Whitaker Chambers

A great article from American Mind of a great man, a former communist who became a devout Christian and whose outstanding book, Witness, still teaches us about the evil truth of communism.

An excerpt.

“Whittaker Chambers remains one of the great witnesses to the moral, political, cultural, and spiritual crisis that spanned the “short twentieth century,” beginning with the “guns of August” in 1914 and ending with the annus mirabilis of 1989 as East-Central Europe was liberated from the Communist yoke. His masterwork, Witness, was published seventy years ago in 1952; it is worth pondering that great work once more. It took the country by storm for both the right and wrong reasons. Too many people treated the “case,” as Chambers called it, as a personal contest between Chambers, a remarkably talented ex-Communist writer and journalist who had broken with the Communist underground in 1938, and his former friend and collaborator Alger Hiss, a Soviet agent in the upper echelons of the State Department who shamelessly denied his culpability until his death in 1996.

“Chambers has been caricatured beyond recognition, by no less than Hannah Arendt, the author of The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). In a 1953 article in Commonweal, she categorized him as a seedy and immoral “police informer” for revealing first to senior Roosevelt advisor and Assistant Secretary of State Adolph Berle in the fall of 1939, and then to the House Un-American Affairs Committee in 1948, what he knew about the remarkable extent of Communist infiltration of the American government in the 1930s and 1940s. Against all evidence, President Truman unfairly called the affair “a red herring,” and an undeniably anti-Communist Secretary of State Dean Acheson vowed to stay loyal to Hiss with all his reassuring establishment credentials. Yet all the evidence at the time pointed to Hiss’s incontrovertible guilt. More recent developments, from the revelations in Communist bloc archives and from the Venona intercepts of the 1940s, confirm what reasonable people already knew: Hiss was a loyal servant of the most totalitarian regime in human history. He was even personally decorated by Stalin in February 1945 when he flew on official business to Moscow from the Yalta conference in the Crimea.

“Chambers, a heavy man with bad teeth and a brooding Dostoevskyan soul (or so the caricature goes), seemed vaguely un-American while the lean and well-credentialed Hiss, then president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was a familiar and reassuring Ivy Leaguer. Even those who forthrightly defended Chambers as a “man of honor,” astute commentators and critics such as Lionel Trilling and Sidney Hook, felt uncomfortable with the palpably religious dimension of Chambers’ anti-Communism.

“Secular anti-totalitarianism of the kind represented by George Orwell was respectable in liberal anti-Communist circles. However, Chambers’ moral and intellectual witness risked exposing the underlying complicities behind the full-scale materialism of New Deal liberalism and the thoroughgoing atheism at the heart of Communist totalitarianism—which many elites judged as on the “right side of History.” As Chambers stresses throughout Witness, those who defended the indefensible remained darlings of elite liberal opinion while an ex-Communist such as Chambers himself was subject to unrelenting attacks from those who ought to have known better. Unfortunately, the myth of massive “McCarthyite” repression has largely covered over the deep-seated anti-anti-Communism that dominated bien-pensant opinion during the course of the Cold War. The dominant narrative distorts far more than it reveals.

“This barely concealed campaign of character assassination directed at Chambers’ noble testimonies partly accounts for the fact that Witness is not widely recognized as the great work of literature that it unmistakably is. Chambers, a gifted writer even when he wrote for the New Masses during his Communist days, writes with rare poignancy and grace. He writes about his own conflicted soul, and its turn toward the source of truth and grace, with a unique mixture of anguish and equanimity. Far from being an embittered “police informer,” as Arendt unjustly characterizes him in the Commonweal piece, Chambers hesitated to expose the full extent of Hiss’s traitorous deeds out of affection for a man he once considered his friend.  

“In the pages of Witness, Chambers provides a memorable account of his visit in late 1937 to Hiss’s home in the fashionable Georgetown neighborhood of the District of Columbia. During that visit, Chambers made a desperate effort to get Hiss to abandon the murderous and mendacious Communist cause after providing a long recital of “the political mistakes and crimes of the Communist Party. He highlighted the murder of millions of Ukrainian and Russian peasants as a result of collectivization-induced famine, the Communist party’s skullduggery directed against the Social Democrats in Germany as Hitler consolidated his hold on power, the vicious assault on non-Stalinist elements in the Spanish Republican government, and finally the purge that culminated in the massacre “of the best men and minds of the Communist Party on lying charges.” These political examples were meant to tug on Hiss’ soul, appealing to a sense of moral integrity that might somehow survive selling one’s soul to the Communist conspiracy. Chambers spoke with feeling and “begged [Hiss] to break with the Communist party.” Hiss’s immediate interjections were sober and mixed with sorrow. But he then turned angrily on Chambers and accused him of spouting “mental masturbation.” Their break was final and definitive. Hiss would never tell the truth about Communism or confess his service to that cause.

“At this moment, Chambers knew with certainty that he “was no longer a Communist.” He had come to believe that it was just as wrong to cold-bloodedly kill the Tsar and the royal family and to “throw their bodies down a mineshaft as it is to starve two million peasants or slave laborers to death.” Chambers was not yet able to articulate the ground of his break—rooted in a reaffirmation of the goodness of God against false claims made on behalf of mind or reason beholden to nothing beyond itself, and idolatrous appeals to history or progress as the only tribunal of human judgment. Nevertheless, he had begun his religious and spiritual ascent.

“Chambers insists at the beginning of his book that a true witness bears witness “for something” and not simply against something. In the luminous “Letter to My Children” that opens the book (the part of the book most read and cited by those who truly admire Chambers), he opposed the monstrous temptation of human self-deification (going back to the alluring promise of the satanic serpent in Genesis that “Ye shall be as gods”) with the recovery of the human soul oriented to God and Freedom. As readers of those memorable pages know, Chambers came to see the falsehood of reductive and materialist accounts of both the human being and the world in which he lives, moves, and has his being. Materialism, of either the theoretical or practical variety, cannot account for the evident design built into the intricacies of God’s creation (at one point Chambers movingly reflects on the wondrous complexity of his daughter Ellen’s ear), or the moral sense awakened by the screams in Soviet torture chambers of the 1930s. Chambers came to see freedom as a profound “need of the soul” and concluded that “external freedom”—political liberty—was unthinkable and unsustainable without a recognition of the soul’s “interior freedom.” Chambers came to see God both as the great object of the human soul and as the ultimate “incitor and guarantee of freedom.” “Without the soul freedom dies” since “necessity”—historical or otherwise—can provide no foundation for the internal stirrings that culminate in truth and liberty. For Chambers, the conflict between Communism and Freedom was never primarily an economic problem or matter of comparative capitalist or socialist levels of productivity and efficiency.

“George F. Will, the eminent Burkean turned half-libertarian, was once an admirer of both Chambers and Witness. More recently, in his column at the Washington Post and in his 2019 book The Conservative Sensibility, Will takes aim at Chambers in a way that is both summary and unbecoming. As his readers well know, Chambers was not prone to anger or indignation. But in Will’s presentation Chambers is an angry, clamorous, and illiberal populist, a proto-demagogue. All this for preferring, as reasonable people should, the good sense of the American people to the ideological shibboleths of the chattering classes.

“In addition, Chambers’ famous claim in Witness that “man is a monster without mysticism” is distorted by Will beyond recognition. Chambers’ recovery of the human soul tethered to the goodness of the Creator, and not to a cold, implacable, and impersonal necessity, is falsely identified with fundamentalism and irrationalism. In fact, the roots of Chambers’ Christian affirmation can be traced back to his earlier reading of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables with its evocative reminder that, in Chambers’ words, “the least act of humility and compassion requires the utmost exertion of all the powers of mind and soul,” powers that are nothing without moral courage. He was inclined like the good and admirable Bishop of Digne in that work (who showed great compassion to Jean Valjean) to show sympathy “toward the distressed and the repentant.” This quality of soul helped save Chambers from the cruelties and heartlessness inherent in blind fidelity to Communist ideology and all other ideological substitutes for human decency. Chambers believed that the Imago Dei in all men must be respected.

“Chambers yearned to be a truly practicing Christian. He first entered the Christian world as an Episcopalian in the 1940s, even as he wrote with great respect and even admiration about the Catholic intellectual tradition from the monastic practices established by Saint Benedict to the defense of liberty and human dignity to be found in modern Catholic social thought. But Chambers ultimately found peace and solace in the community of “daily mysticism” that drew him very powerfully to the Quakers, known officially as the Religious Society of Friends. To be sure, he would have his periods of spiritual aridity and quasi-despair during and after the Hiss Affair as the full weight of the world came down on his brittle shoulders. He tells us that, as a result, he and his wife quickly grew old. Yet, the Quakers taught him an admirably disciplined, ordered, and practical approach to the spiritual life that Chambers took to without regrets. At the same time, Chambers knew that radical evil was real and in the political form of Communism it must be fought with courage and prudence. He became an incomplete Quaker, one who rejected pacifism on moral, religious, philosophical, and political grounds. But Chambers was willing to live with that “contradiction.”

“For a full appreciation of Whittaker Chambers’ mature philosophical and religious convictions one can profitably turn to the rich array of his journalistic writings and essays collected by Terry Teachout in Ghosts on the Roof in 1990 (it is still available in print from Routledge). There one can find, among other gems, his moving tribute to the black operatic singer Marian Anderson, a challenging article on Arnold Toynbee’s The Study of History, and a literary sketch of the Devil in calculating modern form that captivated the readers of Time magazine (a once great journal under Henry Luce that placed the likes of Reinhold Niebuhr, Eric Voegelin, and Russell Kirk on its covers). Chambers’ famous journalistic put down of Ayn Rand’s Atas Shrugged in the pages of National Review in 1957 (to be found in the same volume) was rooted in his contempt for an ideological posture devoid of charity and respect for the injured and the weak. Like ideologues on the Left, Rand refused to acknowledge that disagreement with her Americanized version of Nietzsche’s Overman could be “honest, prudent, or justly fallible.” Rand headed an intellectual sect that could not tolerate dissent. His review still makes Randians everywhere shrill and censorious, if not wildly apoplectic. The truth stings.

“As Chambers notes in Witness, the article of his that best expresses his spiritual convictions on the eve of the Hiss affair was the reflection on Reinhold Niebuhr that he published in Time in 1948 (it can also be found in Ghosts on the Roof). In that lucid and inspired piece, Chambers highlights Niebuhr as an exemplar of serious and humane God-seeking not deformed by “smug optimism” or a naïve and dangerous confidence in the capacity of human beings and societies for “indefinite perfectibility.” By reminding late modern men of the palpable reality of sin, original or otherwise, Niebuhr provided a precious light to guide “Faith for a Lenten Age,” to cite the title of the article. In this article, that also served as a spiritual testament, Chambers drew on the wisdom of Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, and Karl Barth. Each provided “paradoxical” arguments for the enduring truth and relevance of the Christian faith. Like the great Dostoevsky, Chambers opposed liberalism’s facile social optimism as well as the mania of the revolutionary Left for progress through violence. Dostoevsky exposed a paradox of central concern to Chambers: The need for the soul “to be itself” becomes utterly destructive when men indulge that freedom to liberate themselves from the divine ground of being, the very source of freedom and the soul. Only the most destructive tragedy and evil can result from such a choice.

“Chambers’ theological and philosophical reflection is “paradoxical” and “existential” but never irrational. There are profoundly important experiential reasons to believe in God, the soul, and freedom, both exterior or interior. And in his 1997 biography of Chambers, the liberal journalist Sam Tanenhaus rightly points out important philosophical, political, and religious affinities between Chambers and the Russian Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. These two great anti-totalitarian titans knew that the assault on the bodies and souls of men in the ideological twentieth century was made possible by the denial of a provident God above the will of human beings. God, freedom, and the soul thus stand or fall together. At Harvard in 1978, Solzhenitsyn took aim at a freedom divorced from self-limitation, and a humanism that forgot that human beings are nothing without deference to the Imago Dei in the souls of men.”

Witness to a Crisis – The American Mind

Take care and pray the old school rosary the old school way  https://traditioninaction.org/religious/d013rp15Decades_Stretenovic.html

Dismal, Crime Ridden Downtowns

There are many, but this article from American Mind focuses on Los Angeles.

An excerpt.

“In the morning: coffee, cigarettes, and the clattering of plates. In the evening: cigarettes again, and the clinking of glasses and the aroma of food. The various smells and sounds of the city had a consistency to them, and the streets of Madrid were filled with people. They all seemed to be walking with purpose and a destination in mind. Navigating the streets of Madrid felt like an adventure. I was sixteen years old, in Spain for the first time. My foreign heart could not help but feel pangs of envy and an ersatz pride for what was not my own. I wished these streets were mine.

“Twenty years later, visitors from Spain were now coming to visit me in Los Angeles. Their excitement was palpable, and I had a childish insecurity. Would they love Los Angeles as much as I loved Spain? Would the city intoxicate them the way it had me? Would it sink into their bones? Would they dream of her at night only to wake up, homesick for a second home? 

“There was one place in downtown Los Angeles where I do think, briefly, they fell in love with my home. Grand Central Market was founded in 1917—almost prehistoric by LA standards. The market is a maze of stalls selling unique foods that reflect the city’s ethnic diversity. My guests from Spain commented on how the market seemed to reflect a broad demographic range including white- and blue-collar workers, residents, and tourists. After the pandemic, and with the very idea of the city center under renewed threat from remote work, it felt good to be in a city again and see men and women dressed in attire other than sweatpants and t-shirts. This was the city showing its best self. 

“But as we walked down Broadway towards The Last Bookstore the mood changed. Just a block away, the crowds at Grand Central had begun to disperse. Homeless encampments cluttered the sidewalks, perfuming them with the acrid stench of urine, and sometimes worse. The smell of pot occasionally wafted towards us from behind a tent. How could a foreigner, let alone an Angeleno, envy a city in such a state? From my guests, I heard the same refrain I’d heard on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Venice Boardwalk: “How can they let the city become like this?”

“A year ago, Sheriff Villanueva, a law-and-order Democrat now facing a bitter reelection contest, declared his intention to clear the Boardwalk and other places of homeless encampments, decrying the city’s “failure to regulate public space.” These are true words, but the failure, I realized, is no longer just to regulate public space but to literally retake it.

 “In early modern England, public commons were “enclosed” in order to maximize the land’s economic potential. Now, in Los Angeles and across California, where supposedly humane public policy creates systematic chaos, a new kind of reverse-enclosure movement has taken hold. The homeless have taken over public spaces downtown and across the city and closed them off for any other use. The enclosures are marred by shuttered storefronts, devoid of people other than the homeless or the occasional office workers and commuters who move in and out as quickly as possible. In Los Angeles, we’ve gone from a revolution for better public space to a degeneration that worsens it. Villanueva rightly calls the Los Angeles political class the architects of failure.

“Democratic politicians, Mayor Eric Garcetti foremost among them, not only get a pass for leaving their city in this state, they get elevated to the national political stage and plum political postings like the Ambassadorship to India. What kind of city and what kind of country rewards the architects of patent failure? What does this say about the Democratic Party’s twisted idea of accomplishment?

“Establishment liberal politicians hiding behind the “complexity” of homelessness, insist that we cannot “criminalize” poverty, and that they’re “working on it.” Tell that to the city’s beleaguered middle class, who have to plan any trip downtown to enjoy themselves with the precision of a tactical military strike; tell that to the residents who live downtown and have to “watch their back” (and their step) when they walk the streets. 

“Somehow, despite itself and the political class that has run the city aground on the shoals of well-intentioned pro-homelessness humanitarianism, Los Angeles is slated to host the Summer Olympics in 2028. If the Olympic Committee had the courage and character, they would withhold the title of host until baseline metrics of improvement in the city’s homelessness crisis have been met. Los Angeles should be treated like a rogue regime and have the Olympics weaponized against it like humanitarian aid is to a third-world banana republic.”

An Angeleno’s Walk of Civic Shame – The American Mind

Father Stu

I just finished watching this amazing movie, based on the true story of Father Stu Long, the man who became a priest and who will, I believe, become a saint someday.

This article from The Pillar is excellent, and in depth.

An excerpt.

“I kept hearing the same message over and over again: ‘There is power in suffering, move him forward.’”

“Back in 2007, Bishop George Thomas of Helena wasn’t sure whether to ordain Stuart Long to the priesthood. 

“Seminary formators had raised red flags about Stu, who had an aggressive and debilitating muscle disorder with a poor prognosis. A serious chronic illness didn’t seem like it fit with the ministry of a Catholic priest.  

“But Bishop Thomas of Helena believed that suffering is a gift in the Christian life — a gift Stu had received in spades. 

“That’s a fundamental idea in Catholicism – Christ redeemed us through his suffering and death on the cross, and in a mysterious way our suffering, united to his, can be redemptive. That’s what Bishop Thomas remembered in prayer.

“Ultimately, the bishop told The Pillar, it was because of Stu’s sufferings — and not despite them — that he decided to ordain Stuart Long a priest.

“Bishop Thomas said God kept reminding him, over and over, that a priest is ordained to be like Christ, the Suffering Servant who hung on a cross. 

“Suffering, it turned out, would become the defining quality of Stu’s life, and the measure of his priesthood.

“But most people who knew him before his ordination, or his conversion to Catholicism even, would not have predicted that.

“In his early 20s, Stu was a football player-turned-wrestler-turned-boxer who had serious aspirations of turning pro. He had a muscular build and a sharp intellect, and he treated arguing like a competitive sport. 

“Stu was an outgoing guy with a great sense of humor – the kind of guy that people like to be around.

“Then he survived a serious motorcycle accident, had a major conversion, became a Catholic priest, and developed a progressive muscle disorder. And he did all that before he died in 2014, at just 50 years old.

“The people who knew him and loved him remember that even as his body shut down, Stu was every bit as tough as he was in his prime. 

“And they said it was the Catholic faith – which he discovered halfway through his life – that gave Stu the strength to endure the crosses he would carry at the end.

“Fr. Stu” is a beloved figure among the people who knew him in Helena, Montana, where he served as a priest for seven years before he died. 

“But outside of Montana, Fr. Stu’s story was not well-known after his death – until Mark Wahlberg decided to make a movie about the priest.

“Wahlberg heard about Fr. Stu while at a restaurant with a priest who had been friends with him. The actor decided he had to make a movie, and to pay for most of it himself.

“Why? 

“I just found it to be so inspiring and so comforting, so I really couldn’t find a reason to not want to make the film,” Wahlberg told The Pillar.

“Wahlberg added that the movie has impacted his own life, and that he’s made a “real commitment…to do more substantial, meaningful, parts of God’s work.”

“The film version of “Father Stu,” released April 13, might inspire millions more as it’s shown around the globe.

“But Stu’s sister Amy says her brother would have found it “hilarious” to be depicted by Mark Wahlberg, or to see their father depicted by Mel Gibson.

“Stu, Amy remembers, thought a lot of things were hilarious. His irreverent and quick sense of humor was a big part of his life, she said. 

“Friends remember that Fr. Stu loved movies, going to restaurants, and just hanging out, joking and talking with friends. He loved to argue, about anything, and just for the sake of arguing. 

“He also loved Bigfoot.

“He was pretty disarming because he appeared laid back, but pretty quickly, you could figure out this guy was pretty smart. He hid the smartness in just kind of an, ‘aw shucks’ kind of attitude,” said his good friend, Fr. Bart Tolleson.

“He was very persuasive – or stubborn, one of the two. You could never win a debate with Stu. Nobody. Ever,” said his sister, Amy.”

To read the rest, Meet Father Stu – the true story, and real priest behind Mark Wahlberg’s new movie (pillarcatholic.com)

Take care and pray the old school rosary the old school way  https://traditioninaction.org/religious/d013rp15Decades_Stretenovic.html

Edith Stein, Carmelite Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. 

Today is her feast day, and this article from The Pillar, recounts her last days.

An excerpt.

“Eighty years ago on Tuesday, a 50-year-old nun was killed at the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz. 

“Today, she is a canonized saint and a co-patroness of Europe. She is recognized as one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, a notable philosopher, a martyr, and a potential future Doctor of the Church.

“She was born Edith Stein in the German city of Breslau (now Wrocław in Poland), the youngest of seven surviving children of a Jewish family. She died on Aug. 9, 1942, as the Carmelite Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. 

“What do we know about her last days? Why did her death become a source of tension between Catholics and Jews? And does she remain relevant today?

“How did Edith Stein die?

“Fr. John Sullivan, O.C.D., compiled the 2002 anthology “Edith Stein: Essential Writings,” which scholars have called one of the best entry points for English speakers seeking to know more about the saint. Sullivan also wrote the book’s introduction.

“The Discalced Carmelite priest told The Pillar thatthe chain of events leading to Stein’s death began with a “courageous letter in defense of Dutch Jews” written by the bishops of the Netherlands, then under Nazi occupation. The letter was read out in all churches on July 26, 1942.

“Stein had fled Germany and settled at a Carmelite monastery in Echt, just over the border in the Netherlands, where she was later joined by her sister Rosa

“The Nazis responded to the Dutch bishops’ letter by increasing the tempo of deportations and targeting Jews who had converted to Catholicism before the war.

“Stein was arrested by Gestapo officers on Aug. 2, 1942. Her last words before she left the monastery were addressed to Rosa, who had also converted to Catholicism and was serving as an extern helper for the Carmelite community. “Come, we are going for our people,” she said.

“Anne Costa, author of “Embracing Edith Stein: Wisdom for Women from St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross,” noted that the two women were transported north by van to the Nazi transit camp at Amersfoort, “where she and her fellow prisoners were treated with brutality.”

“On Aug. 4, Edith reached the Westerbork Transit Center where 1,200 Catholic Jews were separated from the others,” she told The Pillar

“There are documented sightings of Edith here where her sense of calm and compassion for others was observed and commented upon. She stuck out among the thousands as a presence of quiet and peaceful resignation and while at Westerbork, she is quoted as saying: ‘The world is made up of opposites, but in the end, nothing remains of these contrasts. What only remains is great love. How is it possible for it to be otherwise?’”

“Stein was one among a total of 60,330 people transported from Westerbork to Auschwitz. Others included the influential young spiritual writer Etty Hillesum and the diarist Anne Frank.

“Fr. Sullivan said: “Within a week of the swift roundup of Catholic Jews, [Edith Stein] and other victims of a Nazi reprisal arrived by train at Auschwitz death camp in occupied Poland.” 

“Postwar scholarship has established that she was immediately processed down the Auschwitz railroad ‘rampa’ [ramp]. (No time to imprint on her arm the infamous, heinous numbered tattoo of a camp inmate.)” 

“Trucks took the condemned, non-admitted prisoners away from the Auschwitz I camp to Auschwitz-Birkenau. At that camp section, or Auschwitz II, in an improvised chamber called the White House, canisters of Zyklon B gas killed them off. In an adjacent field, because industrial-sized crematoria were not yet installed, the bodies were piled up and burned in the open air with used petroleum products.”

For the rest, ‘Doctor of Resilient Hope’ – The last days of Edith Stein (pillarcatholic.com)

Take care and pray the old school rosary the old school way  https://traditioninaction.org/religious/d013rp15Decades_Stretenovic.html

Criminal (In)Justice

Powerful article from the author of a significant new book, from City Journal.

An excerpt.

“My new book, Criminal (In)Justice: What the Push for Decarceration and Depolicing Gets Wrong and Who It Hurts Most, is not about me. It’s first and foremost about the far too many victims of the sorts of injustices that inspired the title—injustices like the 2019 murder of a young, unarmed Chicago mother allegedly shot by a parolee with nine prior felony convictions (including for second-degree murder); like the little boy forced to run for his life in that same city this summer, backpack in tow, as he dodged bullets meant for the group of young men he just happened to be walking past at the time; like the young woman who police say was stabbed to death in her Lower East Side apartment earlier this year by a homeless career criminal with not one, not two, but three open cases; and like the incredibly strong young woman robbed of a husband (Detective Jason Rivera) many of us watched her eulogize after he and his partner, Wilbert Mora, were murdered by a repeat offender out on probation. I wrote this book largely because I was tired of reading stories about heinous crimes carried out by offenders who had no business being out on the street—stories the data make clear are not outliers—and I wanted to do something about it.

“That desire only grew as I watched 2020 unfold. In the wake of George Floyd’s death and the unrest and political grandstanding that followed, politicians and activists pushed policies aimed at systematically lowering the transaction costs of crime (by making prosecutions and substantial punishments less likely) and raising the transaction costs of law enforcement (by placing new restrictions on police discretion and limiting the resources at their disposal). According to the New York Times, more than 30 states collectively passed more than 140 police reform bills in the year following George Floyd’s death. This represented an unprecedented acceleration of a trend that had been slowly taking shape since at least 2010, and I believed it was going to do real damage to public safety, particularly in the communities that reformers said they wanted to help— hence the book’s subtitle.

“I was unsurprised when, in 2020, homicides spiked 30 percent across the U.S. (the largest one-year increase in generations). And I remained unsurprised by the fact that between 2020 and 2021, more than a dozen cities set all-time records for homicides, and more than a dozen more flirted with their 1990s peaks.

“The effects of serious violent crime are not evenly distributed. Criminal violence has long been both geographically and demographically hyper-concentrated. In New York, about 3.5 percent of street segments see about 50 percent of the city’s violent crime; and every year for well over a decade, a minimum of 95 percent of shooting victims are either black or Hispanic (the vast majority of them male). Uncomfortable as it may make some people, you’ll see similar disparities in the statistics of shooting suspects. Nationally, black males constitute between 6 and 7 percent of the population but are murdered at a rate ten times that of their white counterparts. And homicides are tightly clustered in a relative handful of neighborhoods in and around American cities. For example, in 2019, the national murder rate was five per 100,000. In the ten most dangerous Chicago neighborhoods, which are 95.7 percent black or Latino, the 2019 homicide rate was a whopping 61.7 per 100,000. As high as that number is, it actually understates how dangerous some of those neighborhoods actually are. West Garfield Park, for example, had a 2019 murder rate of 131 per 100,000.

“My book highlights data like these for two reasons. First, a thorough understanding of how violence is (and has long been) concentrated helps us understand exactly who it is that will suffer the most should a particular policy program diminish public safety, and, by extension, who it is that will gain the most should a particular policy program enhance public safety.

“Second, the reality of crime concentration can help contextualize some of the disparities in enforcement statistics that we hear so much about—disparities often seized upon to make the cases for mass decarceration and depolicing as a means of pursuing racial equity. If the most serious crimes are occurring in very small slices of our cities, and affecting particular demographic groups more than others, then it is entirely reasonable for enforcement resources to be disproportionately deployed to these areas. Disparities would naturally arise from that uneven distribution of law-enforcement resources. In other words, if we accept as legitimate the decision to police neighborhoods where victimization rates are highest, we must also accept as legitimate that police are going to interact disproportionately with the people spending time in those neighborhoods.

“To focus on the disparate rate of interactions in a vacuum is to ignore important context that, when accounted for, undermines the assertion that enforcement disparities are driven exclusively by racial animus. Studies of racial disparities in incarceration show that, when controlling for the type and severity of the crime committed, as well as for the age and criminal histories of the offenders in question, the racial disparities in sentencing shrink substantially. That leads us to the same conclusion drawn by the National Academies of Sciences in a 2014 meta-analysis of the literature on disparities in incarceration, which I’ll quote verbatim:

“Racial bias and discrimination are not the primary causes of disparities in sentencing decisions or rates of imprisonment. . . . Overall, when statistical controls are used to take account of offense characteristics, prior criminal records, and personal characteristics, black defendants are on average sentenced somewhat but not substantially more severely than whites.

“Contextualizing the data that inform our criminal-justice debate is a major theme of this book. Placing data in their proper context often blunts the rhetorical impact of some of the harshest critiques of American criminal justice. Two prominent examples of this include the charges that America has a mass-incarceration problem and that America has a police-violence problem.

“Start with mass incarceration. A common lament is that the U.S. houses just 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of its prisoners. Another is that the U.S. has an incarceration rate significantly higher than that of other developed democracies. But much of this can be attributed to the simple, sad fact that the U.S. is home to many more pockets of highly concentrated criminal violence—violence of the sort that would result in lengthy prison terms even in the countries we’re so often unfavorably compared with.

“Consider some alternative international comparisons. In 2018, Germany, England, and Wales, with a combined population of 142.2 million people, experienced approximately 3,200 homicides. That same year, just a few neighborhoods, with a combined population of just over 472,000, in just four American cities—Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, and Baltimore—saw 336 homicides. A handful of neighborhoods saw more than 10 percent of the homicides experienced in three countries, despite housing less than 0.5 percent of those countries’ combined population. Meantime, Germany sentences a higher percentage of its convicted murderers to life in prison than the U.S. does. And in the U.K., the mandatory minimum sentence for illegal gun possession is five years, an offense regularly met with probation in American cities such as New York. America’s comparatively higher incarceration rate is not primarily a function of a more punitive approach to crime.”

Rafael Mangual Discusses New Book ‘Criminal (In)Justice’ | City Journal (city-journal.org)

Take care and pray the old school rosary the old school way  https://traditioninaction.org/religious/d013rp15Decades_Stretenovic.html

Bail Reform

A disaster, as this article from the Crime & Consequences blog illustrates.

An excerpt.

“Bail reform has been a major element of the criminal justice reform movement advanced by progressive politicians, activist groups and much of the media, for at least a decade.  The narrative is that reducing or eliminating bail, even for violent arrestees, is necessary to address racial bias in the criminal justice system, because a disproportionate cohort of black and Hispanic suspects are held in jail on bail awaiting trial.  The fact that blacks and Hispanics commit a disproportionate amount of crime is ignored in this narrative.  Toward the end of the last decade several liberal state legislatures adopted no-bail laws, and during the pandemic, several others eliminated or reduced bail via executive orders.  In more than a few big cities such as Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco and New York progressive district attorneys announced their own zero bail policies.   New York City had all of these elements.  The state adopted a bail reform law that took effect in 2020, and both the city’s mayor and district attorney enthusiastically enforced it.   In a recently-released study, Manhattan Institute scholar Jim Quinn takes a hard look at the effect that progressive bail reform has had on crime in the Big Apple.

“Tracking the rate of releases, rearrests and number of crimes committed, the study notes:

“For 27 years, from 1993 to early 2020, under the “old” bail laws and the “broken” criminal justice system, index crime in New York City steadily declined by nearly 76%. In just two years of the new bail laws and other progressive reforms, index crimes in New York City rose 36.6%. There are many reasons for the rise in crime, but as the analysis below will demonstrate, it is not coincidental that the sudden, massive increase in city crime came at precisely the same time as the release of 2,000 career criminals from city jails.”

Report Finds Bail Reform Tied to Increased Crime – Crime & Consequences (crimeandconsequences.blog)

Take care and pray the old school rosary the old school way  https://traditioninaction.org/religious/d013rp15Decades_Stretenovic.html

Broken Windows

Once again we see the tragic results of allowing disorder within cities, as reported by City Journal.

An excerpt.

“The day after he allegedly killed a motorist at an intersection near Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, one of the city’s numberless “squeegee workers” turned 15. A week later he was arrested and charged as an adult with first-degree murder. In this tragic story there is much to learn about America’s ideological divide and political dysfunction, and how these forces are accelerating the decline of some of its once-great cities.

“The victim in this case—48-year-old Timothy Reynolds—has been criticized for provoking the incident. Available video does not show what led up to Reynolds’s ill-fated decision to park his car and emerge with a baseball bat, or his initial approach to the squeegee crew. According to Baltimore Banner reporter Justin Fenton, the video “picks up with Reynolds walking away from the intersection. As he walks away, he points the bat at three squeegee workers, who are following him from about 20 feet away.” After momentarily disappearing from view, “the squeegee workers ‘seemingly surround him.’” Then, “Reynolds can be seen swinging the bat while running towards them. One squeegee worker appears to strike Reynolds in the head while Reynolds has the bat raised toward another worker. Three seconds later, that person pulled out a gun and started firing at Reynolds. One shot can be heard followed by four more in succession.”

“In Baltimore, it has long been illegal to wander through traffic at stoplights and panhandle or clean windshields for cash. In the strict gun-control state of Maryland, it’s also illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to own a firearm, much less conceal and carry one without a special permit. In the never-never lands that progressive thinkers and politicians have created in cities like Baltimore, however, these are not really laws but suggestions. Marilyn Mosby, the city’s non-prosecutor, has also effectively repealed laws against possession and distribution of small amounts of drugs, trespassing, prostitution, or public urination and defecation. Even before her tenure in office began, city officials had punted on enforcing laws against dirt-bike riding, graffiti, and other “low-level” crimes.

“Such policies have created a pervasive sense of disorder and threat, especially in Baltimore’s minority neighborhoods. This, of course, discards the wisdom famously articulated by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling in the 1980s that disorder breeds more disorder, and that strategies aimed at enhancing public order in a neighborhood can create a virtuous circle. Order maintenance increases residents’ sense of safety and, by engaging them in the habit of self-policing, itself reduces crime rates. 

“As criminologist Matt DeLisi has discussed in these pages, the fact that this “Broken Windows” theory appeared to invite a conservative approach to law enforcement provoked a furious counterattack among left-leaning academics and the media. Widespread misunderstanding of Wilson and Kelling’s work—which actually warned against indiscriminate, aggressive policing in favor of a “negotiated sense of order in a community”—led to some misapplications of the theory and made it easy to muddy the statistical waters on its effects. Among progressives, it is now dogma that the theory had at best zero, and at worst negative, effects on crime.

“Baltimore represents an object lesson in what happens when that dogma becomes policy. The most obvious and tragic side effect of the city’s zero-prosecution policy for most drug crimes is its stratospheric homicide rate. Reasonable people will differ about the effectiveness of federal policy on drug use and distribution, but when a locality decrees that “the war on drugs is over” within its borders, as Mosby did, it invites a world of trouble. Eliminating the risk of prosecution for drug crimes within Baltimore’s city limits but not in the rest of Maryland (where drug arrests and homicides have remained roughly stable over the last decade) increases the profitability of the drug trade and invites more of it to locate in the city. Since competition for turf and profits in this trade frequently takes violent forms, this inevitably contributes to higher-level crimes and needless loss of life.

“Criminals might logically assume that if lower-level crimes are being ignored, then more serious ones might be handled gently. They would not be wrong. Maryland Public Policy Institute researcher Sean Kennedy, who studied 110 homicide cases arising from January 2019 to July 2020, found that suspects in 77 of these had been previously convicted of a serious crime by Mosby’s office. Sixty-one of them (79 percent) faced statutory jail terms that should have kept them in prison beyond the date on which they allegedly committed the homicide.

“But even if progressives continue to assume (erroneously) that Broken Windows policing has a negligible effect on crime rates, they should not ignore the consequences of disorder. As Kelling observed, “Strangers have to feel comfortable moving through communities for those communities to thrive. Order is an end in itself, and it doesn’t need the justification of serious crime.”

“Again, Baltimore is Exhibit A. One recent Goucher College poll found that two-thirds of respondents feel the city is on the wrong track, and that 90 percent consider crime a major issue. One lifetime resident of a neighborhood near the city line said that “when I come out on my street, I can either make a right to go into the city, or a left to go into Catonsville. I never make a right because I’m afraid to get robbed again.” It’s easy to dismiss stories about threatening behavior by squeegee “workers” as isolated incidents. But they’re real, they’re common, and they do, in today’s parlance, make people feel unsafe. That will have a damaging effect not just on the psyches of those affected, but on a city’s long-term viability.”

Baltimore Squeegee Shooting a ‘Broken Windows’ Tragedy | City Journal (city-journal.org)

Take care and pray the old school rosary the old school way  https://traditioninaction.org/religious/d013rp15Decades_Stretenovic.html

New CJ Book Reviewed

Looks like an excellent addition to our library. Reviewed by City Journal.

An excerpt.

“In his impassioned-yet-measured first book, Rafael A. Mangual offers an incisive critique of America’s increasingly radical criminal justice reform movement, and makes a convincing case against the pursuit of “justice” through mass-decarceration and depolicing.

“After a summer of violent protests in 2020—sparked by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks—a dangerously false narrative gained mainstream acceptance: Criminal justice in the United States is overly punitive and racially oppressive. But, the harshest and loudest condemnations of incarceration, policing, and prosecution are often shallow and at odds with the available data. And the significant harms caused by this false narrative are borne by those who can least afford them: black and brown people who are disproportionally the victims of serious crimes.

“In Criminal (In)Justice, Rafael A. Mangual offers a more balanced understanding of American criminal justice, and cautions against discarding traditional crime control measures. A powerful combination of research, data-driven policy journalism, and the author’s lived experiences, this book explains what many reform advocates get wrong, and illustrates how the misguided commitment to leniency places America’s most vulnerable communities at risk.

“The stakes of this moment are incredibly high. Ongoing debates over criminal justice reform have the potential to transform our society for a generation—for better or for worse. Grappling with the data—and the sometimes harsh realities they reflect—is the surest way to minimize the all-too-common injustices plaguing neighborhoods that can least afford them.”

Criminal (In)Justice | Manhattan Institute (manhattan-institute.org)

Take care and pray the old school rosary the old school way  https://traditioninaction.org/religious/d013rp15Decades_Stretenovic.html

Fine Article About Homelessness

Interview with the woman who hosts the must watch documentary Beyond Homelessness: Finding Hope.

An excerpt.

Beyond Homelessness: Finding Hope, is a documentary about the national homelessness crisis and its possible solutions. Hosted by Mary Theroux, chairman and CEO of a California-based libertarian think tank, the film describes the growing homelessness problem in San Francisco and compares it with cities that have found large-scale solutions.

“Theroux says the way to end homelessness is not the top-down government approach, but the traditional American way of an entire community working together.

“Her documentary team found that while most localities have small programs that work well, San Antonio’s Haven for Hope in Texas was the only large-scale program successfully fighting homelessness because it was modeled after a whole-of-community approach.

“Most importantly, it’s done it through a very Tocquevillian, traditional American model where everybody in the community came together … [and] formed a task force,” to strategize about the comprehensive needs of the population, including interviewing the homeless to find out what they were looking for, Theroux said in a recent interview with NTD TV.

“But more importantly, provide[ing] transformational care, residential transformational services, for people to take themselves from the street to achieve their full potential, and live rich lives.”

“The Haven for Hope has 140 partners working in sync on its campus, to provide customized services: “… they deal with people on an individualized basis. So you come in, and they say, tell us your story, and then what’s standing in your way of moving on with your life, and they address that,” said Theroux.

“Unlike San Francisco, “where you stick somebody in housing, not able to live successfully that way, and they end up just back on the streets over and over and over again,” at Haven for Hope “what they’re being given upfront is unconditional love and acceptance,” said Theroux.

“Recovery is really hard.”

“Increase in Unsheltered Homeless Due to Policy

“According to the HUD 2020 report, before the pandemic, the number of unsheltered individuals increased by 7 percent between 2019 and 2020, while the number of sheltered individuals across the country remained almost unchanged.

“However, Theroux said her findings show that homelessness is on the rise nationally, and is worse in many major cities because of a U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) policy shift that started under President George W. Bush and was enhanced under the Barack Obama administration.

“The HUD program, called Housing First, shifted the focus from shelters to permanent housing, which is extraordinarily expensive and takes a long time to build, leaving very little money for other more important resources, such as mental health, addiction, and physical health services that the homeless need, said Theroux.

“[The government] made the streets the waiting room in the meantime,” and “you never address the root causes [that] put someone into homelessness in the first place.”

“Even those who do get into permanent housing often do not have the skills to live independently and end up back on the street, or dead from a drug overdose, she said.

“It’s a very bad solution, and we have to reverse it.”

“Meanwhile, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said his administration has put more money—over $12 billion—into fighting homelessness than any other governor before him. His administration’s 2022 effort to end homelessness includes increasing funding for rapid housing that includes “tiny homes” and Project Homekey.

“We’re doubling down on our nation-leading efforts to tackle the homeless crisis,” Newsom said at a May 2022 press conference about his proposed budget, where he also announced additional funding for Homekey, saying the program has surpassed 10,000 units funded since its inception less than two years ago.

“Solution Lies Elsewhere

“You have to address what put them into homelessness, or what’s keeping them in homelessness, in order to resolve it, and … four walls don’t do that,” said Theroux. “You’re just taking a homeless person and putting them inside, so they remain culturally homeless, and you’re not helping them.”

“Childhood trauma, mental health disorders, and economic downturn are the leading causes of homelessness, she said. While many are already addicts, many others become addicted as a way to escape the misery of homelessness.

“And instead of making it easier for them, which city officials call “harm reduction,” Theroux said. “We really need to be providing people with the resources to escape that slavery and achieve their full potentials as human beings.”

“Newsom also addressed mental health in fighting homelessness and said his budget includes putting billions into mental health programs for the homeless population.

“While Theroux believes drug prohibition does not work, neither does she believe in giving ready access to drugs for harm reduction measures—such as providing syringes, like they do in San Francisco. She said educating people, especially youth, about the reality of drug use, is the key to decreasing addiction.

“We have to maintain or return our streets to civil order, and deal with drug use through education and treatment, and helping people understand that it’s not a good choice. And if you’re addicted, there’s a way to not become addicted,” said Theroux.

“Concurrent with that, we have to be letting kids know that there’s a purpose to life, and we’ve taken a lot of that away. We’re telling kids ‘no, there’s no purpose.’”

“The other, more important, factor, she said, is to empower families, who can help instill a sense of belonging and purpose.

“We have a war on children in this country … We’re trying to destroy childhood. We have families that are in deep distress.”

“While making the documentary, Theroux said she met many people who had experienced unimaginable childhood trauma and broken family systems, including a woman who said that, as a homeless young adult, she had to sleep under cars to escape predators.

“Too Much Government Control

“In California—one of the top six worst states for homelessness—zoning laws, climate change policies, and government control of building housing units, have made building homes extremely expensive and contributed to the increase of homelessness.

“California is the only state where over 70 percent of the homeless population is without shelter. At 113,660 people, that makes the Golden State home to more than half of all unsheltered people in our nation.

“The 2021-22 budget provides $10.7 billion ($5 billion General Fund) to 50 housing and homelessness-related programs across 15 state entities,” according to the California state legislature spending plan. In the 2019 budget, the governor earmarked $1 billion for homelessness and close to $2 billion for housing.

“Clearly, the billions allotted to the crisis have not helped reduce homelessness in that state’s major cities.

“It’s central planning,” said Theroux. “We saw it in all the communist countries and socialist countries, when it’s centrally planned. It’s very expensive, and it takes a long time, and it’s not very good.”

“In Texas, homelessness in January 2020 was estimated at 27,229 people and, according to 2018 statistics, 54 percent of them were unsheltered. According to the Texas Tribune, the state legislature allocated $25 million for homelessness in 2019.

“The reason San Antonio’s Haven for Hope is successful is because it brings the business and the nonprofit community, the police, fire department, and city government together to provide all of the services people need to end the cycle of homelessness, said Theroux.

“The San Antonio community is invested in the Haven for Hope because they know it improves lives, and people want to help so it sets up a “virtuous cycle,” said Theroux. While filming there, she saw how the larger community responded to a call for help to prepare for winter.

“I watched the line of cars coming up with new sleeping bags, new coats, new gloves, whatever, just an outpouring of support and involvement.”

“Moving Beyond Politics

“Theroux believes in order to replicate the Haven for Hope on a national scale, or in other cities, leaders will have to reach across political lines, as they did in San Antonio. There, despite their differences, a Democratic mayor and Republican businessman worked together to find a lasting solution.”

Solution to Ending Homelessness Requires ‘Traditional American Model’: Mary Theroux (theepochtimes.com)

Drug Decriminalization

Full decriminalization has been tried in Oregon and the results are now in, in this story from City Journal.

An excerpt.

“In 2020, Oregon became the first state to decriminalize possession of drugs, including hard drugs. Portland district attorney Michael Schmidt gleefully announced that his office would immediately stop prosecuting drug possession even before the law went into effect, saying, “Past punitive drug policies and laws resulted in over-policing of diverse communities, heavy reliance on correctional facilities and a failure to promote public safety and health.” Less than two years later, Oregon is suffering through the predictable results of this experiment: overdoses are skyrocketing, violent crime is rising, and virtually nobody is getting treatment.

“Voters approved the Oregon law, known as Measure 110, in 2020. The law decriminalized possession of drugs, including cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, and other controlled substances. Instead of a misdemeanor offense, people caught in possession of these drugs would be issued the equivalent of a traffic ticket with a small fine; all penalties would be waived if the person simply called in for a “health assessment” at an addiction-recovery center.

Criminal-justice reformers garnered support for the bill by claiming that it would reduce both addiction and alleged racial disparities in the criminal-justice system. A solitary dissenter, Paul Coelho, a physician with Salem Health Hospitals and Clinics, said, “The framers of ballot Measure 110 portray individuals with active addictions as rational actors who will naturally seek out and accept treatment for their condition. But I can assure you as a front-line provider this is simply not true. . . . Unfortunately, removing the threat of incarceration and abandoning the collaboration between law enforcement, the judiciary, probation, and the drug court system will result in a revolving door of drug abuse, treatment refusal, crime, homelessness, and ongoing costly health related expenditures for hospitalizations due to overdose, infections, and drug-induced psychosis.”

“Oregon should have listened. On the issue of reducing addiction and overdoses, Oregon’s decriminalization of drug use has been a tragic failure. Overdose deaths rose by over 33 percent in Oregon in 2021, the year after the law was passed, compared with a rise of 15 percent in the rest of the United States. As for the claim that the law would provide a pathway to treatment for addicts, less than 1 percent of the people eligible for treatment under Measure 110—a paltry 136 people—ended up getting help. In fact, out of the 2,576 tickets written by police for drug possession, only 116 people called the help hotline to get the ticket waived, with the vast majority of the others choosing to pay the minimal fine instead. As Coelho warned, without the threat of incarceration and the mandatory court programs that come with an arrest, addicts seldom have any interest in getting treatment.

“The impact of decriminalizing drugs did not stop with addiction and overdoses. Police in Portland report that all categories of crime jumped in reaction to Measure 110. “Drug addicts need money; they got it by stealing items and reselling them, so property crimes rose. Once a drug market opens up, drug dealers move in to service it. As a result, the streets of Portland are awash in guns and drugs. With drug dealers battling for turf, gun violence increased. Portland recorded 90 homicides in 2021, shattering the old record for annual murders in the city. “We’ve seen more guns than we’ve ever seen in our investigations,” a Portland police supervisor bluntly stated. “Almost everybody is armed. . . . Criminal organizations are robbing other criminal organizations. That’s kind of our big push right now—trying to stop the gun violence and the drug violence that goes with it, because they’re hand in hand. It’s not one or the other. It’s not related to the pandemic, it’s not related to Covid, it’s because we have a criminal environment that’s tolerated and allowed to flourish here.”

Oregon’s Disastrous Drug Experiment | City Journal (city-journal.org)

Take care and pray the old school rosary the old school way  https://traditioninaction.org/religious/d013rp15Decades_Stretenovic.html