Thursday, April 30, 2015

The April 30, 1975 fall of Saigon echoes 40 years later.

“Last Days of Vietnam,” by Robert F. Kennedy’s grand-daughter Rory Kennedy, is a documentary showing on PBS on the anniversary of Saigon’s fall. It is excellent TV, nominated for the best documentary Oscar.

But it is historically inaccurate. It attributes the North Vietnamese Spring 1975 assault on the South and its surprisingly swift final victory to Watergate, Richard Nixon’s August 1974 resignation, his replacement by a less-fanatically-anti-Hanoi Gerald Ford, and Ford’s inability to get an emergency appropriation for South Vietnam through a Democratic Congress in April 1975.

Here’s what really happened, the fact Kennedy ignored:
The Case–Church Amendment was legislation approved by the U.S. Congress in June 1973 that prohibited further U.S. military activity in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia unless the president secured Congressional approval in advance. This ended direct U.S. military involvement in the Vietnam War. [emphasis added]
In the conservative Wall Street Journal, Robert F. Turner tells us that:
As Yale University’s John Lewis Gaddis wrote in Foreign Affairs in 2005, “Historians now acknowledge that American counterinsurgency operations in Vietnam were succeeding during the final years of that conflict; the problem was that support for the war had long since crumbled at home.” . . Protesters, as angry as they were misinformed, ultimately persuaded Congress in May [sic] 1973 to prohibit spending on further U.S. combat operations in Indochina.
It wasn’t Nixon, it wasn’t Ford. It was the anti-war movement, a radicalized Democratic Party, and ultimately Congress that, reflecting popular opinion in 1973, pulled the rug out from under South Vietnam.

And what are the implications of Saigon’s fall for 2015? Timothy Naegele, commenting on the Turner article, says,
We won [Vietnam] militarily. Then Congress turned its back on the Vietnamese people, as the author notes ("Congress ultimately snatched defeat from the jaws of victory"); and the rest is history. The same is true of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And what about Iran, with Obama’s embrace of the wrong side there? Former George W. Bush speechwriter Mark Thiessen, in the Washington Post, writes:
The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act that Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) negotiated with Obama . . . is a terrible bill that virtually guarantees that Congress will give its de facto stamp of approval to any agreement Obama concludes with Iran. The reason is simple: Instead of requiring that Congress vote to affirmatively approve any Obama-Iran agreement before it can take effect, the Corker-Cardin bill allows the agreement to take effect unless it is disapproved by Congress. . . under a disapproval mechanism, the burden shifts to congressional opponents of the Iran deal, who need to convince not simple majorities, but super majorities, in both houses if they want to kill the deal.
Is "Corker (R)-Cardin (D)" an echo of the Vietnam era "Case (R)-Church (D)"?

Monday, April 27, 2015

The myth of China’s ghost cities.

Chinese Ghost City
China has “ghost cities” -- blocks and blocks of empty structures. But unlike those of the Golden West, Chinese ghost cities represent the future, not some lost past. Wade Shepard, author of Ghost Cities of China -- a book which chronicles his research on China's urbanization movement, tells us how it works in China’s boom economy:
There are nearly 600 more cities in China now than there were when the Communist Party took over in 1949. This large-scale urban transition began in the early 1980s, when rural areas began being rezoned as urban en masse and the city took center stage in China’s plans for the future.
In the early 2000s . . .urbanization . . . kicked into high gear. New urban developments began popping up seemingly everywhere — along the outskirts of existing cities as well as in the previously undeveloped expanses between them. Many cities doubled or even tripled their size within relatively short spans of time. In just 15 years Shanghai alone grew sevenfold and its population increased to more than 23 million from 6.61 million.
Mega-regions (click to enlarge)
China’s broader urbanization movement shouldn’t be thought of as a developmental free-for-all. . . Ten massive new urban conglomerations called mega-regions [see map] have been proposed in strategic locations across the country. These are essentially city clusters of 22 million to more than 100 million people each that are to be connected through infrastructure, economically, and, potentially, even politically.
Shepard says Beijing forces local municipalities to cover 80% of their expenses with only 40% of national tax revenue. Land sales cover the difference, with municipalities buying cheap rural land, re-designating the land urban, reselling it at the higher urban rate, and pocketing the difference.

Developers buying these new plots must build something -- on land far outside the mature, built-up urban areas.  The result, according to Shepard: vast apartment complexes, giant malls, and commercial streets with no population base to support them.  Ghost cities.

Most Chinese urban developments move through this phase to fill out with businesses and people:
Essential infrastructure gets built, shopping malls open, and places where residents can work are created. [W]hen urban areas of high-density housing are even half full there’s still a large number of people living there — more than enough for the place to socially and economically function as a city. It generally takes at least a decade for China’s new urban developments to start breaking the inertia of stagnation. But once they do, they tend to keep growing.
But “Quartz,” a New York-based business web-news outlet, cautions that
China’s mega-cities and mega-regions aren’t being built with an eye toward maximizing the advantages and minimizing the downsides of creating these massive metropolises. Most importantly, the mega-regions are being built around a small number of city centers, many of which are surrounded by concentric circles of commuters and bedroom communities that makes traffic hellish and pollution even worse.
According to “Quartz,” half the 10 mega-regions are either dominated by a single major center, or by a limited number of centers packed closely together. As a consequence, everyone will want to work close to city center, meaning sky-high property prices and transportation headaches.

 The new urban China. Anything but “ghost.”

Friday, April 24, 2015

After 15 years, NASDAQ tops out.

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the NASDAQ, after rising 21 points, ended at 5056, exceeding its all-time closing high of 5049 reached on March 10, 2000. While the Dow Industrials and the S&P 500 have notched dozens of new records in recent years, it has taken the Nasdaq over 15 years to recover from the dot-com bust (see graph).

The Dow closed at 18,059, or -230 off its March 2 peak. The S&P 500 ended at 2,113, just -4 below its all-time high, also on March 2. The March 2 combined total for the three indexes was 25,414, as against yesterday’s 25,228. On this red letter day for the NASDAQ, with the three indexes all at or near their all-time highs, the New Fox Index -- which captures movement into stock market “outer space” first achieved in May 2013, the escape velocity attained by soaring past old-time market theoretical limits of a Dow of 15,000, an S&P 500 of 1,600, and a NASDAQ of 3,500, for a total of 20,100 -- hit +5,128 (see chart).

The markets' next big target, assuming the boom continues, will be a Dow of 20,000.  Remember, though, as financial guru Bernard Baruch (1870-1965)  used to say, "The main purpose of the stock market is to make fools of as many men as possible."

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Cultural Wars: a little balance.

There are signs of life on the cultural wars’ losing side. First, Jon Stewart is leaving “The Daily Show” in August. There is only one Jon Stewart. He is truly funny, funny enough to have won 19 Emmys, to have hosted the Oscars twice, and to have become the highest-paid late night comedy host. He will still be around, but losing Stewart’s daily “fake news” spot does cut the left’s cultural fire power. 

“Hamilton’s” Lin-Manuel Miranda
Second, as conservative Peggy Noonan noted, the hip-hop musical “Hamilton” is an off-Broadway smash headed for the Great White Way. Broadway is the heart of left-wing culture, far more predictably left than Hollywood. So to have a politically-incorrect celebration of America’s founding succeed is a phenomenon truly worth noting.

Third, John Sides, in the liberal Washington Post, has written that “it’s both premature and an over-generalization to conclude that, somehow, the ‘culture war’ favors Democrats.” Sides states this over-simplification is based primarily on shifting sentiment, especially among the young, toward same sex marriage.

To make his point, Sides quotes the latest Washington Post poll, which found that Democrats are united 70% to 26% in favor of gay marriage while Republicans are opposed 54% to 40% on an issue that’s fast swinging toward that Democratic majority.

Yet on other issues, Republicans are more united. And independents can be close to siding with the GOP.

Republicans are more linked to religious freedom than Democrats aren't, according to Pew. By a 68%/28% majority, Republicans favor allowing businesses to refuse to provide services to same-sex weddings on religious grounds, while Democrats, by a closer 64%/33% margin, would force the religiously-guided businesses to provide the services. Independents split 51%/45% in favor of mandating the services.

And a Gallup poll found Republicans more united behind “pro life” (68%/27%) than are Democrats behind “pro choice” (62%/32%). On abortion, Gallup reported the country as a whole has been fairly evenly divided since “pro life” caught up with “pro choice” in 2002. Last year, it was at 47%/46% “pro choice.”

Abortion is the most significant cultural issue shifting away from the left. More and more are digesting facts such as those conservative Mollie Hemingway wrote about in the webjournal “Federalist:”
unborn children being operated on in the womb receive anesthesia and are treated as patients and yet unborn children at the same age can be killed without any anesthesia administered for their pain. . . only seven countries permit elective abortion as late as the United States does . . . two of those countries are human rights abusers China and North Korea.
Napp Nazworth, in the conservative “Christian Post,” writes:
The Democratic Party supports legal abortion until the baby is born, according to Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. When asked if abortion should be legal until the moment of birth, she answered that the decision should be left to the mom and her doctor, adding, "Period. End of story."
According to a January Marist poll, the position that Wasserman Schultz claims for the Democratic Party is not supported by the vast majority of Americans [--] 84% support restricting abortion to some combination of the first trimester or only cases of rape, incest and to save the life of the mother.
Gay marriage is helping Democrats over Republicans, but abortion may no longer work for Democrats.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Hillary Clinton IS Stuck in “Yesterday”

Hillary Rodham, circa 1971

 "You are being rediscovered again as the New Left-type politicos are finally beginning to think seriously about the hard work and mechanics of organizing."

--Hillary Rodham, Berkeley California, July 8, 1971 letter to radical organizer Saul Alinsky

“Yesterday is over.”

 --Marco Rubio

Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote her Wellesley thesis on Saul Alinsky’s theory of community organizing in 1968--47 years ago. The tactics remain very much a part of today’s Democratic Party, as Pepperdine professor Pete Peterson found out when Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), who calls himself an Alinskyite, used them against a Peterson colleague at Pepperdine. Wrote Peterson:
[Democrats] adopting Alinsky’s tactics [do] not . . . fit with Alinsky’s philosophy. [Alinsky’s] Rules for Radicals is meant to empower the weaker against the stronger. Alinsky writes: “The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away.”
what has happened is that a generation of American politicians who came of age during Saul Alinsky’s lifetime has moved into positions of institutional power that he so often derided as “the enemy.” They are showing an inability to leave behind Alinsky’s tactics that were intended for the weak against the strong. Civil discourse and academic freedom suffer while the “Prince” becomes more powerful.
Hillary Rodham was there at the dawn of the revolution that transformed the Democratic Party into an elite, Northeast-upper Midwest, anti-war, Ivy League-led institution working through academia and the media. New Democrats followed the well-worn tradition of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt in seeking to remake America via a centralized, progressive government, but one liberated from the drag of its former conservative, Southern base, and less concerned about working class whites living outside the South.

This new Democratic Party lost 5 of 6 presidential elections from 1968 to 1988, lost Congress in 1994, held the White House under moderate Southerner Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, and lost again in 2000 and 2004.

But then, as Daniel Henninger tells us in the conservative Wall Street Journal:
After defeating the Clinton organization in 2008, the progressive left finally got full control of the Democratic Party. There is no chance they will let [Hillary] Clinton even glance toward the center in the next 19 months. The Democratic left didn’t like the Clintons in 2007 and still doesn’t. . . Clinton is a Democrat inheriting the economic headwinds of the Obama presidency. . . Her solution: Make big government bigger. . . income maintenance, education subsidies, refundable tax credits, expanded Social Security payments and, needless to say. . . ObamaCare. . . the lady in the Scooby van has to spend 19 months arguing for more of the same.
In words that ring true to conservative America, Commentary’s Peter Wehner writes that Clinton is “likely to be the nominee of a party that is utterly intellectually exhausted.” So yesterday.

But Wehner adds:
That said, Mrs. Clinton knows how to raise money, she is unlikely to face a serious primary challenger, her party has won five of the last six popular votes in presidential elections, and (unlike her husband) she is disciplined. And because she is a woman, electing her would make Clinton a historic figure in a way that Barack Obama was on race. The political potency of that should not be underestimated.
Wehner continues:
here’s a prediction: She, her team, and her party will obsess on cultural issues and attempt to divide the nation around them to a degree we have never quite seen before. She’ll do this both because she is a liberal woman and because she has very little to say on economic and foreign policy matters. Mrs. Clinton will go into this election believing the “culture wars” to be the best and safest political ground for her. She will portray Republicans as engaged in a “war on women” in such a way that past efforts will look like a walk in the park. The distortions, mob mentality, and smear campaign that characterized the reaction of the left to the Indiana version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (the federal version of which Bill Clinton signed into law) will be amplified by a factor of a hundred. If Hillary Clinton could talk about contraception, abortion, evolution, same sex marriage, and equal pay for equal work every day between now and November 2016, she would.
As National Journal’s Ron Brownstein has written, Democrats are “confident that they represent an expanding majority of public opinion.” [Democratic] pollster Stanley B. Greenberg captures this almost unprecedented Democratic assurance when he declares flatly: “Republicans are on the losing side of all [cultural issues].”
All themes familiar to readers of this blog. “Yesterday” isn’t about new. But so far, it’s working.

What must be new is the Republican response. Wehner warns that Republicans
need to be seen as promoting the human good and defending human dignity. . . they should look to Pope Francis. . . The degree to which Francis has favorably altered the perception of the institution he represents — not by changing doctrine but by acting and speaking in a way characterized by grace and genuine human sympathy — is remarkable.
Another conservative, Victor Davis Hanson of Stanford’s Hoover Institution, reminds us how separated the Clintons and their unparalleled fundraising elite are from the population with whom a Pope Francis-like appeal would connect:
The Clintons rightly sense that the one-percenters . . . feel awfully bad about their privilege. Thus they will feel much better about indulging their endless material appetites, if they give large tax-deductible contributions to the spread-the-wealth, help-the-helpless shtick of elite Democrats. Huge federal redistributionist policies may fail and hurt the minorities and poor, but for now they are . . . the only insurance that the gates of the rich will not be stormed or their private schools and neighborhoods flooded.
For Republicans to deliver change that benefits the nation, they must first talk with the language of Pope Francis, then convince voters “equal opportunity” and “upward mobility” will work for them and their loved ones.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Republicans: bracing for the cultural wars.

In our earlier series on liberals winning the culture wars, we learned from Shelby Steele that
Liberals successfully smother conservatism by identifying it as another word for American evil. Tainting conservatism — its principles, policies, and personalities — with past American shames remains for liberals an “endless font of power.”
And we heard from William Voegeli that
The claim of equality on the heartstrings of a democratic people is naturally stronger and resonates more than the claim of liberty. The Democratic pitch — the promise of free stuff and fairness — is near impossible to beat head on.
The sudden effort to overturn religious freedom laws in Indiana and Arkansas, led by gay activists who see bigotry in conservative Christian opposition to participating in gay weddings, turned into a nationwide firestorm when the (Democratic) media and leading corporations (who play ball with Democrats) joined gays in denouncing the laws. The attack forced Republican governors in both states to back off within days.

Observing the spectacle, Paul Gigot, editorial pages editor of the conservative Wall Street Journal, predicted on the “Journal Editorial Report” (4.4.15, 0:15 mark):
We’re going to have one of these fights every two weeks between now and 2016 because Democrats feel they are on the offensive; they can stigmatize Republicans who are acting very defensively.
Dick Morris, the former Bill Clinton adviser who helped pull the president to the center 20 years ago, bluntly reminds us that
Democrats have to win in order to survive. Politics, for them, is no spectator sport. It's their living, their entitlement checks, their government handouts. They cannot afford, literally, to lose.
And Jonathan Last, in the conservative Weekly Standard, similarly writes that “radicalism is really about just one thing: power.”  While Last feels that “once people begin to challenge the dogmas, they collapse in a cascade” because loss of power snowballs into more--and more open--criticism, “the bad news” is that progressives will “deal out a great amount of harm before they are discredited.”

For Republicans, its been, all-in-all, a tough decade. As this blog has often warned, people fight harder to hold what they have than they do to get something new.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Democrats: is demography destiny?

Future Republicans?
Democratic strategist Doug Sosnik, a former Bill Clinton advisor and author of “big-think” memos on politics, recently wrote in the liberal Politico that “demography is destiny.” Youth, arriving in new cohorts, unmarried women, growing in numbers, and especially minorities “will increasingly shape the outcome of future presidential elections.” As Sosnik notes,
We first saw the impact of how these demographic changes can alter the politics of a state back in the 1980s when California rapidly shifted to what is now a solidly Democratic state. . . the central elements and attributes of our country will increasingly be reflected by the fast-growing, ethnically diverse states that tend to skew younger than the rest of the country.
The New York Times’ David Brooks, a classic elitist conservative (snob) who sometimes poses as the Republican he once was, seems to have taken issue with Sosnik’s analysis. Whatever the prompt, Brooks recently observed that
there’s a growing body of evidence to suggest that, in fact, Democrats do not enter [the 2016] election with an advantage. There are a series of trends that may cancel out the Democratic gains with immigrants, singles and the like.
Brooks points to “three big things” that may at least temporarily hold off the Democratic “demography is destiny” realignment:

1. the aging of the electorate. . . People tend to get more Republican as they get older, and they vote at higher rates. . . This aging effect could have a big impact in . . . Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, Michigan and Pennsylvania. [Emphasis added. We have already identified Ohio and Pennsylvania as two of 2016’s key “swing states.”]

2. Democrats continue to lose support among the white working class. In 2008, Barack Obama carried 40% of white voters with a high school degree. By 2012, that was down to 36%. . . In 2009, Republicans had a 20-seat advantage in House districts that were majority white working class. Today, they have a 125-seat advantage.

3. Democrats [now do] worse among college-educated voters. Obama won white college graduates in 2008, but he lost them to Mitt Romney in 2012.

Brooks also noted that “Hispanic voters, at least in Sun Belt states, are getting more Republican as they move up the educational ladder” (see above photo).  And playing off the well-known fact the Democrats are the party of government and Republicans are not, Brooks added that
faith in government is near all-time lows. In a Gallup survey, voters listed dysfunctional government as the nation’s No. 1 problem. . . American voters. . . used to think it was bloated and ineffective. Now they think it is [also] rigged to help those who need it least.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Retiring, Timesman John Burns Subtly Jabs New York Times

John Fisher Burns
John Burns, the New York Times’ senior foreign correspondent, is retiring after 40 years reporting from South Africa, Soviet Russia, the China of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, Iraq, and Bosnia, while chronicling the wars, assassinations and other disasters of India, Pakistan, North Korea, Afghanistan and others. As he steps down, Burns says, “What those years bred in me, more than anything else, was an abiding revulsion for ideology, in all its guises.”

But having seen the worst of totalitarianism and the human price its victims pay, Burns is depressed that ideology has such a grip on politics among free societies. Burns writes:
My impatience with ideology has carried over in recent years to my encounters with the societies in the West that are my home: to the widespread propensity, as I have sensed it, for people who lack the excuse of brutal duress that is a constant in the totalitarian world to fall sway to the formulaic “isms” of left and right, each of them full of Yeats’s “passionate intensity,” that excuse, and indeed smother, free thinking.
[In] the West. . . it can be depressing beyond words to hear the loyalists of a given political creed — whether of the left or the right — adopt the unyielding certainties common in totalitarian states. Our rights to think and speak freely have been won at great cost, and we abuse them at our peril.
Comment: Burns is careful in his criticism, referring to “left and right,” then “left or the right.” So let’s be blunt for Burns, who surely has no love for ideological conservatives. His real target seems to be the left-wing ideology that has seized control of the New York Times in the years since Burns first began work there; since he started at what was--once--the world’s greatest newspaper.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

American universities: Pride before the fall?

Harvard Yard
The American university system is the world’s best. So why is it no longer serving the teachers and students at its heart?

Colorado law professor Paul F. Campos, writing in the progressive New York Times, found that 45 years ago, 78% of college and university professors were full time, but that now:
fully half of postsecondary faculty members are lower-paid part-time employees, meaning that the average salaries of the people who do the teaching in American higher education are actually quite a bit lower than they were in 1970.
And as many by now know, what’s driving increasing university costs
is the constant expansion of university administration[, which] at colleges and universities grew by 60% between 1993 and 2009. . . 10 times the rate of growth of tenured faculty positions.
This means, for example, that
while the total number of full-time faculty members in the [California state university] system grew from 11,614 to 12,019 between 1975 and 2008, the total number of administrators grew from 3,800 to 12,183 — a 221% increase.
Administrative costs are a major reason why college graduates in 2014 faced an average student loan debt of more than $30,000 — the highest amount ever recorded.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Iran: Obama’s “Nixon Goes to China” Legacy at a Crossroads

Barack Obama has a strategy for getting his “go to Tehran by giving Iran the bomb, just not now” program though a Republican congress. He paints Republicans as the party of war, the enemy of peace (see cartoon).

Obama does so not to overpower the GOP, but to force fence-sitting Democrats to choose between backing their president or siding with (evil) Republicans. He wants, as suggested earlier, the most liberal 34 senators to sustain his veto of any GOP-led anti-Iran efforts.

Obama’s execution of his divide-and-rule strategy re. Iran is already underway. Last week, speaking in the Rose Garden, the president said:
when you hear the inevitable critics of the deal sound off, ask them a simple question:  Do you really think that this verifiable deal, if fully implemented, backed by the world’s major powers, is a worse option than the risk of another war in the Middle East?
“inevitable critics. . . sound off.” He means (evil) Republicans, and he means to shame loyal Democrats into backing his Iran sell-out. So he warns:
If Congress kills this deal . . . then it’s the United States that will be blamed for the failure of diplomacy.  International unity will collapse, and the path to conflict will widen. The American people understand this, which is why solid majorities support a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue. 
“If Congress kills. . . solid majorities support a diplomatic resolution” means “Democrats, I’m talking to you! Do you stand with me or with (evil) Republicans; with the people or with the enemy?!”

Obama, as we all know by now, is playing for a place in history similar to that achieved by Henry Kissinger in 1971, when Kissinger turned great enemy Red China into a sometime U.S. partner, a triumph marked by Richard Nixon’s epic 1972 visit to Beijing and Shanghai. Iran is arguably our biggest enemy today, and Obama wants his own historic visit to Tehran and Isfahan. Democratic foreign policy gurus sidelined by Kissinger’s great China triumph also want their own piece of world history.

But now, Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei has threatened the supposed agreement by ruling out “extraordinary supervision measures” over Iran’s nuclear activities, adding that “Iran’s military sites cannot be inspected under the excuse of nuclear supervision.”  Khamenei also said sanctions “should be lifted all together on the same day of the agreement, not six months or one year later.”

And another event is jarring Obama’s reach for destiny. Henry Kissinger, still alive and coherent, has attacked the Obama negotiations with Iran, indirectly calling them no echo of his 44-year-old triumph with China.

Kissinger’s views are bound to carry weight with Congress, including Democrats. Writes Kissinger, along with fellow ex-Secretary of State George Shultz:
Cooperation is not an exercise in good feeling; it presupposes congruent definitions of stability. There exists no current evidence that Iran and the U.S. are remotely near such an understanding. Even while combating common enemies, such as ISIS, Iran has declined to embrace common objectives. Iran’s representatives (including its Supreme Leader) continue to profess a revolutionary anti-Western concept of international order; domestically, some senior Iranians describe nuclear negotiations as a form of jihad by other means.
Kissinger is saying Iran is no China. While China worked with the U.S., Kissinger sees Iran as a danger to all, including the U.S.:
The final stages of the nuclear talks have coincided with Iran’s intensified efforts to expand and entrench its power in neighboring states. Iranian or Iranian client forces are now the pre-eminent military or political element in multiple Arab countries, operating beyond the control of national authorities. With the recent addition of Yemen as a battlefield, Tehran occupies positions along all of the Middle East’s strategic waterways and encircles archrival Saudi Arabia, an American ally. Unless political restraint is linked to nuclear restraint, an agreement freeing Iran from sanctions risks empowering Iran’s hegemonic efforts.
Kissinger and Shultz conclude:
the projected nuclear agreement will reinforce, not resolve, the world’s challenges in the region. Rather than enabling American disengagement from the Middle East, the nuclear framework is more likely to necessitate deepening involvement there—on complex new terms.
From Kissinger’s mountaintop, the Obama effort looks “JV.” And frightening as a result.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Easter and the Pope of Hope

Pope Francis
It’s Easter. Christianity is in decline in the developed world, Christians are disappearing from the Muslim-dominated Middle East and Africa, and the most important living Christian leader, the Pope, as former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin once noted, has not one single division.

In this context, it’s significant that Forbes magazine last fall named the militarily-deprived Pope Francis the world’s fourth most powerful person, trailing only Vladimir Putin (Russia), Barack Obama (U.S.), and Xi Jinping (China). Forbes said of the pontiff:
The spiritual leader to one-sixth of the world's population -- 1.2 billion souls[ -- ]Pope Francis has made it his mission to transform the longstanding conservative image of the Catholic Church. In October, the pontiff said the theories of evolution and the Big Bang are true, adding that God is not "a magician with a magic wand." He also shocked the world last year when he said "Who am I to judge?" when discussing homosexuality. The first Jesuit and Latin American Bishop of Rome preaches compassion for the poor and a greater role for women while signaling the church to quiet its focus on "only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptives."
Francis is the first pope since Pope John XXIII -- who like Francis gained the Keys of Rome late in life at age 76 -- to move the Holy See unambiguously to the left. John created Vatican II (1962-65), the major event leading Catholicism into the modern world. It’s taken half a century for a very conservative Catholic hierarchy to digest the Vatican II reforms. Now Francis, the first pope from outside Europe since the Syrian Gregory III in 741, is pushing reform sharply forward again. As Francis X. Rocca recently wrote in the conservative Wall Street Journal:
The Pope’s vision of Vatican II has translated into a dramatic shift in priorities, with an emphasis on social justice over controversial moral teachings and [with] a friendlier approach to secular culture. . . the church in Europe and the U.S. [has seen] a steep decline in attendance at Mass and in adherence to traditional morality, [along] with the sexual revolution and the spread of contraception and legalized abortion. As pontiff, Francis [is] demanding a “poor church for the poor” and excoriating free-market ideologies[, adding] that the church should show “mercy” toward divorced and remarried Catholics.
Comment: The faith we celebrate at Easter--whether Catholic, mainline Protestant, Orthodox, or Evangelical--truly is “love thy neighbor as thyself;” a “poor church for the poor,” believing in redemption and hope. The rise of secularism throughout the Western world peels away those attracted to the church primarily for its historical connection to power, and leaves behind a body of Christians from many backgrounds drawn to the church’s original teachings, messages Francis truly seems to understand and live by.