The Morning Jolt

Pope Francis, Master of the Not-So-Subtle Subtle Message

Are we allowed to like this guy at all yet, or are we supposed to conclude his views on climate change make him (pun intended) irredeemable?

Pope Francis made an unscheduled stop to visit the Little Sisters of the Poor Wednesday, a move that Vatican officials said was intended to send a message of support in the nuns’ battle against Obamacare.

The religious order of Catholic sisters is suing the Obama administration over a provision of the Affordable Care Act that the administration has interpreted as requiring the sisters to purchase health insurance with birth control coverage.

Catholic teaching opposes the use of birth control. The sisters can request a waiver, but their lawsuit argues that requiring that paperwork infringes on their religious freedom. The sisters are suing under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a Clinton-era law that prohibits the government from placing a “substantial burden” on the free exercise of religion.

Last August, an appeals court sided with the government, but an unusual dissent by five judges this month called that decision “clearly and gravely wrong — on an issue that has little to do with contraception and a great deal to do with religious liberty.” The question now goes to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Francis met with the sisters at their Washington convent next door to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where he celebrated a canonization Mass for St. Junipero Serra. The private meeting was not on the pope’s public schedule and was only disclosed afterward.

“This is a sign, obviously, of support for them,” said the Vatican Press Secretary, Rev. Federico Lombardi.

I get what, for example, Daniel Henninger is saying . . .

Francis’ popularity remains high, but the dangers in his current course are high. What many of his new political friends [on the environmentalist and ‘economic justice’ Left] mainly seek is to have the pope “moralize” their politics. Francis’ spiritual message could not be more secondary. They won’t be with him in Philadelphia [at an event focused on family issues]. How allowing the papacy’s core moral authority to be politicized is in the interests of the Catholic Church as an institution is difficult to see.

I’m just surprised that so many American conservatives are acting like this is the first time they’ve strongly disagreed with a pope. Anybody remember Pope John Paul II –- er, Saint Pope John Paul II — calling military strikes against Saddam Hussein in 2003 “a crime against peace”? Not only did the Vatican denounce the decision to go to war, they offered an account of the pre-war discussions that portrayed the Bush administration as obstinate, irrational warmongers.

Or what about JPII’s response to the first Persian Gulf War?

Pope John Paul II delivered a scathing denunciation of the Persian Gulf war today, calling it a “darkness” that he said had “cast a shadow over the whole human community.”

“A choice was made of aggression and the violation of international law, when it was presumed to solve the tensions between the peoples by war, the sower of death,” he said in his Easter Sunday message, “Urbi et Orbi” — “To the City and the World.”

It was a highly political Pope who stood this chilly morning on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, addressing tens of thousands of people who filled the vast square below him. Millions of others watched on television in 53 countries.

In effect, John Paul spun the globe for his listeners and, continent by continent, pronounced it to be intolerably filled with hunger, tyranny and war.

“Lend an ear, humanity of our time,” he said, speaking in Italian, “to the long-ignored aspiration of oppressed peoples, such as the Palestinians, the Lebanese, the Kurds, who claim the right to exist with dignity, justice and freedom — legitimate requests repeated in vain for years.” Lebanon’s plight and the goal of a Palestinian homeland have long been familiar papal themes. But it was unusual for him to mention the Kurds, a transnational, largely Islamic group in the Middle East that for decades has sought territory for itself and whose members in Iraq are now fighting a civil war against President Saddam Hussein’s troops.

This is the favorite of most American Catholics and the favorite of most American Catholic conservatives. If the American Right could survive disagreements with that pope with admiration intact, there’s no reason to think the relationship with this one will be perpetually sour.

Remembering the 80s-Era Donald Trump with Fondness . . .

Later today on NRO, I’ll have a look at the Donald Trump of the late 1980s, as he describes himself in his autobiography/business advice book, The Art of the Deal. For everyone diagnosing my Trump Derangement Syndrome, you may be surprised that I found this extended portrait of the Old Trump enormously compelling. I wouldn’t want him as a president, but you can understand why everyone found him an admirable, even heroic figure back then.

Sure, the endless boastfulness, the brashness, and the eagerness to slam critics were all present in the Trump of 1987; he casually mentions that his triplex in Trump Tower “is about as close as you’re going to get, in the twentieth century, to the quality of Versailles.”

But the Trump of the late 80s comes across as a garrulous uncle, reverent to his father and mother, still wildly enamored with his wife Ivana, and taking delight in his growing children: “I tell [then-9-year-old] Donny I’ll be home as soon as I can, but he insists on a time. Perhaps he’s got my genes: the kid won’t take no for an answer.”

It’s also fascinating to see what Trump leaves out. He describes a successful deal that came together when Barron Hilton couldn’t get a license for his new casino in Atlantic City: “He ended up selling to me at the last minute, under a lot of pressure, and without a lot of other options.” Yes, that sort of thing happens when the New Jersey Casino Control Commission denies the license citing “ties between some Hilton executives and people who had been linked to organized crime.”

In his book, Trump touts “tax abatement programs” and fights for them tooth-and-nail. Trump pitched New York City a deal that would give NBC effectively $30 million in rent concessions for his “Television City” development project, the city 25 percent of any profits for forty years . . . in exchange for 20 years of paying no taxes on the site. The city rejected the offer, NBC chose to stay in Rockefeller Center, and Trump sold the property in 2005, enjoying a nice profit during the real-estate boom.

Recent reporting by National Review found Trump Tower was enjoying $163.77 million in city tax abatements. To some, these special negotiated arrangements on taxes paid on large developments are an example of states and localities wisely keeping tax levels competitive and keeping employers in town. To others, these deals embody crony capitalism, as particular tax rates get set by political influence.

The Trump of the 1980s was . . . well, let’s just say, really terrific, fabulous, a great guy. You would trust him to build anything huge and bring it in under budget and ahead of schedule — maybe even a border wall. You just wouldn’t trust his ability to differentiate between his personal interest and the national interest.

News from The Weed Agency . . . No, Really!

A reader noticed a fascinating quote over at the Idaho Weed Awareness Campaign . . .

“When dealing with newly invasive species, our failures are obvious, and our successes are invisible.”

–Dr. Rich Old

The Department of the Interior gave the Idaho Weed Awareness Campaign $1 million.

You think I’m making that up, right? This is just one more elaborate ruse by Jim to sell more copies of The Weed Agency. It’s exactly the sort of thing Humphrey would say to justify another funding increase!

All true. I went back and checked the reviews of The Weed Agency on GoodReads, and found quite a few folks lamenting the book was way too realistic to be a perfect satire. The novel’s appearance on the nonfiction bestseller list makes more sense now.

ADDENDA: The new Fox News poll puts Trump in the lead at 26 percentage points. The previous one by Fox had him at 25, so he’s not sliding in that one, but notice Carson has jumped from 12 to 18 percentage points.

Bloomberg puts Trump at 21 percent — which is the same level as their last poll in late July/early August.

Quinnipiac puts Trump at 25 percent nationally . . . which is a bit lower than the 28 percent he had in their poll of late August.

The talk of “Trump has peaked” sounds premature. But it seems fair to conclude that Trump-mentum has stalled.


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