2016: The year ahead

The known, the feared, and the unforeseen.

Over the holidays, my son and I got a laugh out of a television promo for a major network special program feature ‘2015: The Year That Was’, saying that’s about as generic as you can get. It’s an annual ritual to do a retrospective on highlights and low points of the year just ending, many do it, some do it well, I don’t spend time focusing on it aside from personal recollection for what can be learned from it.

Of the year ahead, it’s another matter, given what we know going in. We know this will be a presidential election year in the United States, another general election cycle claimed to be ‘the most consequential of our lifetimes’, and it well may be. That will be a huge story and one that will gain momentum and import all year long. There will be no slow news weeks on the political front alone.

We know how fresh the pain and horror still are of the most recent terror attacks and the shock , also still fresh, that they seem to be coming more frequently and randomly. Paris and San Bernardino remain in current news cycles as investigations into both continue to turn up new headlines. Smaller scale but still random violent attacks claimed to be for the sake of jihad have been occurring across the States and around the world. And there’s so much more we aren’t even hearing about, happening every day beyond where cameras and news crews reach. Experts predict with certainty there will be much more this year.

While putting away Christmas decorations yet again recently, I recalled the time as a young child when I helped my father with this same ritual, wrapping lights from the tree and tucking them into boxes to be put away, when he said ‘I wonder what will happen in our lives between now and the next time we take these out to decorate for next Christmas.’ It struck me at the time, the profundity of that thought, and stayed with me from then on.

Especially in these times, I take even more seriously the unknown nature of the year between the holiday ceremonies and celebrations, the uncertainty of what the months will hold for us all. But we do have the choice to make every day, every hour, the best we can according to what is in front of us and what we have the power to do and how we choose to use it. No matter what circumstances we each and all are in, we have that, the freedom to choose the true and the good, and how to act on that choice.

It will be put to the test a lot this year. That’s a given. How we seize the opportunity to shape events and impact their outcome will determine everything.

Wisconsin Democrats flee to Illinois

Going from bad to worse?

This is almost comic, if it weren’t so….real. And painful, for a lot of folks.

The Wisconsin state Senate has adjourned indefinitely awaiting the arrival of Democrats who skipped town on Thursday.

Republicans met briefly today and adjourned. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says it can reconvene in short notice at any time, including over the weekend, if Democrats return.

Fitzgerald says he has no idea where the Democrats are and he hasn’t been in contact with Minority Leader Mark Miller since Thursday.

Oh, this gets ‘curioser.’ Turns out they fled to Illinois.

Republicans had warned since last year’s campaign that they would seek major concessions from unions. But for lawmakers in the minority, “The only other option we had to slow things down was to leave.”

State Sen. Jon Erpenbach said the decision to flee happened on the spur of the moment as Democrats gathered near the Capitol for a regular strategy meeting Thursday morning.

Get this…

An hour later, he threw a few travel essentials — a toothbrush, razor and some clothes — into a duffel bag and a backpack. He took just two or three minutes to pack, and jumped in a car for a prearranged meeting at a hotel in Rockford, Ill., just south of the Wisconsin border.

The lawmakers were concerned that police could have detained them, even though the Wisconsin Constitution prohibits the arrest of state lawmakers while the Legislature is in session, except in cases of felonies, breaches of the peace or treason.

“We knew their jurisdiction ends at the state line, and that’s why we came to Illinois,” Erpenbach said.

From Rockford, the legislators headed in different directions, most of them traveling to the Chicago area or to other parts of northern Illinois, Erpenbach said.

State Senate Democrats said they would stay away for days or even weeks, while Republican efforts to pass the bill in the state Assembly also faced obstacles.

This is so childish. Utterly jaw-dropping behavior, from elected representatives.

As for the rich line: “The only other option we had to slow things down was to leave.”…

A friend of mine went on her social network to say what plenty of folks are thinking, as I’m hearing it.

See, in the US that I grew up in, when you lose an election, you then have to show up to lose votes. The Democrats are willing to sacrifice American democracy on the altar of union demands. Disgusting.

The first option they had was to turn up to do the job they were elected to do, even and especially when the going gets rough, and the outcome is beyond their manipulation. Imagine if the Republicans in Washington, during the first two years of the Obama administration (especially in the heat of the health reform battles), fled town and said “the only other option we had to slow things down was to leave.”

Really…?

I held this post over from Friday into Saturday, hoping it would become outdated and replaced by common sense.

No such luck. It got more ridiculous. Not only have teachers refused to hold classes for days while they picket, now doctors are willing to cover them with bogus sick notes so they could take official leave for their absence.

The Madison School District has said teachers who call in sick to protest won’t be paid, but a group of licensed Wisconsin doctors came to the capitol today saying they would write a physician’s note for anyone who asked.

Dr. Kathy Oriel told ABC affiliate WKOW-TV in Madison that the doctors realize they could get in trouble for their offer.

“We think its worth the risk,” she said.

Thus, professionals and working class folks are staking their claims and their future in the outcome of this pitched battle.

Despite the influx of supporters, pro-union activists were in the majority at the dueling rallies in Madison as nearly 70,000 people filled the square outside the capitol building. Tea party members’ voices were added to the chorus of dissent on the fifth day of the massive, peaceful protests.

Walker supporters chanted “Pass the bill! Pass the bill!” as pro-union picketers shouted back “Kill the bill! Kill the bill!” Tea party protesters carried signs reading “Your Gravy Train Is Over … Welcome to the Recession” and “Sorry, we’re late Scott. We work for a living.”

So right about here….two things, both from the Chicago Tribune editors.

One: What irony that fleeing Wisconsin legislators picked Illinois as their retreat encampment. The state that has been bankrupted by politicians planning to raise lots of additional taxes to pay off those debts….continuing the trend of a certain political ideology that you can spend your way out of debt.

And Two: Those folks late to the protests in Wisconsin, because they were working, already got this…a Thomistic/Aristotelian concept that’s been lost on the entitlement population. The common good.

America’s labor movement can claim historic victories that have served the common good. Safer workplaces. Laws to protect children from workplace exploitation. The eight-hour workday. Those who are in unions can justifiably be proud of those and other accomplishments.

But how proud are they that the children of Madison, Wis., have missed school the last two days because so many of their teachers abandoned their classrooms and joined a mass demonstration? Joined a mass demonstration to intimidate the members of the Wisconsin Legislature, who are trying to close a $3 billion deficit they face over the next two years?

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has demanded that state workers contribute roughly 5.8 percent of their wages toward their retirement. He wants them to pay for 12 percent of their health-care premiums. Those modest employee contributions would be the envy of many in the private sector.

And…

Public sentiment is changing. There is a growing sense that public-sector unions are not battling for better, safer workplaces. They’re not battling unscrupulous employers. They’re battling … the common good.

Gifts I wish to give

For my son’s birthday, I asked him if there’s something in particular he might like that he otherwise wouldn’t buy or ask for, and I can usually prod him into mentioning something for my consideration. This time, he said: “Ah….for my birthday….I want two things. But only two things.” Okay, I said, picking up a pen ready to write a note to self. “Are you ready?” he asked, and somehow in that moment, I absolutely knew what was coming next…..and I put the pen down and said “Yes.”

And that mother-son connection we have always had, proved instinctively right once again. He said exactly what I thought he would. “Peace in the world, and goodwill toward men.”

That’s all, he said, just peace and goodwill among people. And he meant it, though I smiled and said “Well, I’m working on it in my own way. But I’ll see what I can do…”

I’ve thought of and ‘written’ this post a number of times over recent weeks, especially as the new year dawned and people were wistfully making resolutions and bloggers were writing ‘year in reviews’ and ‘year ahead projections’ and all. But never quite got to it. So now is the time.

Dear Son,

In everything I do, every single day, I aim to be a bridge builder, a peacemaker, a unifier. We each have only a certain amount of influence on the world but are responsible for that and the best stewardship of that in the time we are given. I have been blessed with being given a voice in the media, print and broadcast, at this particular time in history when social communications is global, immediate and unprecedented in its reach. There may be people in the Himalayan mountains hearing or reading my words, as well as those I know are listening and reading them in Africa, South America, Europe, Asia, and even the man in the far reaches of Iceland who sent a postcard to say he picked up the signal on a certain night to hear my voice saying “Peace in the world starts with peace in your own heart. I wish you peace, friends, and I’ll talk to you soon.” I used to close my radio show with that sincere sentiment every day, and it was remarkable to learn how far it traveled.

So I’m reminded of that again now as you ask for the gift of peace on earth, and goodwill among people. I really am doing what I can. But we can all do better.

When I wrote this in my head around New Year’s weekend, the shooting in Tucson hadn’t happened yet and the country hadn’t yet erupted in a heated debate about civility, which is the oxymoron it sounds like. I was at a point of wanting to thank every person who came by this blog, or listened on radio, for their consideration of the news presented here and their interest in being informed and engaged. You know, Son, how hard I work to gather information as fully and accurately as I can and present it fairly and charitably and in the great tradition of intellectual reason.

Long before the recent media frenzy over ‘civil discourse’, I was writing about its decline and the need for its restoration and our responsibility in maintaining it. When people ask me which news media I favor, they may want to hear certain ‘niche’ markets that meet their ideological or political beliefs. But I always urge them to be broadly informed and prepared to make a defense for what they believe by hearing and understanding arguments with which they disagree. By now, many people know my motto is ‘Clarity with charity.’

People will nonetheless be angry or hostile or mean-spirited, but turn around and accuse others of those faults simply because they don’t agree. ‘Never render evil for evil.’ I believe in advancing the presumption of goodwill, assuming that people hold the views they do because they truly believe that’s what’s best for the common good, whether its grounded in reason, prevailing sentiment, personal emotions…or ungrounded at all. In our day, it’s easy to be misled by the currency of cultural values, which aren’t grounded in transcendent values. Even elite media get swept up in this drift.

People across the world are seeking and working for peace by following their belief in the Almighty, the transcendent values of human dignity and its divine origin. They exist, whether we believe in them or not. Life is short, eternity is forever. John of the Cross held that ‘at the end of life, we will be judged on love.’  Which has been translated to ‘we will be judged on our intentions.’ Mine are to love, be grateful, give thanks, offer whatever service I can give, be accountable and always uphold the dignity of every person, no matter what.

One of my favorite quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King is “The end of life is not to achieve pleasure and avoid pain. The end of life is to do the will of God, come what may.”

I can’t gift-wrap a response to your request, but only promise I will pursue it with renewed vigor. If it takes one heart and soul at a time, then so be it. We are in this together, and I’m full in. So help me, God.

With eternal love,

Your Mother

Unhappy in California

No matter which way it goes with Proposition 8, in elections and court rulings, some group is going to be very upset. But after the latest decision Thursday, nobody’s happy. What’s going on in California?

Tension was high Thursday morning on the courthouse steps as everyone, on both sides of the gay marriage battle, waited for Judge Vaughn Walker to decide whether he would continue the stay on his controversial ruling or not, while it goes through the appeals process. He decided not.

US District Judge Vaughn Walker refused Thursday to extend a stay – placed on his ruling that declared California’s gay-marriage ban unconstitutional – beyond next week.

The decision clears the way for same-sex marriages to begin again in California on Aug. 18, barring intervention from the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Everyone is on edge because this is a decisive social, legal and cultural turning point.

The high-profile case is being watched closely by supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage, as many say it is likely to make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. If it does, the case could result in a landmark decision on whether people in the United States are allowed to marry others of the same sex.

This is surreal. Some things aren’t relative to cultural lurches like this.

Cardinal Francis George, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, decried the August 4 decision of a federal judge to overturn California voters’ 2008  initiative that protected marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

“Marriage between a man and a woman is the bedrock of any society. The misuse of law to change the nature of marriage undermines the common good,” Cardinal George said. “It is tragic that a federal judge would overturn the clear and expressed will of the people in their support for the institution of marriage. No court of civil law has the authority to reach into areas of human experience that nature itself has defined.”

Joining Cardinal George in his criticism of the court decision was Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee for the Defense of Marriage. Archbishop Kurtz noted that “Citizens of this nation have uniformly voted to uphold the understanding of marriage as a union of one man and one woman in every jurisdiction where the issue has been on the ballot.  This understanding is neither irrational nor unlawful,” he said. “Marriage is more fundamental and essential to the well being of society than perhaps any other institution. It is simply unimaginable that the court could now claim a conflict between marriage and the Constitution.”

And equally unimaginable that bishops of the Church are at the point where they have to appeal to reason with comments like ‘the understanding of marriage as a union of one man and one woman’ “is neither irrational nor unlawful.” That’s no longer given. It’s under urgent appeal.

Bishops: Fix the bill

Well-intended and necessary as health care reform is, just expanding government programs to make more Americans insured to access a government controlled industry is not enough to affirm human dignity and serve the common good. At least not as mandated in the newly passed legislation, say the U.S. bishops.

Cardinal Francis George looked at it carefully, along with thorough analyses, and issued this statement.

Christian discipleship means, “working to ensure that all people have access to what makes them fully human and fosters their human dignity”… We are bishops, and therefore pastors and teachers. In that role, we applaud the effort to expand health care to all.

Nevertheless, for whatever good this law achieves or intends, we as Catholic bishops have opposed its passage because there is compelling evidence that it would expand the role of the federal government in funding and facilitating abortion and plans that cover abortion. The statute appropriates billions of dollars in new funding without explicitly prohibiting the use of these funds for abortion, and it provides federal subsidies for health plans covering elective abortions. Its failure to preserve the legal status quo that has regulated the government’s relation to abortion, as did the original bill adopted by the House of Representatives last November, could undermine what has been the law of our land for decades and threatens the consensus of the majority of Americans: that federal funds not be used for abortions or plans that cover abortions. Stranger still, the statute forces all those who choose federally subsidized plans that cover abortion to pay for other peoples’ abortions with their own funds. If this new law is intended to prevent people from being complicit in the abortions of others, it is at war with itself.

This is where George the philosopher applies his reasoning skills clearly.

We share fully the admirable intention of President Obama expressed in his pending Executive Order, where he states, “it is necessary to establish an adequate enforcement mechanism to ensure that Federal funds are not used for abortion services.” However, the fact that an Executive Order is necessary to clarify the legislation points to deficiencies in the statute itself. We do not understand how an Executive Order, no matter how well intentioned, can substitute for statutory provisions.

The statute is also profoundly flawed because it has failed to include necessary language to provide essential conscience protections (both within and beyond the abortion context).

Now note this part, and the bishops’ veiled reference to the ‘polish and shine’ put on the face of the bill to get it passed.

We share fully the admirable intention of President Obama expressed in his pending Executive Order, where he states, “it is necessary to establish an adequate enforcement mechanism to ensure that Federal funds are not used for abortion services.” However, the fact that an Executive Order is necessary to clarify the legislation points to deficiencies in the statute itself. [emphasis added] We do not understand how an Executive Order, no matter how well intentioned, can substitute for statutory provisions.

The statute is also profoundly flawed because it has failed to include necessary language to provide essential conscience protections (both within and beyond the abortion context).

Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, actively engaged in public debate on social policy, calls this “a bad bill.” And he counts the ways;

First, the bill passed by the House on March 21 is a failure of decent lawmaking.  It has not been “fixed.”  It remains unethical and defective on all of the issues pressed by the U.S. bishops and prolife groups for the past seven months.

Second, the Executive Order promised by the White House to ban the use of federal funds for abortion does not solve the many problems with the bill, which is why the bishops did not — and still do not – see it as a real solution. Executive Orders can be rescinded or reinterpreted at any time.  Some current congressional leaders have already shown a pattern of evasion, ill will and obstinacy on the moral issues involved in this legislation, and the track record of the White House in keeping its promises regarding abortion-related issues does not inspire confidence. [emphasis added]

Third, the combination of pressure and disinformation used to break the prolife witness on this bill among Democratic members of Congress – despite the strong resistance to this legislation that continues among American voters – should put an end to any talk by Washington leaders about serving the common good or seeking common ground.  Words need actions to give them flesh.  At many points over the past seven months, congressional leaders could have resolved the serious moral issues inherent in this legislation.  They did not.  No shower of reassuring words now can wash away that fact.

Fourth, self-described “Catholic” groups have done a serious disservice to justice, to the Church, and to the ethical needs of the American people by undercutting the leadership and witness of their own bishops.

Now that one deserves its own treatment. Thoughts on that later…