Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Sunday

Only a few days after Egyptian President Sisi visited President Trump in the White House, Moslem fanatics in Egypt set off bombs in two crowded Coptic Christian churches on Palm Sunday. The explosions killed almost a hundred people and wounded many more. As a result, Christian leaders have cancelled all services for today’s great feast of Easter.

During the past few years a friend of mine has worked to compile daily accounts of attacks on Christians all over the world. It is hard to read these accounts of varying brutality that occur practically every day. Most of the attacks are carried out by fanatical Moslems. Christians are beaten, raped, robbed, tortured, and murdered mainly because they are Christian. No individual offenses were levelled against the worshippers who had come together in Egypt.

Last year at this time I mentioned that members of the Islamic State murdered four nuns of the Missionaries of Charity working in an elder care facility in Aden, Yemen. Last year on the day after Easter, Taliban suicide bombers murdered over 65 Christian worshippers in Pakistan and wounded over 300. The only crime of those people, like so many thousands of others brutally persecuted in recent years, was that they were Christians.

What is so bad about Christianity? Why do extremists, both secular and religious, hate it so much? Maybe I should ask, why do they fear it so much?

Even after the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday, his subsequent Ascension forty days later, and the incredible events of Pentecost, St. Peter did not fully understand the implications of the Resurrection. Only after a personal vision convinced him that Jesus died and rose for all, did Peter see the light. He said,

“Now I really understand that God is not a respecter of persons, but in every nation he who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. “*

I have come to believe with Peter that God is not a respecter of persons, and that anyone who does right is acceptable to God. Still, I like being a Christian, especially a Catholic. There are many things I like about it but most of all I like a religion that believes in and holds out hope for resurrection, for a life after death.

I like to think that the worshippers bombed in Egypt or the four nuns murdered in Yemen are living a new life, and that they are not just rotting bodies being picked apart by vultures. It also strikes me that in reading accounts of them they, like tens of thousands of other Christians who have also been brutally persecuted, had already given up their lives in the service of others. Like Jesus, they went about doing good and healing.**

For Christians Easter, coming as it usually does at the outset of Spring, will always be a sign of new life.

The word "Easter" comes from a Germanic goddess of spring. Latin peoples used the word pasqua from the Jewish pasch or passover. When the Germanic peoples were converted, the Church wisely associated the word for Springtime with the feast of the Risen Lord. All around us new life is springing from the dead of winter. As the last traces of snow disappear, the crocus miraculously pushes its way up through its winter tomb.


*Acts of the Apostles 10: 25-37.

**Deacon Michael Nabil Ragheb, a 29 year old husband and father, was one of those killed in the Egyptian bombing. His uncle described him:

 “Michael was very diligent. He was top of his class in university, where he graduated from the Faculty of Pharmacy with distinction. He was also a graduate from the Coptic Theological College. He was successful, both in his working life and spiritual life. He was a son of the Church from childhood onwards and was a very obedient, humble and honest person. Since 2006 he served at Mar Girgis as a deacon, teaching the children in Sunday school." (Thanks to Tom Davis, creator and editor of "Today's Martyrs".)

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Filibuster


The Senate yesterday utilized the “nuclear” option and broke the Democrat filibuster over the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Shamelessly disregarding their previous statements and actions, Democrat politicians are now calling the filibuster a cherished part of American democracy.

So many of these same people were around during the administration of George W. Bush when there was an unusually large amount of judicial vacancies caused by Democrat unwillingness to confirm any of Bush’s nominees to the Federal bench. Back in the last year of the Bush administration Senator Chuck Schumer, the current minority leader, had warned Bush to not even consider nominating anyone to the Supreme Court in case a vacancy occurred in his last year.

When Barack Obama was elected in 2008 all these vacancies were now his to fill. But when Republicans used the filibuster to block some nominees, the Democrats invented the “nuclear” option that broke the filibuster and allowed the Senate to confirm the Obama nominees. Now that the Republicans have control of the Senate, and use the same tactic invented by the Democrats, all of a sudden the Republic is in danger.

However, the idea of the filibuster is nowhere to be found in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. The first filibuster only took place in 1837. In fact, I believe that the founding fathers, who were brought up in the British parliamentary system, would have been shocked by the idea that one man or even a minority could impede the will of the majority of the people’s representatives. They would have been even more shocked by the modern version of the filibuster, a kind of “virtual” filibuster where the Senator would not have to actually go through a boring, grueling test of endurance.

Isn’t it ironic that the same politicians and commentators who now bemoan the loss of the filibuster, are the same ones who are also advocating the abolition of the Electoral College, something that has been in the Constitution from the beginning. When it comes to the filibuster, they argue that the votes of 41 Senators count for more than the votes of 59 Senators.  But some dare to call President Trump illegitimate because he did not win a majority of the popular vote even though he won a clear and substantial majority in the Electoral College.

Today, Republicans outnumber Democrats in the Senate by 52-48. The margin is even greater in the House of Representatives gained the Republicans gained the majority in 2010, only two years after President Obama took office. Today, Republicans hold 237 seats in the House, Democrats hold 193, and five seats are currently vacant. In the fifty states Republican there are 33 Republican Governors compared to only 17 Democrats. Republicans now are in the majority in 69 State legislative houses, while Democrats are in the majority in only 30. Can these popular majorities on both the national and state level all be part of some vast right-wing conspiracy?

Perhaps the most famous Senatefilibuster in history is a fictional one. In Frank Capra’s famous 1940 film, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, James Stewart played Jefferson Smith, a young, popular local figure, who was appointed by the political machine in his home state to temporarily fill a Senate seat left vacant by the death of the incumbent. However, he soon discovered that the machine was up to no good and took to the Senate floor to conduct a one-man crusade against their nefarious scheme.

Frank Capra made Jefferson Smith a heroic figure, and in doing so he also created a myth that has lasted to the present day. I’ve seen the Capra film many times and the Democrats who now attempt to justify the filibuster bear little resemblance to the character played by Jimmy Stewart. Judge Neil Gorsuch bears a much closer resemblance to Capra’s here than Chuck Schumer does.


Note: Click on the link above for an excerpt the Capra film, or view the brief video below.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Trump Scorecard 1

Donald Trump has just completed the second month of his Presidency and any sane person would say that it is too soon to evaluate his performance in office. But at this early date, it would be beneficial if reporters and commentators would concentrate on what he and his administration are actually doing, rather than on what they believe or fear he will do in the future.

Today, I would like to focus on some things he has actually done so far. In the first place, last week’s failure to get the health care bill out of the House of Representatives is regarded as a great defeat. Nevertheless, Trump’s behavior or deportment during the process was certainly above board and definitely “presidential.”

He got behind the proposed legislation promoted by Speaker Ryan and the Republican leadership, met with members of the House and listened to their concerns, showed flexibility in adopting changes, and was then magnanimous in defeat. One just has to contrast his behavior with President Obama’s eight years ago in passing the “Affordable Care Act.”

The Trump/Ryan plan was put out there for all to read and criticize. Remember when then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said that she would read the bill after it was passed. Then, the bill had to include special favors to induce certain Democrat Senators to accept it. Finally, it was only passed with legal trickery. The Senate and House versions of the Bill were different but instead of sending the Bill to a joint committee of both Houses, the House of Representatives was “deemed” to have accepted the Senate version. It is amazing the people give Obama and Pelosi a pass on their tactics but then go on to brand President Trump as a fascist and a potential dictator.

Actually, after eight years of the Obama administration I believe that the defeat of the Trump/Ryan bill was a hopeful sign. Instead of ignoring the verdict of the House of Representatives, the House that most represents the people of the country, Trump worked with it and accepted its decision. What a change from the previous administration.

Secondly, I believe that Donald Trump should be given credit for putting together a distinguished and experienced Cabinet made up of a variety of serious and accomplished men and women. Each certainly seems capable of not only handling the duties of their post but also of reforming the bureaus that they will lead. During the Presidential campaign commentators called Trump an inexperienced clown but at the outset his Cabinet ranks with any in recent history. People who think that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former head of Exxon, lacks experience should remember that back in 2008 Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State by virtue of her name only. It is now obvious that President Obama and his closest advisors saw her as a figurehead and decided to handle foreign policy themselves.

Finally, who would have thought just a few months ago that Donald Trump would have nominated such a distinguished and experienced judge as Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. Once again, opponents are letting their fears of the future take over, rather than looking at the actual record of Judge Gorsuch. During his career he has had remarkably few decisions overturned by higher courts. One just has to contrast his record with that of the judges involved in overturning the President’s temporary ban on immigration from countries that harbor terrorist threats. The West Coast Ninth Circuit Appeals Court has had a very high number of its decisions overturned by the Supreme Court.

So who are the clowns? Opponents like to portray Trump as a clown but what about the Democrat Senators who are about to fall into step and oppose at the behest of their two-faced and hypocritical leaders who have repeatedly espoused different of rules for nominees based solely on their own political preferences. Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer is ticked off that the Republicans would not even consider an Obama nominee in the last year of that administration. But years ago he took the lead in warning former President George W. Bush against any nomination in the last year of his term.