god who is the first principle of all things, may be compared to things created as the architect is to things designed. – st. Thomas Aquinas (God the Architect of Creation — Frontispiece of la Bible Moralisée – Codex Vindobonensis, circa 1220-1230)
Mario Alexis Portella, a native New Yorker, is a priest of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Florence, Italy. He has a doctorate in canon law and civil law from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome; he also holds a M. A. in Medieval History from Fordham University in New York, as well as a B. A. In Government and Politics from St. John’s University, also in New York. He is the author of several books, Islam: Religion of Peace? — The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up; Ethiopian and Eritrean Monasticism — The Spiritual and Cultural Heritage of Two Nations; and Abyssinian Christianity: The First Christian Nation? — The History and the Identity of the Ethiopian and Eritrean Christians.
The Islamic State West Africa Province commonly known as Boko Haram, reportedly attacked a town, Michika in Adamawa State, Nigeria yesterday. The Nigerian Army, however, refuses to confirm the attack despite a soldier on-hand saying the opposite. According to TheCable, he confirmed the attack saying he got a call around 6 o’clock in the evening that the insurgents were already in the town. Also confirming the development, a north-east resident told the online news platform that his sister was trapped as a result of the attack.
On Christmas Day Boko Haram released a video to announce that it had just murdered eleven Christians. The terrorists said their Christian captives were killed in retaliation for the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Syria in October.
The statement by Nicephore Soglo, former president of Benin Republic, at the constitutional term limits summit, covered by TheCable, in Naimey, Niger Republic, revealed that “Boko Haram is funded by our friends from Saudi Arabia and our friends from Qatar. Are we friends or not? Let’s tell ourselves the truth. We have to stand together. “I’m optimistic we are going to win if we stand together.”
Turkey has also been sending military support to Boko Haram. This was asserted by Egyptian television (Ten.tv) host Nasha’t al-Deyhi last December. He reported in part: “Today’s leak confirms without a doubt that Erdogan, his state, his government, and his party are transferring weapons from Turkey to – this is a shock, to where you may ask—to Nigeria; and to whom?—to the Boko Haram organization.”
As Middle East expert Raymond Ibrahim stated: “It has brought it up again, he (Erdogan) is supporting ISIS,” Ibrahim noted. “Now we’re remembering and that was I think the point of the Egyptian show, we’re bringing back to see that there’s some continuity here. He’s involved with some of the worst Islamic terror groups. If you remember, Boko Haram, whose name loosely means ‘western education is forbidden,’ (Haram) was basically doing what ISIS was doing and is notorious for—years before ISIS was doing it.”
President Erdogan has been a longstanding supporter of jihadists. He had already permitted foreign jihadists to cross into Syria at the start of the war in 2011. It was also reported in 2015 that his daughter, Sumeyye, ran a hospital located in the southeastern Turkish city of Sanliurfa to help injured ISIS militants. Since last year Erdogan has also employed al-Qaeda and Islamic State militants along with his troops in the 2018 takeover of Afrin, where 300,000 Christians, Yazidis, and Kurds were displaced. According to a high ranking member of the Syriac Democratic Federation, Abdulrahman Hassan: “Our heritage was attacked, the city was destroyed. Villages were plundered, women and girls were taken hostage, men are missing. Also several churches were destroyed and church members arrested.”
Regrettably, the U.S.-led West, the CIA in particular, as well as the aforementioned Islamic allies have blood on their hands for the recent Nigerian massacre, as well as for previous ones, since it continues to support Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey in their holy war against Christians and other religious minorities.
In 2015 then-President of Sudan Omar al-Bashir said that the fight against jihadist extremism must engage militants on an ideological level, and not solely concentrate on military action against them. He also claimed the CIA, which had backed him until his deposition early this year, (and Israel’s Mossad) were behind the Islamist militant groups Boko Haram and ISIS. If true, what would then have been the motive behind such covert operations?
While one can dismiss this as an unfounded conspiracy theory, if one looks at the history of American presence and intervention in Africa, they are not there to exclusively fight Islamic terrorism. U.S. objectives apparently are to influence and control strategic locations and natural resources including oil reserves. This was confirmed more than eight years ago by the US State Department: In 2007 US State Department advisor Dr. John Peter Pham commented on AFRICOM’s (United States Africa Command) strategic objectives of “protecting access to hydrocarbons and other strategic resources which Africa has in abundance, a task which includes ensuring against the vulnerability of those natural riches and ensuring that no other interested third parties, such as China, India, Japan, or Russia, obtain monopolies or preferential treatment.”
I am not absolving the jihadists from their crimes and pinning them on the U.S.-led West and Muslim allies. Yet much of this would most definitely not be happening if the U.S., specifically under the last three administrations: Bush, Obama, and Trump would not have extended its beyond the call of duty support to the aforementioned regimes. One may ask why does the U.S.-led West, with the backing of Israel, continues to sell arms and defend Saudi Arabia and Qatar and refuse to condemn Erdogan?—it seems as if only Iran is targeted as the promoter of international terrorism. The answer to this is both shameful and diabolical: MONEY!
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, after holding a vote to impeach President Donald Trump, has yet to have send the impeachment articles to the Senate. According to many in the mainstream media, this brilliant bit of strategy gives her leverage since it would force Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to provide a fair trial in the Senate. But is it really?
First and foremost, according to the Democrats’ own impeachment witness, Harvard law professor Noah Feldman, Trump IS NOT impeached until the articles are sent to the Senate, and “an indefinite delay would pose a serious problem.” In other words, “If the House does not communicate its impeachment to the Senate, it hasn’t actually impeached the president. If the articles are not transmitted, Trump could legitimately say that he wasn’t truly impeached at all.”
Should the House send the impeachment articles—I personally cannot see this not happening—McConnell has said he wants two resolutions, one to deal with procedure and one for potential witnesses, similar to what Democrats and Republicans agreed to in the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. He is not rejecting witnesses out of hand, but wants each side to present their case before a majority vote is held on witnesses.
But Democrats say they want an agreement on specific witnesses before opening arguments are made. Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer argued on Monday that the Senate needs to hear from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former advisor John Bolton, especially in light of a newly published New York Timesreport that both men urged Trump not to withhold the Ukraine aid.
Of course in order to decide whether or not to impeach, Senators needs to hear from these witnesses.
As is, the subpoenas would be fought in a regular district court, appealed to a circuit court, then to en banc review, and finally to the Supreme Court. The point is that sitting on articles of impeachment does not get past that for them. They would actually have to prosecute the impeachment.
Nancy Pelosi could have allowed the executive privilege claim to be tested in the courts. Instead, she rushed the vote on an artificial timeline “before Christmas,” twisting the arms of members in purple districts and alienating moderate Democrats in the process. Despite Pelosi saying: “[The impeachment] has absolutely nothing to do with politics,” there are thirty freshmen Democrats who were elected in 2018 in districts Trump carried in 2016. Now they are getting shouted down at townhalls over their impeachment vote.
What is Pelosi and the Democrats hoping do gain in this impasse? They would have taken a partisan vote for no effect. This will annoy Trump supporters and some people on the fence about Trump. And it only highlights the fact that the Democrats could impeach but were not doing so to Trump opponents. Who then may see no reason in voting against Trump and for Democratic candidates.
Essentially, an unfinished is a failed impeachment in effect. It leaves Trump in office, giving him more political clout in accusing the Democrat-controlled House of a witch hunt. If it were not a witch hunt, they would impeach the president and present the full evidence to the American people—the hold up and insistence of having the Senate hear other witnesses that could have been heard in the House communicates weak grounds for impeachment.
Pelosi had said that President Trump is a threat to democracy and he is a threat to national security. As foreign policy and national security reporter Barbara Boland says, if believes that, how can she now sit on the very same articles until the Senate agrees to do things her way? Suddenly there is no urgency to impeachment. Again, the insistence on specific witnesses appearing in the Senate trial also points to the weaknesses in the House case.
Most view it a foregone conclusion that the Republican-controlled Senate will acquit. No leverage is gained in this delay, but the four Democratic senators running for president will be seriously impeded by a delayed trial, given that they face the Iowa caucuses at the beginning of February.
Pelosi has said that Trump, McConnell and Attorney General William Barr have “gone rogue.” Yet the way she has carried this bad soap opera in believing that she can dictate how impeachment will unfold in the Senate that is roguish of all. And for the time being, it discloses that the impeachment trial and vote in the House is about politics after all.
The recent storming of the American embassy in Baghdad, Iraq has indicated that the U.S. is now trapped in an ever escalating conflict in the Middle East. Ironically, President Donald Trump, who was elected on a strong platform of opposition to “endless wars”—specifically criticizing Presidents George W. Bush and Barak Obama for them—appears to continue the same policies of his predecessors. In withdrawing from the Iranian nuclear deal and reimposing economic sanctions, he pleased some domestic constituencies, while yet further antagonizing Iran.
Now as leader of the “free world,” Trump finds himself in a new Cold War, in which the U.S. is forced to square off with dominant Eurasian powers, operating in unison: Iran, China, and Russia.
As per the headline in the December 28 headlines of the Financial Times: US rivals launch Mideast war games, “Russia, China, and Iran launched their first joint naval exercises in the Gulf of Oman yesterday, throwing down a direct challenge to U.S. influence in the Middle East.”
We might pause over those words, “a direct challenge to U.S. influence.” The article quoted Iranian admiral Gholamreza Tahani as saying, “The most important achievement of these drills . . . is the message that the Islamic Republic of Iran cannot be isolated.” Tahani added, “These exercises show that relations between Iran, Russia, and China have a reached a new high level while this trend will continue in the coming years.”
The U.S. response to this development was muted; the FT quoted an unnamed State Department official saying that Iran should “think twice” about conducting joint naval exercises, warning that such actions “should concern all nations with an interest in safeguarding freedom of navigation in the region.” These words will not necessarily strike fear into the Iranians; especially since, as the article recalls, the Iranians shot down a U.S. drone in June and seized a British-flagged oil tanker allegedly in their territorial waters in July—and the U.S. did not do anything in response.
Yes the Iran-backed militias that stormed the U.S. Embassy withdrew from the area after their leadership ordered the suspension of a violent challenge to American troop presence in Iraq—the withdrawal was instigated by the Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella body for dozens of militia groups including factions aligned with Iran. Nevertheless, the Iranians seem undaunted, and now, of course, thanks to their improving relationship with China and Russia, they have far more strategic depth.
Perhaps that is why Trump has applied new pressure on U.S. forces currently in Iraq, which, of course, borders Iran. It has always been understood that the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 that ousted Saddam Hussein from power had the inadvertent effect of opening the door to Iranian influence in that country, and it could well have been the hand of Iran that fired the rocket that killed a U.S. contractor on December 27. That death led to a familiar American response—airstrikes.
The further irony in Trump’s course of action, is that for all his bluster, he does not appear to have any deep attachment to a permanently bellicose policy toward Iran; he has mused aloud, more than once, about sitting down and talking with the Iranians without any preconditions. It could be that the president views Iran though the prism of North Korea. As we can recall, all through his first year in office, Trump was in a war of words with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, whom Trump dubbed “Rocket Man.” The situation reached its hottest in August 2017, when Trump warned Kim of “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
Now, however, after two summit meetings, Trump and Kim seem to regard each other as friends—or at least they smile a lot in each other’s company in photo-ops. Yet already in May, North Korea had started testing short-range missiles again—though not the long-range missiles capable of reaching the U.S., which are more controversial—and more recently, the language between the two sides has grown increasingly hostile.Let us be clear, North Korea is no closer to denuclearizing than it ever was, especially after Kim said today that he is ending the suspension of nuclear and long-range missile tests put in place during talks with the U.S. Apparently, Trump does not seem to care about that presumed goal—it could very well be that reality finally sunk in and that in this election year most Americans also do not care about “Rocket Man.”
The disturbing thing in all this is that, whether with the newly formed Eurasian powers or North Korea, a cold war can always get hot. The very fact that Trump seems to have been outfoxed by the aforementioned enemies puts the U.S. between a rock and a hard place. And because Trump has managed to alienate our allies as well as personally losing their respect—during the latest NATO summit, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and European world leaders were caught making fun of Trump—taking on the Eurasian Powers does not look promising.
President Ronald Reagan once said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Nowadays it might be more accurate to rephrase that to “never more than one election away.” William Kilpatrick recently stated that if the Democrats should regain the presidency in 2020, and possibly the Senate, we can expect a marked increase in Islamic influence over our government and our society. At the same time, it is not as if the Islamic jihad has been altogether halted by the present administration. Now that “Muhammad” made the list of the ten most popular baby names in the U.S. for the first time, there is plenty of reason to worry.
President Donald Trump did implement the 90-Day Travel Ban that was to “temporarily” bar travelers from Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Libya and Yemen. Yet none of those countries is the birthplace of terrorists who committed recent attacks in the United States connected to extremist Islamist ideology, unlike Qatar, Egypt, Pakistan, and as America was reminded with the deadly naval base shooting last month, Saudi Arabia—incidentally, the kingdom was the only nation among all the embassies in Washington, D.C. that did not lower its flag on 9/11; then-candidate Donald Tump in 2016 suggested that Saudi Arabia was responsible for the 9/11 tragedies.
In a March 9, 2016, interview on CNN, Trump said “Islam hates us.” When pressed a day later if he meant all Muslims, Trump said “I mean a lot of them.” Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, when Trump spoke of Islam, it generally followed the word “radical.”
“When will President Obama issue the words radical Islamic terrorism” [bolded for emphasis] Trump tweeted Nov. 15, 2015. “He can’t say it, and unless he will, the problem will not be solved!” Yet as president, Trump’s war against “radical Islam,” as already indicated, has come to an almost near stop.
Notice how he no longer associates “radical” to Islam anymore? Instead, as per his Riyadh speech in 2017, Trump has gone out of his way to absolve Islam from its jihadist attrocities: “This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations. This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it.”
It must be understood that Muslim jihadists and their supporters who seek global conquest claim that they are simply complying with what the Prophet Muhammad ordered. This is sustained by Islamic jurisprudence fard ayn, which teaches that when a non-Muslim force enters a Muslim country, defensive jihad or holy war becomes an individual obligation of every Muslim. Such Islamic nationalist requirement does not need to be declared by anyone of Islamic authority. And since the land to which Muslims have migrated becomes their own, to say nothing of their defensive position before the globalized West in their native homeland, terrorism is rationalized under fard ayn in order to keep society pure as taught by .
At the same time, the Islamization of the West cannot be tackled exclusively by military means, especially since it is not pyramidal, as it was mistakenly once thought. Since 9/11, at least $1.7 trillion has been spent by the U.S. on combat and reconstruction costs in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The total budgetary cost of the wars and homeland security from 2001 through 2016 is more than $3.6 trillion. In spite of the sacrifices of thousands who have lost their lives since 9/11, Islamic predominance is on the rise around the world since Islamists also use the educational system to indoctrinate the youth, leading even American children in schools, for example, to recite and write, “Allah is the only god.” Islamic prevalence, which is backed by money from Saudi Arabia and Gulf States, and often sustained by money from the West itself, has also created sympathy for Islamic suicide bombers and ISIS brides.
I am sure that many who read this post will say, “This cannot and will never happen in America.” To that I respond, “Look what is happening around you.” Just last month the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition — if four of the nine Justices feel the case has value, they will issue a writ of certiorari: a legal order from a high court for a lower court to send the records of the case to them for review — presented by the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC), to hearWood v. Arnold, a case brought by Caleigh Wood, a Christian student in 11th grade at La Plata High School in La Plata, Maryland. Wood refused to take part in a school exercise she felt would deny her faith “by making a written profession of the Muslim conversion prayer known as the shahada – “There is no god by Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” The TMLC argues the school violated the First Amendment’s Establishment and Free Speech clauses when it ordered Wood to do an assignment that she could not complete without violating her Christian beliefs. The teacher then gave her a failing grade. This is not just a violation of the First Amendment but an ongoing, albeit subtle, diffusion of Islam in our Western society.
We should learn from Ronald Reagan’s major achievement in his long war against the Soviet Union: presenting communism as a joke — exposing the lies of the Soviet regime, exposing the misery under which its people were living, and explaining why Western values were preferable to Communist ones. The same should be done by politicians and Church officials with respect to Islam: educating Westerners so as to eradicate the political and social taboo of tying Islamic violence to its texts, specifically the Wahhabi tenets diffused by Saudi Arabia. This is equally as important to understanding and accepting that not all Muslims approve of terrorist tactics.
This means that realpolitik, i.e., pragmatic diplomacy in the pursuit of the national interests at the cost of natural rights, cannot continue for it only induces the élite to prowl after mere profit (or worse), instead of creating infrastructure and proper economic growth. In this, Western politicians betray their own democratic principles and abandon Christians and other minorities of the Middle East, Africa, and in other parts of the world where they undergo persecution.
Pope Francis has been the icon of liberal Catholics, non-Catholic and non-Christian secularists, atheists, agnostics, progressives, modernists, relativists, and pagans. At long last, here is a pope who is a kind of cross between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and between Nancy Pelosi and Harvey Milk, that they can support—though not enough, of course, to deign to darken the door of a Catholic parish. They like Francis so long as they believe he is remaking the Roman Catholic Church in their image, especially with the infamous statement “Who am I to judge?” The more liberal the Francis, the better.
On the other side, many orthodox Catholics and conservative non-Catholics have been frustrated. While I, too, have had my own subjective disappointments with the present Church hierarchy, Francis has at times made statements far and beyond any sincere and honest person in search for God’s truth could ever hope for. He has, for example been a critique of the self-created moral vacuum in the West—a point I argue in my book Islam: Religion of Peace? The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up—that has facilitated the Islamization of our society. That being said, as per Paul Kengor’s article The Politically Incorrect Francis published by Crisis Magazine on March 22, 2019, the pope has made statements that would make liberals weep:
10. Gender ideology is demonic and Hitlerian.
Gender theory is all the rage at our crazy universities, but it flatly enrages Pope Francis. He is an unrelenting adversary, comparing gender theory to “the educational policies of Hitler.” And of Satan. “Gender ideology is demonic!” he thundered in the summer of 2015. It militates against “the order of creation.”
Francis has said this again and again, so much so that Italians fighting the incorporation of gender theory into their government schools have gratefully followed Francis’s lead. In the fall of 2017, he sat down for a series of 20 conversations with a prominent French journalist for a book titled Politics and Society. There again, Francis—in a shot at transgenderism—denounced gender ideology, especially as taught in public schools.
“Behind all this we find gender ideology,” Francis complained. “In books, kids learn that it’s possible to change one’s sex. Could gender, to be a woman or to be a man, be an option and not a fact of nature? This leads to … error.”
This begs a question to liberals, progressives, and silly academic departments of feminist studies and queer studies and critical theory and “intersectionality”: are you okay with Pope Francis saying this? One seething, searing statement like this against an academic-progressive sacred cow like “gender theory” would typically place the person on a permanent enemies list for liberals.
9. No homosexuals in seminaries—or among active priests.
“If there’s a doubt about homosexuality, it’s better not to have them enter the seminary,” Francis told Italian bishops last May. “If you think that the guy is homosexual, don’t put him in the seminary.” If there’s any suggestion of an inkling of homosexual inclination, said the first supposed “gay pope,” the who-am-I-to-judge pope, then keep his carcass out of seminary.
Too bad we have not seen that one at CNN or MSNBC? Elton John called for the immediate canonization of Francis in 2013. Does this slow the rush to sainthood, Elton?
In more recent reports, published in December 2018, Francis spoke equally adamantly regarding current priests. In a long interview for a book by Spanish priest Father Fernando Prado, a theology professor at the Pontifical University of Salamanca, Francis said he had a conversation with a bishop who did not think it was a problem that several priests in his diocese were “openly gay” because it was just an “expression of affection.” The pontiff emphatically disagreed, correcting him: “This is a mistake. It is not just an expression of affection.” Francis insisted: “In the consecrated life and in the priestly life, there is no place for that kind of affection.”
Francis seemed to cast those living such a double life as hypocrites—something that conservative Catholics thought he only applies to traditionalists.
“I say to the priests, gay religious men and women,” said Francis, “we must urge you to live fully celibate and, above all, to be exquisitely responsible, trying not to scandalize your communities or the holy faithful people of God by living a double life. It is better that you leave the ministry or consecrated life rather than live a double life.”
“For this reason,” said Francis, “the Church urges that persons with this rooted tendency not be accepted into ministry or consecrated life.” He lamented: “In our societies, it even seems homosexuality is fashionable. And this mentality, in some way, also influences the life of the Church.”
Here again, Francis reiterated his call to keep homosexuals out of seminaries: “Homosexuality is a very serious issue that must be adequately discerned from the beginning with the candidates. The Church recommends that people with this ingrained tendency not be accepted into the ministry or the consecrated life. The ministry or the consecrated life is not his place.” He said it “worries me” that these candidates “at the moment they are accepted they don’t exhibit that tendency, but later they come out.”
And so, keep them out. That is what this pope demands.
Throughout 2018, Francis seemed to grow increasingly scandalized, frustrated, and agitated with the avalanche of revelations of the abuse crisis and of priestly infidelity, culminating in a striking condemnation in his annual Christmas speech to the Roman Curia on December 21. With his hands visibly trembling as he read from a prepared text, he referred to abuses as “abominations,” vowing that the Church “will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice whosoever has committed such crimes.” In a 40-minute address to the cardinals and members of the Roman Curia, he blasted the “scourges of abuse and infidelity.” He zeroed in on “consecrated men, ‘the Lord’s anointed,’” who today “abuse the vulnerable, taking advantage of their position.” He told them to face justice before earthly authorities and God: “To those who abuse minors I would say this: convert and hand yourself over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice.”
He invoked what I believe is the most appropriate New Testament exhortation for this priestly abomination: “Remember the words of Christ: ‘Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of scandals! For it is necessary that scandals come, but woe to the man by whom the scandal comes!’”
Going to the Old Testament, the Holy Father invoked King David as an example of abuses of power, of corruption, of men with “angelic faces” who “shamelessly conceal a vicious wolf ready to devour innocent souls.” They need to “rouse themselves from a hypocritical and perverse life.”
Here was the famous Pope of Mercy lashing out as a Pope of Justice—at Christmas time, no less. It truly does seem that Pope Francis has been taken aback upon learning just how vile the stench of sin is that has pervaded so many sick men in his Church, far more than he imagined.
As for conservatives protesting that this doesn’t seem to fit with the Pope Francis as described in the Viganò letter, the one who appears to have been a possible protector of Cardinal McCarrick, well, I agree that the larger picture with Francis is so often puzzling (more on that later). And speaking of the Viganò letter, this brings me to number 12.
8. Left-wing equals homosexual.
In one of the most overlooked passages of the first Viganò letter, the papal nuncio said that Francis told him that bishops “must not be left-wing,” adding that “when I say left-wing I mean homosexual.”
Hmm. This statement surely baffles conservative and liberal Catholics alike. It does not baffle me. If you look at a long line of Francis statements, you see that, on the whole, this man seems plainly alarmed by homosexual activity, even allowing for the early statement in his papacy about not judging “gay” people (more on that later, too).
7. Abortion is Nazi eugenics with white gloves.
Pope Francis has been absolutely solid in numerous times denouncing the “throwaway culture” of abortion and urging Catholics to say “no” to the “culture of death.” “Each life is sacred,” he has insisted. “Let’s pray together for those children who are in danger of interruption of pregnancy and for those who are nearing the end of life.” A long chronology of such remarks could be provided, but here are some that stand out:
In several statements in the summer of 2014, Pope Francis warned of a culture in which “children are thrown away” and the family disregarded. The Devil, said Francis, wants to attack the family.
In November 2014, speaking to no less than the European Parliament, the Holy Father condemned “dictatorships of relativism” (invoking his predecessor’s phrase), as well as what Francis called “ahistorical fundamentalisms, ethical systems without goodness, and intellectualism bereft of wisdom,” which, among other things, disregard and discard human life. “Whenever a human life no longer proves useful for that machine, it is discarded with few qualms, as in the case of the terminally ill, the elderly who are abandoned and uncared for, and children who are killed in the womb.”
To make that statement to the European Parliament required real courage. It was a great moment. As John Allen put it, Pope Francis issued a “strong call to Europe to get both its social and its spiritual house in order.”
Later that year, in December 2014, Francis continued: “The Incarnation of the Son of God opens a new beginning in the universal history of man and woman. And this new beginning happens within a family, in Nazareth. Jesus was born in a family…. God chose to come into the world in a human family, which He himself formed.”
I could give numerous examples along these lines from 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018. Amoris Laetitia offered a principled rejection of not only abortion but also contraception and sterilization, while upholding the transmission of life, the sacramental nature of marriage, and the role of parents in properly educating their children, with the family being “the first school of human values, where we learn the wise use of freedom.”
And, as my primary exhibit here, recall that this past summer Francis horrified his liberal “pro-choice” admirers when he equated abortion with Nazi eugenics and those who do abortions to Nazis with “white gloves.” What Francis said was widely reported in the mainstream media: CNN, Fox News, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and Newsweek. “Pope Francis spoke out strongly on abortion and ‘natural family’ Sunday,” reported one source, “telling Italy’s Family Association that he believes abortion for birth defects is akin to Nazi-style efforts to create a perfect master race.” In that same statement, he said there was “only one” true family—a family of a man and a woman.
“It pains me to say this,” said Francis. “In the last century the entire world was scandalized over what the Nazis were doing to maintain the purity of the race. Today we do the same thing, but with white gloves.”
Importantly, the actual context here was a June 16, 2018, extemporaneous speech by the Holy Father to an Italian group, the delegation of the Forum of Family Associations, in which he was so moved by the preceding words of the president of his host group that he went off script and delivered a stemwinder. The full passage is worth reading for what it says about biological gender, marriage, family, reproduction, and openness to, as well as refusal of, new human life.
6. The insidious “ideological colonization of the family”—by progressives.
This distinctly Francis phrase, “ideological colonization,” is a fascinating formulation for which he does not get enough credit. It is a unique catchphrase that captures many of his most trenchant cultural warnings.
“You mentioned a great enemy of marriage today: gender theory,” said Francis on October 1, 2016, speaking in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. “Today the whole world is at war trying to destroy marriage.” This war is not being fought with arms “but with ideas.” Among these, there are “certain ideologies that destroy marriage.” They do this in pursuit of destroying “matrimony,” which is “the most beautiful thing God created,” having made man and woman in his image. “So we need to defend ourselves from ideological colonization.”
That was hardly Francis’s first such formulation. In January 2015, in the Philippines, he warned of same-sex “marriage” as one of the “forms of ideological colonization which are out to destroy the family” and “redefine the very institution of marriage.” Francis stated unequivocally that the family is being threatened by relativistic “powerful forces,” “by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life” working to “disfigure God’s plan for creation.”
5. “Matrimony … is a man and a woman” and “it’s not possible to change it.” … “Same-sex “marriage” “is not a marriage!”
Despite leftist attempts to remold the pope into some sort of same-sex-marriage advocate, he has been solid on the Church’s position on natural, traditional, and biblical marriage. Beyond what is already noted in this list, here is another example from the interviews he gave for the book Politics and Society.
“What can we think of marriage between people of the same sex?” asked Francis, who then answered his own question: “Matrimony is a historical word. Always, in humanity, and not just in the Church, it was a man and a woman. It’s not possible to change it.” He repeated for emphasis: “It’s not possible to change it. It is part of nature. That’s how it is…. Let us not play with truths.” The pope insisted: “Let us call things by their names! Matrimony is between a man and a woman. This is the precise term.”
Call a same-sex union a “civil union,” if you will, said Francis. But it is not marriage. Let us not play with truths.
He also said that “Same-sex “marriage” “is not a marriage!” This Francis statement means the same thing as him saying that matrimony is restricted to a man and a woman. Nonetheless, I’m singling it out separately to make it doubly clear to liberals, especially liberal Catholics, who are in denial about this pope.
Before an audience of 7,500 people at Pope Paul VI Hall on October 25, 2014, Francis remonstrated against same-sex “marriage,” practically shouting: “What they are proposing is not marriage, it is an association, but it is not marriage! It is necessary to say things very clearly and we must say this!”
He has said it very clearly and frequently. “The family is hit!” yelled Francis. “The family is knocked and the family is debased.… Can everything be called a family? How … much relativism there is in the concept of the Sacrament of Marriage!” The Holy Father condemned the “new forms, totally destructive” of marriage.
He was equally strong the next month in his address to the “Humanum” conference, where he affirmed that “family is a family”—an “anthropological fact” that “can’t be qualified by ideological notions.”
4. “Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother.”
In an explicit repudiation of the adoption of children by same-sex couples, Francis stated in November 2017 that “children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother.” At the Vatican’s three-day international, interfaith colloquium on “The Complementarity of Man and Woman,” Francis made a number of powerful observations, including this one. He insisted that children have this “right” because a mom and a dad are most hospitable to “creating a suitable environment for the child’s growth and emotional development.” Two “gay” dads, or lesbian moms, are not as conducive, period.
Francis continued: “This is why, in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I stressed the ‘indispensable’ contribution of marriage to society, a contribution which ‘transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple.’ And this is why I am grateful to you for the emphasis that your colloquium has placed on the benefits that marriage can provide children, the spouses themselves, and society.” Indeed, in Evangelii Gaudium, he stated: “Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. But the indispensable contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple.”
Marriage between a man and a woman benefits children, and this, in turn, benefits society.
3. Gay marriage and gay adoption are a product of Satan.
This scathing denunciation would be higher on the list if not for the fact that the exact quote was made prior to Francis’s election as pope. Nevertheless, it clearly represents his thinking, and it ought to mortify liberals hailing him as pro-“LGBTQ.”
When he was a cardinal in Argentina, Jorge Mario Bergoglio declared same-sex “marriage” a diabolical effort of “the Father of Lies” to “destroy God’s plan … and deceive the children of God.” He was responding to an effort by Argentinian leftist lawmakers: “Let us not be naive: this is not simply a political struggle, but it is an attempt to destroy God’s plan. It is not just a bill (a mere instrument) but a ‘move’ of the father of lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.” This completely novel form of marital arrangement targets “the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.”
What prompted these words was a 2010 bill in Argentina that proposed giving same-sex couples the opportunity to marry and adopt children. Cardinal Bergoglio saw this as reprehensible. It was nothing less than Satan at work.
2. Transgenders and nuclear weapons.
Transgenderism is now a cause célèbre among Western liberals, but it is an atrocity to Pope Francis. He sees transgenderism as a destructive violation of God’s plan and image.
Recently published remarks by Pope Francis comparing arguments for trans rights to nuclear weapons are the latest in a series of mixed messages the pontiff appears to be sending to LGBT rights supporters.
“Let’s think of the nuclear arms, of the possibility to annihilate in a few instants a very high number of human beings,” Francis is quoted as saying in a book first published in Italy in January but that caught the attention of the English-language media over the last week. “Let’s think also of genetic manipulation, of the manipulation of life, or of the gender theory, that does not recognize the order of creation … With this attitude, man commits a new sin, that against God the Creator.”
LGBT rights supporters regard such comments as a betrayal of the pope’s statements suggesting he wants the church to reconcile with LGBT people.
Yes, I bet they do. This is not the Francis they have been told about. And yet, it is consistent with the Francis who reviles gender manipulators and ideologues. He wants to be merciful, yes, but he also wants to be truthful—a simple logical nuance that seems to confound liberals who cannot wrap their minds around such an overwhelming intellectual complexity.
Francis has doggedly denounced the transgender push to erase the image of God in man. From the opening of Scripture, in Genesis, it is proclaimed that God “made them male and female,” in “His own image,” which is twice reaffirmed by Jesus in the New Testament (Mark 10:6 and Matthew 19:4). “We are living a moment of annihilation of man as image of God,” Francis told Polish bishops in Krakow. And even worse, he said: “Today, in schools they are teaching this to children—to children!—that everyone can choose their gender.” “This is terrible,” said the pontiff.
“God created man and woman,” Francis repeated. “God created the world this way, this way, THIS WAY, and we are doing the opposite.”
He has decried this gender confusion many times, from off-the-cuff remarks to official Vatican letters. He addressed it in his apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, where he wrote the following (twice citing his own previous statements, including his encyclical letter Laudato Sí):
The young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created…. Sex education should help young people to accept their own bodies and to avoid the pretension “to cancel out sexual difference because one no longer knows how to deal with it.” (Catechesis, April 15, 2015)
1. “The Church has spoken.”
Amid all these Francis bombshells to liberal sympathizers and conservative detractors alike, this top choice might seem anticlimactic, but it really ought to be the most significant to progressives and conservatives. It is, flatly, a firm repudiation by Francis of the very essence and core of progressive thinking.
Specifically, Francis has repeatedly, since the start of his papacy, and sometimes in the context of politically and ideologically charged progressive concepts (as well as sacramental issues, like baptism), retreated to a fallback position that a true progressive would never accept. Namely, Francis regularly instructs his interlocutors that “the Church has spoken.” When he says this, he means it is a settled issue. This is his go-to position, and it is a fixed position loyal to the Magisterium. Here are notable examples from merely the first year of Francis’s papacy:
On his flight to Rio for World Youth Day on July 28, 2013, Francis said this in regard to a question about women being priests: “As far as women’s ordination is concerned, the Church has spoken and said: ‘No.’ John Paul II said it, but with a definitive formulation. That door is closed.”
On that same flight, he said likewise regarding a question on a Brazilian law that “widens the right to abortion and permits marriage between people of the same sex.” The reporter asked Francis why he hadn’t spoken on the subject. Francis again affirmed: “The Church has already spoken quite clearly on this. It was unnecessary to return to it, just as I didn’t speak about cheating, lying, or other matters on which the Church has a clear teaching!”
A priest friend of mine in Florence told me that Pope Francis, “the true Jesuit [the orthodox] in Pope Francis comes out when he wants to.” It would be great and beneficial to the entire world if “the true Jesuit” would be a bit more constant.
President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order that interprets Judaism as a nationality or race—i.e., it should not be seen exclusively as a religion—so that the federal government can threaten to withhold funds from schools deemed to be fostering anti-Semitism in school activities, programs, curricula, and classrooms. The order was signed the day after a shooting of Jews at a Kosher grocery in New Jersey. The assailants were adherents to the Black Hebrew Israelite ideology, and are said to have been motivated by the anti-Semitism of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. This order would make the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of anti-Semitism the official guideline for Title VI—the civil rights act that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in any program or activity that receives federal funds or other federal financial assistance.
Speaking of his pro-Israeli positions, which include moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, the president appeared intent on expanding his support among Jewish voters (who largely vote Democrat) as well as pleasing evangelical supporters (who are strong supporters of Zionism). But some Jewish leaders have raised concerns, since other regimes have classified Jews as a racial group for less benevolent reasons. As reported by TheNew York Times, Rabbi Hara Person, the chief executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, said: “Not to overdramatize, but it feels dangerous. I’ve heard people say this feels like the first step toward us wearing yellow stars.”
What Trump’s order will effectively do is put a halt on speech, as skittish administrators shut down protests, screen speakers, and monitor classrooms for unsanctioned criticisms against Israel. Americans should know that the IHRA, as adopted by the State Department, is deeply contested. Its critics say it is too vague and all-encompassing and can be a trap for honest critics of Israel’s domestic and foreign policies. The IHRA, for example, describes as anti-Semitic “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” under some circumstances, and offers as an example of such behavior “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”
This gives pro-Israeli associations and lobbyists a green light to compel the states to pass laws that would require any companies and individuals working for the government to sign “contracts” or other affidavits declaring that they would never boycott Israeli companies. Such endeavors have been halted on numerous occasions by Congress and multiple courts as unconstitutional since they would violate the First Amendment. This would incidentally mean that any criticism of the Israeli government, such as its continual suppression of Christians exercising their natural right to worship, would be classified as anti-Semitic.
Aside that a longstanding Israeli law that forbids Christians from marrying Jews, Israeli authorities recently decreed that Christians in the Gaza Strip will not be allowed to visit holy cities, such as Bethlehem and Jerusalem, to celebrate Christmas this year. Only 100 Gazan Christians will be granted permits to travel abroad but none will be allowed to go to Israel or the West Bank, both of which are home to many sites holy to Christians, a spokeswoman for Israel’s liaison to the Palestinians said. Last year, 700 Gazan Christians were granted permits. Gaza has only around 1,200 Christians—most of them Greek Orthodox—among a population of 2 million in the narrow coastal strip; over 900 of them applied to leave Gaza for Christmas.
Surely, Christians of all denominations have a duty to criticize the Israeli government for their shabby treatment of our co-religionists. But, if we did, would the Trump administration have us locked up for race-hatred?
For that matter, how can “Judaism”—which is strictly characterized in every dictionary and encyclopedia as a belief in a transcendent God who revealed himself to Abraham, Moses, and the Hebrew prophets, and which requires a certain way of life—be defined as a race or nationality? Surely one could say the same of Islam. Would raising questions or presenting objections to the draconian sharia law be seen as a racist position? Would the government suppress criticism of Islamist governments in Saudi Arabia or Iran? Needless to say (one would hope), making such judgments on Islam does not mean one is doing the same against individual Muslims.
This interpretation falls right in line with Islamists who personify themselves in the media as victims of religious hatred. The online journal FrontPageMagreported in January 2011 that they fell victim to this crusade, which is being led by left-wing elites like George Soros and left-wing activist groups like the American Civil Liberties Union. They have been partially successful in getting the government, on both federal and local levels, to curb Americans’ exercise of the freedom of speech and religion as well as the right to peacefully assemble, accusing anyone who questions their intentions of racism or Islamophobia. President Trump has now established a precedent for a future Democratic administration to expand these same protections to Muslims.
Think about what that would mean. One could potentially be fined for criticizing verses of the Quran that instigate violence against non-Muslims, like this one: “Indeed, the disbelievers among the People of the Book [Jews and Christians] and the polytheists will be in the fire of Hell, abiding therein; it is they who are the worst of creatures.” (Sura 98, 6) As Dr. Bill Warner, founder of the Study of Political Islam, asked: “When I’m called the worst of creatures, does this qualify for hate speech?” Another verse of the Koran: “Indeed, the lowliest of animals in the sight of Allah are those who have disbelieved [kafirs: Jews and Christians].” (Sura 8, 55) The same Warner asks: “So I’m the lowest of animals according to Allah. Hate speech?”
And what about violence against Christians? Where was President Trump when the Catholic parish of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, was burned down on December 11 due to arson? Why, then, is presidential hopeful Senator Cory Booker not sanctioned for criticism of the Catholic Church for opposing gender ideology and homosexualist policies? Are we not also protected under the freedom of religion?
I am a Roman Catholic; this is my faith but not my nationality. My nationality is American. Criticizing Israel does not make me an anti-Semite any more than objecting to sharia or criticizing the House of Saud make me an Islamophobe. In the end, while laws can and should be enacted to curtail if not prevent discrimination, giving such exclusivity to Judaism—or for that matter the State of Israel—would enflame the very bigotry Trump claims he wants to stop.
N. B. Originally published by Crisis Magazine on December 26, 2019.
In a much overdue action, President Donald Trump last week Friday signed into law a bill that forces U.S. intelligence officials to disclose what they know about the Saudi government’s suspected role in whisking its citizens out of the United States to escape criminal prosecution.
The legislation, introduced by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (Democrat – Oregon), was part of a $1.4 trillion spending deal passed by Congress to avert a government shutdown. It requires the director of the FBI — in coordination with the nation’s intelligence director — to declassify all information in its possession related to how Saudi Arabia may have helped accused lawbreakers leave the U.S. The agency has 30 days to do so, according to newly enacted measure.
“It is long past time to stop treating Saudi Arabia as if it were above the law,” Wyden, a Democrat, said in a statement. “My bill will finally force the federal government to cough up any information it may have about how the Saudi government may have assisted its citizens from fleeing beyond the reach of the U.S. justice system.”
The action in Washington comes nearly a year after an investigation by The Oregonian/OregonLive found multiple cases where Saudi students studying throughout the U.S. vanished while facing sex crime and other felony charges.
The investigation also found similar cases in at least seven other states — Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin — and Canada, bringing the total number of known Saudi suspects who have escaped to 25. Some date back 30 years, suggesting the Saudi government had spent decades helping its citizens flee, subverting the criminal justice system and leaving untold numbers of victims without any recourse.
The United States and Saudi Arabia do not share an extradition treaty. That makes the return of any Saudi suspect who has left the U.S. unlikely, if not impossible, without diplomatic or political pressure.
The Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C., has said that, as a policy, the Saudi government will cover the cost of bail for any citizen jailed in the U.S. who asks for assistance. The kingdom also denies playing any role in helping Saudi citizens escape.
Wyden and fellow Oregon U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, also a Democrat, have spent most of this year publicly raising concerns over the Saudi disappearances and demanding action from the Trump administration.
The pair co-sponsored bills that would have required the federal government to investigate the disappearances and to impose sanctions against any Saudi diplomat or official found to have assisted Saudi fugitives. Those measures never advanced in the Senate.
“When anyone commits a crime, they must be held fully accountable,” Merkley said in a statement. “Getting this bill across the finish line is a good first step to bring to light who knew what and when.”
While the Wyden proposition may be minute, it is a step in the right direction. Let us pray and hope that this is the first of many such measures to be taken against one of the most evil regimes of our time.
During the Season of Advent, as we approach the celebration of the Nativity of Our Savior, we should stop to consider that “the first witnesses of Christ’s birth, the shepherds, found themselves not only before the Infant Jesus but also before a small family: mother, father and newborn Son. God had chosen to reveal himself by being born into a human family and the human family thus became an icon of God!” So were the words of Benedict XVI in 2009, recalling as he later did that just as the Church… is called to be the image of One God in Three Persons [Father, Son and Holy Spirit], so too is the family, which is based on marriage between man and woman. “In the beginning, God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ (Gen 1:27-28).” God created us male and female, equal in dignity, but also with respective and complementary characteristics, so that the two might be a gift for each other, might value each other and might bring into being a community of love and life. It is love that makes the human person the authentic image of the Blessed Trinity, image of God.
Unfortunately, the indissolubility and unity of marriage that can only exist between male and female—with the end of having and raising children—are being threatened, perhaps even to the point of extinction. Part of this is because of the LGBT and environmental movements (and the politicians who support them); the former has redefined marriage, while the latter is seeking to strip away its fruition.
The pretense of the state deeming same-sex “marriage” a human right is what has ultimately misled so many—both homosexuals and heterosexuals—into believing that such legalized unions are equal to those between a man and a woman, and that therefore they must be equally protected under law; the rationale is that if two consenting adults love each other, they have a right to contract a marriage. Some emperors, for example, had male lovers and yet they had no intention of marrying them—and some of them even wedded in order to procreate!
First and foremost, love in itself does not give one the juridical right to marry—under the same argument, a man can file for divorce if he wakes up one day and no longer loves his wife. Naturally, without the mutual love between man and woman marriage would be more of a union of convenience. Yet marriage, as explained by canon 1055 §1 of the Code of Canon Law, is a “covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring,” with the understanding that its properties “are unity and indissolubility” (canon 1056). Contextually speaking, what gives me as a male the natural right to marry a woman is the existence of a mutual understanding and acceptance of the matrimonial obligations between us (providing I am not bound by a vow to a religious institution or to another woman, and vice versa). This right must not only be protected but promoted by the state; it cannot be infringed upon or altered. Regrettably, because marriage has been redefined by most Western legislatures and judicial bodies, two people of the same sex can now contract a “marriage.”
Let us keep in mind that while the state may proclaim same-sex unions as a human right, that does not make it so. As Catholics, we know that human rights—if the phrase is to have any meaning at all—are the same as natural rights.. Natural rights are distinct in that they are permanent and continuous since they are grounded in nature. What the world calls “human rights,” however, can be arbitrary and revocable, for they are not always rooted in nature.
The Creator designed sexual intimacy solely and exclusively to exist in the union of man and woman with the end of generating the human species. God said, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). The natural structure of human sexuality makes man and woman complementary partners for the transmission of human life. This is why only a union of male and female can express the sexual complementarity willed by God for marriage.
The other misguided idea being used against the family, as notable Democrat politicians such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have suggested, is that couples should stop having children altogether in order to save the planet—as if we need to abolish child-rearing in order to meet the environmental challenges of our time.
As Gracy Olmstead wrote recently in The New York Times, “the act of creation is opposed to the act of consumption,” and the practice of raising children helps to inculcate the virtues needed to be good stewards of the environment. Moreover, practicing conservation is a tradition that must be handed down from generation to generation. The best way to ensure that future generations care about the climate is for people who care about the climate to have children. If anything, in our self-indulgent Instagram and throwaway culture, society should be promoting family formation instead of opposing it.
Incidentally, this last idea has only further encouraged the artificial contraceptive and abortion mentality in which the sexual act between man and woman no longer aims to procreate. Instead, the couple seeks only a carnal gratification, indirectly helping annihilate our future generations. Like Herod who believed but refused to accept the newborn king and then ordered the killing of every male child under the age of two—with the hope of killing the Christ child (Matthew 2: 16-18)—we tend to eliminate anything or anyone that invites us to live out the fullness of the covenant God created between man and woman.
What is to be done about this? How can we reinvigorate the traditional concept of the family, which is the foundation of civilization?
As John A. Burtka IV executive director of The American Conservative stated, it is time for Republicans to think anew about the family. For the past thirty years, a conscious decision was made to prioritize financialization, cronyism, and globalization over social cohesion and broad prosperity. If conservatives believe that the family is the foundation for a healthy civilization, it is time that they protect the institution from external forces unleashed not by creativity but by deliberate policy choices promoted by elites on Wall Street and in our nation’s capital.
This, however, will only go so far. Yes, the state needs to promote and safeguard the notion that marriage can only be between male and female for the procreation and formation of progeny. Ultimately, it is not human law that will change people’s minds on this but the natural law, which is the divine precept written in the human heart.
Let us not forget that when we contemplate the Nativity of Our Lord, we must also contemplate the Holy Family. How can this be accomplished? Benedict XVI answered, “Today more than ever, the Christian family has a very noble mission that it cannot shirk: the transmission of the faith, which involves the gift of self to Jesus Christ who died and rose, and insertion into the Ecclesial Community. Parents are the first evangelizers of children, a precious gift from the Creator (cf. Gaudium et Spes n. 50), and begin by teaching them to say their first prayers. In this way a moral universe is built up, rooted in the will of God, where the child grows in the human and Christian values that give life its full meaning.”
N. B. Originally published by Crisis Magazine on December 18, 2019.
U.S. special envoy Stephen Biegun has urged North Korea to come to the negotiating table, saying: “We are here, let’s get this done.” His comments in Seoul come days after North Korea conducted missile tests at a satellite launch site, in addition to setting an end-of-year deadline for the U.S. to come up with a new denuclearisation deal that would involve significant sanctions relief. It said America could expect a “Christmas gift” if it did not comply. It seems, however, that nothing will get done since Washington has given Pyongyang as much leeway on the international sphere without getting anything in return.
The Trump administration has recently refused to support a move by members of the United Nations Security Council to hold a discussion on North Korea’s rampant human rights abuses, effectively blocking the meeting for the second year in a row. The action appeared aimed at muting international criticism of Pyongyang’s human rights record in the hope of preserving a tenuous diplomatic opening between President Trump and Kim Jong-un, the authoritarian leader of North Korea. Tensions between both leaders have broken out into the open in recent days.
Last week North Korea called President Trump a “heedless and erratic old man” after the American president warned that Kim Jong-un could lose “everything” if he resumed military provocations like nuclear or long-range missile tests before the 2020 elections in the United States.
A proposed meeting of the Security Council on Tuesday had been intended to put a spotlight on North Korea on Human Rights Day, which is held every December 10 to mark the day in 1948 when the General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Eight of the council’s fifteen members had signed a letter to schedule the meeting but needed a ninth member—the minimum required. This after horrendous accounts of defected North Koreans on how they were treated, at times having to eat dragonflies from dying of hunger.
As reported but the Wall Street Journal, Pyongyang has kept its economy afloat by sidestepping sanctions, using its local resources more efficiently and finding alternative ways to generate foreign cash. In an effort to keep pressure on the U.S., North Korea has warned of making a perilous shift to its approach next year, when President Trump will be facing re-election. Last Friday Pyongyang conducted a second significant test in a week at a satellite-launch facility, behavior that military experts believe could portend a long-range weapon launch.
A senior North Korean official warned in state media recently that the Trump administration’s next move will determine “what Christmas gift it will select.” The country’s U.N. ambassador said denuclearization was off the negotiating table earlier this month. “I don’t think North Korea is under any pressure. They’re not in a rush for a deal,” said Robert Carlin, a former U.S. intelligence analyst who has been involved in prior negotiations with North Korea. “I’ve never seen these guys panic.”
North Korea has now given the U.S. until the end of the year to bring a more appealing offer. In an April policy speech, Kim warned that the U.S. would face the prospect of a “gloomy and very dangerous” outcome if the Trump administration did not change its negotiating stance. He has even his country’s brinkmanship this month. Last Friday’s test was Pyongyang’s second in a week at its Sohae facility, a site where it has previously launched satellites into orbit. Military experts are still working to determine what was tested, but they said another test was likely of a rocket engine that could be used for a long-range weapon.
Denuclearization talks have not made discernible progress after February’s summit between Trump and Kim ended without a deal. The two leaders met again in June at Korea’s demilitarized zone, promising to revive negotiations. But since then, the U.S. and North Korea have convened just once in October, when Pyongyang broke off talks and said it wouldn’t continue them unless Washington makes a significant concession.
Pyongyang, which has unleashed more than a dozen weapons tests this year, has subsequently accused Washington of stalling. The U.S. has said it is prepared to be flexible in disarmament talks if the North avoids provocations and takes concrete steps toward a deal.
What went wrong?
First, when Washington makes impossible demands of another state, such as demanding the North Koreans fully denuclearize—something Kim will never do since his nuclear program is his “Ace up his sleeve”—it is useless to scold them for their unpleasant rhetoric and lack of cooperation. The hostile rhetoric and lack of cooperation are products of the unreasonable demands.
The Trump administration has wasted the entire year, and it has refused to take North Korea’s end-of-year deadline seriously. Between the foolish photo-op summits that accomplished nothing and the hard-line demands that the administration keeps making there was never much of a chance for constructive diplomacy.
Second, there is the point of not holding Pyongyang responsible for its human rights violations. In 2014, after a United Nations commission released a report on widespread rights violations in North Korea, the Americans supported an annual meeting on the council devoted to the subject. But last year, the U.S. recanted its support for such a meeting as President Trump made diplomatic overtures to Kim, according to officials and diplomats, and no meeting was held. President Trump’s critics say the action is consistent with what they regard as a transactional approach to foreign policy that diminishes concern for human rights. The president has embraced authoritarian leaders who oversee widespread abuses, such as China’s Xi Jipng and Turkey’s Recep Erdogan in their countries and rarely talks about rights violations. Trump, for example, has blocked sanctions on Chinese officials for running internment camps holding at least one million Muslims, for example, to try to reach a trade deal with China.
“North Korea and other abusive governments that the United States is going easy on are undoubtedly elated that the days of U.S. criticism of their human rights records appear to be over for the time being,” said Louis Charbonneau, United Nations officer at Human Rights Watch.
What can the U.S. Do?
The U.S. can ban sanction-busting commercial and financial entities from future dollar-denominated transactions. For many globalized entities, such “secondary sanctions” would amount to a financial death blow. To restore credibility to the sanctions campaign, the U.S. will probably have to make examples of some important Chinese and Russian companies.
It is time for Trump to stop his pretentious “love affair” with Kim and treat Pyongyang like the criminal enterprise it is—South Korea should also do the same. Trump saying that he and Kim “fell in love” is as bad as “falling in love” with Adolf Hitler. No other regime games its national sovereignty and converts its diplomatic immunity into criminal revenue like North Korea. Cybercrime, drug running, currency counterfeiting, human trafficking, nuclear proliferation—the gangster state in North Korea profits from all of these and more.
Trump needs a sustained diplomatic and law-enforcement initiative to name, shame and blacklist malefactors. The North’s money trails lead through familiar terror bazaars in the Middle East, and rolling these back would be a twofer. Let us also remember the illicit activities North Korean embassies routinely run in countries with which the U.S. has friendly relations—including ivory and rhino-horn smuggling by its diplomats in various African capitals.
Political economist Nicholas Eberstadt suggests that America also needs to prepare for the next North Korean food crisis. The first external sign that economic pressure is crippling the North Korean economy will likely be a spiraling of cereal prices and a collapse of the exchange rate of the North Korean won in domestic markets. The second could be a hunger crisis. Pyongyang will have no compunction about starving hostages from disfavored classes to loosen the sanctions noose. The U.S. and its allies must be prepared to offer “intrusive aid”—a program designed and administered by impartial outsiders, not North Korean apparatchiks—to feed the needy directly. This is the path to breaking the country’s war economy.
Yet it all comes down to human rights. If both sides discuss nuclear disarmament, then Trump has to call a spade-for-spade and hold Kim’s regime accountable for the human beings who are being physically and psychologically tortured and sexually exploited under him.
My own message to President Trump would be to do what President Ronald Reagan did to bring down the former Soviet Union. He never praised the “evil empire” nor did he engage in useless diplomatic talks or photo-ops. Instead, he took the Soviets head on by forcing them to relent on their human rights abuses before he sat down to discuss reducing nuclear armaments own both sides with Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev.
Today’s Democrat Party, as highlighted by the 2020 presidential hopefuls, such as Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, as well as cronies like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have been waging a neosocialist crusade to cripple the capitalist or free market system. Their obsession is the pursuit of greater equity, expressed primarily through punitive leveling, is noting else than inequality, such as income or profit or wealth, are considered public harms that need to be controlled—by taxes, regulation, and other government policies—not to be paralleled to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal which sought to create infrastructure for farmers and blue collar workers, in addition to taking care of the elderly with Social Security.
We all know that capitalism has strengths and weaknesses, and critiques of it are familiar—they have circulated widely ever since market-based economic systems started gaining ground in the eighteenth century. The force of those critiques, in fact, has helped fuel repeated reform movements over the ages, which have collectively transformed nineteenth-centurylaissez-faire into the mixed welfare state economies of contemporary advanced industrial democracies.
Many on the left today are fighting for more of the same—continuing to pursue what used to be called “social democracy,” using politics to control the private sector’s excesses and harness its power for public benefit. That struggle is politically significant but theoretically uninteresting.
Make no mistake, the neosocialist movement is something different. Its roots lie not in social democracy but in democratic socialism, which seeks less to reform capitalism than to end it. And if its policies were ever put into practice, they would lead to disaster.
Rousseau and the Wealth Tax
The French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who was nor more of a philosopher than Barak Hussein Obama, argued that individuals were fixated with their social status, and since competition for status was a zero-sum game, they were generally unhappy. The gains that markets brought were distributed unequally and so increased the differences among people, making them more miserable. In a commercial society, he claimed, “the privileged few gorge themselves with luxuries, while the starving multitude lack the bare necessities of life.”
The neosocialists are descended from Rousseau. They downplay poverty and fetishize equality, focus on wealth distribution rather than wealth creation, and seem to care as much about lowering those at the top as raising those at the bottom.
The movement’s signature policy proposal is a wealth tax, an annual levy on household assets. Touted by economists such as Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman, all associated with the Paris School of Economics, the concept has been embraced by the aforementioned Democrat politicians. Sen. Warren, for example initially advocated a two percent tax on households worth more than $50 million and a three percent tax on billionaires. As she was later pressed on how she would pay for her proposed universal health insurance, she doubled the billionaire tax to six percent. Sen. Sanders’s plan starts at taxing $16 million in assets at one percent and tops out at an eight percent tax for assets exceeding $10 billion.
The radicalism of this approach is often underestimated. Many conflate wealth taxes with higher income taxes or see them as mere extensions of a similar concept. But wealth taxes are fundamentally different instruments with much broader ramifications for economic dynamism and individual liberty.
The main effect of a wealth tax would be to discourage wealthy individuals from holding demonstrable assets. Any individual or household within shouting distance of the threshold would have to get its assets valued annually, imposing costs and creating a permanent jobs program for tax lawyers and accountants, whose chief responsibility would be to figure out ways around the law, including moving assets abroad.
A wealth tax would dramatically curtail private investment. The higher people rise on the economic ladder, the more of their resources go to investment instead of consumption. Those investments, in turn, often fuel innovative, risky ventures, which get funded in the hopes that they will eventually produce still greater gains. A wealth tax would upend the incentive structure for rich people, causing many to stop funding productive economic activity and focus instead on reducing their tax exposure and hiding their assets.
Warren contends that calculating one’s wealth tax would be as easy as calculating one’s property tax, but that is ridiculous. Take a firm that has a market value but no income—a frequent situation for startups but also common for established firms in various situations, such as a turnaround. Rich investors in such firms would have to sell their shares to pay the wealth tax or force the companies to disburse cash rather than invest in the future. Either way, the tax would discourage investment, reduce innovation, and encourage short-term thinking.
A wealth tax, finally, would force everyone whose assets were near its minimal threshold to give the government a full accounting of all those assets every year: homes, furniture, vehicles, heirlooms, bank accounts, investments and liabilities, and more. The result would be a huge expansion of the reach of government into citizens’ lives, a corresponding reduction in citizens’ privacy, and the accumulation and storage of vast amounts of highly sensitive data with few safeguards to prevent their misuse.
It is not as that bad as it seems
Apparently, that median earnings per household in the U.S. have stagnated for several decades and, for the lower deciles of the income distribution, even declined. The implication is that most people’s standard of living has flatlined or dropped over the last two generations. This, however, is not entirely true.
The first thing to note is that statistics about income brackets do not map neatly onto individual lives, because the people inside the income brackets keep changing. Those billionaires the neosocialists want to soak are not fourth-generation patrician trust-fund babies but self-made entrepreneurs, and the lower brackets at any time include many young people and recent immigrants, who tend to move up later.
Second, the rich have indeed gotten much richer—at a higher rate than those in the middle, and with those at the bottom improving the least—and inequality has certainly increased. But that does not mean the non-rich have not improved their condition, too. As a recent study by the economist Bruce Sacerdote concluded, “Meaningful growth in consumption for below median income families has occurred even in a prolonged period of increasing income inequality, increasing consumption inequality and a decreasing share of national income accruing to labor.”
Beware the games that can be played with statistics. Households today, for example, are smaller than they were a generation ago, with more people living alone or with a single parent. Even if household income is stagnant, therefore, per capita income may have risen. Then there is the changing age structure of society. As more people live longer, the share of the retired elderly is increasing, and since they have less earnings, this has led to a decline in average household income. Income, moreover, should be understood to include not simply wages and salaries but also benefits. And employers have spent ever more in recent decades on the costliest of benefits, health care—money that should be considered part of earnings. Add government transfer programs, which lower incomes at the top and raise incomes and expenditures at the bottom, and the picture changes again. It is not one of dystopian immiseration.
Putting a halt
Capitalism drives economic and social dynamism, prosperity, and personal freedom but it can also erode tradition and stability. It produces universal gains in the long term but inequality and volatility along the way. The system’s greatest defenders have acknowledged the full range of its effects and accepted the need to address the downsides in a variety of ways, not least in order to preserve political peace and social harmony. Capitalism’s greatest critics, in turn, have always respected its awesome capacity for growth and invention, and successful progressive movements have sought to domesticate markets rather than abolish them.
That is not the game the neosocialists are playing. What is distinctive about their program is not its promises—anybody can produce impossible wish lists—but its threats. They are fundamentally uninterested in sustaining a dynamic, entrepreneurial private sector and milking its proceeds for public investment. They don’t care about the health of the geese, because their economists simply assume an endless supply of golden eggs. They abhor inequality and are out to reduce it in the simplest, most direct way possible: by lopping off the outliers at the top.