In View (A Collage of Observations)

Partial Vindication

A New York State investigation team has cleared Covenant House, the shelter for runaway children, of all charges of criminal mishandling of charitable contributions. Robert Abrams, the attorney general, said that his office and directors of the shelter were working together to establish financial procedures that would prevent even the perception of wrongdoing in the future. Unfortunately, a cloud still hangs over the head of Father Bruce Ritter, who has been investigated behind closed doors but whose alleged offenses have never been publicly proven or documented. Ritter supporters continue to maintain that his real crime was offending organized crime interests in New York by putting a dent in the commercial traffic in the sexual exploitation of runaway children. “Finally they got him,” one Covenant House supporter and Ritter backer recently said.

Ortega’s Second Thoughts

General Humberto Ortega a neoconservative? Is the Pope a Mohammedan? Surprising many supporters and critics alike, Ortega made some unusual remarks in a recent interview with an Uruguayan magazine. If his brother Daniel won the election, Humberto said, “Nicaragua would not have attained the peace and economic recovery it so urgently needs.”

Humberto Ortega went on to tell Brecha readers that the Sandinistas have run the country for too long, and have fallen into mistakes and false postures. Ortega called upon the Sandinista directorate to make way for “younger, democratic minds” to replace the current regime educated in “Cuban and Soviet Marxism-Leninism.” Ortega was most surprising when he added, “These people have procedures and strategies which are now obsolete and have been completely rejected by the people.”

It is too soon to place Humberto Ortega, who has himself resigned from the Sandinistas to take up the position of army chief of staff under Violeta Chamorro, as another Irving Kristol or Eliot Abrams. Nevertheless, who can disagree with him when he says that Nicaragua needs fresh blood and new ideas, and that it is “more important to save Nicaragua than to save the Sandinista front”?

Family Ties

When Phyllis Schlafly or Eagle Forum puts out a study advancing pro-family policies such as a reform of no-fault divorce laws, it isn’t news. When the Progressive Policy Institute (PPO, a think tank with liberal credentials, says the same thing, that stirs up discussion and publicity.

In a recent study by Elaine Kamarck, William Galston, Robert Shapiro, and Margaret Beyer, the relatively new Progressive Policy Institute declared that the family should be “at the center of our thinking of social issues” that government policy should “reinforce family” while avoiding “bureaucratic approaches that seek to replace family functions.”

Specific recommendations are to raise the personal exemption per child from the current level of $2,000 to $7,500 for income tax purposes; to reform the robotic foster care system; to change no-fault divorce laws whose greatest burden falls on women and children; to enforce child support laws; and so on.

Excellent stuff, which of course conservatives have been saying for years. The progressive authors of this study warn, however, that “liberals tend to reach for bureaucratic solutions even when they are counter-productive; conservatives tend to reject government responses even when they would work.” It is important for liberal Democrats who seek to move their friends away from statist, anti-family approaches to put some distance between themselves and the Right; rhetorically they seek to occupy an enlightened middle ground between the excesses of ideological extremists.

Fair enough. We can all put up with these little verbal pirouettes as long as the result is a more sensible, workable family policy. PPI can continue to draw upon the capital of conservative ideas of the past decade. We like what they’re coming up with, so we’re not going to blow the whistle.

Letting Allende Rest

Analisis, a left-wing newsmagazine in Santiago, Chile, has a confession to make. It admits that Moscow radio and Fidel Castro concocted the story that Salvador Allende was killed by the army. “In that way, the world Left generated its own truth about what had occurred in the last minutes of the life of Allende.” The notion of Allende’s assassination or death in battle was politically useful as the Left struggled against the country’s military regime. To admit Allende had committed suicide “would have been to recognize total defeat.”

Christianity and Slavery

Historian Bernard Lewis of Princeton has observed that while the phenomenon of slavery is universal, what is distinctively Western is the movement for the abolition of slavery. In particular, the Christian doctrine that all are equal in the eyes of God proved a powerful force for anti-slavery crusaders to overturn unjust laws. Some feeble attempts were made to provide biblical justification for the trade in human beings, but even in the American South, slavery was typically justified on grounds of necessity, not justice; in terms of expediency, not Christianity.

Given these well-known facts, it is surprising that Alfred Knopf, a usually respectable publishing house, has just put out Forrest Wood’s The Arrogance of Faith, which argues that “North Americans embraced slavery because they were Christians, not in spite of it.” Christianity, Wood adds, “has been fundamentally racist in its ideology, organization, and practice.” To buttress these broad and astonishing claims, Wood offers little more than snippets of evidence, such as the fact that the New Christian Crusade Church of Metairie, Louisiana, (now David Duke territory) once taught that Hitler was a better Christian than Billy Graham. Another church in San Francisco, which lists no address but a post office box number, warned that blacks should be hunted down because they “serve the anti-Christ.”

These peculiarities are deplorable enough, but one needs more than a few horror stories to indict the primary spiritual force behind Western civilization. Moreover, Wood needs to document that non-Christian religions have eschewed racism, which would be news, for example, to Moslems who know that Mohammed owned slaves, or to Hindus who know that their priests have long provided theological justifications for the caste system. Eugene Genovese, the Marxist historian who is no Catholic apologist, commented in the New Republic that Wood’s shoddy research is emblematic of the sorry state of scholarship in the history profession, where too often ideologically preferred positions overwhelm the truth.

Thesis and Antithesis

For the past few years CRISIS has sought, virtually alone, to sponsor intelligent theological and political debate between Catholics and evangelical Christians. A new Protestant magazine has come to our attention, Antithesis, published by the Covenant Community Church of Orange County, California, but seeking a national circulation. Antithesis seeks what editors term a “re-evangelization of culture,” and the October 1990 issue contains fascinating articles on “Why Protestants Convert to Catholicism,” “New Confusions for Old: Rome and the Justification Problem,” and (more sternly) “Enduring Anathemas of the Roman Catholic Eucharist.” Although occasionally long-winded and a bit harsh in characterizing Catholic views, Antithesis nevertheless shows a lively penchant for the religious and moral debate, as well as an appreciation of the “Catholic moment,” and we welcome this ecumenical partner to the public square.

Remember the Other Anti-Semitism

We would just as soon have the controversy over Pat Buchanan’s supposed anti-Semitism quietly laid to rest, but one particular caught our eye. In a Washington Post article on the matter, Leon Wieseltier, the New Republic’s literary editor, was quoted displaying a bit of the intellectual class’s version of anti-Semitism—anti-Catholicism: “There’s no question there can be in a religious Catholic a theological basis for anti-Semitic emotion, though I emphasize that not all religious Catholics are anti-Semites. The roots of some of this man’s feelings about the Jews may be theological.”

Eat, Drink Coffee and Be Merry

Last month we related the shocking news that the cholesterol threat has been wildly overestimated, but on the heels of that announcement came yet another hyped study of cholesterol’s alleged dangers. You had to read the news stories to the bitter end to discover (a) that all the patients in the study already had extremely high cholesterol levels before undergoing surgery and drug therapy and (b) that Dr. Thomas Chalmers of Harvard, chairman of the study’s data monitoring committee, still thinks cholesterol-lowering diets are unjustified for children and normal adults.

There is still more good news on the nuts and berries front: moderate coffee drinking (three to four cups a day) doesn’t increase your risk of heart disease. In fact, the only men who seemed to develop a slightly higher risk of heart disease were moderate drinkers of decaffeinated coffee. (God may have a better sense of humor than sometimes supposed.)

The Need for Strength…

Remember when anti-defense activists only months ago were crying for a peace dividend? In the June newsletter of the Council on Economic Priorities, for example, we were warned: “Some observers fear that with the collapse of the Soviet threat the Department of Defense will exaggerate such potential threats as middle-sized foreign countries like Iraq to maintain the U.S. military role and budget. We would be better off cutting defense funds and using them to focus on peaceful programs to address real enemies at home.”

…and the Burdens of Service

The press has played up the strict regulations placed on American military women in the Gulf, but we’ve heard less about other regulations that have caused grumblings there. The Pentagon, for instance, has ordered chaplains to remove the crosses from their uniforms, banned bulk imports of Bibles, and told troops to keep religious emblems hidden. Chaplains, now renamed morale officers, hold “P” and “C” Morale Meetings. (We can just imagine the reaction of some pugnacious Irish priests in uniform to these regulations.)

One Marine officer in Saudi Arabia groused to us that it’s a bit annoying to be briefed as if “we were tourists or business travelers.” He also relayed an amusing—possibly miraculous—incident: “We’ve recently been ordered to dispense with flying Old Glory on Saudi territory. Mysteriously, hundreds of miniature American flags have appeared attached to the antennas of Marine Corps vehicles!”

Another War

Cocaine-related visits to hospital emergency rooms dropped four percent in the three months of 1990, the third quarterly drop in a row the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports. A Drug Enforcement Administration official adds that “in August, the coca leaf price in the Andes collapsed. The stock of the drug cartels is down. The company is sick.” Finally, a national survey reveals that marijuana and cocaine use is down nationally. In the past year, teenage use of cocaine dropped 44 percent, while marijuana use declined 27 percent. More than 70 percent of teenagers think even occasional drug use is dangerous.

Perhaps preaching against sin isn’t quite obsolete. Proponents of safe sex, please take note.

Cohabitation at Stanford

Citing the need for “anti-discrimination,” Stanford University has adopted a new rule which provides college housing to unmarried partners and homosexuals who claim to be involved in stable relationships. Harvard, Berkeley, and Miami University of Ohio are other schools which permit such cohabitation.

Ideas that fail to pass muster in society are often taken up with enthusiasm in the universities. California rejected proposed “domestic partnership” ordinances which would grant unmarried heterosexuals and homosexuals many of the privileges of marriage—without the responsibilities. Stanford’s new policy extends to giving these partners access to the campus library, events normally open just to students, and medical insurance at the university health center.

Norm Robinson, dean of student affairs, commented that the new code was necessary to “ensure that students do not have to choose between their domestic commitments and their studies.”

Guilty as Sin

For several decades it was canonical in leftist circles to proclaim the guilt of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and to denounce the federal government for accusing them of spying. Even when Ronald Radosh and Joyce Milton published The Rosenberg File a few years ago, setting out to exonerate the Rosenbergs but discovering that the evidence all pointed to guilt, the true believers at the Nation, Mother Jones and the Greenwich Village Left were unmoved. Now former Soviet premier Nikita Khruschev’s memoirs have been published, and Khruschev lays all doubts to rest. “I was part of Stalin’s circle when he mentioned the Rosenbergs with warmth…. I heard from Stalin and Molotov that the Rosenbergs provided very significant help in accelerating the production of our atom bomb.” One by one, the last pillars of the edifice are crumbling, and frantic eyes are running out of excuses and rationalizations.

Necessity Defense

Seventeen Operation Rescue protesters in Omaha, Nebraska, have managed to defeat charges that they violated trespassing laws by advancing a “necessity defense” that can sometimes convince juries that an unlawful action was essential to prevent a grave evil. “We showed them that abortion is the killing of another human being,” said defense lawyer Peter Bataillon, who made his clients testify at length about how abortions are performed and got permission from the judge to show videotapes about fetal development as well as abortions-in-process. Visibly upset about the verdict, Susan Hale, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood, told the Omaha World-Herald, “the judge and the jury condoned illegal activity by religious extremists interfering with women’s access to legal medical services.” Despite this small victory for Operation Rescue, however, the national organization finds itself in serious financial trouble—its funds depleted by numerous court judgements and fines. Who said that moral principles come cheap?

Is Castro Next?

A bipartisan group of congressmen have written Cuban dictator Fidel Castro calling on him to release political prisoners, permit the formation of independent opposition parties, and schedule free elections. Co-sponsored by Democrat Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Republican Gerald Solomon of New York, the resolution signed by more than 100 representatives argues that “Now with the cold war coming to an end around the world, we believe it is time for a reconciliation between our two countries that would end 30 years of mutual hostility and mistrust.” A precondition for such a reconciliation, the letter continues, is for Castro to initiate “a program of truly democratic reforms similar to those under way elsewhere in the socialist world.”

Around the same time, however, the redoubtable Puebla Institute issued a report, “Human Rights in Cuba,” which makes for depressing reading. The abuses listed in the report fully justify Cuban exile Armando Valladares’ severe characterization of Castro as “the Ceausescu of the Caribbean… one of the last Stalinist dictators in the world today.” For many years the U.S. has resisted applying real pressure to Castro for fear of stirring up US-Soviet tensions. Now that Gorbachev is cutting this rogue elephant loose, it makes sense for the United States to offer Castro a chance to reform, and if he doesn’t take it, to take up sterner measures.

Discriminating Scouts

At the request of a boardmember who also serves on the board of American Atheists, Inc., the Genoa-Kingston, Illinois chapter of the United Way has suspended funding to local Boy Scout troops. The reason? The scouts’ oath of duty “to God and country” discriminates against atheists.

This foolishness doesn’t surprise us, but the strong reaction against it is heartening. The United Way of Suburban Chicago has pointed out that last May it turned down a similar request from American Atheists, Inc., and the national scout office has pled guilty without shame to upholding the principle of “duty to God.” Our local Washington United Way has also spoken up. Director Ken Unzicker says, “We would never have done that here.” He’s proud of the nearly $1 million his United Way spends on over 100,000 scouts and points to “what it says on the green money we’re trying to raise: ‘In God We Trust.’ ”

Compassion in America

Compassion—a virtue one would think modern secularists discovered—doesn’t seem to be holding up well at the hands of the welfare state these days. The Labor Department has gone to war against the Salvation Army, which if the Department has its way may soon be bankrupt. Labor’s apparatchiks have discovered that the poor who receive food, board, and about $20 a week from the Army are in turn asked to do odd jobs like gathering old clothes, unloading trucks, and helping in the kitchen. The Labor Department demands that this outrageous exploitation stop and the Army pay its beneficiaries the minimum wage—no matter whether this bankrupts the Army, which currently provides 11,000 beds at 117 centers across the nation.

New York City, as part of its compassion crusade, has managed to keep Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity from helping the homeless. The sisters had already sunk $100,000 of a planned $500,000 into two South Bronx shelters for the homeless when the project was ended. The city told them they would have to spend another $100,000 or so to install an elevator for the handicapped. The sisters “replied that they were forbidden by their religious views from using modern conveniences and were prepared to carry any handicapped people themselves,” but Anne M. Emerman, director of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, was adamant. “Their attitude in India is, they go out and carry people in off the street. That’s viewed as a sign of caring and affection. We said no, you don’t carry people up and down in our society. That’s not acceptable here.” The Wall Street Journal retorted that Emerman’s “ringing reaffirmation of our prevailing societal and cultural standards… should help keep the homeless warm this winter.”

The Retreating Tide

The tide of socialism seems to recede faster each day. Now we hear that even the African National Congress is backtracking on nationalization and redistribution at the same time it begins to call for economic growth as an important means of sharing the country’s wealth. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that Leningrad’s two inner-sanctum hotels, previously run for the nomenklatura elite, have been “sold into capitalist bondage.” Proprietor Galina Murina has something to teach those Western professors who speak longingly of the deep compassion socialism supposedly instills in its subjects: Miss Murina takes pride in the responsiveness her new employees display and explains, “with the Party people, it was impossible to teach this, to change their ideas about caring.”

In the midst of these developments, Hans Janitschek, former general secretary of the Socialist International, hears death knells: “Although Europeans do make a distinction between Communism and Social Democracy, the collapse of the first and only socialist experiment in history will have long-lasting repercussions on the socialist movement as a whole. It may, in fact, kill it altogether.”

Graduation Apology

The chairman of a school board in Brockton, Massachusetts has apologized to the community for what he calls “a serious violation.” This violation consisted of the Reverend David Holland, a local minister, delivering a benediction at the Oliver Ames high school.

The otherwise bland benediction included the phrase “the blessings of Jesus Christ.” This apparently offended local Massachusetts resident, Andrew Copp, who announced that the constitutional guarantee of separation of church and state had been breached. The principal of the school, Duncan Oliver, as well as school board head Donald Anderson, promptly criticized the invocation. “It won’t happen again, if it is within our powers,” Anderson said.