Thursday, March 24, 2016

Obama's Vapid Speech to Castro's Cuban Subjects

It required an exiled Cuban to expose the rank hubris that was President Obama's "address to the Cuban people" on his recent visit to that devastated island. Carlos Eire is professor of history at Yale and author of the National Book Award-winning memoir, Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy and its sequel, Learning to Die in Miami: Confessions of a Refugee Boy . At the invitation of Scott Johnson of PowerLine blog, Prof. Eire wrote an analysis excoriating the President's myths, platitudes and lies passed on to the Cuban people. You'll have to click the link to appreciate his evisceration of the President's words in its entirety, but here is a sample to whet your appetite:
President Obama’s so-called “remarks to the Cuban people” – delivered in Havana and broadcast throughout Cuba on Tuesday the 22nd of March 2016–were not in the least surprising or remarkable.

It was a classic example of Obamaspeak: a complex, interwoven tapestry of vague platitudes, potentially inspiring anecdotes, artificial myths, and outright lies, laced with several references to himself and a few strands of actual truth.


The entire speech is addressed to a mythological abstraction, “the Cuban people,” and the entire history of the past six decades is turned into a an unreasonable and highly emotional spat between that abstraction and another one, called “America” “Americans,” or “the American people” – a spat that took place because of a nasty mythical beast called “the Cold War.”

Nowhere in this speech do the Castro brothers show up. Nowhere are their many crimes against humanity mentioned. Nowhere is any blame laid on them for enslaving and ruining “the Cuban people” or for poisoning relations with the United States. In their place, another abstraction shows up to play the part of the villain: “ideology.”


Never mind the Castro brothers, or the tens of thousands of Cubans murdered by them, the hundreds of thousands imprisoned and tortured, or the two million driven into exile, or the nuclear missiles they pointed at the United States, or the soldiers and spies they’ve sent all over the world, or the terrorists they have sponsored.

No. Never mind any of that. The real problem has always been “ideology.”


Obama also spoke of “hope” repeatedly. He even had the nerve to tell Cubans of “hope that is rooted in the future that you can choose and that you can shape, and that you can build for your country.”

What hope, as long as the Castro dynasty is in control? What is this amorphous “hope” or this amorphous “future”? What of this “choosing” and “shaping”? How is that to happen when there is no civil society in Cuba, no rule of law, no chance to express oneself freely, no private property, no free market economy?


Which brings us to the lies in the speech, which are plentiful.

The biggest lies in the speech have to do with history, and all of these falsehoods come straight from the Castro regime’s Ministry of Truth, or from derivatives of its narrative, such as the film Godfather II.

In Obama’s thinly disguised Marxist narrative there is a constant dialectic between an imperialist power (the United States) and an unjustly exploited subaltern (Cuba), and in this poisoned relationship, the United States is responsible for most of Cuba’s ills....
There is more -- oh, so much more -- at the link.

After reading Prof. Eire's full analysis, you may want to go to his own blog and read The speech Obama should deliver in Havana, but never will. It is just as remarkable in speaking the truth to power, as well as for the fact that the Washington Post and the New York Times each declined to publish it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Exceptional Times with Unexceptional Leaders

Today's horrific events in Brussels were aimed at the synapses of European society: its airports and train stations, where people are on the move, intent on their destinations, and least wary of crowds and strangers. The responses to the ISIS-claimed terrorism were telling. There were the usual shutdowns and cancellations of trains and flights; the city of Brussels itself was locked down, and normal commerce came to a halt. Political leaders decried the usual perpetrators, called for calm, and ordered out more police and soldiers. And our feckless President, on a wastefully extravagant junket to Cuba and points south, before leaving to watch a baseball game, issued a 52-second statement in which he vowed our support "in bringing to justice whoever is responsible" -- as though threats of future prosecution could ever deter those who blow themselves up to gain ostensible martyrdom.

Note, as well, that all the European leaders, as well as our own, declined to associate the terrorists with "Islam", despite the acknowledgment by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria that its operatives had planned and carried out the attacks. (At least the French prime minister managed to admit that Europe is "at war" with the terrorists, although it is difficult to drum up support for war against an enemy whom you cannot bring yourself to name.) [UPDATE 03/23/2016: Is anyone who has watched Europe devolve over the last twenty-five years surprised to learn that the Belgian security services and other Western intelligence agencies had advance warnings that the Brussels airport was specifically targeted for a bombing attack? I thought so.]

Your Curmudgeon just finished reading Exceptional -- Why the World Needs a Powerful America. Its authors are former Vice President and Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and his daughter, Liz. The message they have could not be more timely in the wake of today's attacks and the insipid responses of those elected to lead us.

Part One of the book describes the recent highlights of America's exceptionalism.  The account begins with Roosevelt's Lend-Lease program at the start of World War II, and continues through D-Day, the Berlin Airlift, NATO, the Marshall Plan, and the Korean War. It is then dispiriting, to say the least, to have to turn from such an inspirational account to the far less inspiring history of vacillations by Americans in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and elsewhere.

The culmination of the Cheneys' American chronicle comes with their dissection of the last eight years -- the presidency of Barack Obama. They conclude, after marshaling abundant and detailed evidence, that no president has done more to weaken America's defenses while at the same belittling its past achievements and apologizing for its exceptionalism. (Indeed, I was surprised that they omitted one highly telling statistic: Obama's systematic purge of the upper, most experienced echelon of our military forces.)

The Cheneys show that for Obama, it is better to appease than to confront Islamic countries about the terrorism they support with their oil revenues. "Radical Islam" is for him an oxymoron; it couples two incompatible words that contradict each other. To Obama, it seems that America's very strength is its handicap, because he believes it has been used to push people around and bully other countries into submission. Therefore, reducing military forces to levels not seen since before World War II cannot in his view disadvantage us: rather, ensuring that America cannot as effectively project force serves to level the playing field, and makes us more "likeable" to others.

As you can see from his remark quoted above, Obama's view is that terrorism is best dealt with by the criminal law courts.  As for the suicide bombers -- well, fortunately they make it easy for us, since we do not have to waste any money putting  them behind bars. And if they bring their tactics here once more, law enforcement can go after their supporters.

I recognize that there are many who agree with what Obama has done, and is doing. Such people, however, might do well to re-examine their thinking in light of today's incidents -- and bear in mind the following words of an earlier president, Ronald Reagan (with which the Cheneys open their book):
It is up to us in our time to choose, and choose wisely, between the hard but necessary task of preserving peace and freedom, and the temptation to ignore our duty and blindly hope for the best while the enemies of freedom grow stronger day by day.


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Arguments and Decisions

Just a brief update: tomorrow, March 9, beginning at 9:00 a.m., Rusty van Rozeboom (the Chancellor of the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin) and your Curmudgeon will be in the courtroom of the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Fresno, California, to present oral argument in the case of Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin v. Gunner. The chief issue to be decided on appeal is whether the Diocese of San Joaquin had the constitutional right in 2007 to amend its governing documents so as to take it out of the Episcopal Church (USA). You can follow the complete prior history of this dispute on this page.

Tomorrow, also, is the day that the Supreme Court of South Carolina issues opinions. If the Court decides the case of Bishop Lawrence v. ECUSA, this blog will be unable to comment on it for at least a day, but be patient.

Finally, the opening and response briefs have been filed in the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth, in Bishop Iker's case. They may be downloaded from that Court's Website, for those who are interested. I will have more to say about them, later, as well.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Bishop Bruno Tries to Serve Two Masters

Under California law, a religious body or organization may create a unique form of corporation, called a corporation sole, whose principal purpose is to allow the parent organization (which may or may not itself be incorporated) to hold title to real property. A corporation sole is different from the usual variety of that entity: it has a single officer, director and shareholder, who are all one and the same person, called "the incumbent of the corp sole." The governing body makes the rules for who can be the incumbent. Typically it is that body's bishop or other spiritual leader.

Bishops may come and go, but corporations sole do not. Under law, their existence is perpetual -- and that is why they are a good vehicle for maintaining ownership of real property. And like any religious organization, they are not-for-profit, and pay no income taxes.

So it comes as a bit of a surprise to learn that Bishop J. Jon Bruno of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles is at odds with his own Diocese over the disclosure of financial information concerning the corporation sole of which he is the incumbent. (In order to avoid a vote on an outside audit of his corp sole at the diocesan convention last December, Bishop Bruno promised to disclose its financial statements.)

Readers will remember that +Bruno and his corp sole became embroiled in litigation last summer over the bishop's plans to sell the valuable, near-oceanfront real estate of the congregation of St. James the Great, in Newport Beach, California -- after he won a lawsuit to recover that property from the ACNA congregation that voted to leave his Diocese. The original developer who gave the property to the Episcopal Diocese for the building of a local church had placed a restrictive covenant on it, which specified that if the property ever ceased to be used for church purposes, it would revert to the developer.

Bishop Bruno did not take kindly to that position, and brought suit against the developer (in a fine example of how not to treat a wealthy donor). He claimed that the restriction had been waived when the developer had agreed to allow a portion of the property to be used as a parking lot. The developer pointed out in response that it had specifically not waived the restriction as to the very parcel on which most of the church building proper is located.

While that lawsuit was waging, the parish of St. James and its popular vicar, the Rev. Canon Cindy Voorhees, brought suit themselves against the bishop, after earlier lodging a disciplinary complaint against him for misrepresenting his intentions in his dealings with them. The lawsuit sought to enforce the restrictive covenant against the bishop on behalf of the congregation. Lately, the disciplinary proceedings have bogged down after Bishop Bruno spurned any effort at conciliation.

So do you have the picture now? Bishop Bruno and his corp sole are prosecuting one lawsuit and defending another. His goal is the same in both suits: to be able to move forward with his planned sale of the St. James real estate to a friend who is a developer, and who reportedly has agreed to pay $15 million for the property if it is free and clear. (The parish contends the property is worth even more.)

But now the bishop tells his Diocese that despite his December promise to the convention, his lawyers have advised him that to release the requested financial information could harm his ability to conduct the lawsuits. And with that announcement, Bishop Bruno has all but admitted that he is embroiled in a rank conflict of interest with his own Diocese.

For if the disclosure of information to which the Diocese, as the governing body of the corp sole, is fully and legally entitled would harm the Bishop's own lawsuits, then for what diocesan purpose is he maintaining (and defending) the lawsuits? His own stake in the litigation should parallel that of his Diocese, since Bishop Bruno is a fiduciary with respect to that diocese. A fiduciary is one on whom the law places a duty of the highest faithfulness and care toward his beneficiary (in this case, the Diocese).

A fiduciary, among other things, is positively prohibited from engaging in transactions which conflict with his fiduciary duties. Nor can a fiduciary try to profit at his beneficiary's expense.

Thus if Bishop Bruno's legal pursuits prevent him from performing his fiduciary duties toward his Diocese, he should resign rather than continue to act in his own interest at their expense. Barring criminal behavior, breaches of ecclesiastical fiduciary duties are generally not cognizable in the civil courts. Such breaches (in the case of a bishop of the Church) must be handled by ECUSA's Disciplinary Board for Bishops -- which is already looking into similar charges against Bishop Bruno, as noted earlier.

Part of the information the St. James group has discovered from inspecting the public records is that in August 2015, the corp sole formed in Delaware a limited liability company called "Katella Howell LLC", which then purchased a one-half interest in a $6.3 million-dollar commercial property in Anaheim (in the Diocese of Los Angeles). More recently, however, public records show that Katella Howell (the names of two streets in Anaheim that are presumably near the property) LLC is now the owner of all of that property, which is subject to a $5.3 million mortgage. The timing of the transactions suggest that it was Bishop Bruno's intent to use part of the proceeds from the sale of the St. James parcels to fund his corp sole's subsidiary's commercial venture in Anaheim.

One would have to go back to the Borgias to find a church prelate who was so enamored of temporal things as to place his own business interests ahead of his religious duties. While the corp sole may be a non-profit, the LLC most certainly is not. And what business does a non-profit corp sole -- the legal holding entity of a religious organization -- have with a corporation organized for commercial profit that is unrelated to any church or charitable purpose? (If there is any such purpose to his investment, Bishop Bruno should have disclosed it to his Diocese by now.)

The proceeds from such an investment are generally characterized under tax law as "unrelated business income", which is taxable at regular corporate rates. A charitable organization that has too much "unrelated business income" in its mix runs the risk of having its charitable status reviewed, or even revoked, by the IRS.

If Bishop Bruno could jeopardize his Diocese's tax-exempt status through his corp sole activities, then he most certainly has a conflict of interest, even if matters have not progressed quite that far. He has a fiduciary obligation to make full and open disclosure of all those activities -- to all beneficiaries who could be affected by them. Both the Standing Committee and the vestry of St. James should see to it that Bishop Bruno does not have the last word in this matter.