Saturday, September 26, 2015

Another President, Another Pope

Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II set the standard for presidential-papal collaboration.

September 24, 2015
The statue in Gdańsk depicting Pope John Paul II with US president Ronald Reagan. Photo: PAP/Piotr Pędziszewski
Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II were men of the same moment. They were both horrified by nuclear war, they both hated communism and the Soviet Union, they both had been shot but survived and they both forgave their assailants. They had also both been superior high school athletes and, curiously, both were actors before becoming the most important players on a world stage.
John Paul II was almost an afterthought after his predecessor, John Paul I, died unexpectedly after less than a month in office. Reagan of course had been a long shot all of his life. Both the president and the pope grew up poor, with no connections, but ended up being two of the greatest men of the 20 thcentury. They both had winning smiles and indomitable personalities. At his first remarks from the balcony of St. Peter's, the pope made clear what he thought of the Soviets. Reagan of course had been railing against communism for years.
As Washington this week celebrates the visit of Pope Francis, it's worth remember the first time a pontiff and a president worked together. Together with the daughter of a grocer, John Paul and Reagan defeated the greatest enemy to human freedom and dignity which ever existed.
John Paul II who had lost his mother early in life and his father and brother to the ravages of a war torn Poland, was an unexpected successor to Peter. Like Reagan, John Paul II had an optimism and a deep-seated hope that the world could be a better place and that leadership quality was undeniable.
And, most importantly, they both believed they were called by God to do great things for world freedom. Indeed, John Paul II said in 1982 that America was "called, above all, to fulfill its mission in the service ... those indispensable conditions of justice and freedom, of truth and love that are the foundations of lasting peace."
Thomas Carlyle said history is but the biographies of great men and he may have had the likes of Reagan and John Paul II in mind when he uttered that phrase a century before. John Paul II was canonized in 2014 but curiously, while he had two miracles cited , neither was his greatest: the defeat of an "Evil Empire" and the restoration of freedom to millions imprisoned behind the Iron Curtain, including his own native and beloved Poland.
They met many times and Reagan wrote often in his diaries of meeting with the pope to discuss world affairs. The pope, meantime, wrote in his first encyclical that religious freedom was the most important human right, a direct shot across the bow of the Soviets. He also immediately began to demote or ease out church officials who wanted to "accommodate" the Soviets.
Not all presidents and popes get along so well, nor alter history so dramatically. When President John Kennedy visited Pope Paul VI in 1963, he simply shook his hand rather than kissing the ring of the leader of the Roman Catholic Church. JFK, the first Catholic president, was hypersensitive to the false charge that he put his loyalty to the church above his loyalty to the Constitution.
When Lyndon Johnson visited Paul in New York City in 1965 – during the first papal visit to the United States – he gave the pontiff a silver framed autographed photo of himself. Later, he gave the pope a bust of himself. Even Obama has never gone that far.
The first president to meet with a pope was Woodrow Wilson, who had an audience with Benedict XV, but it wasn't until the Grand Alliance between John Paul II, Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, that a global strategy to defeat Soviet Communism was enacted which so alter and change the world.
Even during World War II, the concordat signed by Adolph Hitler and the Vatican which simply protected the rights of the church in Germany, opened up the false charge that the Vatican was pro-Nazi. Hence, the Allies and the church never effected a joint agreement against the Axis powers. The concordat was a narrow, self-protecting measure, but was seen by some as limiting the effectiveness of the church in fighting Nazism. The church never got the credit it deserved for being an early critic of Nazi Germany's anti-Semitism.
Though the United States had some sort of relations with the Vatican going back to Washington's time, it was Reagan who formalized diplomatic relations with the Holy See. Reagan sent an ambassador, a move which sparked criticism in some quarters, pleased American Catholics and the head of the Catholic Church, and, more importantly, helped sharpen the alliance.
For Reagan, there was nothing more important that the defeat of the Soviet Union and when it became clear the Vatican was joining in the fight against "Godless Communism," it must have sent shivers up the spines of the old collectivists in the Politburo. Reagan was mounting a counteroffensive against the Kremlin and the addition of the Vatican was crucial.
Karol Wojtyla, as John Paul II was born, may have been more anticommunist than Reagan. He'd grown up in Poland, under the mailed fist of Soviet hegemony. Once he became pope, his first foreign visits was to his homeland, a way of sticking a log in the eye of the Kremlin. He also boosted the strength of Vatican radio so as to overcome Moscow's attempts to jam his broadcasts. His trip to Warsaw was seen by many as the first, renewed shot fired in the war on communism and indeed, renowned historian John Lewis Gaddis said that "when John Paul II kissed the ground at the Warsaw airport on June 2, 1979, he began the process by which communism in Poland – and ultimately everywhere – would come to an end." Maybe. There was still much do be done but no one can doubt the lift in the West's morale from the pope's trip to communist-occupied, but not dominated, Poland.
After the rise of Thatcher in 1979, the rise of John Paul II, also in 1979 and the rise of Reagan in 1980, the economic, moral and military alliance against Soviet communism was complete. Reagan was arming freedom fighters, the Vatican was sending food and medical supplies and Thatcher was firming up European support, calling on them to act like men. Each understood permanent offense. Each understood the psychological advantage of beating an idea with a better idea. Each understood the bully pulpit and each used it to berate and humiliate the threadbare arguments for collectivism.
Eleven years later, a wall fell and the Soviets were consigned to the ash-heap of history.

Pope John Paul II

Pope Francis

Reagan, Ronald

Catholic Church

Soviet Union

Cold War

Friday, September 25, 2015

The FBI’s Homemade Mobster

A ghoulish Johnny Depp channels Whitey Bulger's malice in a story of literal "gangster government."

Looking back at the last couple of hundred years of European history—on paper at least—you wouldn’t expect Italians, of all peoples, to have a major advantage over the Irish in terms of organizational acumen or systematic brutality. And yet, when it comes to organized crime in 20th-century America, the Mafia ran the table on the Irish mob, driving them all but out of business by the end of Prohibition.
Gangland historian T.J. English tells the tale in Paddy Whacked: The Untold Story of the Irish-American Gangster—a book the feds found on James “Whitey” Bulger’s shelves in his Santa Monica hideout in 2011, when they finally captured the last Irish Godfather after his 16 years on the lam. “Over the three-year period from 1931 to 1933,” English writes, “virtually every high-ranking Irish American bootlegger in the Northeastern United States was systematically eliminated, gangland-style.” As they went up against the wall, the great American genre of the mob movie was just being born, in films like “Public Enemy” and “Angels with Dirty Faces.” “The irony, of course,” English observes, is that “just as Jimmy Cagney emerged as the avatar of a new kind of street-wise Irish American style, the mobsters who inspired that style were dropping at an expeditious rate.” By the late 20th century, the old-school variety survived only in a few ethnic enclaves, like New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, or Boston’s Southie.
Adding insult to injury, the Mafia beat the Irish clans twice: once in the Prohibition-era turf wars over black markets, and again, more lastingly, in the American imagination. “The Godfather,” “Goodfellas,” and “The Sopranos” loom large; except for the occasional gem like 1973’s “Friends of Eddie Coyle,” the Irish Mob can’t catch a cinematic break.
That’s not for lack of rich material. The Whitey Bulger story is the most lurid, noirishly fascinating tale in mob history, one in which it’s hard to tell the gangsters from the G-men. The basic facts have been known since at least 1999, when, after 10 months of hearings, Massachusetts federal judge Mark Wolf issued a mammoth,661-page opinion outlining the devil’s bargain between the Boston FBI and its “Top Echelon Informants” Bulger and Stephen “the Rifleman” Flemmi.
But “Black Mass,” which opened last weekend, is the first big-screen attempt to tell the story straight. You can hardly count Martin Scorsese’s criminally overrated “The Departed,” a bloated, Hollywood star vehicle that’s as phony as a Shamrock Shake. The Southie mob boss of “The Departed,” played in scenery-chewing, self-parodic fashion by Jack Nicholson, is clearly based on Whitey, though for some reason the Bulger character takes his name from an actual Italian mobster, “Frank Costello,” né Francesco Castiglia, who adopted an Irish surname.
In “Goodfellas,” Scorsese stuck close to his source material, the life of New York mob associate Henry Hill, to eke high drama out of lowlife hoods. In the “The Departed,” he mashed up the Bulger case with the sensationalist plot of the Hong Kong crime thriller “Infernal Affairs.” The result was as ridiculous as “Goodfellas” was realistic.
Unlike Costello in “The Departed,” the real Whitey Bulger didn’t sell missile parts to the Chinese. Whitey made his money by shaking down bookies and drug dealers—and, in one weird episode briefly depicted in “Black Mass”—“winning” the Massachusetts state lottery. “After a winning ticket was sold at his Rotary Variety Store,” Boston Globe reporters Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill explain in their 2000 book Black Mass: the True Story of an Unholy Alliance between the FBI and the Irish Mob, “Bulger informed the $14.3 million jackpot winner that it would be in his best interests to acquire a new partner.”
And unlike Costello, the real Whitey Bulger didn’t have scads of double agents and on-call assassins honeycombed throughout state and federal law enforcement, ready to kill other cops on command. He had two FBI agents in his pocket, most of the Boston FBI office criminally compromised, and a brother, Billy, who was president of the state senate and one of the most powerful figures in Massachusetts politics. That was more than enough.
“Black Mass,” based on Lehr and O’Neill’s book, sticks much closer to reality. There’s far too much in the underlying story to fit into a film that runs just over two hours. So, the fair questions to ask are: (1) Is the movie good? And (2) is it reasonably accurate? On both counts, the answer is a qualified yes.
Humanizing Whitey?
It’s a qualified yes on the first count because “Black Mass” has problems, starting with the casting. The great mob dramas take pains to put the viewer in an actual time and place; The “Sopranos” bolstered its authenticity by picking actual Bridge and Tunnel Italians to play North Jersey mobsters. And the “Godfather” would have been a very different movie with—as Francis Ford Coppola apparently contemplated—Laurence Olivier as Don Corleone and Dustin Hoffman or Martin Sheen as Michael.
So you have to wonder, did Scott Cooper hang a “No Irish Need Apply” sign outside the “Black Mass” casting call? The leading roles went mainly to actors who’d qualify only under St. Patrick’s Day rules. In Jesse Plemons from “Breaking Bad”, they actually got a guy who’s uglier than Kevin Weeks to play the feared Bulger crew enforcer, and Plemons can’t even fake-punch convincingly. Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Billy Bulger, is practically British royalty. Come on!
What’s more, if you want to clue the viewer into the fact that it’s Boston in the 1980s, there have to be subtler ways to go about it than having a character say, “hey, Wade Boggs is hitting pretty good.” Too much of the dialogue comes from the “tell, don’t show” school of screenwriting, as in the early exchange between Billy and Connolly: “Look at you, big FBI agent now”; Connolly: “Yeah, but I haven’t forgotten where I come from!” Later on, Billy and Connolly reminisce about working on the state senator’s first campaign, with Billy waxing melancholy: “Oh Jesus, we were just kids, now look at us.” Real people don’t talk like this.
And yet, somehow, the whole thing works. For all its faults, the film gets a lot of things right, principally the Bulger-Connolly relationship. Whitey’s chief enabler in the Boston FBI grew up around the corner from the much-admired local tough, and seems never to have lost the toxic man-crush he developed on Whitey as a kid. The Australian Joel Edgerton does an admirable job as the insecure, blustery Connolly, and Depp is nearly perfect as Whitey.
The director, Scott Cooper, has said that he wanted “to humanize Whitey Bulger,” a bizarre aspiration when you’re talking about a guy who strangled young women with his bare hands. Stranger still is Cooper’s search for what he’s called Bulger’s “tender and humorous side.” The evidence that Whitey ever had a sense of humor is sparse. The “jokes” he told were the sort designed to provoke nervous laughter. Weeks and Flemmi both testified that when they passed Tenean Beach, where Bulger had buried mob rival Paul McGonagle, Bulger liked to crack, “Drink up Paulie, the tide’s coming in.” His idea of ribbing a pal was to nickname Flemmi “Dr. Mengele,” because Flemmi “kind of enjoyed” pulling victims’ teeth out with pliers so their bodies couldn’t be identified from dental records.
Luckily, Cooper’s intentions were utterly undone by Johnny Depp’s ghoulish performance. From a distance, with his popped-collar leather jacket, Depp-as-Bulger looks a bit fey, and ’80s New Wave. In every close camera shot, however, Depp radiates menace. Throughout, he conveys what Bulger biographers Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy called the gangster’s “strange and complex amalgam of the depraved and the blandly conventional.” Why try to “humanize”? Sociopaths can be fascinating.
“This Thing of Ours”
If anything, though, “Black Mass” is too soft on the FBI. Bulger “was a small time player” Plemons’ Weeks says in the movie, “the next thing you know, he’s a damn kingpin. You know why? Because the FBI let it happen.” The verb is wrong: the FBI made it happen.
As Judge Wolf noted in 1999, “at the urging of Attorney General Robert Kennedy, in the mid-1960’s a previously reluctant FBI became committed to combatting the LCN. FBI Special Agent H. Paul Rico recruited Flemmi to serve as an asset in that effort.“ Moreover, “the FBI played a pivotal role in forging a formidable, enduring partnership between Flemmi and Bulger, who had in 1975 also become an FBI informant. The FBI made Bulger and Flemmi, who were previously acquainted but not close, a perfect match.” From 1975 to 1990, in its quest to bring down the Italian mob, the Bureau became partner in crime to Bulger and Flemmi’s Winter Hill gang, frustrating state police and DEA investigations of the crew, and tipping them off to potential informants, who were promptly killed. Nor was the FBI’s corruption limited to “a few ‘bad apples,’” Wolf identified more than a dozen FBI officials who broke the law in attempts to protect their “assets.” It’s telling that when Flemmi was finally arrested in early 1995, a Boston FBI agent told him, apologetically, “This thing of ours, it is no more.”
The great libertarian economist Murray Rothbard was a fan of the mob-movie genre. But for my money, the craziest thing he ever wrote was his 1990 review ofGoodfellaswhich he condemned on ideological grounds for failing to romanticize the Mafia as an alternative to the state. “Organized crime is essentially anarcho-capitalist,” Rothbard explained, “a productive industry struggling to govern itself; apart from attempts to monopolize and injure competitors, it is productive and non-aggressive.”
“Goodfellas,” with its depiction of mobsters as “psychotic punks,” was “repellent and loathsome,” he charged. In contrast, “Godfather” I and II “were perfection,” because they recognized “that the Mafia, although leading a life outside the law, is, at its best, simply entrepreneurs and businessmen supplying the consumers with goods and services of which they have been unaccountably deprived by a Puritan WASP culture.”
But of the two, “Goodfellas” was the true-crime story, and the “Godfather” was the fairy tale. The grisly genuine article is tougher to romanticize. But if you want to draw libertarian lessons from a mob movie, you could do worse than “Black Mass,” which shows that “gangster government” isn’t just a metaphor.
The Irish immigrants who pioneered organized crime in America were never as organized as their successors, one reason why they lost. In another sense, though, they departed the field, having recognized early on that the biggest gang going was the government. By the 1960s, the term “Irish Mafia” had a somewhat different connotation. From the cops, to the city council, to the federal government, the upwardly mobile Irish went “legit.”
Maybe that’s what Whitey was getting at earlier this year in his handwritten reply to three high-school girls who wrote to him for a history project. “Advice is a cheap commodity,” Bulger wrote from his cell in Sumpterville, Florida, “some seek it from me about crime—I know only thing for sure—If you want to make crime pay—‘Go to Law School.’”
Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute and author of The Cult of the Presidency.

Redistribution: The Unconquerable Delusion

Mona Charen | Sep 25, 2015

"A pope that mentions Dorothy Day is a pope that rocks," tweeted Neera Tanden of the left-leaning Center for American Progress. Tanden might have wished to reel back that praise if she had known that Day, though a prominent pacifist and socialist, was also a fervent opponent of abortion, birth control, Social Security and the sexual revolution.
It's fitting that Pope Francis should have invoked Dorothy Day among his pantheon of great Americans -- she's a symbol of where leftists always go wrong. This pope is going wrong in the same way. The left's delusions of "social justice" seem indomitable -- impervious to evidence.
The pope lauded Day for "her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, (which) were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints."
Let's assume that Day's motives were as pure as Pope Francis described: Does having the right motives excuse everything?
Day's interpretation of the Gospel led her to oppose the U.S. entry into World War II, which arguably would have led to a world dominated by Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and Imperial Japan. How would that have worked out for the poor and the oppressed?
Though her social views were heterodox for a leftist, Day was a supporter of Fidel Castro and found very kind things to say about North Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh. She visited Leonid Brezhnev in the Kremlin and leant her moral support to other communist regimes despite their persecution of Catholics and others.
Of Castro, Day said, "I am most of all interested in the religious life of the people and so must not be on the side of a regime that favors the extirpation of religion. On the other hand, when that regime is bending all its efforts to make a good life for the people ... one cannot help but be in favor of the measures taken."
According to "The Black Book of Communism," between 1959 and the late 1990s, more than 100,000 (out of about 10 million) Cubans spent time in the island's gulag. Between 15,000 and 19,000 were shot. One of the first was a young boy in Che Guevara's unit who had stolen a little food. As for quality of life, it has declined compared with its neighbors. In 1958, Cuba had one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. Today, as the liberal New Republic describes it:
"The buildings in Havana are literally crumbling, many of them held upright by two-by-fours. Even the cleanest bathrooms are fetid, as if the country's infrastructural bowels might collectively evacuate at any minute.
"Poverty in Cuba is severe in terms of access to physical commodities, especially in rural areas. Farmers struggle, and many women depend on prostitution to make a living. Citizens have few material possessions and lead simpler lives with few luxuries and far more limited political freedom."
This left-leaning pope (who failed to stand up for the Cuban dissidents who were arrested when attempting to attend a mass he was conducting) and our left-leaning president have attributed Cuba's total failure to the U.S.
It's critically important to care about the poor -- but if those who claim to care for the poor and the oppressed stand with the oppressors, what are we to conclude?
Much is made of Pope Francis' Argentine origins -- the fact that the only kind of capitalism he's experienced is of the crony variety. Maybe. But Pope Francis is a man of the world, and the whole world still struggles to shake off a delusion -- namely, that leftists who preach redistribution can help the poor.
Has this pope or Obama taken a moment to see what Hugo Chavez's socialist/populist Venezuela has become? Chavez and his successor (like Castro, like Lenin, like Mao) promised huge redistribution from the rich to the poor. There have indeed been new programs for the poor, but the economy has been destroyed. The leader of the opposition was just thrown in jail. Meanwhile, the shops have run out of flour, oil, toilet paper and other basics.
If you want moral credit for caring about the poor, when, oh when, do you ever have to take responsibility for what happens to the poor when leftists take over?
We know what actually lifts people out of poverty: property rights, the rule of law, free markets. Not only do those things deliver the fundamentals that people need to keep body and soul together, but they accomplish this feat without a single arrest, persecution or show trial.

Pope Francis is big on ideals — but small on solutions

By Rich Lowry
September 25, 2015

Pope Francis is big on ideals — but small on solutions
Pope Francis addresses the a joint Congress on Thursday.Photo: Getty Images

Pope Francis has enjoyed a high-spirited welcome in the United States. The infectiously likable pope kissed babies along his parade route in Washington, DC and performed a soaringly beautiful Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine there.
He is an endearingly charismatic figure, but judging by his speech before a joint session of Congress, not exactly an orator.
His wording was at times stilted. The pope talked about entering “into dialogue” — with workers, with the elderly, with young people — and said he wanted “to do so through the historical memory of your people.”
The most memorable line of the entire address was the concluding, “God bless America!” — an obligatory sentiment that gains much more heft coming from the bishop of Rome.
The pope’s speech didn’t fit into any ideological pigeon hole, although his statements of opposition to abortion and gay marriage were so brief and oblique, they were easily missed. The pontiff put much more emphasis on issues that fit his image as a pope progressives can do business with.
The Catholic Church’s traditional discomfort with modernity has cachet at this moment in American politics, especially when it is wrapped in the fashionable causes of income inequality and climate change. In this sense, Pope Francis is (inadvertently) a genius marketeer by taking crackpot attitudes about economic development and getting them a respectful hearing.
The pope’s anti-capitalist broadsides have helped make him the adorable mascot of the left, which enthusiastically defends infanticide, pitilessly scorns traditional sexual morality and heedlessly tramples on the conscience rights of people with the wrong social views, but holds up the Vicar of Christ as confirmation of the economics of Bernie Sanders and the climate alarmism of Al Gore.
Before Congress, Francis often spoke in generalities that are impossible to disagree with. Who doesn’t believe in treating immigrants as people? Who doesn’t want to fight poverty and hunger? Who doesn’t hope to end armed conflict? And so on.
The questions are usually one of means, rather than ends, and of practicalities. The pope says we should respond to immigrants humanely and justly. OK. The United States welcomes more than a million legal immigrants here annually, and they are treated so humanely and justly that tens of millions more would be happy to come. But the United States doesn’t have an open-ended obligation to import foreigners without reference to the interests of the people already living here.
The pope avoided his more outlandish effusions on the economy. He acknowledged that fighting poverty requires creating wealth, yet he doesn’t really understand what that entails. He endorsed business that “sees the creation of jobs as an essential service to the common good.” But no one starts a business as an act of charity. The point is to make a profit, and jobs — and all sorts of other goods — are the happy byproduct.
The pope naturally made a plea for our “common home,” the planet. He quoted passages from his green encyclical that are a series of airy abstractions and head-scratchers.
“We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology,” he said. Whatever that means, it sounds more like the work of coercive power rather than freedom.
He gestured toward a vaguely top-down vision of economic development that he presumably believes will readjust the global temperature over time, but it was elliptical to the point of meaninglessness.
The pope is a holy and humble man who has much to teach us, just not about the contemporary causes with which he is most associated.

Cherry-picking Pope Francis

The pope received an exuberant reception before addressing a joint meeting of Congress. (New York Times)

While papal visits to the United States are increasingly common, what is uncommon is to see political-ideological battle lines drawn around a pope. The tendency this time is especially acute among liberals, who eagerly frame Pope Francis as one of them — a categorization Francis has resisted. “I’m sure that I haven’t said anything more than what’s written in the social doctrine of the church,” he said as his plane approached U.S. soil.
To some degree, liberals are justified in linking Pope Francis to many of their concerns — climate change, wealth redistribution, poverty. And even many conservatives seem to concede this pope to the political left. In truth, however, both sides lack a full picture. To illustrate the point, I’ll focus on the subject area that brings Pope Francis here to America to begin with: A major international Roman Catholic Church synod on family and marriage.
Though Francis is absolutely forgiving and charitable and merciful, including to gay people, when it comes to marriage, family and gender, this pope has been unflinchingly orthodox in support of historic church teaching. Some of his language has been even stronger than his predecessors. The extent to which that is true is at times shocking. Here are just a few examples:
Last January, as nations from Ireland to America looked to redefine marriage, Francis gravely warned of the “forms of ideological colonization which are out to destroy the family” and “redefine the very institution of marriage.” Echoing his predecessor, he warned of the forces of “relativism” that would alter family, marriage and “threaten” society and humanity.
Shortly before that, in November, he insisted that all “children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother.” This followed a vocal statement after the previous synod on the family in Rome, where Francis asserted: “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 always been very clear in saying this. When he was a cardinal in Argentina, he declared same-sex marriage a diabolical effort of “the Father of Lies” (i.e., the devil). This was July 2010, and Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio blasted a bill to legalize same-sex marriage and gay adoption in Argentina. He said, “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.” He added ominously, “At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are 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.”
Particularly notable has been Francis’s constant emphasis on the differences and complementarity of men and women as parents and spouses. His words here could scandalize liberals. His condemnation of “so-called gender ideology” has been extraordinary. “Gender ideology is demonic!” Francis shouted at one interviewer. He has compared gender theory to “the educational policies of Hitler.”
In this, Francis has taken an activist role, serving as the spiritual inspiration for a gigantic June 20 demonstration at St. John Lateran, the official church of his Rome diocese. Its purpose was to halt the introduction of gender theory into Italian public schools. This massive “Family Day” rally was a reflection of Pope Francis’s Year of the Family, and it came only four days after the pope’s environmental encyclical, “Laudato Si.” They were marching not against global warming but gender ideology.
This is a mere snapshot of Francis’s statements. He has done almost two dozen general audiences on the family. Tellingly, right before leaving Rome for the synod on the family in Philadelphia, he again affirmed the “image of the family — as God wills it, made up of one man and one woman,” which, he said, “is deformed through powerful contrary projects supported by ideological colonizations.”
Alas, what I’ve laid out here on Pope Francis and marriage likewise could be done for the cause of unborn children. His forceful denunciations of the “throwaway culture” of abortion are equally emphatic, as is his belief in forgiveness for those who repent of abortion.
What does this mean? It means you shouldn’t cherry-pick this pope. You can’t grab this or that statement that fits your personal political-ideological preferences and think you have the full picture. The Francis picture has many shades.
This pope is neither liberal nor conservative. This pope is Catholic.
Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College in Grove City, Pa. His latest book is “Takedown: From Communists to Progressives, How the Left Has Sabotaged Family and Marriage.”

A Politicized Pope

The battlegrounds of secular politics may undermine Francis’ moral authority.

September 23, 2015

Pope Francis and President Obama at the White House, Sept. 23.
Pope Francis and President Obama at the White House, Sept. 23. PHOTO: WIN MCNAMEE / POOL/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

The word “politicized” is not generally a compliment. It suggests that a nonpolitical event or subject—a natural disaster or poverty—is being used by a public figure for his own political purposes.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie may be hurting with the Republican electorate because many think he politicized Hurricane Sandy in late October 2012 by inviting President Obama to see its devastation. Mr. Christie rejects any such idea, but it sits there, a political casualty.
Pope Francis regards himself as not a political player. He dislikes the maneuverings of politics. Americans’ enthusiasm for Francis no doubt has much to do with the sentiment that, like Ben Carson, he is a “nonpolitician.”
Mr. Carson, however, has recently discovered that it isn’t possible to be simultaneously in politics and above politics. Modern politics is a relentless conflict waged by parties, politicians, their networks, activists and media.
They set the rules, and it’s their self-given right to reduce what you think to a buzzword, no matter what your personal beliefs may be. It’s brutal and often unfair, but you play the political game, and that’s the way it is.
In the past week, Pope Francis has met and been photographed with Fidel and Raúl Castro in Cuba and with Barack Obama at the White House. Thursday he addresses a joint session of Congress at the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner. On Friday, he will address the United Nations General Assembly. Then on Saturday in Philadelphia, he will finally address a wholly religious event, the World Meeting of Families, which is organized by the Holy See in Rome.
The Catholic weekly newspaper Our Sunday Visitor aptly noted: “Based on the media’s coverage of the papal trip, it has been difficult to remember that Francis’ visit to the United States is centered around his commitment to come to the World Meeting and speak about the family and not immigration, the environment or globalization.”
Difficult to remember indeed. Pope Francis is becoming an aggressive public player in secular politics, from the environment to economic policy. That carries risks, not for Francis alone, but for the papacy and the institution the pope leads.
It is said widely that Francis will never allow himself to be co-opted into anyone else’s political agenda. The pope is famously his own man. But the pope has no control over whether he is co-opted into the political goals and strategies of others.
A TV commercial airing this week from NextGen Climate Action, funded by billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer, unfurls frightening images of wildfires and floods and ends with Francis waving and smiling at us over the words, “With compassion and love—Pope Francis.” It’s propaganda, but legitimate propaganda by current standards.
The day before Pope Francis met with Mr. Obama, one of the president’s aides, Ben Rhodes, said: “How can we make use of the enormous platform that the pope’s visit provides to lift up the work we’re doing and demonstrate how it’s consistent with the direction that’s coming from the pope?” At the White House, Pope Francis praised Mr. Obama’s climate-change initiatives, and the president thanked the pope for supporting his policies on that and his opening to Cuba.
It is not possible to do this and be “above” politics. Everyone in politics is one of the boys, including the pope.
In Cuba, when the pope’s spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, was asked if Pope Francis knew that 50 dissidents had been arrested, he said: “I don’t have any information about this.” Embarrassing bunk is standard for the Josh Earnests of the world. It should not become so for the pope’s spokesman.
Politics today—which transforms any major public figure into a celebrity—is more fraught, divided and risky than ever. On one hand, Francis is amenable to being photographed smiling and squeezing hands with Fidel Castro, a decades-long oppressor of his nation’s Catholics. But then the Vatican objects that the pope might be photographed with a famous pro-abortion nun invited by the White House. Barack Obama plays hardball. His Justice Department had already sued the anti-abortion Little Sisters of the Poor.
In the past two years, the plight of Christians in the Middle East has gone from persecution to slaughter. Decades of Vatican diplomacy there for the world’s most at-risk Christians has produced very little. Soon there may be nothing left to protect. On Friday, the pope reportedly will address the U.N. about climate change. A jeremiad against Christian extermination would be welcome this week, too.
Francis’ popularity remains high, but the dangers in his current course are high. What many of his new political friends mainly seek is to have the pope “moralize” their politics. Francis’ spiritual message could not be more secondary. They won’t be with him in Philadelphia. How allowing the papacy’s core moral authority to be politicized is in the interests of the Catholic Church as an institution is difficult to see.
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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Yogi Berra — Yankees legend filled with goodness and courage — more than just a baseball hero

September 24, 2015
Photo: New York Daily News
They will talk today about all winning Yogi Berra did with the Yankees today, and about as enduring a picture as there is in baseball history, Yogi jumping into Don Larsen’s arms after Larsen’s World Series perfect game in 1956. They will talk about all the funny things he said and the character he became and the way he stayed away from the Yankees for 14 years once because of the way George Steinbrenner fired him one time. And they will talk about how not one New York Yankee was ever loved more than he was, across the nearly 70 amazing years from when he first put on pinstripes.
It will all be true, as much part of his record as the records he set when he was one of the great baseball players of his time and all time, and one of the most accomplished champions we’ve ever had in American sports. You have to know that when Derek Jeter finally won his fifth World Series in 2009, and Yogi was asked about it, he smiled and said, “Hey, he’s halfway to me.”
But it was always more than baseball with Yogi Berra. The measure of this man, the full measure you take now that he is dead at the age of 90, the true measure of everything that happened to him after his talent for hitting a baseball got him off the section of St. Louis known as The Hill, was the goodness in him, and the courage, because in addition to everything else, when Yogi was 18 in 1944, he was on the beach in Normandy.
He was a war hero before he was ever a baseball hero, because all kids like him were war heroes in that time, at places like Normandy. He went from there to Yankee Stadium and he married his lovely wife Carmen, became a father and a grandfather and, in his own way, became as famous as DiMaggio or Mantle or any of the Yankees he played with in one of the most celebrated eras any team has ever had in any sport. He was more than No. 8, as much as we loved calling him that. He led a wonderful American life, one that spoke of talent and friendship, duty and possibilities and decency.
He was funny, but never a clown. There was always this marvelous element of truth in the things that became part of his sweet, personal legend, whether he was telling the whole world that it ain’t over ‘till it’s over, or how it sure gets late early around here, or how some place was so crowded nobody goes there anymore.
My own favorite was always the one about Yogi running into Mayor John Lindsay and his wife Mary on the street one day, on a hot New York City summer day. Yogi happened to be wearing a seersucker suit. Mary Lindsay looked at him and said, “Yogi, you look so cool in that suit.”
And Yogi said, “Mrs. Lindsay, you don’t look so hot yourself.”
So he played on 10 Yankee teams that won the World Series, and he ended up managing both the Yankees and the Mets in the World Series, going to Game 7 with the Yankees in ’64 before losing, doing the same with the ain’t-over-‘till-it’s-over Mets in 1973. Those were times when he – briefly – made a lie out of something that Lou Piniella once said about him.
“I just want to go through life walking next to Yogi Berra,” Sweet Lou Piniella said.
In the later years of his life, there was this splendid shrine to him, the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center on the campus of Montclair State University. Yogi called it “my second home.”
“Carmen and I,” he said, “we’ve got our home we live in. Then I’ve got this one, where I can come and visit my memories.”
I have told of this before, but there is a picture in my parent’s living room from the day when I went over to Yogi’s museum to give a talk. I brought my three sons over there with me, and my dad, who happened to be in town. In that picture, dad is standing behind my sons and me, standing there with Yogi.
Bene Lupica is 91 now. He was a bombardier in B-24s during World War II. Yogi was Seaman 1st Class Berra on Omaha Beach. So there was a bond between them about their service, and their patriotism. But they didn’t talk about that, even in the shorthand about war that heroes of those wars sometimes have. My dad was like everybody else in the place. He just wanted to talk baseball with Yogi Berra.
On our way home my dad said, “His memories are my memories, too.”
But Yogi would talk about Omaha Beach and that June day in 1944 when he and all those like him, the ones who made it home and the ones who didn’t, fought for their country as hard and well as any Americans ever have. Keith Olbermann asked Yogi about the war one time and this is what Yogi said:
“Being a young guy you didn’t think nothing of it until you got in it. And so we went 300 yards off the beach. We protect the troops. If they ran into trouble, we would fire rockets over. We had a lead boat that would fire one rocket. If it hits the beach, then everybody opens up. We could fire one rocket if we wanted to, or we could fire off 24 of them, 12 on each side. We stretched out 50 yards apart. And that was the invasion.”
And in that terse way, in that spare language, that was as good a definition of America as you are likely to hear.
The people who always knew Yogi as some comic character knew really didn’t know him at all. I was with him after Steinbrenner fired him in 1985, fired him just 16 games into the season, no season having ever ended that badly or that quickly, and there was no meanness in him, because there never was, even though he would stand his ground and stay away from the Yankees for a long time because of that firing.
Carmen was with us that day, and there was a moment when she left the room when he was still smiling at her, because all that time after he first saw her, she was still the girl of his dreams.
He pointed at her and made a gesture that took in the room we were sitting in, or maybe it took in his whole life.
“What are they gonna do to me?” he said.
Carmen died a year-and-a-half ago. Now Yogi is gone at 90. But my dad was right. Yogi doesn’t take all those memories with him. They’re ours. The way he was.