Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Trump Cabinet and the Lincoln Cabinet

We have the first "Promise Kept" of Donald Trump's presidency -- kept well before his January swearing-in. CARRIER JOBS TO STAY IN US. President-Elect Donald Trump and his team have reached an agreement with Carrier to keep about 1,000 manufacturing jobs in Indiana. You will have to look hard to find any other campaign promise fulfilled so quickly. Carrier confirmed the news, first reported by the New York Times, on Twitter : "We are pleased to have reached a deal with President-elect Trump & VP-elect Pence to keep close to 1,000 jobs in Indy. More details soon." Trump wrote on Twitter Tuesday that he will travel to Indiana on Thursday to make an announcement about the deal : "I will be going to Indiana on Thursday to make a major announcement concerning Carrier A.C. staying in Indianapolis. Great deal for workers!" • In March, Carrier, one of the biggest air conditioning companies in the US, announced it would close its facility in Indianapolis and move operations to Mexico, eliminating 1,400 jobs. Trump frequently railed against the move and promised to force Carrier to keep its jobs in the US during his campaign. Trump told a crowd in Indianapolis in April : "Here's what's going to happen. I'll get a call from the head of Carrier and he'll say, 'Mr. President, we've decided to stay in the United States.' That's what's going to happen -- 100 percent." Donald Trump's swift action was as good as his word. The deal reportedly will keep a majority of the jobs in the state in exchange for business regulations to help all companies stay in the US and keep American workers employed, as well as an overhauling of the corporate tax code -- both these items were major Trump campaign promises. Trump and Vice President-Elect Mike Pence, Indiana's governor, will announce the details of the agreement on Thursday at Carrier's Indianapolis plant, according to Trump's tweet and the NYT. • • • TRUMP ECONOMIC CABINET TEAM. Trump has at the same time put in place the Cabinet team that will carry out his business regulation and tax code reforms. Steven Mnuchin and Wilbur Ross early Wednesday confirmed their nominations to become US Treasury Secretary and Commerce Department Secretary. Mnuchin and Ross both spoke on CNBC's "Squawk Box." Mnuchin, who served as the national finance chairman of Trump's campaign, told CNBC that tax reform will help drive economic growth at a sustained rate of 3% to 4%. He has never worked in government and has close ties to Hollywood and Wall Street. Mnuchin, a former partner at Goldman Sachs, founded the hedge fund Dune Capital Management and invested in the movie business. Ross is chairman and chief strategist of private-equity firm W.L. Ross & Co. He made his wealth, estimated at $2.9 billion, by buying and restructuring companies within the manufacturing and steel industries. Ross, a former banker, has invested in various industrial businesses throughout his career, including the coal industry. Trump promised during his presidential campaign to rebuild industries like coal and steel. The President-Elect has also promised to overturn or renegotiate trade deals he says have taken manufacturing jobs overseas. Ross served as an economic adviser to Trump during his presidential campaign. • • • A CABINET JOB FOR DR. CARSON. Earlier, the Wall Street Journal reported that Ben Carson has accepted Donald Trump's offer to be the next Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Carson, who grew out of poverty in Detroit to become one of the world’s foremost neurosurgeons, has expressed an interest in helping to rebuild the nation’s inner cities. But he has also been hesitant to join the administration, saying he believed he might be able to accomplish more outside of the federal government. Carson is involved with a group called My Faith Votes, which seeks to organize Christian voters, as well as several other outside groups. • • • TRUMP NAMES WOMEN TO CABINET POSTS. Trump has also announced the nominations of three women to his Cabinet. • He selected Betsy DeVos, a charter school and voucher advocate and GOP donor from Michigan, to be Education Secretary. DeVos becomes the second woman chosen to fill a spot in Trump's Cabinet. Trump said : "Betsy DeVos is a brilliant and passionate education advocate. Under her leadership we will reform the US education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and school choice to all families." DeVos heads the advocacy group American Federation for Children. DeVos says : "The status quo in education is not acceptable. Together, we can work to make transformational change that ensures every student in America has the opportunity to fulfill his or her highest potential." The 58-year-old DeVos is a former Michigan Republican Party chairwoman. • Trump has also picked Elaine Chao to become Transportation Secretary. Chao, 63, was Labor Secretary under President George W. Bush and the first Asian American woman to serve in a President's Cabinet. She also is the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Chao came to the United States from Taiwan with her family at age 8. Her family settled in New York, where her father, James Si-Cheng Chao, became a wealthy shipping magnate. Chao received her undergraduate degree from Mount Holyoke College and a Master of Business Administration from Harvard. She went on to become head of the Peace Corps and Deputy Secretary at the Transportation Department. She was head of the United Way of America and worked at a Washington think tank before becoming Labor Secretary, where her job was to protect the nation's workforce, including setting safety standards and addressing issues related to wages and retirement. She updated overtime regulations for "white-collar" workers and rules intended to force unions to disclose more details on their financial condition to members. • Earlier, Trump named South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley as US ambassador to the United Nations. • • • TRUMP NATIONAL SECURITY TEAM. Trump has also put together a strong national security team. • Kansas Representative Mike Pompeo, 52, has been chosen as director of the CIA and is drawing widespread praise from the intelligence community, elected officials and news organizations as a strong conservative and national security expert who will be tough on terrorism. Even retired Air Force General Michael Hayden -- a Trump detractor who has directed the CIA and headed the NSA and is now at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington -- said : "When I saw the choice, I was heartened. This is a serious man who takes these questions seriously and who's studied these questions on cybersecurity and other national security concerns. I'm heartened by the choice." California Representative Devin Nunes, Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, called Pompeo "one of the most respected voices in the House of Representatives on national security issues. Mike will undoubtedly develop a close working relationship with Congress in his new post." Elected in the tea party wave in 2010, Pompeo is graduate of West Point -- first in his class -- and Harvard Law School, where he edited the Harvard Law Review. He spent five years in the Army, serving as a cavalry officer, later working as a lawyer for the Washington powerhouse firm of Williams & Connolly. He then moved into business. Since coming to Congress, Pompeo has become a strong conservative voice, opposing Obamacare and the 16-day partial federal government shutdown in 2013 that cost American taxpayers $1.4 billion. But his expertise is in national security, as a member of the Intelligence Committee and the special House panel investigating the 2012 Benghazi attacks. In June, Pompeo released a scathing supplement to the Benghazi committee's report on the assaults that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens and two former Navy SEALs. Pompeo said that State Department officials -- including then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- and the Obama White House "misled the public about the events in Benghazi. Officials at the State Department, including Secretary Clinton, learned almost in real time that the attack in Benghazi was a terrorist attack. With the presidential election just 56 days away, rather than tell the American people the truth and increase the risk of losing an election, the administration told one story privately and a different story publicly. They publicly blamed the deaths on a video-inspired protest they knew had never occurred," he said. • The President-Elect also said that he would nominate Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General and would name retired Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn as his national security advisor. • Pompeo and Sessions must be confirmed by Congress, but not Flynn. • • • ET TU, ROMNEY??? Mitt Romney praised Donald Trump as the man who can steer the US toward a better future, but did not comment on reports that he is being considered for Secretary of State, after the two had dinner Tuesday in New Work City. Trump Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was also there. Speaking to reporters after dining with Trump Tuesday night, Romney, the 2012 presidential nominee, said the two discussed world affairs during their "enlightening" conversations, but he did not say whether he was offered or discussed the Cabinet position. Romney commended the President-Elect's growing Cabinet and transition efforts : "I have to tell you, I've been impressed with what I've seen in the transition. The people he's selected as members of his Cabinet are solid, effective, capable people. I think you're going to see America continue to lead the world in this century, and what I've seen through these discussions I've had with President-Elect Trump, as well as what we've seen in his speech the night of his victory, as well as people he's selected as part of his transition, all of those combined give me increasing hope that President-Elect Trump is the very man that can lead us to that better future. I happen to think America's best days are ahead of us." Romney also applauded Trump's victory, noting : "By the way, it's not easy winning. I know that myself. He did something I tried to do and was unsuccessful in." • The big question is whether that was the apology that will make Romney acceptable to Trymp and to millions of Americans who are not ready to forgive Romney for saying the most vicious things any Republican said during Trump's campaign -- vicious remarks made AFTER Trump was nominated and the GOP was trying to find a way forward. I find it difficult to forgive Romney, although I recognize his excellent qualifications. Romney may be at the top of the list to be the nation's chief diplomat, but my heart is with others reportedly under consideration for the job -- Rudy Giuliani, former CIA Director David Petraeus and Tennessee Senator Bob Corker. When asked by reporters at Trump Tower if Romney would be nominated for the job, Trump replied: "Well, we're gonna see what happens." • One can see why Priebus was present at dinner on Tuesday evening. Priebus has long urged Trump and Romney to reconcile their differences, but even this summer, Romney told CNN that Trump's "trickle-down racism, trickle-down bigotry, trickle-down misogyny, all these things are extraordinarily dangerous to the heart and character of America." While we could could understand Romney criticizing Trump's policies during the primaries and Romney endorsing another candidate during the primaries, attacking Trump after Trump won the nomination helped Hillary, not Trump. It was disloyal. It was stupid. Simply stated, Romney does not deserve any important office in the Trump administration, especially not the Secretary of State. • • • A LESSON FROM ABRAHAM LINCOLN. Trump will take office without the mandate of a popular vote victory and with some elements in the country still seeing his elevation as a descent to racism and demagoguery. America also has some special challenges -- massive economic disruption, cultural incoherence, an uncertain place in the world and greedy-eyed enemies -- and they all make for an anxious time in America. • Now, imagine heading to the White House having won just less than 40% of the popular vote, and just 16 states. Imagine also that you had to be smuggled into Washington on a night train to keep assassins from killing you. To say that Abraham Lincoln came to Washington without a mandate is a real understatement. If you think it’s bad to have protests in the streets because you win, remember that entire states seceded from the Union because of Lincoln’s victory. Add to that Lincoln's lack of obvious qualifications to hold the office of President. He was a backwoods circuit-riding lawyer who served one term in Congress and whose career was as an attorney for the railroad. Lincoln certainly didn't fit the mold of the Founders. Lincoln had won the presidency in the same way he had won the Republican nomination -- he beat a crowded and divided field of candidates. Any of Lincoln’s rivals for the 1860 Republican nomination would have seemed much more suited to be President. Ohio Governor Salmon Chase looked like he was born to President. The Senators in the running -- William Seward of New York, Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania, Benjamin Wade of Ohio and William Dayton of New Jersey -- all could claim political experience and success where Lincoln had only failure. Representative Edward Bates, Missouri congressman from a powerful political family, also made a potent claim as a border-state political power. Lincoln and his small team of Illinois homeboys beat them all at the Republican convention in Chicago. • In his letters to friends, Lincoln confided deep concerns about his readiness for office and the inadequacy of experience to the task in front of him. Not all of us are able to overcome such fears. Lincoln did. One would have expected that because of his humble origins, lack of pedigree and nearly accidental ascension to office, Lincoln would not fill his cabinet with his "betters." But Lincoln, as every schoolchild knows, was the "better" man. Cameron became secretary of war, Chase became the treasury secretary, Seward became secretary of state, Bates became attorney general and Dayton became Lincoln’s ambassador to France. Doris Kerns Goodwin dubbed them a “Team of Rivals” in her 2006 book. Huge egos and almost open contempt for their hayseed commander-in-chief threatened to turn the whole thing over on its head. But, Lincoln had the peace that comes from desperation. It would work because it had to. As Richard Brookheiser’s “Founder’s Son” expertly explains, Lincoln carried with him the weight of his duty to the Founders but also the inspiration of their genius for collaboration. Lincoln had the true humility that comes from understanding : he knew his real self, his own strengths and weaknesses. And because of that, he was able to risk being overshadowed by his own more famous and prestigious subordinates. • In the highly-charged world of modern politics, we don’t see much of that anymore. But from time to time, real leaders emerge. The best measure of them is whether they choose to surround themselves with rivals or simply human mirrors to reflect their own vanity. • • • Dear readers, as we have relied on the instincts and life-won wisdom of Donald Trump for a year and a half, we should continue to rely on him now. Look at those he has chosen so far to lead his programs. They are a remarkably varied and highly qualified group of people. Whoever he picks for Secretary of State -- even if it is Mitt Romney -- it may well be that Trump, like Lincoln, knows himself well enough to pick rivals to serve America in his and our name. It may also be that Trump the Dealmaker knows the old adage : "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." But, I like to think that President-Elect Trump has an immortal quote from Lincoln's first inaugural address in mind as his guiding principle : "We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Compromise Strategy of Pope Francis Will Only Lead to More Religious Persecution

China and Cuba are the two high-profile countries where Pope Francis has tried to use his office to bring about agreements and decisions that seem more like items on his Legacy agenda than actual defenses of the Catholic Church he leads or of Christianity in general. The results of Pope Francis's forays into essentially political situations has been less than encouraging for the supporters of religious freesdom. • • • CUBA. The Christian Times reported on August 26, 2016, that the Communist regime of Cuba has intensified its anti-Christian crackdown by taking on more than a thousand churches among the more than a thousand documented violations of religious freedom. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) released its latest report on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) on August 16, revealing 1,606 violations in the first half of 2016, including harassment, arbitrary arrests, forced seizure of personal properties and confiscation of 1,400 Assemblies of God (AOG) churches. The government plans to demolish at least 100 of the AOG churches. Reverend Alain Toledano, pastor of the persecuted Emanuel Church, told CSW in December 2015 : "There is a witch hunt against churches in Cuba at this time, mainly against the churches of apostolic and prophetic ministry." The government's Planning and Housing Officials ruled November 27 to accept the eviction of the pastors and their families and the demolition of the five churches in Abel Santa Maria neighborhood in the southern city of Santiago de Cuba. Reverend Toledano said : "The Communists have intensified in their hatred and persecution of the church following the Pope's visit to Cuba and the re-establishment of relations with the United States. I request constant intercession on behalf of the churches in Cuba." CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas spoke out against the spike of religious violations but also said he's "humbled and inspired by the courage and perseverance" of the persecuted religious communities. He urged the United Kingdom, the European Union and the United States to take a stand with the Cuban people for their rights, particularly on religious freedom. • The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) reports that the Cuban Castro regime continues to enforce restrictive laws and harassment : "The government principally targets for arrest or harassment religious communities and leaders deemed too independent from government control or those who support democracy and human rights efforts." • Based on these concerns, the USCIRF 2016 Annual Report again placed Cuba on Tier 2 in 2016. Cuba has been on USCIRF’s Tier 2 since 2004. USCIRF says religious adherence continues to grow in Cuba, although there are no reliable statistics of Cubans’ religious affiliations. Between 60% and 70% of the population is estimated to be Roman Catholic and 5% Protestant. While the Cuban constitution guarantees freedom of religion or belief, this protection is limited by other constitutional and legal provisions. Article 8 affirms that “the State recognizes, respects, and guarantees religious freedom,” and article 55 guarantees the right to “...change religious beliefs or not have any, and to profess, within the confines of the law, the religious worship of his/her preference.” However, article 62 qualifies that all rights can be limited based on the “aims of the socialist State and the nation’s determination to build socialism and communism...” The Cuban Penal Code’s Abuse of Liberty of Worship clause permits the imprisonment of any person the government determines to be abusing constitutional religious freedom protections by placing religious beliefs in conflict with other state goals. • The Cuban government controls religious activities through the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA) of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party and the Ministry of Justice. The government requires religious communities to register with the Ministry of Justice, including the disclosure of funding sources and locations for activities and certification that they are not duplicating the activities of other registered religious communities. The ORA has final authority over registration decisions. Currently, 54 religious communities are registered. Only registered religious communities are allowed to receive foreign visitors, import religious materials, meet in approved houses of worship, and apply to travel abroad for religious purposes. • The USCIRF report says that during the 2015-2016 period, the Cuban government increasingly targeted houses of worship with closure, confiscation, and destruction. Since 2005, authorities had rarely enforced the registration requirement for house churches and infrequently registered house churches that did submit applications. But, this changed in 2015. In the most egregious example, the government designated 2,000 Assemblies of God churches as illegal and ordered their closure, confiscation, or demolition, although these actions have not been taken. Also, Protestant Pastor Jesús Noel Carballeda was imprisoned from February to August 2015 without trial for “illegal religious activities” for leading an unregistered church. The government also used a new legal decree to expropriate church properties and require them to pay rent to the government. In January 2015, the Cuban government announced Legal Decree 322, the General Law on Housing to regulate private properties and zoning laws. However, Cuban authorities used Legal Decree 322 to expropriate 15 Methodist churches, as well as other churches of various denominations in the more politically-active eastern part of Cuba. • The Cuban government continued to harass the Apostolic Reformation and the Eastern and Western Baptist Conventions. These independent, vocal, and large religious communities resist government interference. The USCIRF report states that is in past reporting periods, : "the Apostolic Reformation has been targeted for government harassment including : short-term arrests of leaders; government-organized mob attacks; confiscations, destruction of, or threats to destroy church property; harassment and surveillance of church members and their relatives; fines on churches; and threats to leaders and members of loss of employment, housing, or educational opportunities. Of particular concern, says the USCIRF report, is the ongoing harassment of Apostolic Reformation Reverend Yiorvis Bravo Denis and government efforts to seize his family home and church, the latter serving as the religious community’s headquarters. Both the Eastern and the Western Baptist Conventions continued to report surveillance and harassment by state officials, including receiving death threats and being victims of “acts of repudiation” (demonstrations against them by government supporters). The two denominations also reported threats of church destruction or confiscation. During the reporting period, the Cuban government increasingly targeted houses of worship with closure, confiscation, and destruction." • The USCIRF says the Cuban government continued to deny democracy and human rights activists their constitutional rights to freedom of religion or belief. More than 100 separate incidents were reported in 2015 of Ladies in White members and other human rights and democracy activists being prevented from attending Sunday Masses. In the majority of cases, these individuals were detained on their way to Mass and released hours later. Individuals reported being beaten and harassed during their detentions. In a new development, they also reported being prevented from attending Bible study groups and prayer meetings. More than 150 democracy and human rights activists were detained during Pope Francis’ trip to Cuba in September, preventing them from attending the Pope’s Mass. Further, church leaders reported pressure from government officials to expel or shun such activists. Religious leaders who did not comply were threatened with church confiscation or destruction. • But, as in previous years, positive developments continue for the Catholic Church and other religious communities, such as the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian-Reformed Church. These religious denominations continued to report increased opportunities to repair houses of worship, receive exit visas, import religious materials, receive contributions from co-religionists outside Cuba, and conduct charitable, educational, and community service projects. • the USCIRF report noted that in December 2014, President Barack Obama announced a “New Course on Cuba,” starting a process of normalizing diplomatic relations between the countries and significantly lifting trade and travel restrictions. Since December 2014, the United States and Cuba re-established embassies in each other’s capitals. The United States also removed Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism list; eased restrictions on authorized travel to Cuba; and increased remittance levels, the import of Cuban products, the export of US telecommunications equipment, and US-led training opportunities for and exportation and/or sale of goods and services to Cuban private businesses and farmers. US institutions were permitted to open banking accounts with Cuban financial institutions and [a reportedly very limited number of] US credit and debit cards were permitted to be used in Cuba. Also Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Cuba in July to re-open the US Embassy, becoming the first Secretary of State to travel to Cuba in 70 years. Then, President Obama traveled to Cuba March 21-22, the first sitting President to do so since 1928. But, [as with the Pope's visit to Cuba and his work to re-establish US-Cuban relations] the Cuban government continues to deny democracy and human rights activists their constitutional rights to freedom of religion or belief. • Therefore, the 2016 USCIRF report makes several recommendations. The US government should take significant action to convey that the change in policy does not diminish the Cuban government’s need to improve religious freedom conditions on the island. Specifically, the USCIRF report recommends that the US government should press the Cuban government to : "stop arrests and harassment of religious leaders; end the practice of preventing democracy and human rights activists from attending religious services; cease interference with religious activities and religious communities’ internal affairs; allow unregistered religious groups to operate freely and legally and revise government policies that restrict religious services in homes or other personal property; lift restrictions on the building or repairing of houses of worship, holding of religious processions, importation of religious materials, and admittance of religious leaders; and hold accountable police and other security personnel for actions that violate the human rights of religious practitioners." The USCIRF report also recommends that the US government : "encourage Cuban authorities to extend an official invitation for unrestricted visits by the US Ambassador–at-Large for International Religious Freedom, USCIRF, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief; increase opportunities for Cuban religious leaders from both registered and unregistered religious communities to travel to, exchange aid and materials with, and interact with co-religionists in the United States; reinvigorate the US-Cuba human rights dialogue and include religious freedom in the discussions; use appropriated funds to advance Internet freedom and protect Cuban activists by supporting the development and accessibility of new technologies and programs to counter censorship and to facilitate the free flow of information in and out of Cuba; and encourage international partners, including key Latin American and European countries and regional blocs, to ensure that violations of freedom of religion or belief and related human rights are part of all formal and informal multilateral or bilateral discussions with Cuba." • That long list that speaks volumes about how little religious freedom there is in Cuba under the Castro regime. Instead of opening embassies and offering mutual congratulations about the "thaw" in US-Cuba relations, it would have served religious -- and political -- freedom for Cubans much better had Pope Francis and President Obama held Raul Castro's feet to the fire on religious and politiical liberties BEFORE opening the world's doors to the undemocratic, anti-religion tyranny that the Castro family and their supporters represent. It is particularly distressing that Pope Francis, the one recognized voice for Christinaity worldwide, has chosen to accept token relief for Catholic churches in Cuba, seemingly without speaking out for other Christian churches being persecuted by the Castro regime. • • • CHINA. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom 2016 Annual Report also addresses the issues related ot religious persecution in China. The report's Key Findings are : "China’s severe religious freedom violations continued in 2015. While the Chinese government sought to further assert itself on the global stage, at home it pursued policies to diminish the voices of individuals and organizations advocating for human rights and genuine rule of law. During the past year, as in recent years, the central and/or provincial governments continued to forcibly remove crosses and bulldoze churches; implement a discriminatory and at times violent crackdown on Uighur Moslems and Tibetan Buddhists and their rights; and harass, imprison, or otherwise detain Falun Gong practitioners, human rights defenders, and others. Based on the continuation of this long-standing trend of religious freedom violations, USCIRF again recommends in 2016 that China be designated a 'country of particular concern,' or CPC, for its systematic, egregious, and ongoing abuses. The State Department has designated China as a CPC since 1999, most recently in July 2014." • The USCIRF 2016 Report states that Chinese Protestants and Catholics were persecuted in the 2015-2016 period, citing many of the specific events reported in Tuesday's blog -- the Zhejiang Province draft regulations governing the color, size and location of religious signs, symbols, and structure, with the systematic efforts to forcibly remove church crosses in Zhejiang Province, an area with a high concentration of Christians; the “Three Rectifications and One Demolition” campaign used by Chinese authorities to target houses of worship, particularly churches, as illegal structures, even including government-approved churches; the continued summoning, questioning, detention, and even arrest of clergy and parishioners of unregistered house churches, such as at Huoshi Church in Guizhou Province. • Particularly horrific episodes reported by the USCIRF told of local officials, who in January 2015, informed the family of imprisoned Bishop Cosmas Shi Enxiang that he had died. At the time of his reported death, the underground bishop had been imprisoned, without charges, for 14 years at a secret location, in addition to previous imprisonments and hard labor. In another episode, in March, a court sentenced Pastor Huang Yizi to one year in prison for trying to protect the cross at Salvation Church in Zhejiang Province from removal. Additionally, as noted in Tuesday's blog, the USCIRF reports that human rights lawyers often are targeted for assisting religious followers. For example, prior to a meeting with US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein in August 2015, Chinese authorities seized human rights lawyer Zhang Kai. Zhang is known for his work on behalf of those affected by church demolitions and cross removals in Zhejiang Province and previously represented Pastor Huang. The USCIRF report says : "Following six months of being held without charge -- likely at one of China’s notorious 'black jail' facilities known for their use of torture -- Zhang Kai was criminally detained in February 2016." • • • TIBET. Another longstanding religious persecution of China is directed at Tibetan Buddhists. The 2016 USCIRF report states that in 2015, the Chinese government maintained tight control of Tibetan Buddhists, strictly monitoring and suppressing their cultural and religious practices. Government-led raids on monasteries continued, and Chinese party officials in Tibet infiltrated monasteries with Communist Party propaganda. The USCIRF report indicated increased government interference in the education and training of young Buddhist monks : "In protest of these and other repressive policies, at least 143 Tibetans have self-immolated since February 2009. Buddhist leader Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, who had been serving a 20-year sentence, died in prison in July 2015. Supporters of the popular monk maintained he was falsely accused of separatism and terrorism, and there were reports that police opened fire on a group of supporters who had gathered in his memory. Chinese authorities cremated Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s body against his family’s wishes and Buddhist practice, leading many to suspect foul play in his death. Also, authorities subsequently detained his sister and niece for nearly two weeks after they requested his body be turned over to them." The past year was marked by several notable anniversaries : the 80th birthday of the Dalai Lama, the 50th anniversary of Beijing’s control over the Tibet Autonomous Region, and the 20th anniversary of the disappearance of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, also known as the Panchen Lama. Abducted at the age of six, the Panchen Lama has been held in secret by the Chinese government for more than two decades. Also in 2015, the government accused the Dalai Lama of “blasphemy” for suggesting he would not select a successor or reincarnate, effectively ending the line of succession. Beijing also reiterated its own authority to select the next Dalai Lama. • • • DESPITE ALL, POPE FRANCIS CONTINUES TO NEGOTIATE WITH CHINA. The 2016 USCIRF report states that the Vatican and China continued their ongoing formal dialogue, including a Vatican delegation’s visit to China in October 2015 : "During the year, the Vatican reportedly suggested a compromise regarding the selection and approval of bishops in China, though the government of China has not agreed. While positive developments transpired -- Bishop Wu Qin-jing was installed, Bishop Zhang Yinlin was ordained, and the Vatican approved Bishop-designee Tang Yuange -- China still insists it has the authority to appoint bishops independent of the Holy See. • For these reasons, the USCIRF 2016 report makes the following recommendations : "China’s approach to religious freedom and related human rights does not comply with international standards. At the same time, China increasingly flouts these standards as it grows more assertive on the global stage and seeks to assume the mantle of world leadership. To reinforce to China that such leadership must go hand-in-hand with the respect for and protection of religious freedom and related human rights, the US government consistently should integrate human rights messaging -- and specifically religious freedom -- throughout its interactions with China." In addition to recommending the US government continue to designate China as a CPC, USCIRF recommends the US government should : "continue to raise consistently religious freedom concerns at the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue and other high-level bilateral meetings with Chinese leaders, and encourage Chinese authorities to refrain from conflating peaceful religious activity with terrorism or threats to state security; urge the Chinese government to release prisoners of conscience who have been detained, sentenced, or placed under house arrest for the peaceful exercise of their faith, and continue to raise individual prisoner cases; initiate a “whole-of-government” approach to human rights diplomacy with China in which the State Department and National Security Council staff develop a human rights action plan for implementation across all US government agencies and entities, including developing targeted talking points and prisoner lists, and providing support for all US delegations visiting China; increase staff attention to US human rights diplomacy and the rule of law, including the promotion of religious freedom, at the US Embassy in Beijing and US consulates in China, including by gathering the names of specific officials and state agencies who perpetrate religious freedom abuses; convey more directly US concerns about severe religious freedom violations in China, impose targeted travel bans, asset freezes, and other penalties on specific officials who perpetrate religious freedom abuses, as permitted by IRFA; press China to uphold its international obligations to protect North Korean asylum seekers crossing its borders, including by allowing the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and international humanitarian organizations to assist them and by ending repatriations, which are in violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention and Protocol and/or the Convention Against Torture; and encourage the Broadcasting Board of Governors to use appropriated funds to advance Internet freedom and protect Chinese activists by supporting the development and accessibility of new technologies and programs to counter censorship." • • • CHINA CONTINUES SYSTEMATIC RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION. China's persecution and denial of freedom for its citizens who hold religious beliefs is an unremitting tale of torture, imprisonment, confiscation of property, and persecution of priests, pastors, and lay practitioners and their families. Again, instead of the Pope talking about a deal to allow the Catholic Church to do business in China, or President Obama working with China as though it were a 'normal' nation that respects human rights and liberties, both Pope Frnacis and Barack Obama should be leading the world's efforts to bring China into conformity with civilized standards of conduct for governments and their officials. • • • Dear readers, Cardinal Zen has the right line of analysis. Pope Francis is used to dealing with an entirely different kind of persecution. Francis grew up in South American when ultra-"conservative" juntas and strongmen ruled by using the military and gulag tactics to control their opponents. It permeated society. Everyone compromised to some extent or died. Francis obviously compromised, although his biographers and friends say he helped to save priests and lay people who had crossed over the line into political opposition to the Argentine junta, while trying to work with the junta to preserve some freedom of action for the Catholic Church. Did Francis so thoroughly absorb the idea that compromise is the only way to survive that it now permeates his relationship with China and Cuba? This will one day be fully addressed, but for now, the personal history of Pope Francis hasn't even begun to be explored. • In any case, the Pope clearly thinks that compromise and "living" with his enemies -- i.e., the Church's enemies -- is the right approach. It is not, and many people know that. But, perhaps Francis, because of his childhood and Church leadership under the Argentine junta, doesn't know that. The evidence points to a continuation of compromise by Pope Francis with the Church's and Christianity's natural enemies. That will undoubtedly cause suffering for the Church. But, while Francis's faith is not questionable, his worldview challenges us to stand firm as Christians in the face of his strategy. The novel "The Power and the Glory" by Graham Greene is for me the best explanation of the failure of South American Catholicism ever written. It is perhaps outdated now in some social respects but the analysis and descriptions nail the Chruch's theological attempt to blend socialism, communism and Catholicism. It didn't work then and it won't work for Francis. It led and will now lead to the corruption and degradation of a generation of Catholic priests and laity, perhaps now in the wider world because of the papacy of Francis. • Cardinal Zen says : “You cannot go into negotiations with the mentality ‘we want to sign an agreement at any cost,’ then you are surrendering yourself, you are betraying yourself, you are betraying Jesus Christ. If you cannot get a good deal, an acceptable deal, then the Vatican should walk away and maybe try again later. Could the Church negotiate with Hitler? Could it negotiate with Stalin? No.” • And, we Christians who are old enough to remember, recall that József Mindszenty (1892 - 1975) said "No" to both Hitler and Stalin's Soviet Communism. Mindszenty was the Prince Primate, Archbishop of Esztergom, Cardinal, and leader of the Catholic Church in Hungary from 2 October 1945 to 18 December 1973. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, for five decades "he personified uncompromising opposition to fascism and communism in Hungary." During World War II, he was imprisoned by the pro-Nazi Arrow Cross Party. After the war, he opposed Communism and the Communist persecution in his country. As a result, he was tortured and given a life sentence in a 1949 show trial that generated worldwide condemnation, including a United Nations resolution. After eight years in prison, he was freed in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and granted political asylum by the United States Embassy in Budapest, where Cardinal Mindszenty lived for the next fifteen years. He was finally allowed to leave Hungary in 1971. He died in exile in 1975 in Vienna, Austria. That is Christian leadership of the highest order.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Pope Francis Seeks Deal with China, and China's Answer Is Increased Religious Persecution

Pope Francis may be preparing to lead the Catholic Church down a rabbit hole in China, just as he did in Cuba, only a hole of a much greater magnitude. • • • POPE FRANCIS COURTS BEIJING. In October, the Guardian reported that if Pope Francis has his way, a deal to bridge what many believe is an insurmountable divide between the Roman Catholic Church and the Communist Chinese government could be announced within the next 30 days. The Guardian was quoting sources who follow the Vatican-China talks as saying that the Pope would like to seal a deal before the conclusion on 20 November of the Holy Year of Mercy, which was called by the Pope to celebrate acts of forgiveness. • That didn't happen but the dialogue with China apparently goes on. The toughest issue between the two sides -- the Vatican’s right to appoint its own bishops in China -- would represent the most important diplomatic feat of Francis’s papacy. It would also spur a debate about whether Francis -- a Jesuit who has always promoted the importance of “encounters” but has declined to meet the Dalai Lama -- has ignored concerns about human rights and religious freedom for the sake of furthering the Vatican’s own interests in a country that is officially atheist -- in other words, is Pope Francis, like President Obama, apt to forget what side he is on because he's chasing a"legacy"? • While evangelical Christianity has seen explosive growth in China, Catholicism has lagged behind. The Pope told Asia Times in early 2016 : “For me, China has always been a reference point of greatness. A great country. But more than a country, a great culture, with an inexhaustible wisdom." Francis has courted China since he became Pope in 2103 -- there was the telegram Francis sent to President Xi Jinping as his papal plane flew in Chinese airspace on the way to Taiwan in 2014; there was the gift of a silk print, symbolic of Christianity’s presence in China, that was reportedly given to the Pope in October by a representative of Xi, though the accuracy of that story has not been confirmed; and, according to Francesco Sisci, a scholar and senior researcher based at China Renmin University in Beijing, Francis is the first Pope to have his homilies translated in China. "Of course," says Sisci, "Francis is not a superstar, he is not as popular as a rock star, but he is known to the Chinese public and that is very different from other Popes, who were totally unknown." • No one believes that negotiations between the two sides will lead to formal diplomatic relations, because that would force the Vatican to break ties with Taiwan. Jeroom Heyndrickx, a Belgian priest who has championed the negotiations, says the talks are centred on whether the Vatican would be given permission to appoint its own bishops. There is also a disagreement over the the fate of eight “illegal” bishops appointed by officials in China, some of whom have been excommunicated by the Vatican. According to Heyndrickx : “There have been efforts at dialogue in the past, but never as intense and ongoing, and with perseverance on both sides. The situation is more hopeful now than it has been in 65 years.” Reaching an initial agreement on the bishops could make it easier to tackle other key issues, such as the fate of the China Catholic Patriotic Association, a state- controlled organisation that controls the Catholic Church and appoints bishops. Heyndrickx says negotiations between the Vatican and Beijing are set to recommence before the end of 2016. A preliminary agreement that was reportedly reached in August would allow the Pope to choose bishops from candidates recommended by the CCPA. Church sources have separately told Reuters that China is preparing to ordain at least two new bishops before the end of the year, and these appointments would reportedly have the blessing of the Vatican. • • • IS CHINA WILLING TO NEGOTIATE? John Allen, the editor of The Crux, a Catholic publication, says Francis -- like his predecessors, Pope Benedict XVI and John Paul II -- has signalled a willingness to address China’s concerns that the Catholic Church would be hostile to the state if it was shown any latitude. Allen says the Vatican is pursuing a “huge long-term interest” in its courting of China, which is controversial to some within the church. But the real difficulty in hammering out a deal, according to Allen, is not resistance inside the Vatican but rather China’s objections : “The problem is that Xi has a strong wing of the party apparatus that says if you give the Christians, and the Catholics in particular, an inch, they are going to take a mile. Ultimately, this is about who controls the Catholic community in China. Is the primary loyalty to the state or the Pope?” • • • CHINA MAY SEE FRANCIS AS EASIER TO DEAL WITH. The difference between the current negotiations and previous talks is Francis himself. The first non-European Pope is viewed as less political and more sympathetic to interests outside the US and Europe, experts say. Richard McGregor, a China expert and author of The Party, thinks it is not clear why agreeing a deal with the Vatican would be a priority for senior Chinese officials : “There are lots of obstacles in the way of a genuine deal. At the same time, they have many other political priorities in the area of managing and keeping a lid on religion, so it is hard to see why China would compromise.” While a deal would be a propaganda coup for Beijing and put pressure on Taiwan, McGregor says there were “fundamental issues of authority” at stake that would make it hard for the Vatican to demand any guarantees on control of the Church in the mainland. • CATHOLIC VOICES FOR AND AGAINST POPE FRANCIS. The most vocal critic against any such deal is the most senior Chinese Catholic, Cardinal Joseph Zen, 84, a former bishop of Hong Kong, where he still teaches at the Salesian school, and a critic of China’s human rights record. In September, Zen wrote in Asia News : “It is unthinkable to leave the initial proposal in the hands of an atheist government who cannot possibly judge the suitability of a candidate to be a bishop.” Talk of a deal has been circulating for months, and some say the diplomatic coup for Pope Francis would be in resolving the highly controversial issue of allowing China’s Communist government to have a hand in selecting bishops. But, Cardinal Zen says any agreement in which Beijing would have a hand in approving clergy would be “a surrender” : “Maybe the Pope is a little naive, he doesn’t have the background to know the Communists in China. The Pope used to know the persecuted Communists [in Latin America], but he may not know the Communist persecutors who have killed hundreds of thousands.” Cardinal Zen told the Guardian that most supporters of the deal did not truly know China, lacking first-hand experience with the state of the Church under the Communists. He spent seven years frequently teaching in cities across China in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters that was followed by severe tightening of freedom of expression and religion. The Guardian says one motivation for the Vatican is "the relatively small number of Catholics in a country filled with people who are increasingly searching for meaning in their lives. There are roughly 10 million Catholics, just a 10th of the overall number of Christians in the country." Cardinal Zen suggests this is false reasoning, saying that the “fake freedom” provided by a proposed deal, under which priests could more easily preach and more churches would open, would offer only "the impression of freedom, it’s not real freedom, the people sooner or later will see the bishops are puppets of the government and not really the shepherds of the flock. The official bishops are not really preaching the gospel. They are preaching obedience to Communist authority.” • Sisci says from Beijing that “a very wide-ranging agreement” appears to be on the horizon but that it remains unclear exactly when the deal will be unveiled. No observers expect it to lead to full diplomatic relations. Sisci, who conducted a rare interview with Pope Francis at the start of 2016 in which Francis backed the idea of dialogue with Beijing, said he believes the deal would represent a “a major breakthrough” for China, the Vatican and people of all faiths. Sisci rejects the idea that the Vatican is abandoning its principles by engaging with Beijing and claims many within the Church leadership believe it would be more effective to talk to China’s Communist leaders than to “wage war” against them on issues such as human rights and religious freedom. Sisci says he believes the Pope thinks the Church could play “a crucial role in helping China move into the modern world, to become a modern society. He may be naive, but it is his job being naive, being a man of faith." • However, that naivety could harm the Catholic church in China for decades to come, according to Zen, and a perception is building that the Pope is pushing a pact he may not fully understand : “You cannot go into negotiations with the mentality ‘we want to sign an agreement at any cost,’ then you are surrendering yourself, you are betraying yourself, you are betraying Jesus Christ. If you cannot get a good deal, an acceptable deal, then the Vatican should walk away and maybe try again later. Could the Church negotiate with Hitler? Could it negotiate with Stalin? No.” • • • CHRISTIANS PERSECUTED IN CHINA. Chinese Catholics are free to go to mass and attend church, but barred from proselytising. An “underground” Catholic Church exists, and members and its clergy have faced persecution by authorities. The Christian Times and other media outlets reported in May that Chinese government officials were forcing thousands of churches to remove crosses. China Aid, in its annual report published on May 18, revealed that a total of 20,000 Chinese Christians suffered religious persecution at the hands of the Communist Chinese government in 2015 alone. The "2015 Annual Report Chinese Government Persecution of Christians and Churches in China," conducted by China Aid, said : "In 2015, China Aid documented 634 cases of persecution in which 19,426 religious practitioners were persecuted, representing an 8.62% increase from 2014's 17,884 religious practitioners persecuted." China's "Three Rectification and One Demolition" beautification campaign targeted demolition of numerous Christian buildings. The crosses of more than 2,000 Christian churches were forced to be removed on charges of violations with the country's building code, in an ongoing push to remove crosses from Christian churches. The demolitions have led to the death of a church pastor's wife in Henan province and the arrests of Christian leaders as well as human rights lawyers. • The bulldozer death of the Chinese Christian woman was also reported by Fox News in April. Fox reporter Perry Chiaramonte wrote : "A Christian woman's fateful and defiant stance in front of a bulldozer last week evoked the memory of Tiananmen Square and has become a rallying cry against persecution at the hands of the Beijing government. The woman, identified by Christian activists as Ding Cuimei, wife of the Reverend Li Jiangong, was trying to stop the government-ordered demolition of Beitou Church in the central Hena province city of Zhumadian. Unlike the iconic man who brazenly stopped a tank in the 1989 uprising, Ding was pushed into a ditch and buried alive as horrified congregants watched helplessly. 'Bury them alive for me,' a member of the demolition team said, according to a report by China Aid, a nonprofit focused on human rights and religious freedom in the world’s most populous country. 'I will be responsible for their lives.' The grim incident underscores the Chinese government’s increasing persecution of religious minorities, say advocates. Thousands of churches across the country have been demolished in the past year, and dozens of pastors have been arrested on trumped up corruption charges, according to nonprofit groups that monitor the situation. David Curry, president and CEO of Christian advocacy group Open Doors USA told FoxNews : 'There was a time where they [Christians] were being recognized as productive members of society. The government treated them fairly. But that has changed. China has the goal of nationalizing Christians [5% of the population].' Curry said the Chinese government appears determined to lower the profile of the church. The effort takes varied forms, from re-zoning church properties to allow for demolition, as in the case of the April 14 incident in which Ding was killed, to forcing pastors to meet weekly with local officials to explain their sermons, said Curry : “It has had a chilling effect on religious freedom in China." Two demolition workers were arrested in the death of Ding. Her husband, who was also pushed into the ditch but managed to crawl out, has allegedly been warned not to discuss the case. Chinese government officials are also forcing thousands of churches to remove crosses, according to China Aid, whose report also pointed out that aside from Christians, both Tibetan Buddhists and Moslems "likely experienced even more intense government persecution" by the atheistic Chinese government. However, Christianity in China continues to grow despite relentless persecution. The China Aid report indicates that Christians fasted and prayed everywhere, tied themselves on the cross, protested on the streets carrying small wooden crosses, re-erected crosses that had been removed by the authorities, and put up a staunch fight against the government demolitions. Many Christians were also boosted by the court victories achieved in cases including civil law, administrative law, and property rights law. Bob Fu, China Aid president, told the Christian Post : "The top leadership is increasingly worried about the rapid growth of Christian faith and their public presence, and their social influence. It is a political fear for the Communist Party, as the number of Christians in the country far outnumber the members of the party." • • • XI JINPING'S CRACKDOWN ON CHRISTIANS. These incidents underscore the serious violations against religious freedom in China that have occurred since President Xi Jinping took office in 2013. Xi has taken a strong ideological turn to create a new cultural revolution according to Fu : “He [Xi] has really turned against the independent churches and any independent social movements. The government wants to contain the growth of Christianity.” In its 2015 Annual Report, China Aid cites terrible persecution campaigns that it says made 2016 one of the most tyrannical years since the Cultural Revolution. • As imprisoned human rights lawyers still fight for the right to defend their clients without legal repercussions, officials in Zhejiang province carried out the third consecutive year of a beautification movement that targets church crosses for demolition, Henan province launched a movement focusing on forcing “illegal” Catholic and Protestant churches to conform to socialist ideals, and authorities arrested and detained church members. Trials for lawyers rounded up in the 709 Incident, the nationwide crackdown on human rights defenders named for the day it began -- July 9, 2015 -- started on August 2 with the sentencing of Zhai Yanmin, a rights activist who received a three-year suspended prison term for coordinating protests against government rule. A day later, a Tianjin court condemned Beijing church elder Hu Shigen to 7 1/2 years’ incarceration and 5 years’ deprivation of political rights for allegedly “subverting state power” by using Christianity to “spread subversive thoughts and ideas.” The tribunal presented photos of his baptism as evidence of his guilt, and Hu was forced to confess to his crimes, after which he accepted his sentence and did not appeal. Hu, a Beijing University alumnus and former instructor at the Beijing Language Institute, formerly served 16 years of a 20-year prison sentence for founding an organization that opposed the Communist Party. On August 4, Zhou Shifeng was coerced into confessing to his crimes. Zhou, a Christian attorney, was arrested on suspicion of “subverting state power” on January 8, 2016. In an attempt to publicly authenticate their charges against him, authorities pressured Zhang Kai, a human rights lawyer known for his defense of more than 100 churches affected by the cross demolition campaign, to travel from his home in Inner Mongolia, attend the trial and conduct an interview in which he denounced Zhou and the other imprisoned human rights lawyers. Zhang later recanted his statements, saying he had been too frightened to stand up to the authorities. Consequentially, officials barred him from social media and attempted to arrest him again. On the night of August 25, 2015, government personnel broke into a church in Wenzhou, Zhejiang and took Zhang and his two legal assistants into police custody. After holding him incommunicado for six months at an unofficial prison known as a “black jail,” China forced Zhang to confess on television on February 25, 2016. A few days later, he was taken into criminal detention and released on bail on March 23. Since then, he has lived with his parents in Inner Mongolia. Another Christian lawyer, Li Heping, vanished into police custody on July 10, 2015, followed by his brother, attorney Li Chunfu, on August 1, 2015. Li Heping was formally arrested on January 8, 2016, on suspicion of “subverting state power.” Since their disappearance, family members have not been able to contact either of the men. • In addition to previous restrictions on religious activity, Henan province published a work plan devising ways to bring “illegal” Catholic and Protestant churches in line with the Party’s ideologies. According to the official document, the authorities plan to manage church meetings and force the congregations to eradicate all religious symbols and become more socialist. The timeline outlined by the official document stated the plan was to be implemented on September 4 and run until October 15. The Chinese government mandated that the village and sub-district government branches investigate churches, submit reports to their superiors, assist the religious affairs bureau in distributing a notice about the expected changes to the churches, shut down non-compliant congregations, and record how satisfactorily they were able to complete the job as part of their year-end assessment. Prompted by this decision, the Bo’Ai County Religious Affairs Bureau issued a notice to a house church. Claiming that the church was unauthorized, the bureau ordered it to immediately disband and remove any religious materials within three days. They urged the attendees to conduct religious activities at the local official churches, with which many of them have deep, theological disagreements. Failure to comply with these measures will result in further government interference. CHINA'S APPROACH TO THE PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS. This campaign echoes the new political trend set out in a proposed revision of the Regulations on Religious Affairs, which was introduced by the State Council earlier this month. The revision introduces tighter control on peaceful religious activities, such as punishing house church meetings by imprisoning Christians or heavily fining the church leaders, forbidding religious adherents from attending conferences or trainings abroad, and barring minors from receiving religious education. These measures violate China’s own Constitution, which guarantees religious liberty and condemns discriminating against religious and non-religious citizens and breaches the country’s pledges to adhere to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child. • In the highest profile case of Christian persecution since the Cultural Revolution, China ousted Gu Yuese, chairman of the Hangzhou branch of the China Christian Council, from his position as the head pastor of China’s largest Three-Self Church on January 18. Later that month, Gu was arrested on a falsified “embezzling 10 million Yuan (U.S. $1.6 million) in funds,” although many Christians believe authorities incarcerated him for his opposition to the cross demolition campaign. On April 1, he was released and placed under “residential surveillance.” His case demonstrates the rampant spread of religious persecution as China clamps down on both house and state-run churches. The China Aid report concludes : "China continuously violates its own laws and international statutes safeguarding religious freedom in favor of promoting a socialist agenda, forcing religious devotees to choose between certain persecution and disregarding their deeply-held beliefs. Additionally, it prosecutes lawyers who attempt to defend the rights of religious practitioners, completely disregarding the rule of law. International governments must persuade China to free those it unjustly holds behind bars." • • • POPE FRANCIS'S RECORD OF DEFENDING RELIGIOUS FREEDOM. • Reuters reported on December 12, 2014, that Pope Francis denied a private audience to the Dalai Lama because it could harm the Holy See’s already fraught relations with China. The Vatican confirmed the report, saying the request was declined “for obvious reasons concerning the delicate situation” with China. The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, understood the situation, the Vatican spokesman added. The Dalai Lama, in Rome for a meeting of Nobel peace prize winners, told Italian media he had approached the Vatican about a meeting but was told it could create inconveniences. An unnamed Vatican official said the decision was “not taken out of fear but to avoid any suffering by those who have already suffered” -- a reference to Catholics in China who are loyal to the Pope. The Vatican said the Pope would not meet any of the laureates and that the number two in the Vatican hierarchy, secretary of state Cardinal Pietro Parolin, had sent them a message on the Pope’s behalf. The last meeting between a Pope and the Dalai Lama, who fled to India after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959, was in 2006, when he met former Pope Benedict XVI. • Pope Francis and Vatican diplomats also played key roles in the re-opening of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba and the release of the imprisoned American, Alan Gross, according to the leaders of the two countries and a Vatican statement issued in December 2104. Pope Francis sent letters to Barack Obama and the Cuban president Raul Castro in the summer of 2014. Both leaders acknowledged the importance of his appeal in their statements announcing the breakthrough. The Vatican said the Pope’s letters called on the two countries “to resolve humanitarian questions of common interest, including the situation of certain prisoners, in order to initiate a new phase in relations." The Vatican also hosted delegations from the two countries at what were said to have been the talks at which the breakthrough was made. Kenneth Hackett, the US ambassador to the Holy See, said a senior Vatican official had “played an important part in this historic moment by meeting US and Cuban delegations in October to help bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion.” Reuters said : "The re-establishment of normal relations between the two countries has been a cause dear to the hearts of successive Popes, but the issue took on an even greater importance last year following the election last year of the first Latin American leader of the Catholic church." A senior US official told Reuters news agency: “The support of Pope Francis and the support of the Vatican was important to us.” • • • Dear readers, China and Cuba are just two countries where Pope Francis has tried to use his office to bring about agreements and decisions that are items on his Legacy agenda. Francis gets good publicity, photo-ops with smiling leaders shaking hands and then he disappears into the Vatican to work on his next Legacy agenda item. But, what about the aftermath of Pope Francis's forays into the international political arena? Success or failure? Tomorrow.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

François Fillon Confronts French Socialism, while Fidel Castro's Death Leaves Cuba Impoverished and in the Grip of Tryanny

Two important things happened this weekend. First, the positive. • • • One of the world's great democracies voted on Sunday. French conservatives -- who are the children of General De Gaulle and the natural majority in France -- voted in the second round of the 2017 presidential primary. It was the first "open" primary in French history -- that is not only conservative party members but also centrists and socialists could vote in the conservative primary election. Open primaries have been talked about for some time in France, but it was Les Républicains, the Gaullist party led by former President Nicolas Sarkozy, that decided to do it. Sarkozy lost in the first round, but his protégé François Fillon, who was Sarkozy's prime minister for the entire 5 years of Sarkozy's presidency -- rare in France -- won last weekend, and he won again Sunday, beating Bordeaux Mayor Alain Juppé, 66% to 34%. This means that next April, Fillon will take the conservatives into the first round of the presidential race. He will face the failed Socialist Party's candidate -- there is a scramble inside the Socialist leadership to try to convince the bitterly disliked sitting President François Hollande, whose polls show him at a 12% favorability rating, to retire and let someone else try to salvage the Socialist cause. Whoever the Socialists choose, he will face an uphill battle against Marine Le Pen of the nationalist populist Front National. It seems inevitable that the Socialist candidate will lose in the first round, and the second round of the presidential election in May will pit Fillon against Marine Le Pen. The result will be that the French will rally around François Fillon, who represents the values and political agenda that most French agree with, and he will be elected president. • Like Donald Trump in the US, Fillon has pulled the Gaullists (Les Républicains) more overtly to the right, working for three years in the villages and cities of France to convince them that the only way to save France is to end the entitlement mindset of the Socialists that sounds good but has brought France to her knees socially, economically and fiscally. François Fillon is almost surely going to be the next President of France, and his job will be herculean -- convince the powerful French unions to accept longer work weeks than the current 35 hours; revise the French tax code to attract new businesse to France and to save the French businesses crushed by high taxes and crippling regulations; revise the costly and deeply indebted French socialized healthcare sytem; create a sane immigration policy that does not destroy French cultural values; and, by means of all this, begin to refill the empty coffers of the French governnment because France is now virtually bankrupt. • If this sounds familiar, it is. Donald Trump just won the US presidential election promising essentially the same agenda. What happened in America, and in Britain with its vote to leave the European Union, is now happening in France. And next weekend, a national referendum in Italy may well produce a similar result. It could be that we are seeing a fundamental historical change in the West. Socialism and globalism may be on their way down into the dustbin of "isms" that have tried but failed to reduce Western democracy to an elitist nanny state where individuals and personal liberties are crushed in favor of an all-powerful state apparatus. Donald Trump and François Fillon are point men in this surging war against socialism. • • • The other big news of the weekend was the announcement that longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro, the bearded revolutionary who planted Marxist Communism in the western hemisphere, died Friday. He was 90. • US President Barack Obama issued a statement that infuriated many Americans, saying : “At this time of Fidel Castro’s passing, we extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people. We know that this moment fills Cubans -- in Cuba and in the United States -- with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation. History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him. For nearly six decades, the relationship between the United States and Cuba was marked by discord and profound political disagreements. During my presidency, we have worked hard to put the past behind us, pursuing a future in which the relationship between our two countries is defined not by our differences but by the many things that we share as neighbors and friends - bonds of family, culture, commerce, and common humanity. This engagement includes the contributions of Cuban Americans, who have done so much for our country and who care deeply about their loved ones in Cuba. Today, we offer condolences to Fidel Castro's family, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Cuban people. In the days ahead, they will recall the past and also look to the future. As they do, the Cuban people must know that they have a friend and partner in the United States of America.” The mainstream media followed Obama's cue, praising Castro. • The lawyer, revolutionary and political leader who triggered visceral reactions in America for 57 years, was born August 13, 1926, out of wedlock to a Cuban sugar plantation owner and a servant in his home. (They eventually married.) He was not formally recognized by his father until he was 17, when his surname was changed to Castro from Ruz, his mother's name. Though he spent the better part of his life railing against capitalism and the rich, Castro enjoyed a wealthy and privileged childhood. He attended Jesuit boarding schools, and developed a love for sports, pitching for El Colegio de Belen’s baseball team. He attended the University of Havana law school, where he joined groups that focused on Cuban nationalism and socialism. After graduation, having become a revolutionary, he took up arms against the government of President Fulgencio Batista, eventually defeating Batista in 1959, thus taking control of Cuba at the age of 32. Castro's government established relations with the Soviet Union. In April 1961 Castro formally declared Cuba a socialist state just days before the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion that saw 1,400 Cuban exiles trained by the CIA unsuccessfully attempt to invade and topple his government. Castro intensified relations with the Soviet Union and in 1962 US reconnaissance planes discovered Soviet missiles on their way to Cuban sites, precipitating a tense standoff between President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. But in the 1980s, Russia stopped taking Cuban sugar, causing widespread economic deprivation that resulted in thousands of Cubans trying to flee to the US by sea. Castro often spoke with resentment and disgust of the Cubans who left the island because of his government, particularly those who went into exile in the United States, whom he called “guzanos,” the Spanish word for “worms.” Cuban exiles, centered in Miami, responded with equal disdain, with many forming organizations solely focused on getting Castro out of power. In 2008, Fidel, whose health was failing, handed over power to his younger brother Raul. • Within half an hour of the Cuban government's official announcement that former President Fidel Castro had died, Miami's Little Havana burst inot impromptu parades and cheers. Thousands of people banged pots with spoons, waved Cuban and American flags in the air and shouted in jubilation on Calle Ocho (8th Street). Honking and salsa music from car stereos echoed, and fireworks lit up the night sky. Police blocked off streets leading to Cafe Versailles, the quintessential Cuban American hotspot. "Cuba si! Castro no!" they chanted, while others yelled "Cuba libre!" • Cubans fled their island to find safety in Miami, Tampa, New Jersey and elsewhere after Castro took power in 1959. Some were loyalists of Fulgencio Batista, and others left with the hope they would be able to return soon, after Castro was toppled. It never happened. Many others believed they would not be truly free under Castro and his communist regime. Thousands left behind their possessions, loved ones, and hard-earned educations and businesses, traveling to the US by plane, boat or raft. Many Cubans died on the ocean trip to South Florida. And many never returned to see their childhood homes, their neighborhoods, their playgrounds, their businesses, their families, because Castro was still in power. The Cubans who made it to Miami took a vehemently anti-Castro stance. Many Cubans were successful and raised families in Miami despite having to learn a new language and re-start their lives. Exiles who arrived as teenagers with no money became millionaires, political leaders, clergy members, and teachers contributing to the fabric of American society. • One journalist called Obama's statement "carefully-worded." Mark Knoller said : "President Obama's statement on Fidel's death carefully-worded to avoid condemnations of his decades of dictatorship. It is absolutely sickening to watch the White House and the Mainstream Media mourn the loss of their beloved Castro -- a ruthless dictator who was the personification of evil." Senator Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants who fled Castro's Cuba, was enraged by President Obama's half-hearted attempt to whitewash Castro's atrocities : "President Obama issued a pathetic statement on death of dictator #FidelCastro with no mention of thousands he killed & imprisoned. I would hope that [the Obama Admin.] would send no one to the funeral." • But, Donald Trump's statement sums up Fidel Castro in unequivocal terms. Here is President-Elect Trump's full statement : "Today, the world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades. Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights. While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve. Though the tragedies, deaths and pain caused by Fidel Castro cannot be erased, our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty. I join the many Cuban Americans who supported me so greatly in the presidential campaign, including the Brigade 2506 Veterans Association that endorsed me, with the hope of one day soon seeing a free Cuba." • • • Dear readers, rarely do two more different events and messages seize the world's attention simultaneously. François Fillon showing that good men can and do win if they are hard-working and honest with people. Fidel Castro, showing that even the worst of tyrants finally die.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Saturday Politics : Challenges Coming from the EU-Erdogan Deal and the US-Iran Deal

Saturday Politics is sometimes about Turkey -- not the Thanksgiving leftovers but the country. • • • The European Parliament voted this week to suspend Turkey's EU membership talks because of the Turkish government's crackdown since a coup attempt in July. The MEPs' non-binding vote was dismissed as "worthless" by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The MEPs asked the European Commission and 28 national governments to impose a "temporary freeze" on the talks. EU-Turkish ties have deteriorated after years of 'on again-off again' negotiations, which are likely to continue, slowly. Turkey's EU accession talks began in 2005, but only one of the 35 policy areas ("chapters") has been completed. A country can join the EU only when it has met the criteria in all 35 chapters. The non-binding MEP resolution is meant to send a political message to President Erdogan. But it will fall on deaf ears, the BBC's Mark Lowen reports from Istanbul. The resolution was passed by an overwhelming majority of MEPs -- 479 to 37, with 107 abstentions. The problem, in th eyes of the MEPs, is the July coup attempt by mutinous Turkish military officers. Erdogan accused the EU of siding with "terrorism" rather than supporting his country during the brief attempt to oust him. In addition, MEPs oppose much of his crackdown on opponents. About 120,000 Turks have been dismissed or suspended from their public sector jobs, 40,000 arrested, scores of journalists rounded up and opposition pro-Kurdish MPs detained in the coup aftermath. • • • But, Turkey is a key player in the EU's efforts to curb the influx of non-EU migrants and in containing the threat from ISIS jihadists. The EU's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the vote would not yield positive results and urged engagement with Turkey. The fear is that an increasingly anti-Western Erdogan could jettison the EU-Turkey deal, struck in March by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Erdogan with little input from EU leaders -- it was designed to save face for Merkel after her disastrous open-door policy for Middle East migrants caused a flood of asylum seekers from both the Middle East and Africa into Europe. Germany took in the bulk -- more than a million in 2015-16 -- but other EU member states have strongly disagreed with her 'open door' and refuse to take her designated 'quotas' of refugees. The Merkel-Erdogan deal was intended to stem the migrant flow to Europe, and to save that deal, European leaders are unlikely to adhere to the MEPs' vote. But, in reality, nobody expects that Turkey's decades-long dream of EU accession will become a reality. The MEPs' resolution said Turkey should remain "anchored" to the EU, and they pledged to review their position once the "disproportionate repressive measures" in Turkey are lifted : "Turkey is an important partner of the EU. But in partnerships, the will to co-operate has to be two-sided...Turkey is not showing this political will as the government's actions are further diverting Turkey from its European path." • • • Analysts have been asking for some time if the EU-Turkey burgeoning effort at entente is over. Turkish President Erdogan says his country should not be "fixated" on the EU : "Turkey should feel relaxed about the EU and not be fixated about joining it," Erdogan said last weekend. At the same time, he repeated his idea of joining Russia and China in the Eurasian security group Shanghai Co-operation Organization, saying : "Why shouldn't Turkey be in the Shanghai 5?" Turkey's long journey towards the EU has never gone smoothly. Since the 1960s, it has aspired to be part of the bloc, officially applying to become a member in 1987. It was not until 2005 that accession talks actually started. President Erdogan has also urged Turks to be patient until the end of the year over relations with the EU and said a referendum could be held on the country's EU membership in 2017. Many predict a vote to stay out of the EU, with the pressure coming form the Erdogan-controlled media. And, the whole migrant deal could collapse. This would halt Turkey's agreement to curb the flow of migrants and refugees to Greece in return for incentives, including EU cash assistance for Syrian refugees living in Turkey and visa-free travel for Turkish citizens within the Schengen passport free area (this has not as yet happened). If the migrant deal fails, there could be an even greater security risk in the EU as the jihadist group ISSI continues to lose territory and power and tried to send greater numbers of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq back to Europe through Turkey. • • • The Turkish Hurriyet Daily News reported Thursday that Turkey will ‘open up border gates’ if EU goes further, quoting Erdogan. This would let refugees stream toward Europe. Erdogan told Hurriyet : “Some 30-40 votes for ‘no’ and 400-500 votes for ‘yes.’ What would happen if all of you voted ‘yes?’ You never treated humanity honestly and you did not look after people fairly. You did not pick up babies when they washed ashore on the Mediterranean. We are the ones who are feeding around 3.5 million refugees in this country. You did not keep your promises. When 50,000 refugees turned up at the Kapıkule [border gate] you cried out and began to say ‘What will we do when Turkey opens the border gates?’ Look, if you go further, those border gates will be opened. You should know that.” Erdogan repeated his often-used refrain that the “world is bigger than five,” referring to the UN Security Council’s permanent members; "We need to defend that, but we shouldn’t be afraid of some people. We can’t applaud cruelty in order to look nice to someone." Erdogan stressed that Turkey would not : "collapse because of sanctions. We will stand straight and continue on our way. Don’t forget, the West needs Turkey. Turkey didn’t think about whether it would receive money from EU while doing that. The amount that came from the UN is 500 million dollars. The number is 700 when it comes to the EU. How much did we spend? Fifteen billion dollars. There are lots of crises that threaten humanity. I will stress one point. If there wasn’t a refugee crisis, believe me, the humanitarian plights in those countries would go nearly unnoticed.” France, for one, is covering its bases and is now offfering refugees in France 2,500 Euros to return ot their home countries. There are reportedly few takers. • • • Dear readers, Western-Turkey relations have always been troubling. Erdogan is correct when he says that the EU needs Turkey to hold back the flow of refugees. But, there is also a US air base in eastern Turkey that provides air cover and sorties into ISIS-held Syria and Iraq, and that has nuclear warhead capability. While the US-Turkey relationship is fragile, it seems to stay stuck together, with the many significant differences papered over -- one reason is Turkey's strategic position in the sunni-shiite religious wars for power and hegemony in the Middle East. But, another seldom iterated reason is Turkey's strategic position on the southern shores of the Black Sea, serving as a buffer to Russian power plays in the Mediterranean, as it has for centuries. But, that too may be falling away because of the EU-Turkey dispute. Reports say that Erdogan and Putin are speaking by phone to agree on how to manage Turkey's expanding role in the north of Syria while allowing Russia to continue to protect al-Assad. • And, while Turkey issues loom large, another Middle East player is on the prowl. The Washington Post reported in early November that Iran’s supreme leader warned his regime would retaliate if the United States extends sanctions against Teheran for another decade -- putting pressure on the White House as Congress is primed to pass the measure with a probable veto-proof majority. In remarks to commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said a 10-year renewal of US sanctions on Teheran’s energy, banking and defense sectors, which the House has approved, would violate the nuclear deal struck between Iran and world powers last year. Khamenei’s statement was the latest in a string of remarks by senior Iranian officials recently warning that Iran will retaliate in some fashion if sanctions are extended and that such a move could spell the end of the nuclear deal. Iran's warnings put President Obama in a tough spot as Congress prepares to pass the 10-year extension of sanctions that lawmakers in both parties have long been clamoring for. The House passed the measure by a vote of 419 to 1. Senate action expected to follow in December. Congressional leaders are also pledging to expand on those sanctions next year with a broader spectrum of punitive measures, including sanctions to address Iran’s recent ballistic missile tests, as well as cyberthreats and cyberespionage activities. The Obama White House has resisted the changes and has not indicated yet whether it will sign off on even the renewal of existing sanctions, which would otherwise expire at the end of the year. The White House has long argued that the extension of the Iran Sanctions Act is not necessary, because the President has the authority to sanction Iran without the assistance of Congress -- although it has not used the power to prevent or reprimand Iranian breaches of the deal. • One thing is certain -- swallowing the leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner will be a lot easier than swallowing the leftovers from the Merkel- Erdogan refugee deal or the Obama-Iran nuclear deal.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

President-Elect Donald Trump's Thanksgiving Message

Dear readers, as America celebrates its first Thanksgiving with President-Elect Trump, let's reflect on his first Thanksgiving message, undiluted by media hype and anger at his election. The President-Elect delivered a warm and encompassing message of hope for the future as a united America. It was clearly written by Donald Trump in his own familiar tone to reach all Americans with the message of Making America Great Again. • • • "We are very blessed to call this nation our home. And that is what America is: it is our home. It’s where we raise our families, care for our loved ones, look out for our neighbors, and live out our dreams. It is my prayer, that on this Thanksgiving, we begin to heal our divisions and move forward as one country, strengthened by a shared purpose and very, very common resolve. In declaring this national holiday, President Lincoln called upon Americans to speak with 'one voice and one heart.' That’s just what we have to do. We have just finished a long and bruising political campaign. Emotions are raw and tensions just don’t heal overnight. It doesn’t go quickly, unfortunately, but we have before us the chance now to make history together to bring real change to Washington, real safety to our cities, and real prosperity to our communities, including our inner cities. So important to me, and so important to our country. But to succeed, we must enlist the effort of our entire nation. This historic political campaign is now over. Now begins a great national campaign to rebuild our country and to restore the full promise of America for all of our people. I am asking you to join me in this effort. It is time to restore the bonds of trust between citizens. Because when America is unified, there is nothing beyond our reach, and I mean absolutely nothing. Let us give thanks for all that we have, and let us boldly face the exciting new frontiers that lie ahead. Thank you. God Bless You and God Bless America." • • • Here is the You Tube video of President-Elect Trump's Thanksgiving message --

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Wishing Everyone a Safe and Happy Thanksgiving 2016

America has exported many things to the world at large and is often ciritcized for the bad taste those things exhibit. There is Coca Cola, MacDonalds, blue jeans, tennis shoes for street wear, ketchup (although to be fair that came from India through Britain). And, there's sitcom TV and Kodak cameras and and big cars with fins, and jazz and rock-n-roll. The world has taken over the lavish commercial part of the celebration of Christmas, and now dresses up for October 31, arguing that Halloween came from France or Ireland, even though we all know it is as American as apple pie. • But, there is one holiday that no other country celebrates. Thanksgiving. It is Pilgrim Fathers and Indians helping starving English settlers to survive, and roast turkey with all the trimmings, and pumpkin pie. Thanksgiving is pure Americana. • It isn't that the people of other countries have nothing to be thankful for -- just compare the Europe of 1945 with the Europe of 2106 and the reasons for thanksgiving fairly leap off the page at you. In that same period, the Jewish people have found a permanent home they can thankfully call their own. And, Russians have freed themselves from the yoke of soviet communism -- we can all be thankful with them for that. Many Asian countries have found variations of democratic government that work for them. And in China, while much rests to be done, people are more prosperous and freer than they were in 1945. • Yet, only in America is there a national holiday set aside to thank God for the blessings bestowed on them as a people. When I explain the Thanksgiving holiday to Europeans, they focus on the Pilgrims and indians and on the traditional dinner menus. But, that really misses the central point of Thanksgiving. It is the day when Americans give thanks to God for their freedom and prosperity and way of life. It is a uniquely American mix of religious gratitude and family gatherings and political awareness. That combination took root in Virginia in 1608, before the Massachusetts Pilgrims in 1621 celebrated what is popularly seen as the first Thanksgiving. It spread throughout the Colonies long before the First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving was given by the Continental Congress in 1777 from its temporary location in York, Pennsylvania, while the British occupied the national capital at Philadelphia. Delegate Samuel Adams created the first draft. Congress then adopted the final version, whose preamble reads : "For as much as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for Benefits received, and to implore such farther Blessings as they stand in Need of: And it having pleased him in his abundant Mercy, not only to continue to us the innumerable Bounties of his common Providence; but also to smile upon us in the Prosecution of a just and necessary War, for the Defense and Establishment of our unalienable Rights and Liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased, in so great a Measure, to prosper the Means used for the Support of our Troops, and to crown our Arms with most signal success..." Thanksgiving has been celebrated as a federal holiday every year since 1863, when, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens," to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November. • Perhaps the celebration of Thanksgiving is uniquely American because America came late onto the world scene, and her people struggled against both natural adversities and political and military efforts to halt her independence. Perhaps Thanksgiving is uniquely American because the United States is the only country in the world overtly founded on Christian principles embedded in her Declaration of Independence and her Constitution. Thanking God sprang from that remarkable combination of Christian ethics and political liberty that led the Founders to write those idea-laden and class-shattering governing documents. • And so, dear readers, as every American, no matter where he or she is in the world, prepares to celebrate the one truly American holiday, I wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving. Be safe. Be Happy. Be thankful to God for all that you have. Be determined to make the world a better place before the next Thanksgiving rolls around. That, after all, is what Thanksgiving is all about.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Nightmare Years of Obama Progressivism Are Over

"The High-water Mark of Progressivism." That's what American Thinker calls the Obama years. Fay Voshell wrote : "President Obama seems to think he can jawbone his 'legacy' into permanency, despite the recent election. He says the Iran nuclear deal will endure. The Paris agreement will last. Regulations cannot and will not be rolled back. Obamacare will retain its chief provisions." • • • THE SEA CHANGE IN AMERICA. Barack Obama seems to be denying the political sea change that brought Donald Trump to the presidency on November 8. The fact is that the Trump election -- and more, the coalition of Middle Americans that he gave voice to -- will kill Progressivism in the United States, unless they lose heart because of the stiff battles that surely loom. Voshell calls it a revolution : "The revolution happened because Americans have seen the wrecking ball that is Progressivism in action for the last eight years (and counting). The pendulum swung because citizens have watched as the leadership of the Democratic Party was gradually taken over by a bunch of fanatical extremists whose agenda was both morally and pragmatically repellent -- completely divorced from the realities of human existence. What happened was that the once noble moral impulses undergirding the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s were gradually distorted by the radical feminist and gay rights movements, both of which hijacked civil rights terminology and both of which leveraged the momentum of the initial civil rights movement for their own increasingly fatuous, fanatical and narrow purposes; purposes which wound up badly hurting other Americans -- in fact, the American majority." • The special privileges that the Obama Progressive government has granted to their tiny constituencies that call themselves 'victims' has resulted in turning the civil rights movement upside down -- gone are its Christian underpinnings and respect for the Constitution, gone is the sense of brotherhood and common cause in righting the wrongs that swirled around race in America before Dr. King began his marches, gone is the idea that good faith and effort would make a "more perfect Union." These truly American beliefs were replaced by Obama and his Progressive allies with 'forced marches' and brainwashing reminiscent of Mao Tse Tung tactics -- all used to subdue American values and replace them with a tyranny of unacceptable and unaccepted views about the world qnd humankind's place in it. • Many of these commonly held American values center around the ideas precious to Christianity, and so, to enforce his Progressive ideas, Obama set out to build an America in which Christian values were rejected in favor of privileges for the very few who represented a denial of these values -- same-sex marriage and adoption, abortion up to the day of delivery, the blurring of sexual differences to the point of forcing them on innocent and vulnerable children -- all accomplished by forcing Christians to accept and support these Progressive goals or risk the fury of an ever-more powerful federal government. Not only did the Obama Progressives espouse these radical policies, they co-opted the Democrat Party, making its members join their blitzkreig on America, helping to create an America in which the totality of western civilization's values and norms were replaced by a new world in which Progressivism's destruction of western civilization reigned. We may call the Obama years an effort to sovietize America, to eradicate constitutional majority rule of law, to install socialism, to destroy Christianity, to elevate Islam, to sweep away the vision of America as the democratic glue that holds the world together; but whatever we call it... • • • AMERICA SAID 'NO.' Americans finally and loudly said 'No' on November 8, rejecting both the Progressive agenda and those who favored it, beginning with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. That 'No' was possible because the Constitution remained intact, despite all the Progressive efforts to ignore and distort it. It was finally the uprising of millions of Americans around their founding document that abolished Obama's fantasy-based vision of the world and America. To those who say that the Constitution is outmoded or needs revision by a Supreme Court that casts it into whatever social and political form current winds dictate -- just say "November 8." • • • OBAMA'S EFFECT ON THE DEMOCRAT PARTY. We may wonder how American Democrats were so bamboozled. Perhaps it was the 'sheep' effect, or perhaps it was the feeling that an African-American President could not be wrong about how to lead America. But, reality should have warned Democrats long before 2016 that something was very wrong. It started in 2010 with the Tea Party and ontinued up to November's sea change election, when the Democrat Party hit a new low in state legislative seats, suffering yet another string of losses that highlighted the devastation caused by Obama up and down the party across the nation. • Republicans will control 4,170 state legislative seats after the election, while Democrats will control 3,129 seats in the nation’s 98 partisan legislative chambers. Republicans picked up a net gain of 46 seats, while Democrats lost 46 seats, according to the Associated Press. Independents and members of minor parties will hold 71 seats, including the entire Nebraska Senate, which is nonpartisan. The results cap a real political legacy of Republican gains in state legislatures during President Obama’s tenure. Republicans gained more than 700 seats in the 2010 midterm elections and nearly 300 in the 2014 midterms as Obama’s approval ratings suffered. Democrats clawed back more than 100 seats in 2012, when Obama won reelection. But, in total, Republicans control nearly 1,000 more legislative seats than they did when Obama took office. The Republican share of state legislative seats has grown from just under 44% in 2009 to 56%. After their latest losses, Democrats will hold just 42% of legislative seats nationwide. In 2017, Republicans will control 67 of the 98 partisan legislative chambers, after winning new majorities in the Kentucky House, and the Iowa and Minnesota Senates. Since Obama took office, Republicans have captured control of 27 state legislative chambers that Democrats held after the 2008 elections. The GOP now controls the most legislative seats it has held since the founding of the party in 1856. • However, simply controlling more seats in a legislative chamber does not necessarily guarantee a majority. A coalition of Democrats, independents and a few Republicans will give Democrats control of the Alaska state House. Although they are in the minority in both states, Republican-led coalitions control the Washington and New York Senates. Democrats will have to make serious gains in many deep red states before being able to compete for majorities across the country once again. Democrats hold fewer than 10 seats in 15 state legislative chambers across the country, while Republicans hold fewer than 10 seats in just 6 chambers -- including the Hawaii Senate, where all 25 members are Democrats. In 2017, Republicans will control both chambers of the state legislature and governorships in 24 states. Democrats will hold total control in only 5 states -- Hawaii, California, Oregon, Connecticut and Rhode Island. • State legislatures are important not only because of the laws they pass, but because of their influence over the redistricting process every ten years. Massive Democratic losses in the 2010 midterms gave Republicans the opportunity to draw congressional district maps in many states before the 2012 elections, effectively locking in a Republican majority in the House of Representatives. • But, this avalanche of Republican victories should not lull the GOP and its base into complacency. Democrats have reason to celebrate in states where Hispanic voters play a significant role. The party picked up 11 legislative seats in Nevada, seven in New Mexico and seven in Texas. Democrats also gained control of both the state Assembly and Senate in Nevada, and the New Mexico state House. Demographics matter, and the GOP must now consolidate its gains in order to hold on to a constitutional America by taking the constitutional message of personal liberties through mutual respect and individual responsibility to all Americans. Every American wants his or her share of the American Dream. The Republican Party has always offered the best road to that goal, from Lincoln to today. • • • THE PROGRESSIVE WORLD VIEW. The New Yorker magazine has published a long essay on the twilight of Obama's presidency. On the morning after the election, Obama told the New Yorker : “This is not the apocalypse." A few days later, President Obama added : “I don’t believe in apocalyptic -- until the apocalypse comes. I think nothing is the end of the world until the end of the world.” Then, toward the end of the long interview period that stretched over many weeks, the New Yorker wrote that there is no question that Obama is now seeing his post-Presidency "in a new, if dimmer, light." Obama told the New Yorker : “I think that if Hillary Clinton had won the election then I’d just turn over the keys. We’d make sure the briefing books were in order and out we go. I think now I have some responsibility to at least offer my counsel to those who will continue to be elected officials about how the Democratic National Committee can help rebuild, how state parties and progressive organizations can work together.” • Note -- Obama said "Progressive organizations," not constitutional or democratic organizations -- and he went on to say : "What I do concern myself with, and the Democratic Party is going to have to concern itself with, is the fact that the confluence of globalization and technology is making the gap between rich and poor, the mismatch in power between capital and labor, greater all the time. And that’s true globally....we’re going to have to redesign the social compact in some fairly fundamental ways over the next twenty years." • This is the same New Yorker reporter who wrote of Donald Trump the day after his election victory : "The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. Trump’s shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy. On January 20, 2017, we will bid farewell to the first African-American President -- a man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit -- and witness the inauguration of a con who did little to spurn endorsement by forces of xenophobia and white supremacy. It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety." • • • Dear readers, take note that the latest polls show that 53% of Americans think President-Elect Trump is dong a good job right now in getting ready for his presidency. We have to believe that these Americans also said "Enough" -- enough of this Progressive spin that says everything Americans value is to be relabeled as a fault and spit out with vicious words onto the garbage heap of history. No, it will be Progressivism that ends on the garbage heap, thanks to the US Constitution. • And, at this moment when we are hearing transition team suggestions that Hillary Clinton may not be prosecuted for her grievous crimes against America and her sacred duty as a public servant, let us take courage frmo the reports that President-Elect Trump has chastized the mainstream media for its villanous role in trying to defeat the will of Americans at the voting booth. The New York Post reported on Tuesday that major media executives and network hosts were berated in a private, one-hour closed-door meeting with Trump on Monday. The NY Post quoted one source who said : "It was like a f—ing firing squad." The meeting took place at Trump Tower and included executives and anchors from CBS, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, Fox Business Network, ABC and NBC. The source said : "Trump started with Jeff Zucker and said 'I hate your network, everyone at CNN is a liar and you should be ashamed'....The TV execs and anchors went in there thinking they would be discussing the access they would get to the Trump administration, but instead they got a Trump-style dressing down." One of Trump's senior advisers, Kellyanne Conway, called the meeting unprecedented and "excellent," and one source told The Wrap that Trump's team and those in attendance made "real progress" with regard to transparency. This is one more sign that Donald Trump has not lost his fire and fervor and is still squarely on the side of the American majority whom he represents as a champion and as a beam of light showing that the nightmare Obama years are indeed over.