Sep 26

In the world of politics, perhaps more than any other world, words do not come at a premium. Words are said, and said often. Words are spoken in support of a position, or against a position. Sometimes words are used ambiguously to avoid taking a position entirely. But words are never lacking, and the better the individual is at using those words to capture the popular sentiment of the people – at least the crucial minimal number of them needed to win – the more likely the individual is to win the election. Hence, the importance of using words wisely, and well.

But there is something different about a debate. Ask anyone who has competed in debate in school or at the university. While there are many different styles of debate, each with its own methods and rules—literally everything from Lincoln-Douglas debating to the Quaestiones Disputatae of medieval universities—there is something fundamental about debates that sets them apart from all other contexts in which public figures use words to persuade people: a debate makes two people who disagree confront each other using only words, and the winner is determined by the strength of the case they make.

Debate takes the art of presenting a persuasive speech (an art in and of itself) to a whole new level when two persuasive speakers are put together in a zero-sum game. Here, the debaters must be peers—observe why Elsa of Brabant could not debate Friedrich of Telramund in Wagner’s Lohengrin—and they must share the same question and topics. Then, arguments ensue and it is up to the hearers (or some subset thereof, such as pundits and commentators…) to determine which of the two was the most convincing.

Americans will have their final say about who was the most convincing Monday night—and in the following debates—on election day, which is the only day that ultimately will determine which vision of America we heard in the debates will be not just words, but reality.

But as we process this first of the debates, and determine what it might mean for that important decision lying before every American voter, we can appreciate the fact that at this point in the campaign trail, after so many words spoken in so many contexts—words sometimes later re-framed and sometimes denied—we have a setting where the two candidates for the highest office in our land come face to face, prior to all framing and interpretation, prior to all spin and all commentary, and offer us, the People, in a way that apples-vs-apples and oranges-vs-oranges reflects their own visions for the future for our country.

Will the two candidates actually carry out the things they promised? Will they be as good (or as bad) in the Oval Office as they appear on TV? We will only know for one of them. And which one of them it is will be, for many people, determined by these debates.

Aug 24

The risks are high, benefits unclear, say HHS’ own medical advisers.

On Tuesday, lawyers with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed a lawsuit on behalf of faith based hospital and medical networks, and five states, against a federal regulation

that would force doctors to ignore science and their medical judgment and perform gender transition procedures on children.

Yes, on children. Now read this next part slowly:

The government does not even require Medicare and Medicaid to cover these same gender transition procedures because the Health & Human Services’ (HHS) medical experts found the risks were often too high and benefits too unclear. But any doctor citing the same evidence and their judgment in an individual case would be in violation of the new mandate and face potential lawsuits or job loss.

Correct. It’s hypocritical and agenda-laden. It’s ‘the other shoe dropping’ in yet another HHS mandate, after the contraceptive one led to years of litigation with the Little Sisters of the Poor (for crying out loud) having to go through court hearing after court hearing on different levels of the legal system just to be able to continue to serve and care for the elderly sick and poor, without having to violate their consciences by letting their health care provider provide for contraceptives already provided for by other government programs. (Yes, it’s that simply  insane.)

In these latter days of the Obama administration, nonetheless, the mandates continue, and this latest one the government’s own medical experts advise against is nonetheless required of “virtually every doctor in the U.S., many of whom have chosen the medical profession because they are inspired by their faith to serve those in need and to heal others”, as Becket Fund explains.

There are other areas where government and activists are pushing new requirements based on transgender theory with sweeping impact but virtually no basis other than politics and ideology.

The stories are everywhere. Monday, USA Today’s front page was emblazoned with this headline story: ‘Judge in Texas blocks Obama transgender bathroom rules’. What the story repeatedly calls the U.S. Department of Education’s ‘guidance’ is a nice way of referring to a federal regulation “that required school districts to allow transgender students to choose which restroom and locker facilities to use”, with a thinly veiled threat of losing federal funding if schools failed to comply.

While the article is weighted with words leaning toward a sympathetic reading of transgender ideology, it also says this:

“The sensitivity to this matter is heightened because defendants’ actions apply to the youngest child attending school and continues for every year throughout each child’s educational career.”…

The plaintiffs argued that the Obama administration guidance came with the implicit threat that federal education funds could be withheld if school districts refused to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their chosen gender identity. The guidance also had implications for federal student privacy laws, threatening education officials with sanctions if they fail to address students by their preferred gender pronouns.

So what drives this directive is an individual student’s claim about their feelings, whether relating to sexual identity, or their sense of acceptance and belonging, in the most private settings in which young people are most exposed.

What few people are asking publicly is what’s behind all of this, what the thinking is or better yet, the science. Which is why a long term study into exactly that aspect of ‘gender theory’ came out this week, published in The New Atlantis, just as federal regulations continued to force new regulations favoring transgender ideology on doctors and school systems across the country. The editor’s note sums it up well:

Questions related to sexuality and gender bear on some of the most intimate and personal aspects of human life. In recent years they have also vexed American politics. We offer this report — written by Dr. Lawrence S. Mayer, an epidemiologist trained in psychiatry, and Dr. Paul R. McHugh, arguably the most important American psychiatrist of the last half-century — in the hope of improving public understanding of these questions. Examining research from the biological, psychological, and social sciences, this report shows that some of the most frequently heard claims about sexuality and gender are not supported by scientific evidence. The report has a special focus on the higher rates of mental health problems among LGBT populations, and it questions the scientific basis of trends in the treatment of children who do not identify with their biological sex. More effort is called for to provide these people with the understanding, care, and support they need to lead healthy, flourishing lives.

Note that last line, which is the most motivating factor behind the study. The two main authors and their research team used abundant and long-term scientific and medical findings to identify real health concerns and urge treatment that optimizes benefit and minimizes harm to people. The full report is available at that site, unlike so many peer-reviewed journal articles far beyond the reach of the general population, behind the firewall of a professional subscription to journals people don’t read and wouldn’t understand in the language used in most high level professional journals.

This study is for everyone to read and share and discuss.

After it was published early Monday, some coverage welcomed the scientific based research to bring to the debate. Michael Cook even opened his article with several links to opposing ideas, to show clearly the many claims that have been published about human biology and psychology without proof.

Pope Francis has been talking about this for a while, did so again this week, and doesn’t mince words.

Shortly after Pope Francis’ trip to Poland in late July, the Vatican released a transcript of the pontiff’s Q&A session with local bishops, which took place behind closed doors. His remarks caused a stir…because he once again denounced what he called “ideological colonization” and “gender theory.”

“In Europe, America, Latin America, Africa, and in some countries of Asia, there are genuine forms of ideological colonization taking place. And one of these?-?I will call it clearly by its name?-?is [the ideology of] ‘gender.’ Today children?-?children!?-?are taught in school that everyone can choose his or her sex.”

“Why are they teaching this? Because the books are provided by the persons and institutions that give you money. These forms of ideological colonization are also supported by influential countries. And this [is] terrible!” Francis said…

For Francis, “gender theory is an error of the human mind that leads to so much confusion,” as he said in 2015, and it’s one reason why “the family is under attack.” In an interview book titled This Economy Kills, the pontiff compared gender theory to nuclear weapons.

Recent developments in Colombia, Mexico and Spain suggest that the pontiff’s campaign against gender theory, or gender ideology, may be emboldening Catholic bishops in various parts of the world to speak out themselves.

A couple of things occur to me in all this. One is how often, and rightly so, social media posts about some inconvenience or complaint winds up with someone commenting that it’s a #FirstWorldProblem. True, usually. But this is one that has grown very rapidly to span the globe, so it’s an issue on different continents, and has become a sort of ‘colonization of ideologies’ as Francis and some bishops declare it.

The other is the frequent claim by activists and ‘the new atheists’ that religion or faith-based beliefs have no place in public policy, where reason and science should rule (and usually what such claimants mean is consensus by those in power). But in this case, leading scientific experts have issued a very important, long-term, thoroughly researched, well documented and objective study based on reason and science. That it doesn’t uphold (and goes against) prevailing cultural trends virtually assures it and its authors being discredited.

So it’s up to people of goodwill and common sense and concern for the welfare and well-being of all people to be well informed and engaged on this thorough and accessible study.

The National Catholic Register makes an important note here, from the study:

The authors make clear that the report does not provide an exhaustive review of their subject in all its dimensions.

“Science is by no means the only avenue for understanding these astoundingly complex, multifaceted topics; there are other sources of wisdom and knowledge — including art, religion, philosophy, and lived human experience,” they acknowledge.

“However, we offer this overview of the scientific literature in the hope that it can provide a shared framework for intelligent, enlightened discourse in political, professional, and scientific exchanges — and may add to our capacity as concerned citizens to alleviate suffering and promote human health and flourishing.”

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Aug 15

Don’t vote for pro-abortion politicians.

The choice should be clear and uncomplicated.

Nearly all of this election cycle has been almost historically unclear and terribly complicated. There are few certainties, and then campaign rhetoric and media spin can cast doubt even about those.

But one thing that is, was brought up at a major annual convention recently, got distorted in reporting by some media, and then clarified by an astute journalist of the highest integrity, and it all came down to one simple, concise message: Not voting for ‘pro-choice’ candidates is the least we can do.

Catholics and other Christians have helped get the country into the abortion divide for more than fifty years. Time to change that grave mistake.

How grave?

Carl Anderson (a true leader in an age with a dearth of them) Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus (an outstanding organization by any objective standard) addressed their annual convention in Toronto just over a week ago. Journalist Kathryn Jean Lopez was there, not planning to write about it, but taking notes as always. Talking with me on radio this Monday about events lately, the Knights’ involvement in international relief efforts in humanitarian crises, always protecting and defending human life and dignity, Kathryn said she saw Anderson’s brief remarks about moral responsibility in the political process distorted by some media into something he didn’t say, and decided to write about it after all. I’m so glad she did.

What this article says is so clear and concise and necessary.

Repeating something he said eight years ago, Anderson told those gathered: “The right to abortion is not just another political issue; it is in reality a legal regime that has resulted in more than 40 million deaths.” To his Toronto audience, he pointed out: “Forty million is greater than the entire population of Canada.” He asked: “What political issue could possibly outweigh this human devastation? The answer, of course, is that there is none.”

Kathryn told me that Carl Anderson went back to an address he gave two election cycles ago, in 2008, and delivered “non-partisan, uncontroversial” remarks to this gathering at this time in our history, because they applied in a timeless way. He named no candidate, no party, gave no endorsements or voting preferences other than that message about voting for candidates for office who would uphold the right of every human being to have a life in the first place, which then could be welcomed, sheltered, cared for, all the provisions the social gospel calls for as every believing Christian is called to know and to carry out.

If you won’t guarantee a human life has the right to continue to exist, you cannot make a coherent argument that any goods or rights or provisions should or must, in the name of justice, be provided human life. It’s really that simple.

As Anderson says, there is a poison in our polity. Pluralism has encountered something grave, something that for more than four decades we have allowed to become a hidden background story, as we refer to it with euphemisms and hardened activism. What we need is the truth we can see on a sonogram — along with tender mercy, especially for those who have suffered because of the mainstreaming of abortion as a faux symbol of health care and freedom, even to the point of instituting government mandates in health-insurance coverage to make us believe these things.

She expanded on theses points again on Crux.

Anderson said abortion must be a priority. He didn’t say it’s the only thing we need to care about, but he did say that when assessing a candidate it ought to be a showstopper and a game-changer, and he’s completely right.

A point worth making is that Anderson was not speaking in the context of an academic theological debate. He was making an argument for a new, non-partisan political strategy, which is that we can change policy by withholding our vote from any candidate, of any party, who supports abortion.

Anderson sees that voting for pro-abortion politicians for other reasons has not brought them closer to a moral position, or even the pro-restriction position that polling shows is held by 8 in 10 Americans. His point was that at a time when America’s fundamental moral direction seems up for grabs, encouraging a pro-abortion candidate, for whatever reason, is not a wise prudential choice.

That’s all the more so as another Catholic vice-presidential candidate wraps himself in the flag of Pope Francis. Yet Francis, as it happens, is also against abortion.

This is not complicated, and should not be easily distorted or spun.

If there’s any breaking news in Anderson’s remarks, it is that we remain stuck in an unnecessary divide. This election is an opportunity for Catholics, for other Christians and religious believers, and all people of good will.

Don’t be party people. Be a people of life.

Talking about politics and practical front-line work, Anderson said to his brother Knights of Columbus: “Every time we save a life, we change the course of history.”

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Jul 24

Who are they, and where do they stand?

In the course of the past week, we saw the entire Republican convention play out with the formal nomination of Donald Trump and his acceptance speech laying out his vision and plans if elected. And we’re about to see the Democratic convention unfold, as Hilary Clinton is officially nominated candidate and formally accepts on the final night. These are historic events, we’ve often been reminded in this election cycle. But while there’s a certain ‘first ever’ historic nature in the two candidates, the reality of their party platforms and their individual visions for America—what, at the end of the day, they actually stand for and they would actually do in the Oval Office—is what America must (or should) consider now that we’ve heard Trump and prepare to hear Clinton.

In the course of the last week, we also learned the running-mates of the two candidates. While neither Trump nor Clinton are, or ever were Catholic, the two running-mates have significant connections to the Catholic Church. Trump V.P. pick Mike Pence, Governor of Indiana, was raised as a Catholic, but is  now a devout Evangelical Christian. Clinton choice Tim Kaine, U.S. Senator from Virginia, is a Catholic who worked as a missionary with the Jesuits in Latin America and, according to his Pastor, still actively practices the faith.

However, it’s only on the actual position of a person—what they espouse and what they promise to do—that American citizens can make a choice. And while the Democratic ticket has the only Catholic in the race, and the Republic ticket has been called the most “anti-Catholic” in recent history (especially given Trump’s verbal spat with Pope Francis over his trademark promise to build a Wall, a promise the candidate repeated in his recent keynote speech at the Republic Convention), when it comes to life issues across the spectrum—from the womb to natural death—the platforms could not be more different.

The Democrats’ has never been more pro-abortion, (USA Today claims ‘anti-abortion’ Democrats are outraged over it) and the Republicans’ has never been more pro-life.

Divisions are clear in this particular election year. None, perhaps, more clearly so than here.

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Jul 14

Do we have race problems? Police problems? Both? What can be done?

Turn on the TV or open the newspaper in America today and you will see a dialogue—perhaps overdue—about social themes of the importance of human lives, racial equality, respect for the law, the rights of people to speak their voices, and whether or not we, as Americans, are as divided as we seem. These issues have come up with a certain strength today in America due to the confluence of at least three major events—two concerning a police-involved shooting, and one concerning a home-grown terrorist who sought to assassinate white police officers—within a few days. However, they are not new. In Chicago alone, the tension over police-related cases has resulted in the firing of the Chicago Police Chief and nearly cost the Mayor of Chicago his job.

However, while the discussion is over major social, cultural and political trends, Gregory Thomas, President of the (US) National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), reminds us that all policing is local, as he told me on radio Thursday.

It’s an unfortunate tide of events that have occurred in the past week, like getting hit in the gut three times. Shot on video, we had two police shootings, and the third event being the Dallas shooting of police officers. It doubled the nation over. So now we’re sitting here in pain, and it happened on consecutive days. We’re making it a national issue, but it’s a local issue.

While the reality is that about 95 percent of police are doing the right thing, that means five percent aren’t, and it’s all local. So if the cop on my block will stop me in my vehicle and harrass my kids, then that’s the whole police department to me. I don’t know what the other 99 are doing.

What a law enforcement officer is doing, and what a citizen is doing, in any given moment, is at the center of these terrible events.

It’s an important point lost in much of the rhetoric: each of these cases involve individual decisions of people in very different circumstances. It was the decision of an officer in Falcon Heights, Minnesota to pull over Philandro Castile. It was the decision of Mr. Castile and the decision of the Officer that led to the shooting. It was the decision of Mr. Castile’s girlfriend that led to the aftermath being filmed, uploaded on the internet, which led to a series—perhaps tens of thousands—of other decisions of how to react to that video. It was the decision of religious officials to honor his mother’s request to hold a funeral for him in the Catholic Cathedral of St. Paul, Minnesota, and it was the decision of the family not to invite the media to that funeral.

The current events, on the one hand, point out that there is significant tension under the surface in America over the relationship between members of certain racial groups and the police. This tension, however, cannot be simplified since the members of all those same groups are also members of the police. We cannot forget that an Asian and a Hispanic police officer were the victims of the shooting in New York last year. And we should not forget that an African-American mother was also injured in the shooting of the white police officers in Dallas last week.

On the other hand, the current events conceal the individual nature of these choices. The Dallas shooter, as President Obama pointed out, most certainly does not represent all Black Lives Matter protesters. The same must be said for the cases of police abuse of power. Those individuals who abuse their power, or who make wrong decisions, must be held accountable. What will not help on this front is when the decision of one, or some, is attributed to a broader group. And yet, the principle that all policing is local reminds us that people form opinions—and opinions are decisions in the mind—based on what they see and experience.

If the events recently in America teach us anything, they should first show us the great need for a serious dialogue that seeks to bring all people to equal treatment before the law, as well as reminding us that every decision we make in our individual lives—be it a police officer carrying out his beat, or a business person at his desk—carries ramifications well beyond that individual, and, in a way, impacts the social fabric of which we are all part.

We have to decide who we want to be, and what we’ll do to achieve that goal in our lives, homes, communities and nation.

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Jul 06

It’s what you can get away with that matters now.

That was proven, yet again, by FBI Director James Comey’s long-awaited remarks Tuesday summing up the bureau’s investigation into and findings on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s rogue email server operation.

Even the New York Times didn’t hold back.

Hillary Clinton may not be indicted on criminal charges over her handling of classified email, but the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, all but indicted her judgment and competence on Tuesday – two vital pillars of her presidential candidacy – and in the kind of terms that would be politically devastating in a normal election year.

The silver lining for Mrs. Clinton is that this is not a normal election year.

This is really some piece.

Mrs. Clinton’s campaign is built on the premise that she has the national security experience and well-honed instincts to keep Americans safe in the age of terrorism, and that Donald J. Trump does not. Nearly every day, she seeks to present herself as a more thoughtful and responsible leader.

She has spent months describing Mr. Trump as “reckless,” “unprepared” and “temperamentally unfit” to be president, and she has presented her four years as secretary of state and eight in the senate as unparalleled preparation for becoming commander in chief.

Yet in just a few minutes of remarks, Mr. Comey called into question Mrs. Clinton’s claims of superiority more memorably, mightily and effectively than Mr. Trump has over the past year. And with potentially lasting consequences.

This was a major indictment, without being quite an indictment, in official terms.

This NRO piece explains, with great clarity, restraint and unusual charity for political discourse.

There is no way of getting around this: According to Director James Comey (disclosure: a former colleague and longtime friend of mine), Hillary Clinton checked every box required for a felony violation of Section 793(f) of the federal penal code (Title 18): With lawful access to highly classified information she acted with gross negligence in removing and causing it to be removed it from its proper place of custody, and she transmitted it and caused it to be transmitted to others not authorized to have it, in patent violation of her trust. Director Comey even conceded that former Secretary Clinton was “extremely careless” and strongly suggested that her recklessness very likely led to communications (her own and those she corresponded with) being intercepted by foreign intelligence services. Yet, Director Comey recommended against prosecution of the law violations he clearly found on the ground that there was no intent to harm the United States.

Why? How did it come to this?

In essence, in order to give Mrs. Clinton a pass, the FBI rewrote the statute, inserting an intent element that Congress did not require. The added intent element, moreover, makes no sense: The point of having a statute that criminalizes gross negligence is to underscore that government officials have a special obligation to safeguard national defense secrets; when they fail to carry out that obligation due to gross negligence, they are guilty of serious wrongdoing. The lack of intent to harm our country is irrelevant.

Read this whole piece carefully, it captures the essence of what went on here.

It is a common tactic of defense lawyers in criminal trials to set up a straw-man for the jury: a crime the defendant has not committed. The idea is that by knocking down a crime the prosecution does not allege and cannot prove, the defense may confuse the jury into believing the defendant is not guilty of the crime charged. Judges generally do not allow such sleight-of-hand because innocence on an uncharged crime is irrelevant to the consideration of the crimes that actually have been charged. It seems to me that this is what the FBI has done today. It has told the public that because Mrs. Clinton did not have intent to harm the United States we should not prosecute her on a felony that does not require proof of intent to harm the United States. Meanwhile, although there may have been profound harm to national security caused by her grossly negligent mishandling of classified information, we’ve decided she shouldn’t be prosecuted for grossly negligent mishandling of classified information.

(Emphasis added.)

Yes, it’s as convoluted as it sounds. But read it for what it says, which is clear.

I have just returned from a two week family vacation in Europe, right smack at the time of the Brexit referendum and the start of the fallout from that. And also in the area when Austria and Italy have been going through political spasms along with more of the globe than one detects within the US borders.

But returning home just before Independence Day weekend, with celebrations of what freedom means and how hard fought it was won, promised to be fortifying. However, with back to back terrorist attacks happening abroad just after returning and the national search for a leader in the U.S. taking on increased gravity, only to have old school politicking carrying news cycles over the Fourth of July weekend involving the Clintons, the Justice Department and the FBI, followed by Comey’s backhanded exoneration of Mrs. Clinton, it was deflating.

Or, at least a reminder that the greatness, honor, leadership, strength and character we seek and need must come from us and not some candidate of a political party. It is a time of upheaval alright. Let’s focus on where our treasure really is – on our communities, our families, ourselves – to do what is right and good and true, and make a coalition to raise the bar on what is necessary for a just, virtuous and humane society.

And then hold politicians who seek higher office to rise to higher standards.

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Jun 08

Fracture.

There are as many ways to say what this means for America as there are Americans, though most people are baffled and couldn’t answer the question of how the primary season of Election 2016 began and ended as it did.

To recall (it seems so long ago now), that long season started out with a wide field of Republican candidates of different strengths and weaknesses entering primary season many months ago, and wound up with perhaps the least likely one of all as the party nominee. And the Democratic Party’s two candidates were longtime Washington insiders in an anti-establishment climate, though Sen. Bernie Sanders convincingly represented himself as the oustsiders’ candidate.

On the final primary day of 2016, Hillary Clinton prevailed to become the Democratic nominee, and Donald Trump had already arrived as the Republican candidate weeks ago. This is about as unlikely as it gets.

Of all the commentaries and analyses out there to date, one of the most incisive and clarifying accounts comes from Yuval Levin and his new book The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism.

Some highlights from his book, and the conversation I had with him on radio this week…

One of his main themes and central points is that American party politics is stuck in nostalgia for an earlier time when each party believed things were good, or as they should be, and should be again now. For the Democrats, he says, it’s 1965, for Republicans, it’s 1981.

“There’s a sense that everything is breaking down, that America doesn’t work like it used to,” he told me. “The defining theme is that America is not what it used to be. The middle of the 20th Century is the time most people in politics are most nostalgic for now.”

I asked him about his book’s reversal of the perception that we’re in the start of a new phase of American politics, whereas he contends we’re experiencing the end of the last one. “It is the last gasp of an exhausted and nostalgic baby-boomer politics”, he claims.

“So now we have this political situation with two 70 year old candidates yelling at each other over the best way to go backward,” he told me. “And it’s very hard to imagine that as the beginning of the next phase of American politics. In this election we’re seeing the crashing of the baby-boomer centered approach to political life. The question is really what comes next.”

Well put.

Levin continues: “Our problems are distinct to this moment. We would do much better to empower problem solvers throughout the country instead of looking to one leader or a handful. Power has been flowing upward toward Washington. But we have a better chance of addressing problems if we allowed power to flow through communities and institutions. Family, community, church, school, civic institutions.”

Refreshing ideas, and proven to be true from the past, ironically. “The more public policy can be decentralized, the better the hope that it’s going to be more effective, more in line with our Constitution, more in line with what’s going to work better,” he continued. “Most people are persuaded that the way our government works now is not working.The way politics have been handled results in absurdities like the president of the United States deciding who should use which bathrooms in schools.”

Solving problems at the most local level is known, in social teaching, as subsidiarity, and Levin points to that as the ideal. “One thing we do now is embody this idea that the solutions are going to come from our communities,” he said. “Take care of our own problems directly, not wait for someone else. Take, embody and populate institutions that take on problems directly. There’s a great passage in Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville that says ’When there are problems to be solved, Americans don’t fold their arms and wait for an official to show up, they take it upon themselves’. That’s the spirit we need to have in this election.

Levin says the struggle for religious liberty is central for subsidiarity in this society. “There’s such resistance from the government to allow institutions that embody the moral impulse to take care of things in this country” he said. “This must be fought at the local level.”

However, a convincing pragmatism helps. “It’s important that we who think we have solutions need to make them attractive to political leaders and our fellow voters,” Levin added. “In order to make them politically powerful, you first have to make them attractive to your neighbors. And then your political leaders.”

Start now, if you haven’t already. There may be months left, but they’re going fast. And the year has proven that anything can happen. Even, and especially, the unforeseen.

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Jun 01

See how fast a grassroots effort can be launched?

We need to learn from this.

Being Memorial Day, I was out and about and taking the rare break from constant news coverage. But getting into my car just after headline news was underway, I caught an interview with a Cincinnati zookeeper about a silverback gorilla they just lost, without an immediate context, though with very reasoned remarks about the animal’s enormity and strength, and a sincere appreciation for all the concern expressed for the occasion, tough as it was but necessary. What the heck happened, I thought.

It didn’t take long to learn. CNN’s report was the first account I got of the events that led to the demise of Harambe for the protection of the child in his grip. Though I’m assuming nearly all of you know this story by now, here’s that early account of the basics.

Zookeepers shot and killed a rare gorilla on Saturday after a 3-year-old boy slipped into its enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo, triggering outcry over how the situation was handled.

If they had to do it again, they would respond the same way, the zoo’s director said Monday.

Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard said he stands by the decision to kill 17-year-old silverback Harambe to save the child. The boy went under a rail, through wires and over a moat wall to get into the enclosure, according to the zoo. Footage shot by a witness shows Harambe dragging the child through the water as the clamor of the crowd grows louder.

Zookeepers shot the 450-pound gorilla with a rifle, rather than tranquilizing him. The brief encounter sparked widespread Internet outrage over the decision to shoot Harambe and whether the child’s parents were to blame for failing to look after him.

But those second-guessing the call “don’t understand silverback gorillas,” Maynard said in a news conference. And, they were not there when it was time to make the crucial decision.

“That child’s life was in danger. People who question that don’t understand you can’t take a risk with a silverback gorilla — this is a dangerous animal,” he said. “Looking back, we’d make the same decision. The child is safe.”

End of story, right? You know that’s not the case. Activists who rush to protect different species other than homo sapiens lit up the internet and social media with reaction to this event, championing the cause of the gorilla over the safety of the little boy.

Even though famed, celebrity veteran animal zookeeper Jack Hanna reaffirmed the danger of the situation and his sheer lack of doubt that the animal would have killed the boy had not the zookeepers taken the swift action they did.

Harambe was a silverback male. When an intruder enters the gorillas’ territory, the male asserts itself; having people shrieking at it from above while it’s confused would only further antagonize it. Hanna says the instant he saw the footage of an agitated Harambe yanking the kid roughly through the water by the foot, he knew it would have ended with the child dead had zookeepers not intervened. To give you a sense of the power the animal has, he notes that humans need a hatchet and a sledgehammer to generate the force needed to crack the shell of a green coconut. Male silverbacks can do it with their bare hands. Let that thought guide you in what lay in store for the kid.

But it didn’t, for animal activists who place more value in animal life than human.

Carolyn Moynihan wrote about it here. Blogger Max Lindenman says activists show “what happens when justice is pursued without any notion of transcendent human value”. These are good pieces to read, consider and absorb. So is Mona Charen’s NRO piece on the moral confusion that comes with treating animals like people.

My reaction was deeply felt and concerned with the impromptu and organized reaction of animal activists, which swiftly erupted into a campaign, while so many of us are working to get attention on the populations of human beings being seized, held hostage, tortured and massacred in the Middle East, Nigeria and elsewhere, with insufficient response from the international community who has a ‘responsibility to protect’, acknowledged formally since the 2005 World Summit to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Having recently attended the UN conference on international religious freedom, genocide and mass atrocities committed against Christians and other religious minorities, I’m more keenly aware than ever of the need for attention to this crisis growing in urgency all the time. Speakers from the US, Europe, Iraq and Syria gave powerful witness to the daily reality for vulnerable populations of people fleeing for their lies, or camping out in tents by their churches while they could still stay safely there (safety refugee camps could not provide Christians and Yezidis), hoping the West would take up their cause and call for awareness and relief.

Where’s the ‘guerilla activism’ there?

Iraqi priest Fr. Douglas Bazi, from Erbil, wonders:

I too know what the people in the camps have been through, because like them, I was kidnapped by terrorists, and tortured simply because I was Christian…How did this happen to my people? Who bears the moral responsibility of this? What should be done for the Christians who remain in Iraq? And just as important, for those Iraqi Christians and other refugees whose lives are on hold in this situation in other countries, such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan…

My people are losing hope. And we are disappearing. Every day our members are growing smaller. Soon we will be small enough for the world to forget us completely. Then, Christianity in Iraq will essentially be gone. Can we change the future? Does the will exist among the good people of this world to change this reality? Has this finding of genocide come in time to make a difference? And what can we do with it now?…

There are many who would say, mostly from a distance, that it is important to save Christianity in Iraq for a culture and for historical reasons. There is a great truth to this course. But friends, the Christians of Iraq, we are living, breathing human beings, not museum pieces. If there is a fundamental reason that they should survive, it is simply this: on our small earth, peaceful people should have the right to live in their homes in peace and dignity. And when the world stands by and watches any peaceful people disappear, it is a wound to the entire world, all the time, and wounding will kill us all.

We don’t know what we don’t know, but some media groups are working to spread awareness and inform us. Groups like Citizen GO who participated in the conference and worked to generate awareness, Aid to the Church in Need, Knights of Columbus, In Defense of Christians, CNEWA, Picture Christians, Iraqi Christian Relief Council, 21 Wilberforce Initiative, and many others.

When we saw the spontaneous eruption of activism on social media and in on site demonstrations on behalf of a gorilla, drawing a stunning amount of impulsive, instantaneous response, all I could think of was how great it would be if we could generate that same kind of grassroots activism on behalf of women, children, young boys, men, the elderly, and all who live right now, at this moment, in moral danger personally, and danger of extinction as a group.

I’m not going to ask ‘is that too much to ask for?’ Because I know it’s not. It just takes conviction, impetus, will and action that follows from it. This can happen in a heartbeat. So many depend on that.

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May 31

We needed the occasion, to remember in America, and with our friends abroad, what greatness is.

We needed it to celebrate honor, duty, service and sacrifice in such a year as this. It fell just about halfway through this contentious, dishonorable, politically charged and pivotal election year, so it would be nice if it were more of an opportunity to re-ground ourselves in what we just celebrated, than to let the day go by as a wonderful recall of noble heroism embodied in countless acts of virtue, of ‘grace under pressure’, impulsively carried out to serve or save another without hesitation or concern that it may be a final act in the life of that hero, who only thought they were doing the right thing.

‘The right thing’ has become a political calculus these days, ‘right’ being as redefined as so many other terms in our shared social life, as if there were no moral compass and objective natural law of what we ought to do and what we can’t not know, apart from the dictates of the culture of relativism as manifested in media, law and politics.

Everywhere I turned and looked on Memorial Day weekend seemed more filled than ever with witnesses to greatness in acts of goodness, displays of loving gratitude, celebrations of appreciation for the ultimate act of service for a single other person, groups of others, or countless populations of others, sometimes in a split-second decision to take that action, out of the impulse to protect and to save.

Here are two examples.

On my radio program, I had the opportunity to feature three individuals in two wars. Adam Makos told me about the story of Tom Hudner and Jesse Brown, two great friends and Navy pilots in the Korean War, a story that fills the pages of Makos’ book Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship and Sacrifice.

“On December 4th, 1950, the Korean War had turned very dire. We had 10,000 U.S. Marines surrounded by 100,000 Chinese communist troops at a place called the Chosin Reservoir, way up in northern North Korea. Men like Tom and Jesse would fly [from their nearby naval carrier ships] to give air support to the Marines. They would drop bombs and strafe, and that’s when Jesse Brown was shot down. He was hit by a bullet from the ground, from a Chinese soldier, and he crash-landed in the only place he could — on the side of a North Korean mountain.”

Brown’s wingman, Tom Hudner, witnessed what happened, and then saw smoke rising from the nose of Jesse’s plane, which lay 13 miles behind enemy lines. Hudner said, “I’m going in.” All the other pilots remained silent.

Makos continued, “Tom knew his friend was about to die, and he was willing to give his own life to try to change that. With his wheels up, Tom circled around and came to a skidding, screeching stop alongside of Jesse’s plane. Tom got out into that deep snow and set out to try to save his friend’s life. It had never happened before; it has never happened since.”

Among the many extraordinary lessons in this story is the transcendent nature of friendship, human dignity and faith. Discrimination in society over race, religion, background and economic class falls away in war, the great and terrible equalizer. It is life lived at its absolute essence, informed by a powerful transcendent belief, that emerges in all the accounts of war heroes.

That was personified in the service and witness of Fr. Vincent Capodanno, Marine Chaplain who served in the Vietnam War and lost his life in the most extraordinary acts of ministering to dying men during a firefight that exposed him to mortal danger. I featured his story on that Memorial Day program as well, but it barely scratched the surface of a profoundly deep belief in and dedication to the care of others, body and soul, who are in front of you in whatever circumstances you’re in, and theses were dire.

The whole account is in The Grunt Padre, the fuller account of Fr. Capodanno’s service and sacrifice in detail, during his time in Vietnam 1966-1967. Christ Stefanick does a good job summarizing it in this video.

Some snips:

He knew that where the fighting was thickest, is where a chaplain might be needed the most.

One marine said

“He just gave me a look like ‘don’t worry, it’s going to be okay’.” Then the gas started getting lobbed, and Fr. Capodanno refused to take the Marine’s gas mask. “He said ‘no, you need it more than I do’. At that moment, he was just gone from my view.”

A marine was hit with shrapnel. When Fr. Capdanno got to him, “a bubble of peace descended around him. All he heard was his voice: ‘God is with us all this day. Someone will be here soon to help you.’ Fr. Capodanno was always able to see the crisis of the moment from an eternal perspective…Capodanno didn’t survive that day. He was running to minister to a medic who was shot, just yards from the machine gunner who had targeted him. He was shot 27 times in the back. He died in a field in Vietnam with that medic.

The excerpt from The Grunt Padre about that final assault is profound. It’s what Corporal Ray Harton recalls in a powerful testimony of Fr. Capodanno’s final minutes. Harton was hit repeatedly in the battle after “the carnage started”.

I don’t know how long I lay there. I found myself getting weaker and could see the North Vietnamese soldiers moving in on us…I thought everyone else was dead. I prayed to God, for I knew I was bleeding to death…I expected a bullet or bayonet at any moment. As I closed my eyes, someone touched me. When I opened my eyes, he looked directly at me. It was Father Capodanno. Everything got still: no noise, no firing, no screaming. A peace came over me that is unexplainable to this day. In a quiet and calm voice, he cupped the back of my head and said, “Stay quiet, Marine. You will be OK. Someone will be here to help you soon. God is with us all this day.”

As Stefanick notes, Fr. Capodanno didn’t survive the day. But his service and witness are beyond extraordinary.

And so were those told by others throughout the Memorial Day weekend, in so many ways and places, from the Mall of Washington events honoring service members in different wars, to tributes published and broadcast in so many outlets. Many note that it’s a memorial held beyond US borders.

Like this one in Cambridge, England.

And this one in France.

Taking it all in, allowing ourselves to be filled with gratitude for so many individuals who so nobly gave everything they had for another human being, and inspiration that these countless stories are being continued in so many ways today in battles to save endangered populations from extinction, villages and towns and refugee camps from assault and violence, and the most vulnerable human beings from enslavement, trafficking, torture and death, we should be filled with hope.

And that each of us has the power of greatness within us to serve the common good, and the responsibility to do what’s in our reach each day, without looking for a savior in politics. The sooner we do, the less we’ll believe that making America great, or ‘getting’ hope and change, relies on a politician or someone running for political office.

It relies on each and all of us.

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