the draft. A third woman graduates from Ranger school. A military friend says: "As people celebrate the 3rd female (remember, we don't call them women) ranger school graduate (who, with the other two, also went to West Point), let's not forgot the nameless four or five males who would have graduated if no females entered the school. That's what the statistics look like. Each entering (above average) male has a much better chance of completing the course than a (best of the best) female, so each slot filled by a female reduces the overall completion/graduation rate of the school. The main point: females taking slots in the school only harms military preparedness. You can all get your progressive fuzzies from this, but there is nothing to celebrate here, if the Army is meant to win the nation's wars and prevent them by being prepared for them."

GAY MAFIA AND KIM DAVIS: Untwisting the twisted.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Friday BookReview: Samuel Morse


Watch the opening of this "60 Minutes" story on the influence of Paris. It turns out that inventor Samuel Morse (d. 1872) was also a first-class artist

"Gallery of the Louvre" (1833)

From Richard Brookhiser's review in the 'NY Times' of a biography of Morse:
I learned Morse code when I was a Boy Scout. Even then it was a musty skill; Western Union had sent its last Morse telegram in 1960. Yet the invention of the telegraph more than a century earlier was an epochal event, our first experience of the simultaneity of existence that now engulfs us in 24/7 media and the Internet. In Lightning Man, the historian Kenneth Silverman lays out with great thoroughness the troubled busy life of Samuel F. B. Morse, the telegraph's inventor. 
Born in 1791, Samuel Finley Breese Morse was, by the standards of his minister father, an easily distracted child. But he early showed a talent for drawing and an interest in science. He tried a career in art first -- bravely, considering the cultural state of America. American painters of an older generation, Benjamin West and John Singleton Copley, had had to move abroad to prosper. Morse went to England, Italy and France to learn his craft, then founded the National Academy of Design in New York to raise the visibility and prestige of artists at home. Morse's history paintings, on which he set his heart, seem stiff and pompous; yet the portraits Silverman reproduces, though Morse disdained them as moneymakers, are keen and quirky. In the 1840's Morse continued his portraiture in the new medium of photography; one of his pupils was Mathew Brady. 
Morse's lifelong propensity to tinker carried him over the threshold of greatness. Benjamin Franklin had shown that electricity could be conducted by wire. Morse realized that if the current could be controlled and recorded, electricity could be used for communication. Morse and his age, Silverman writes, shared a belief in ''the Lone Inventor, creating ex nihilo from his lofty imagination.'' Morse in fact had a great deal of help in making his insight bear fruit. Leonard Gale, a chemistry professor at New York University, taught him crucial facts about batteries and electromagnets, while Alfred Vail, a young machinist, refined and improved the contraptions that Morse built. Other men, like Charles Wheatstone, an Englishman whose inventions included the concertina and the rheostat, were working on their own versions of the telegraph. But Morse was pre-eminent as a catalyst and synthesizer. Silverman concludes: ''Morse created a telegraph system that against many competitors repeatedly proved itself to be the cheapest, the most rugged, the most reliable and the simplest to operate. By perseverance that would not be denied he made it a commercial reality.'' 
The first demonstration of long-range telegraphy occurred in May 1844. Morse in Washington and Vail in Baltimore sent each other an awe-struck message from Numbers 23:23: ''What hath God wrought!'' Days later, God wrought the news of James K. Polk's winning the Democratic presidential nomination at the party's convention in Baltimore. Soon the line was carrying long-range chess games, Mexican War dispatches and election returns. (With respect to the last, Morse cautioned his operator ''to give only official results, not mere rumors, and in announcing them to leave no impression of political partisanship'' -- still good advice.) Morse lived to see telegraph wires spanning America, Europe and Asia, and crossing the Atlantic by underwater cable. The new technology gave rise to imperial companies, like Western Union and The Associated Press, and large fortunes, including his own. When he died in 1872, telegraph operators draped their instruments in black. 
Alongside his successive careers as a painter and an inventor, Morse pursued a deep and unfortunate interest in politics. Roman Catholic Europe had struck Morse the art student as a sinkhole of oppression and squalor; in Naples, he ''may well have written'' what Silverman calls ''the first description in American literature'' of pizza: ''a piece of bread that had been taken reeking out of the sewer.'' From the 1830's to the 1850's Morse was a nativist, opposing immigration and Jesuit plots, and running unsuccessfully for mayor of New York and for Congress. During the Civil War, he became a Northern defender of slavery, attacking the Lincoln administration as ''imbecile & bloodthirsty.'' 
Morse's private life offered little relief from his public anxieties. He was easily depressed, by turns credulous and suspicious, and subject to psychosomatic illnesses. His first wife died young; his second was deaf. He was devoted to both, but to his children he was an erratic and distant figure. A trail of suicides winds through his family. 
Not all Morse's problems were his own doing. A fair proportion of his business associates turned out to be scoundrels or mischief-makers; others turned against him through sheer weariness with his difficult temperament. Morse's invention was engulfed in squabbles over intellectual paternity; 15 lawsuits were spawned by the telegraph, one of them going all the way to the Supreme Court. Beating off these challenges involved him in endless polemics and legal maneuvering. Amos Kendall, a crony of Andrew Jackson, became Morse's business manager and served him loyally and well. But he could not keep his client out of the arena. 
The most important aspect of Lightning Man is its relevance to the way we live now. Before the telegraph, as Silverman points out, communication was a function of transportation. Messages traveled only as fast as ships, horses or trains could carry the bearers. After the telegraph, communication seemed magical, virtually instantaneous (hence the ''lightning'' of the title). What did people make of the change? Morse, and many of his peers, believed in what Silverman calls an ''ideology of redemption through communication.'' They thought men and nations would be brought closer together, and war would cease -- this despite the fact that the telegraph quickly became a tool of war reporting, and war making. Not everyone was hopeful; Silverman quotes Thoreau, who wondered whether all the people sending one another telegrams would have anything ''important to communicate.'' 
These are the polar reactions to every step in the march of progress: everything will change, or nothing will. The truth, for Morse and for us, is more complicated. Human nature remains the same, but our options for good and for ill increase. Spammers offer breast and penis enlargements; Iranian bloggers tell the world of their plight. The bombardment of drivel and passion leaves us both excited and fatigued. Silverman quotes an unnamed 19th-century journalist, writing of the telegraph, who hit our predicament exactly: ''This extraordinary discovery leaves . . . no elsewhere -- it is all here.''

An anecdote from the book can be found here: Mr. Morse providing news flashes from the 1844 Democratic national convention.

UPDATE -- Samuel's father, Jedidiah, was famous in his own right: as Calvinist preacher, stalwart supporter of the Federalist Party, and "father of American geography"! He married the daughter of a former Princeton University president.

Reverend Morse helped found the Park Street Church in Boston (1809) when all the Congregational churches of that city, except the Old South Church, had abandoned the orthodox faith.

[Truly, one of the most puzzling events in the early history of our country -- several decades after the 'First Great Awakening' -- was the apostasy of thousands of Protestants who succumbed to the notion that the Blessed Trinity was irrelevant.
It would be fascinating to know what went through the mind of Jean-Louis Cheverus (the first Catholic bishop of Boston) and his priests as they witnessed the spectacle.
Holy men such as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield had preached their hearts out, but much of the fruit withered on Unitarian vines.]

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

"I am a (humorless) rock, I am a (bizarre) island"


For HENRY DAVID THOREAU, civilization was nothing but a contaminant. A worshipper of nature, he held humans in contempt.

This 'New Yorker' essay asks: why does our culture revere such a man?

Here are the opening paragraphs, describing the reaction of Thoreau to the battered victims of a shipwreck southeast of Boston --
On the evening of October 6, 1849, the hundred and twenty people aboard the brig St. John threw a party. The St. John was a so-called famine ship: Boston-bound from Galway, it was filled with passengers fleeing the mass starvation then devastating Ireland. They had been at sea for a month; now, with less than a day’s sail remaining, they celebrated the imminent end of their journey and, they hoped, the beginning of a better life in America. Early the next morning, the ship was caught in a northeaster, driven toward shore, and dashed upon the rocks just outside Cohasset Harbor. Those on deck were swept overboard. Those below deck drowned when the hull smashed open. Within an hour, the ship had broken up entirely. All but nine crew members and roughly a dozen passengers perished. 
Two days later, a thirty-two-year-old Massachusetts native, en route from Concord to Cape Cod, got word of the disaster and detoured to Cohasset to see it for himself. When he arrived, fragments of the wreck were scattered across the strand. Those victims who had already washed ashore lay in rough wooden boxes on a nearby hillside. The living were trying to identify the dead—a difficult task, since some of the bodies were bloated from drowning, while others had struck repeatedly against the rocks. Out of sentiment or to save labor, the bodies of children were placed alongside their mothers in the same coffin. 
The visitor from Concord, surveying all this, found himself unmoved. “On the whole,” he wrote, “it was not so impressive a scene as I might have expected. If I had found one body cast upon the beach in some lonely place, it would have affected me more. I sympathized rather with the winds and waves, as if to toss and mangle these poor human bodies was the order of the day. If this was the law of Nature, why waste any time in awe or pity?” This impassive witness also had stern words for those who, undone by the tragedy, could no longer enjoy strolling along the beach. Surely, he admonished, “its beauty was enhanced by wrecks like this, and it acquired thus a rarer and sublimer beauty still.”

Monday, October 19, 2015

Map on Monday: BANGLADESH

The Physical Ecology, Communal Loyalties, and Geopolitics of Bangladesh

by A. Joseph Lynch

Physical Ecology: Natural Resources and Physical Geography

Bangladesh is a small, Asian nation about the size of Iowa. Located along the Tropic of Cancer on the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh is subject to a humid, wet, monsoon climate. Furthermore, around 75% of Bangladesh is less than 10 yards above sea level. This, combined with the great Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna Rivers, makes Bangladesh both fertile but also susceptible to flooding.

Nearly 20% of the nation is flooded each year, destroying seven million homes and killing around 5,000 people. In heavy flooding years, the vast majority of the nation is flooded, tens of thousands are killed or displaced, and millions of dollars of agriculture are lost. Over a half million Bengalis perished in 1970 due precisely to this.

Bangladesh is rich in arable land, timber, and coal. While Bangladesh imports crude oil and petroleum products, it is Asia's seventh largest producer of natural gas. Agriculture plays a key role in the nation's economy, with tea, rice, sugarcane, cotton, and jute (used in ropes and textiles) being important cash crops. Access to the sea has also made the nation the world's fifth largest producer of fish. The textile industry of Bangladesh is ranked as the second-largest across the globe.

Communal Loyalties: Ethnicity, Language, and Religion

In 1951, the population of Bangladesh was around 44 million. That population has grown to over 160 million today, making Bangladesh the world's eighth most-populous nation - and its small (Iowa) size means Bangladesh is the most densely-populated nation in the world (excluding micro-states). Around 18.5 million live in either the capital city of Dhaka (12 million) or the port city of Chittagong (the largest seaport in the eastern Bay of Bengal).

Some 98% of the population is ethnically Bengali and speak Bengali as their primary language. Bangladesh is also a majority-Muslim nation with Sunni Islam comprising nearly 90% of the nation populace. A small Shiite-Muslim minority lives mostly in urban areas of Bangladesh. Around 9% of the population is Hindu while Buddhists and Christians each holding less than 1%.

Geopolitics: Political Geography and Foreign Policy

A brief sketch of Bangladesh's history is important for understanding its geopolitics. Although Hinduism has a long history in the country, Islam - the dominant religion of the nation - came to Bangladesh in 1204 (the same year the 4th Crusade sacked Constantinople). By 1500, Muslims had forged a large Bengal Sultanate with political links to Ming China, Indonesia, and the Ottoman Empire. In 1517 (the same year Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses), Portuguese traders began coming to Bengal and soon building factories. Following the Battle of Plassey in 1757, the area came under the control of British East India Company. British power in the wider area soon encompassed what is today India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Although victorious in World War II, the bankrupted British began withdrawing from the region.

In 1947, India became a separate nation from a new Islamic-based nation that included both Pakistan (formerly "West Pakistan") and Bangladesh (formerly "East Pakistan"). Language and ethnicity, combined with distance, drove division between the two halves of the nation. Although the Bengalis outnumbered the Pakistanis, West Pakistan controlled the military and higher government offices. Urdu (the official language of Pakistan) became the sole official language and the Bengali language left unrecognized. This rejection led to the Bengali Language Movement and increasing tension between east and west through the 50s and 60s. In 1970 - the same year thousands died in a massive cyclone to little government response - the Bengalis concentrated their population against the Pakistanis in national elections, winning a majority in the National Assembly. The new government, however, was not allowed to sit and its leaders forced to flee into India. This was the beginning of the Bangladeshi Liberation War.

India's support for a free Bangladesh brought it to war with Pakistan and made it a regional partner to the fledgling new nation. The war also witnessed the 1971 Bangladeshi genocide in which Pakistani militias killed between 300,000 and 3 million Bengalis. India and Bangladesh, however, proved victorious, and the Pakistanis surrendered at Dhaka on December 16, 1971. In the period thereafter, Bangladesh remained non-aligned in its foreign policy. It has, however, specifically sought to build fraternity with other Muslim nations. In 1997, Bangladesh co-founded the "Developing Eight" along with Islamic Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan, Turkey, and (about 50% Muslim) Nigeria. Today Bangladesh still holds good relations with India and Great Britain, but has sought investment from Japan and China while purchasing Russian and Chinese military equipment. As a Muslim nation in east Asia, the United States has forged a strong relationship with Bangladesh in terms of anti-terror operations (in 1991, Bangladesh also gave 2.300 troops for the liberation of Kuwait from Saddam Hussein).

Some Additional Resources

For more information on Bangladesh, visit its page on the CIA World Factbook.

The video series, Geography Now!, offers additional information on Bangladesh through a short video.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, October 17

by David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch 


CATHOLIC CIVIL WAR AND SYNOD: There is a civil war in the Catholic Church. It was not caused by Pope Francis, who is using the synods as they were meant to be - an ongoing meeting of cardinals and bishops to govern the Church. The fact is that many, many bishops and cardinals (appointed by the good popes - John Paul II and Benedict XVI) have embraced homosexuality as a form of male love. The secular media reports it and honest churchmen are finally directly naming it. Unlike any other deeply disordered appetite, we are told by the homosexual clerical subculture that the longer and more entwined men are in the sin, the more positive attributes might be found. This is like distinguishing a multi-generational drug cartel from an occasional cocaine user as seeing in one the richness of family values contrasted with the other as a cheap one-night stand. The debate in the Church has not yet been sharpened. But it really is about the bishops themselves. it is about the nature of the priesthood as a celibate brotherhood of fathers or a duplicitous protection racket for homosexual predators. Pope Francis has sped up the debate between cardinals and bishops where it belongs. How anyone can be "confused" by the deeply entrenched moral confusion that we have all witnessed for half a century is confusing to me. Let us be resolutely angered and ready to participate in a great reform which will punish this abomination at the heart of the apostolic fraternity which Christ ordained to express the love between His Father and Him. At the time of the Extraordinary Synod of 2014, we argued that neither the communio of the Trinity nor the communio of marriage can be understood by men who do not understand their own sacramental communio of Apostolic Fraternity. What we said one year ago applies today. What Pope Francis has been saying about gender ideology should comfort all who knows he will have the final say.


RUSSIAN STRATEGY - THE BEST EXPLANATION: We have spoken to Robert Rabil before and referenced several of his works. He is a Lebanese Maronite now studying the Salafist jihadists in Syria impinging on Lebanon. He has the clearest view we have seen of the Russian purposes in Syria. We need a statesman (and he doesn't have to be running for president) to argue in Congress that the governing states of Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Russia are our natural co-belligerents in the war against Salafist Sunnis. This clarity will allow other Sunni governments to join us in destroying ISIS and establishing a civilized Sunni state in the contested regions that were once part of Iraq and Syria.

UKRAINE - THE REST OF THE STORY: The promise of the rules and regulations of European integration are not enough to sustain the Ukrainian soul. Something ugly is coming. Crimeans are glad to be under the Russian flag. The Orthodox Ukraine of Kiev was not the principal actor in the "Maiden revolution" and it is certainly not carrying the argument today.

THE RELIGIOUS WAR IN SYRIA AND THE WAR AGAINST SHIA ISLAM IN YEMEN - SAUDI CLERICS MAKE IT CLEAR: The Saudi clerics' call to jihad in Syria against Persians, Shiites, and Christians is supplemented by the ceremonial artillery firing toward Yemen by the Wahhabist Imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Why is it not clear that the center of the Salafist jihad is a longtime US "ally" - Saudi Arabia?


SPIRITUAL, NOT RELIGIOUS - THE OREGON SHOOTER AND HIS DEMONS: On October 1, 2015, 26-year-old gunman Chris Harper Mercer killed nine people and wounded nine others on the campus of Umpqua Community College, located near Roseburg, Oregon. He targeted the classroom of the English composition class where he was enrolled. Within minutes of a 911 call, several officers wounded him and then he killed himself. He had singled out a student to give him a package with papers and a flash drive with statements that have not yet been officially released. Matthew Downing, "the lucky one" who was deliberately spared wrote this statement about the shooting events of Oct. 1. Mercer's white father and black mother were divorced. He had not seen his father for several years. Some of Mercer's writings which have been quoted but not yet officially documented:
"I was hated ever since I arrived in the world. I was always under attack. I've always been the most hated person in the world... Ever since I arrived in the world, I've been forced to align myself with these demons and become one of them. At first it was involuntary, but now I am aligned with them. I now serve. When I die, I will become one of them. My success in Hell is assured."

His absent father and an intemperate President blamed lax gun laws. Others blamed the absent father and the intemperate President. And the Evil One could smirk again, not blamed for a crime with his DNA all over the crime scene. Satan had convinced another lonely male on the periphery that he was not loved into existence by a Loving Father God, but hated from the beginning. Like Cain, and then Judas, the murderer followed a familiar script. Meanwhile, that other Spirit of the spiritual world escaped unnoticed to "prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls." When man leaves the discipline of religion and searches for the spiritual, too often he will find someone answering... and then commanding.

SACRALIZING ABOMINATIONS: Blessing abortion clinics, sacralizing sodomy, and admiring atheists as honest intellectuals - they all fit under a single banner.

BEING TOGETHER IS BEING HUMAN: John Cuddeback of Christendom on Leisure as the basis of Culture.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Friday BookReview: "God and Ronald Reagan" by Paul Kengor

by Dr. David Pence

Reagan with Gorbachev

The official biographer of Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) was Edmund Morris. He was allowed unprecedented access to the Reagans, in and out of the White House from 1985 until Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan was published in 1999. Morris is a remarkable writer who had written a Pulitzer-winning biography of Theodore Roosevelt. That won him entry to the lives and library of the Reagans. His biography of Reagan, however, turned bizarre as he inserted a fictional writer character into the heart of his story. Morris admitted that he never really understood Reagan, nor did he think Reagan had any curiosity about himself or an interior life. So, Morris tried to make the book in the form of a drama to show Reagan the perennial actor playing his role with great consequence, if not deep insight. In his prologue Morris writes of the “nothingness from which we have sprung and…the nothingness that looms ahead.” Edmund Morris said of Reagan: "Nobody really understood him.” That was very true about Morris, as well as many others who have written about Reagan. He is like certain musical scores that only make sense played in a certain key by a particular instrument.

Dr. Paul Kengor, a professor of political science, did not live with the Reagans but his spiritual life is written in a Providential key that illuminates both the biography of the man and the history of the era. Kengor has made a truly unique contribution explaining who Reagan was, and what happened at the end of the 20th century between two great religious nations—one of which was trapped in an 80-year-old atheistic prison camp. Kengor has seen what was right in front of all of us but could only be explained by a narrator who took seriously the immortal souls of Reagan and Gorbachev as actors, the spiritual destinies of America and Russia as nations, and the role of a Living God in history.

The book is easy to read, well organized and riveting. It is full of revealing quotations by Reagan and deeply perceptive in its selection of literary and personal influences on him. This review will look at four themes: 1) the faith of Reagan’s mother and his first church in Dixon, Illinois; 2) his Christian understanding of America and liberty; 3) his Providential sense of personal mission; and 4) his religious depiction of the battle with the Soviet Union.

Reagan’s father was an Irish Catholic who drank a lot and went to church hardly at all. His mother, Nelle Reagan, was holy, kind, and articulate. She centered her life on the Disciples of Christ Church in Dixon, Illinois [a county seat about a hundred miles west of Chicago]. Reagan often recalled a pivotal book of his mother’s he had read: That Printer of Udell’s. It told of Dick Walker, a man who devises a plan “to apply Christ’s teachings to our own city.” The hero cleans up his local town with the help of the local church, and then is elected to go to Washington to do the same for his nation. It ends with the hero, kneeling in prayer, his admiring wife at his side, as he prepares to follow God’s will in carrying out whatever role God might have for him in the road ahead. After Reagan read that book, he convinced his brother Neil to leave his dad’s Catholic Church and together they were baptized by immersion. That same year, Dutch Reagan had pulled his drunken father out of the snow in their front yard. He recalled: “His arms were stretched out “as if he was crucified—as indeed he was…by the dark demon in the bottle.” Reagan accepted Christ into his life and set about to fulfill the purpose for which he was created.                                        

Mr. Kengor understood what Morris could not fathom. He ended his first chapter: "Nelle Reagan had a heart for God and she imparted that to her son Ronald. It was her aspiration that he should one day take that faith to the world." Her son quoted Benjamin Franklin in his 1967 inaugural address as governor of California: "He who introduces into public office the principles of primitive Christianity will change the face of the world."

Reagan’s notion of America was thoroughly biblical. The "city on a hill" was evoked in Matthew’s Gospel long before John Winthrop’s sermon. What Reagan believed about men, he also believed about cities, states, and nations. The nation was to reflect in its justice and freedom the light of Christ. "It was Reagan who added the word ‘shining’ to the image of the city on a hill, in a gesture that might have recalled his mother’s weekly message to her Sunday school students: ‘Come out to Sunday School next Lord’s Day. Let us all be shining lights.’ To the adult Reagan who would refer to the Soviet Union as the ‘heart of darkness,’ it was an irresistible image." 

Reagan’s idea of the nation’s destiny was not just an exhortation to moral example. From commencement speeches in the '50s to prayer breakfasts as California governor in the '60s to his address to Christian radio broadcasters in June 1990, he delivered his message. "You may think this a little mystical, and I have said it many times before, but I believe there was a Divine plan to place this great continent here between the two oceans to be found by peoples from every corner of the Earth. I believe we were preordained to carry the torch of freedom for the world."

During his governorship of California (1967-1975), Reagan seldom talked about a return to “conservative principles.” Quite often, however, in both letters and interviews he stated: "I am deeply concerned with the wave of hedonism -- the humanist philosophy so prevalent today -- and believe this nation must have a spiritual rebirth…and we must have a spiritual rebirth very soon." For Reagan, freedom was not a celebration of the autonomous individual apart from Divine purpose. In 1983 he said, “The basis of America’s ideals and principles is a commitment to freedom and personal liberty that, itself, is grounded in the much deeper realization that freedom prospers only when the blessings of God are avidly sought and humbly accepted.” Quoting William Penn, he said in the same speech: “If we will not be governed by God, we must be governed by tyrants.” And quoting Jefferson, “The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time.”

Months before his first summit with Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev in Geneva (1985), he insisted: "We are all God’s children. The clerk and the king and the Communist were made in his image. We all have souls." This is not individualism as an ideology. It is the soul tethered to God for whom Reagan demanded freedom. Or as he put it, “I am convinced more than ever that man finds liberation only when he binds himself to God and commits himself to his fellow man.”

Reagan’s understanding of Divine Providence was longstanding, sophisticated, and consistent. He thought that God ruled the destinies of nations through the active compliance of men who came to understand their roles by prayer. He agreed with Whittaker Chambers, his favorite writer on God and Communism, that “I did not suppose that anyone could know God’s Will. I only sought prayerfully to know and do God’s purpose with me.” Two months after his inauguration, Reagan was shot in an assassination attempt. Mother Teresa wrote to him, “There is a purpose to this. This has happened to you at this time because your country and the world need you.” A month later on Good Friday 1981, Reagan told the Catholic cardinal of New York, “I have decided that whatever time I have left is for Him…Whatever happens now I owe my life to God and will try to serve Him every way I can.” More specifically, "perhaps having come so close to death made me feel I should do whatever I could in the years God Has given me to reduce the threat of nuclear war." That would spur his unique initiatives in both clarifying the atheistic nature of the Evil Empire, while reaching out in negotiations to men with immortal souls using unapologetic religious language in appealing for solidarity with the Russian people. Liberals found him too harsh with atheism, and foreign policy conservatives found him too open to dramatic gestures of peaceful cooperation. These seeming contradictions can only be explained by his adherence to faith in God, his disdain for atheist state systems, and his genuine love for fellow humans properly loyal to their different national identities. Reagan can be excused for thinking there was a higher power arranging his eight short years in the White House. In 1978 an Italian pope died after only 33 days in office, and a young Polish bishop would be elected who would lead the Catholic Church all through Reagan’s time in office. In 1979 Pope John Paul would visit Poland and hear a million souls cry, "We want God!" in Victory Square in Warsaw. Five months later the Soviets would invade Afghanistan and inflame an Islamic jihad against the atheist super-state. Pope John Paul became the spiritual voice of Europe as the western allies sank into an atheistic pacifism unable to define or confront the Soviet enemy. The muhajadeen became a religious force from the south willing to fight and die -- in order to live under God, and not man. In Reagan's first five years in office, three Soviet leaders died in office (Brezhnev in Nov 1982, Andropov in Feb '84, and Chernenko in March 1985). None of those men could have done what their successor did with Reagan. Mikhail Gorbachev would hold office during the rest of the Reagan presidency. He would meet with Reagan in four dramatic summits which would redraw the map of Eurasia.

For Reagan, above all, the purpose of liberty was for men to freely worship and love God. Reagan saluted four religious dissidents from the Soviet Union as spiritual heroes: "I promise that the witness of faith that you have brought here today will not be confined within these four walls… I will carry it in my heart when I travel to the Soviet Union at the end of this month. And I will say that the most fitting way to mark the millennium of the Christianity in Kiev Rus would be the granting the right of all the peoples and all the creeds of the Soviet Union to worship God in their own way."

Reagan understood that phrase 'Kiev Rus.' It was the Christian founding and baptism of the Slavs in the Orthodox Church that formed the Slavic nations now under the Soviet atheistic system. His understanding was so much more profound, so much more rooted in the communal identity of the Orthodox nations than the spiritually blind policymakers of today.

Reagan always saw the battle against the Soviet Union as a spiritual battle, and that is why he was so interested in the "soul of Gorbachev" and the souls of the Slavic Christian nations who lived under the Soviet canopy. He understood and quoted often the insight of Whittaker Chambers: "Communism is not new. It is in fact man’s second oldest faith. Its promise was whispered in the first days of creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil: ye shall be like gods. Other ages past have always been different versions of the same vision. The vision of God and man’s relationship to God. The communist vision is the vision of man without God. It is the vision of man’s displacing God as the creative intelligence of the world." This is a striking insight about the nature of knowledge, and explains how misguided were the "progressives" who doubted the intelligence of Reagan and questioned his fundamental grasp of reality. For Reagan the will of God shaped all of reality, including American foreign policy. The atheistic and Hobbesian “foreign policy realists” of today are no descendants of Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s idea of America was not America the fortress, not America First. It was America under God -- a spiritual entity with a divine purpose. In 1984 he said what we should say today: “Our mission extends far beyond our borders. God’s family knows no borders. In your life you face daily trials, but millions of believers in other lands face far worse. They are mocked and persecuted for the crime of loving God. To every religious dissident trapped in that cold cruel existence, we send our love and support. Our message?  You are not alone. You are not forgotten; do not lose your faith and hope, because some day you too will be free.”

Reagan said things no one else could say because he saw reality through a God-soaked lens. At Notre Dame in 1981 he uttered these utterly unpredictable but prophetic words: "The West won’t contain Communism. It will transcend communism. It will dismiss it as some bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages even now are being written."

Ronald Reagan understood the spiritual reality that underlies the affairs of nations, and thus he was prepared when God called him to play his role. Paul Kengor understands the same spiritual reality and thus he has written a book that is both a spiritual biography and penetrating history. Let us learn from both of them. This book is the perfect launching pad.


UPDATE: Professor Kengor teaches at Grove City College (an hour north of Pittsburgh); his blog can be found here.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, October 10

by David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


THE GREATEST NUCLEAR THREAT IN THE MIDEAST: The 'American Interest' gives a short course on Pakistan nuclear weapons. For their weapons to be a threat to Israel would necessitate a shift in Pakistan Muslim attention from its nationalist archenemy India to its role in the Islamic revival in the Mideast. Is there any precedence for a nation understanding itself more in terms of the long religious history of its people than its short communal life as a nation state? Here is AOA Map on Monday of Pakistan.

PUTIN OUTLINES A STRATEGY FOR THE MIDEAST - FIGHT ISIS, NOT IRAN OR ASSAD: A synopsis of Putin's argument at the UN. If Russia is supporting the Assad regime as a stable force to help fight ISIS and the US is supporting forces trying to overthrow Assad (not fight ISIS) then we should not be surprised that Russia will be fighting against forces we are helping overthrow Assad. Assad in Syria, Iran and Iraq governments, and the Shiites in Yemen are all willing to fight ISIS, Al Qaeda and the Salafist Sunnis. We either help these forces or fight against them. The battle lines are being drawn much the way we have argued they must be if the nature of this war is an attempt by Shiitte Muslims, Christians, and legitimate Sunni Muslim states to defeat the Salafist jihad of Salafist Sunnis. We argued that the US should ally with Russia and Assad two years ago in a September 11th article: Christian awakening on the road to Damascus.

ISRAEL DE FACTO ALLIANCE WITH SAUDI ARABIA:  It is not spoken about in public but it is obvious to all that the Israelis are riding on an unstable new ally. Several new reports documenting and another highlighting the cynical practice called "pink washing" which justifies military excursions against countries (like Yemen) because they are "anti-gay." Hamas, always a radical Sunni group, was supported by Iran as an ally against Israel. They are returning to their more traditional base of support: Saudi Arabia. Not all Israelis think this conjuring of the Saudi princes and the Israelis is without problems. An older commentary on this unholy alliance: It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in princes (Psalm 118).

ISLAM'S GREATEST HISTORIAN: Ed West of the Catholic Herald has a penetrating article and new e-book about a great Islamic historical thinker whom he says "every Catholic should know." The classic work of world history by an Islamic thinker is The Muqaddimah by Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406). A dominant idea is the role of asabiyyah - a pre-Islamic word for group feeling or social cohesion. Asabiyyah is the basic force in history driving the rise and fall of civilizations. This is the kind of inter-religious literacy that we need to supplant the impoverished diatribes of our atheistic intellectuals in making decisions of war, peace, and fraternity among nations.


SPREADING CHRISTIANITY-- ONCE YOU TASTE IT; YOU NEED TO SHARE IT:  Nigeria, like the Christian nations of the 16th and 17th centuries, spreads the Good Word. This is similar to the contention by Los Angeles Archbishop Gomez that the religious key to American history is to see a continent where three Christian powers (France from the north, England from the East, and Spain from the South and West) came to spread the Gospel.

CAN PUBLIC CHRISTIANITY AND PUBLIC ISLAM LIVE TOGETHER? Russia says "yes" with a new Cathedral Mosque.


MALE GROUPS AND FIGHTING UNITS -- A BISHOP''S TRUMPET:  Another fundamental argument against the folly of "sexually integrating combat units." A bishop steps to the front and speaks to Catholic men about fatherhood, fraternity, and manhood: Into the Breach. It is a great encouragement to see a bishop write like a man - which makes him sound a lot more like a bishop. A high official in the Vatican takes the bait and comes out publicly about his double life in an open homosexual relationship. He is part of a very large influential homosexual subculture at the highest levels of the Church. He happily played his charade under John Paul II and Benedict XVI. These are the kind of situations in which Pope Francis will clearly answer his own question showing who he is to judge this horrendous abuse of the sacred priesthood. The so-called orthodox Catholics should stop focusing on getting more statements of orthodoxy, and ask that the priesthood truly be purged of the homosexual subculture that is dominating so many countries and institutions.

WAS IT GUNS OR THE DEVIL? AS THE DEVIL IS PROWLING ABOUT OUR COUNTRY, HOW BEST TO FIGHT HIM? From the Oregon shooter“I’ve been forced to align myself with these demons and become one of them. At first, it was involuntary, but now I am aligned with them. I now serve. When I die I will become one of them,” the gunman continued, according to the People magazine source. “My success in Hell is assured.”

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?