Thursday, March 19, 2015
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Randy Boyagoda's "Richard John Neuhaus: A Life in the Public Square" is a reliable and readable biography of the influential intellectual
March 13, 2015
The death of Father Richard John Neuhaus in 2009 constituted an immediate and irreparable loss for American political and religious life. He brought Christianity into the public square with unique intellectual rigor, cultural erudition, and brio; no obvious successor has emerged in the years since his passing. Neuhaus’s rich and noteworthy life deserves a reliable biography; it now has one in Randy Boyagoda’s readable Richard John Neuhaus: A Life in the Pubic Square.
Born in 1936 in Pembroke, Ontario, where his American-born father, Clemens Neuhaus, was the pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church, Neuhaus grew up in a pious, bustling home filled with siblings. His education ran into difficulty in high school in Texas, where he dropped out. (As Neuhaus later acknowledged: “I knocked about.”) He subsequently found his stride at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, where he studied from 1955 to 1960. There he came under the influence of the formidable Arthur Piepkorn, who taught Neuhaus that Lutheranism was essentially a reform movement designed to foster unity. As Neuhaus wrote of Piepkorn’s influential—and controversial—theology: “The Reformation was not against the Church catholic but to make the Church more catholic.”
Once ordained, Neuhaus soon began his work as a pastor of St. John the Evangelist, a Missouri Synod Lutheran church in Brooklyn, New York, that had seen better days. In that racially mixed urban congregation, Neuhaus flourished. Moreover, he energetically pursued matters well beyond his congregation, becoming a major Protestant figure in the civil-rights movement. He was also a salient opponent of the war in Vietnam; indeed, he was a founder and leader of Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam and worked side by side with all the prominent clerical radicals of the period.
Neuhaus famously moved to the political right after the activist frenzy of the 1960s. Decisive in this movement for him was the catastrophe of Roe v. Wade in 1973. Boyagoda captures the impact of the new abortion-on-demand arrangement on Neuhaus well:
Powerfully motivated in his ministry, writings, politics, and activism by a sense that the right-ordered purpose of liberalism was to defend the weak from the powerful, by the early 1970s Neuhaus began to understand his commitment to the rights of the poor and the racially oppressed as of a piece with his commitment to the rights of the unborn, which would occupy an ever greater primacy in the coming years. From the beginning, however, this integration of rights for the poor and rights for the unborn placed him at a critical distance from a Left in which private rights—made possible by and indeed protecting implicit race and class privileges—trumped responsibilities for others.
Always a prolific writer, Neuhaus published in 1984 the book that placed him at the national center of the question of religion in American public life, The Naked Public Square. Subsequent discussion on the complexities involved in the interplay of religion on public issues would be shaped by this important book for many years.
As his intellectual stature and influence continued to increase, Neuhaus was received into the Catholic Church in 1990 and ordained a priest after a short period of formation. (I recall a friend commenting accurately at the time that Neuhaus's conversion would prove to be the most important of our time.) Neuhaus’s statement on his conversion is a model of gracefulness and illustrative of the ecumenical outlook that enabled him throughout his life to work so closely with those who did not share his faith on issues of common concern:
I cannot begin to express adequately my gratitude for all the goodness I have known in the Lutheran Communion. There I was baptized, there I learned my prayers, there I was introduced to Scripture and creed, there I was nurtured by Christ on Christ, there I came to know the utterly gratuitous love of God by which we live astonished. For my theological formation, for friendships beyond numbering, for great battles fought, for mutual consolations in defeat, for companionship in ministry—for all this I give thanks and know that I will forever be in debt to the Church called Lutheran. Most especially I am grateful for my 30 years as a pastor. There is nothing in that ministry that I would repudiate, except my many sins and shortcomings. My becoming a priest in the Roman Catholic Church will be the completion and right ordering of what was begun 30 years ago. Nothing that was good is rejected, all is fulfilled.
It was during this time that First Things was launched. This monthly journal rapidly became the forum for the best contemporary writing on church, state, and all related matters. Of course, the back of the magazine was Neuhaus’s space, and each month he would publish thousands of words on a vast range of subjects, invariably leaving the reader in awe at his rhetorical skill and his capacity to provide a deeper understanding of whatever was under discussion. It was an extraordinary achievement—a true intellectual tour de force; it is difficult to think of anyone who could do anything similar today.
Naturally, much of Neuhaus’s writing during this time addressed political concerns that have come and gone. But his writing on the great issues retains its resonance and cogency. Two pieces especially come to mind. First, his pro-life address, “We Shall Not Weary, We Shall Not Rest,” first delivered in 2008 to the annual convention of the Right to Life Committee, is as stirring today in its eloquence and moral urgency as it was then. (“Nobody is a nobody; nobody is unwanted. All are wanted by God, and therefore to be respected, protected, and cherished by us.”)
Second, Neuhaus’s brilliant essay, “The Return of Eugenics,” which was published in Commentary in 1998, is still the best critique available on the recrudescence of this great evil. His closing paragraph was—and is—grimly arresting: “And so, quite suddenly it seems, we are facing questions for which we have no ready answers. The questions are being answered, however. Most of us, probably because we want to live with a clear conscience, prefer not to think about the answers that are being given. Later, we can say that we did not know.”
Neuhaus’s writing, however, consisted of much more than his adroit arguments about and insights into Christianity and American public life. His book, Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross (2000), is a small classic of theological reflection; one returns to it again and again with great benefit. And truly riveting prose is found in his short book on nearly dying of a misdiagnosed tumor, As I Lay Dying: Meditations upon Returning (2001).
These days, First Things remains a vital journal under the editorship of R.R. Reno, and Catholicism does not want for able apologists and religion-and-public-life thinkers. Still, I am sure I am not alone in often thinking about a major issue (the impact of Pope Francis, for example) and wondering: What would Father Neuhaus have thought and written? Boyagoda’s book soundly presents the life of this extraordinary Christian man.
Richard John Neuhaus: A Life in the Public Square
By Randy Boyagoda
New York: Image, 2015
Hardcover, 459 pages
By Randy Boyagoda
New York: Image, 2015
Hardcover, 459 pages
By Caroline Glick
March 12, 2015
The next 22 months until President Barack Obama leaves office promise to be the most challenging period in the history of US-Israel relations.
Now unfettered by electoral concerns, over the past week Obama exposed his ill-intentions toward Israel in two different ways.
First, the Justice Department leaked its intention to indict Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez on corruption charges. Menendez is the ranking Democratic member, and the former chairman, of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is also the most outspoken Democratic critic of Obama’s policy of appeasing the Iranian regime.
As former US federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy wrote this week at PJMedia, “It is perfectly reasonable to believe that Menendez may be guilty of corruption offenses and that his political opposition on Iran is factoring into the administration’s decision to charge him. Put it another way, if Menendez were running interference for Obama on the Iran deal, rather than trying to scupper it, I believe he would not be charged.”
The Menendez prosecution tells us that Obama wishes to leave office after having vastly diminished support for Israel among Democrats. And he will not hesitate to use strong-arm tactics against his fellow Democrats to achieve his goal.
We already experienced Obama’s efforts in this sphere in the lead-up to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before the joint houses of Congress on March 3 with his campaign to pressure Democratic lawmakers to boycott Netanyahu’s address.
Now, with his move against Menendez, Obama made clear that support for Israel – even in the form of opposition to the nuclear armament of Iran – will be personally and politically costly for Democrats.
The long-term implications of Obama’s moves to transform US support for Israel into a partisan issue cannot by wished away. It is possible that his successor as the head of the Democratic Party will hold a more sympathetic view of Israel. But it is also possible that the architecture of Democratic fund-raising and grassroots support that Obama has been building for the past six years will survive his presidency and that as a consequence, Democrats will have incentives to oppose Israel.
The reason Obama is so keen to transform Israel into a partisan issue was made clear by the second move he made last week.
Last Thursday, US National Security Adviser Susan Rice announced that the NSC’s Middle East Coordinator Phil Gordon was stepping down and being replaced by serial Israel-basher Robert Malley.
Malley, who served as an NSC junior staffer during the Clinton administration, rose to prominence in late 2000 when, following the failed Camp David peace summit in July 2000 and the outbreak of the Palestinian terror war, Malley co-authored an op-ed in The New York Times blaming Israel and then-prime minister Ehud Barak for the failure of the negotiations.
What was most remarkable at the time about Malley’s positions was that they completely contradicted Bill Clinton’s expressed views. Clinton placed the blame for the failure of the talks squarely on then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s shoulders.
Not only did Arafat reject Barak’s unprecedented offer of Palestinian statehood and sovereignty over all of Gaza, most of Judea and Samaria and parts of Jerusalem including the Temple Mount, he refused to make a counter-offer. And then two months later, he opened the Palestinian terror war.
As Jonathan Tobin explained in Commentary this week, through his writings and public statements, Malley has legitimized Palestinian rejection of Israel’s right to exist. Malley thinks it is perfectly reasonable that the Palestinians refuse to concede their demand for free immigration of millions of foreign Arabs to the Jewish state in the framework of their concocted “right of return,” even though the clear goal of that demand is to destroy Israel. As Tobin noted, Malley believes that Palestinian terrorism against Israel is “understandable if not necessarily commendable.”
During Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, then-senator Obama listed Malley as a member of his foreign policy team. When pro-Israel groups criticized his appointment, Obama fired Malley.
But after his 2012 reelection, no longer fearing the ramifications of embracing an openly anti-Israel adviser, one who had documented contacts with Hamas terrorists and has expressed support for recognizing the terror group, Obama appointed Malley to serve as his senior adviser for Iraq-Iran-Syria and the Gulf states. Still facing the 2014 congressional elections, Obama pledged that Malley would have no involvement in issues related to Israel and the Palestinians. But then last week, he appointed him to direct the NSC’s policy in relation to the entire Middle East, including Israel.
The deeper significance of Malley’s appointment is that it demonstrates that Obama’s goal in his remaining time in office is to realign US Middle East policy away from Israel. With his Middle East policy led by a man who thinks the Palestinian goal of destroying Israel is legitimate, Obama can be expected to expand his practice of placing all the blame for the absence of peace between Israel and the Palestinians solely on Israel’s shoulders.
Malley’s appointment indicates that there is nothing Israel can do to stem the tsunami of American pressure it is about to suffer. Electing a left-wing government to replace Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will make no difference.
Just as Malley was willing to blame Barak – a leader who went to Camp David as the head of a minority coalition, whose positions on territorial withdrawals were rejected by a wide majority of Israelis – for the absence of peace, so we can assume that he, and his boss, will blame Israel for the absence of peace over the next 22 months, regardless of who stands at the head of the next government.
In this vein we can expect the administration to expand the anti-Israel positions it has already taken.
The US position paper regarding Israeli-Palestinian negotiation that was leaked this past week toYediot Aharonot made clear the direction Obama wishes to go. That document called for Israel to withdraw to the indefensible 1949 armistice lines, with minor revisions.
In the coming 22 months we can expect the US to use more and more coercive measures to force Israel to capitulate to its position.
The day the administration-sponsored talks began in July 2013, the EU announced it was barring its member nations from having ties with Israeli entities that operate beyond the 1949 armistice lines unless those operations involve assisting the Palestinians in their anti-Israel activities. The notion that the EU initiated an economic war against Israel the day the talks began without coordinating the move with the Obama administration is, of course, absurd.
We can expect the US to make expanded use of European economic warfare against Israel in the coming years, and to continue to give a backwind to the anti-Semitic BDS movement by escalating its libelous rhetoric conflating Israel with the apartheid regime in South Africa.
US-Israel intelligence and defense ties will also be on the chopping block.
While Obama and his advisers consistently boast that defense and intelligence ties between Israel and the US have grown during his presidency, over the past several years, those ties have suffered blow after blow. During the war with Hamas last summer, acting on direct orders from the White House, the Pentagon instituted a partial – unofficial – embargo on weapons to Israel.
As for intelligence ties, over the past month, the administration announced repeatedly that it is ending its intelligence sharing with Israel on Iran.
We also learned that the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is being fingered as the source of the leak regarding the Stuxnet computer virus that Israel and the US reportedly developed jointly to cripple Iran’s nuclear centrifuges.
In other words, since taking office, Obama has used the US’s intelligence ties with Israel to harm Israel’s national security.*
He has also used diplomacy to harm Israel. Last summer, Obama sought a diplomatic settlement of Hamas’s war with Israel that would have granted Hamas all of its war goals, including its demand for open borders and access to the international financial system.
Now of course, he is running roughshod over his bipartisan opposition, and the opposition of Israel and the Sunni Arab states, in the hopes of concluding a nuclear deal with Iran that will pave the way for the ayatollahs to develop nuclear weapons and expand their hegemonic control over the Middle East.
Amid of this, and facing 22 months of ever more hostility as Obama pursues his goal of ending the US-Israel alliance, Israelis are called on to elect a new government.
This week the consortium of former security brass that has banded together to elect a leftist government led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni accused Netanyahu of destroying Israel’s relations with the US. The implication was that a government led by Herzog and Livni will restore Israel’s ties to America.
Yet as Obama has made clear both throughout his tenure in office, and, over the past week through Malley’s appointment and Menendez’s indictment, Obama holds sole responsibility for the deterioration of our ties with our primary ally. And as his actions have also made clear, Herzog and Livni at the helm will receive no respite in US pressure. Their willingness to make concessions to the Palestinians that Netanyahu refuses to make will merely cause Obama to move the goalposts further down the field. Given his goal of abandoning the US alliance with Israel, no concession that Israel will deliver will suffice.
And so we need to ask ourselves, which leader will do a better job of limiting the danger and waiting Obama out while maintaining sufficient overall US support for Israel to rebuild the alliance after Obama has left the White House.
The answer, it seems, is self-evident.
The Left’s campaign to blame Netanyahu for Obama’s hostility will make it all but impossible for a Herzog-Livni government to withstand US pressure that they say will disappear the moment Netanyahu leaves office.
In contrast, as the US position paper leaked to Yediot indicated, Netanyahu has demonstrated great skill in parrying US pressure. He agreed to hold negotiations based on a US position that he rejected and went along with the talks for nine months until the Palestinians ended them. In so doing, he achieved a nine-month respite in open US pressure while exposing Palestinian radicalism and opposition to peaceful coexistence.
On the Iranian front, Netanyahu’s courageous speech before Congress last week energized Obama’s opponents to take action and forced Obama onto the defensive for the first time while expanding popular support for Israel.
It is clear that things will only get more difficult in the months ahead. But given the stakes, the choice of Israeli voters next Tuesday is an easy one.
* Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that Hillary Clinton was reportedly involved in leaking sensitive information related to joint Israel-US operations to the media.
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
By Clarice Feldman
March 15, 2015
The world is accustomed to stock plays and players. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is but a take on a play written in Rome by Plautus a couple of thousand years ago, and all the key players are stereotypes of characters we see over and again in theatrical comedies. Is there after all much space between Pseudolus, the hero of that hoary work, and Sergeant Bilko? In much the same way, the Clintons tend to be characters in a stock play that we’ve seen over and again for decades. The only question this time around is will there be a new ending?
Act One of the Clinton drama is always one or both of them with their fingers caught in the cookie jar -- that is Bill or Hillary being caught out having done something that would doom lesser mortals to jail and obscurity. On stage we see the Clintons, the press and pundits, the various public and private watchdogs ,and the stock villainous cohorts -- the odious Sidney Blumenthal and David Brock -- and stock spinners -- usually Lanny Davis and James Carville -- who downplay the offense, muddy the legal and factual waters, and accuse the accusers of mental illness (i.e. stalking), ignorance, or evil design.
Act Two is equally predictable: A Clinton takes to the air and gives a carefully parsed denial; one so disingenuous the listener can’t help comparing it to the Governor’s “sidestep” song and dance in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Having been fed incredible pap, the Clinton supporters in the press announce the issue closed, old news, not worth following up, and their less credulous followers are left once again with proof that these Yale law grads are no better than sideshow carnies, but the public, which seems to never sate its love of bread and circuses, falls for the sorry pitch anew.
Act Three has to date been the Clintons triumphant over reality. They continue to enrich themselves as they travel the world mouthing moral pieties and raking in yet more thinly disguised bribes and taxpayer funds. (Bill alone has received $16 million in federal money to bankroll himself and the Clinton Foundation now holds assets estimated at a quarter of a billion dollars. This Foundation is but a charitably named piggybank designed to increase their riches and influence, a great deal of which was received odorously from foreign entities -- often ones engaging in the very conduct the Foundation purports to fight -- while his wife was secretary of state.)
I think this time that Act Three deserves and will get a rewrite. The plot is shopworn and dated and the key players miscast by age and lack of talent. Hillary just isn’t the charming, roguish liar that her husband is, and there’s a big difference between being caught with a stained blue dress and having seriously compromised national security.
Added to that, any effort to portray herself as an old grandmother befuddled by new technology seems unavailing for a presidential candidate. Even the storyline this time is just different enough to suggest a different ending. Bill’s not standing by his woman. Neither, it seems, is the White House and its staff, a staff well-schooled in fitting yet another erstwhile ally under the bus. Finally, unlike Bill, she hasn’t much to commend her besides an appeal to the kind of weak, ill-informed voter dreaming she’d be empowered by electing such a harridan to the White House, the voters my friend Rick Ballard calls “the lackwitz sisters”.
Still the drama of will she or won’t she drop out of the running is good for a bit longer, the kind of drama which briefly gets the lackwitz cadre and their male counterparts half-heartedly interested in politics, or rather political drama. (You’ve only to watch the numerous videos of interviews of college students who don’t even know what or when the Civil War was or who the vice-president is to realize how unashamedly politically ignorant voters are.) Driving this story onward is the fact that Hillary has sucked so much money and air out of the Democrat party that there is no plausible replacement waiting in the wings, and party adherents for a while at least seem stuck with her. Still, the plot has thickened and not to her advantage.
Lawsuits are about to multiply. Judicial Watch, whose record for wins lately has improved, filed a suit seeking Huma Abedin’s emails, emails also found on the unsecured clintonone email account.
Her emails are of special interest because she is tied by family connections to the Moslem Brotherhood and also because she was strangely permitted to conduct private consulting while working for the Department of State, an arrangement which filled her coffers by about a half million dollars a year.
In all, Judicial Watch has filed 18 FOIA lawsuits against the State Department, 'all of which are being carefully considered in light of Mrs. Clinton’s and the department’s misconduct and misrepresentations,' Farrell said.
'More strong legal action will follow. Stay tuned,' he added
At the time the Abedin lawsuit was wending its way through federal court, the State Department said in writing that it had exhaustively searched its archives and provided everything Judicial Watch asked for.
But with the revelation of a separate email address, the group is demanding a second bite at the apple.
Judge Emmit Sullivan in Washington, D.C. is expected to grant the request: Judicial Watch writes in its filing that the State Department won't fight it.
I’m not sure how the State Department could fight reopening these cases nor how the Court could decide in its favor.
The Associated Press has also filed a lawsuit requesting the records and this contretemps, like those Clinton sagas which preceded it, will certainly provide increased business for the flagging law firms in town. Other suits are certain to follow.
Should the emails have been unlawfully destroyed, she will have violated federal law and that, along with her anticipated testimony before Trey Gowdy’s Benghazi Committee, will not burnish her thin credentials for anything more than congenital lying and lawbreaking even if the Department of Justice continues to refuse to prosecute administration wrongdoers.
The press and some of her prior defenders are less willing to play in her chorus line this time. Sure, NPR seems to be publishing her account without questioning the more preposterous claims she is making, but most of the other news agencies are less supine.
Her factual assertions are not of the he said-she said variety, requiring only a partisan belief in her to resolve in her favor. They are now matters easily determined and they do not sustain her defense. For example the location and invulnerability of her server and emails is and has been easily contested.
Stirred by the controversy surrounding Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state, a determined band of hackers, IT bloggers, and systems analysts have trained their specialized talents and state-of-the-art software on clintonemail.com, the domain under which Clinton established multiple private email accounts, and uncovered serious lapses in security, according to data shared with Fox News.
The findings call into question Clinton’s confident declaration, at a hastily arranged news conference in New York on Tuesday, that “there were no security breaches” in her use of a private server. One prominent figure in the hacker community, bolstered by long experience in the U.S. intelligence community, has undertaken to build a virtual “replica” of Clinton’s server configuration in a cyberlab, and has begun testing it with tools designed to probe security defenses. This individual has shared details of the Clinton system not disclosed publicly but legally obtainable.
Indeed, we first learned about the private emails when Sidney Blumenthal’s emails to Hillary offering “sensitive” foreign policy advice were hacked and made public by Guccifer.
The usually reliably Democrat echo, Politico, ran a story quoting an expert on the Freedom of Information Act saying her defense was “laughable”:
There is no doubt that the scheme she established was a blatant circumvention of the Freedom of Information Act, atop the Federal Records Act,” he said, reviewing a transcript of Clinton’s remarks during her Tuesday news conference. Clinton told reporters she deleted approximately 30,000 personal emails from her private account
The FOIA expert said if he had heard of a Cabinet member setting up a personal email system and deciding what gets deleted and what gets kept as government record, “I would’ve said, ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me.’”
“You can’t have the secretary of state do that; that’s just a prescription for the circumvention of the FOIA,” he said. “Plus, fundamentally, there’s no way the people at the archives should permit that if you tell them over there.”’
Metcalfe said that Clinton knows how the Freedom of Information Act works, based on his work with the Clinton administration in his professional capacity.
According to the Canadian Press report, Metcalfe said Clinton’s statements at the news conference were at places impossible to verify, “deceptive” and “grossly misleading.
Even the Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus was taken aback and unwilling to defend Hillary’s conduct.
To be sure, there were a few new defenders but they lack the practiced finesse of the usual Clinton claque. Take Garance Franke-Ruta, Yahoo News’ Washington editor, who tweeted in such polished crystalline fashion: “Sort of thinking Clinton not following the rules (re email) is also a core part of her message (re:being 1st female president)”. David Burge (Iowahawk) swatted that one out of the park :
Latest spin: Hillary is too much of a strong, independent woman to follow the patriarchy's sexist email "laws".
Should he ever choose to run, Iowahawk has my vote. At least his pressers would be fun.