Wednesday, December 31, 2008
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel of New York has used campaign funds to pay $1,540 in fines from parking tickets in the District of Columbia in the last two years, according to federal campaign finance records and his office.
Rangel’s campaign committee and his “leadership” political action committee have combined to make 14 separate payments to the D.C. treasurer for “automobile expenses” since March 16, 2007, and a Rangel spokesman confirmed that campaign aides believe they were for tickets.
One $30 ticket from Dec. 9 is still outstanding, according to a search of the recognizably district-descriptive “NYREP15” vanity plate affixed to the congressman’s PT Cruiser on the Web site of the District of Columbia’s Department of Motor Vehicles.
Overall, Rangel’s committees have contributed $2,035 to the parking-ticket coffers of the D.C. Treasury since 2001.
It is not illegal to use campaign funds to pay parking fines if they were incurred during campaign activities or in relation to Rangel’s position as an officeholder.
Rangel, a prolific fundraiser and a senior member of Congress, has ample reason to attend political and official events in the nation’s capital when the House is in session, meaning that the tickets could easily have come in the course of normal business.
His spokesman, Emile Milne, told CQ Politics that Rangel is in compliance with the laws overseen by the Federal Election Commission but could not offer details on each of the tickets.
“Given the holidays and the press of business in preparation for the new administration, we have not reconstructed the circumstances behind each ticket,” Milne said. “However, Congressman Rangel is confident that the National Leadership PAC and Rangel for Congress complied with all applicable laws and regulations in connection with these expenses, which were fully reported consistent with FEC requirements.”
Under federal campaign finance law, it is illegal to use contributions to “fulfill any commitment, obligation or expense of a person that would exist irrespective of the candidate’s election campaign or individual’s duties as a holder of federal office,” including a “non-campaign-related automobile expense.”
Kenneth A. Gross, a partner at Skadden Arps who specializes in political law, said that most lawmakers and their aides are aware of the complexities of paying for maintenance, fuel and fines for cars that function for personal use, campaign use and official use at different times.
“I think you can tell with some degree of specificity what the car was being used for when the ticket was obtained,” Gross said. “If it’s a personal ticket unrelated to the campaign purpose, then there’s no way you could use campaign funds.”
Regardless of any potential legal issues, the congressman is paying parking tickets with other people’s money.
The fines are the latest in a series of revelations about the Ways and Means chairman’s activities that could cause him ethical, political and public relations headaches.
The House ethics committee is already investigating allegations regarding Rangel’s four rent-controlled apartments in New York, failure to pay taxes on rental income from property in the Caribbean, and the use of official letterhead to woo donations to a public policy school named for him.
And Rangel’s recently ticketed PT Cruiser is just one of at least three of the congressman’s vehicles to attract attention. Rangel had a car towed from the House garage earlier this year after the New York Post reported that he had been storing the undriveable 1972 Mercedes sedan there for several years in violation of House rules.
The same paper reported in September that Rangel was using a Cadillac DeVille leased by his taxpayer-funded House office — at $778 per month — to travel to campaign events in New York in violation of House rules.
The use of campaign donations to pay for parking violations in the District of Columbia — far from Rangel’s Harlem-based district — raises questions of whether or not all of his contributors feel their money is being spent properly.
Edwin L. Moses, chief executive officer of the City of Buenaventura Housing Authority in California, had no complaints.
Moses, who donated $500 to Rangel in June, said he is not bothered by the parking tickets.
“He is someone I think is a man of integrity,” Moses said. “I have complete faith and trust in him.”
Many of Rangel’s donors are executives and lobbyists who have interests before his committee and are unlikely to raise a fuss about what he does with their contributions because it could hurt their business.
By PETER SCHIFF
As recession fears cause the nation to embrace greater state control of the economy and unimaginable federal deficits, one searches in vain for debate worthy of the moment. Where there should be an historic clash of ideas, there is only blind resignation and an amorphous queasiness that we are simply sweeping the slouching beast under the rug.
With faith in the free markets now taking a back seat to fear and expediency, nearly the entire political spectrum agrees that the federal government must spend whatever amount is necessary to stabilize the housing market, bail out financial firms, liquefy the credit markets, create jobs and make the recession as shallow and brief as possible. The few who maintain free-market views have been largely marginalized.
Taking the theories of economist John Maynard Keynes as gospel, our most highly respected contemporary economists imagine a complex world in which economics at the personal, corporate and municipal levels are governed by laws far different from those in effect at the national level.
Individuals, companies or cities with heavy debt and shrinking revenues instinctively know that they must reduce spending, tighten their belts, pay down debt and live within their means. But it is axiomatic in Keynesianism that national governments can create and sustain economic activity by injecting printed money into the financial system. In their view, absent the stimuli of the New Deal and World War II, the Depression would never have ended.
On a gut level, we have a hard time with this concept. There is a vague sense of smoke and mirrors, of something being magically created out of nothing. But economics, we are told, is complicated.
It would be irresponsible in the extreme for an individual to forestall a personal recession by taking out newer, bigger loans when the old loans can't be repaid. However, this is precisely what we are planning on a national level.
I believe these ideas hold sway largely because they promise happy, pain-free solutions. They are the economic equivalent of miracle weight-loss programs that require no dieting or exercise. The theories permit economists to claim mystic wisdom, governments to pretend that they have the power to dispel hardship with the whir of a printing press, and voters to believe that they can have recovery without sacrifice.
As a follower of the Austrian School of economics I believe that market forces apply equally to people and nations. The problems we face collectively are no different from those we face individually. Belt tightening is required by all, including government.
Governments cannot create but merely redirect. When the government spends, the money has to come from somewhere. If the government doesn't have a surplus, then it must come from taxes. If taxes don't go up, then it must come from increased borrowing. If lenders won't lend, then it must come from the printing press, which is where all these bailouts are headed. But each additional dollar printed diminishes the value those already in circulation. Something cannot be effortlessly created from nothing.
Similarly, any jobs or other economic activity created by public-sector expansion merely comes at the expense of jobs lost in the private sector. And if the government chooses to save inefficient jobs in select private industries, more efficient jobs will be lost in others. As more factors of production come under government control, the more inefficient our entire economy becomes. Inefficiency lowers productivity, stifles competitiveness and lowers living standards.
If we look at government market interventions through this pragmatic lens, what can we expect from the coming avalanche of federal activism?
By borrowing more than it can ever pay back, the government will guarantee higher inflation for years to come, thereby diminishing the value of all that Americans have saved and acquired. For now the inflationary tide is being held back by the countervailing pressures of bursting asset bubbles in real estate and stocks, forced liquidations in commodities, and troubled retailers slashing prices to unload excess inventory. But when the dust settles, trillions of new dollars will remain, chasing a diminished supply of goods. We will be left with 1970s-style stagflation, only with a much sharper contraction and significantly higher inflation.
The good news is that economics is not all that complicated. The bad news is that our economy is broken and there is nothing the government can do to fix it. However, the free market does have a cure: it's called a recession, and it's not fun, easy or quick. But if we put our faith in the power of government to make the pain go away, we will live with the consequences for generations.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
"A Party at a Crossroads"
by R.C. Blogger Christian Stockel
As the Republican Party regroups itself after the 2008 elections, there have been many voices offering their advice on how to “repair” the Republican Party and return them to political relevance. Unfortunately there are some voices that are tempting the party leadership into a direction that will only lead the party (and the conservative movement) to permanent defeat and result in the transformation of our Constitutional Republic into just another social democracy. Former Governor Christine Todd Whitman complained about “social fundamentalists” ruining the party. In her argument, she stated that the Republican party is held hostage by social conservatives that alienate the moderate majority and that future success will rely on Republicans abandoning social and moral issues and focus on economic and “practical” issues. David Frum points out that Democrats won this year because – since 1988 – they have become more economically conservative and the majority of Americans have become more socially liberal. Former Senator Hagel and Senator Bye have made their positions clear as well.
In summary, many are arguing that the Republican Party needs to become less conservative and move away from “moral” or “social” issues that alienate so many Americans. What gives? Did the Republican Party all of sudden develop schizophrenia? Were these people watching the same election I was? What happened to the party of ideas and optimism about our nation and its founding principles? It appears this party has been left by the wayside or its party leadership has become too intellectually lazy to articulate a robust conservative political argument and has decided to find the path of least resistance to relevance. Can someone channel the spirit of Reagan, Lee Atwater, and Lee Marvin and beat some sense into these people?
Listening to some of these arguments, one would think that the election of 2008 was between Barry Goldwater and LBJ and that the electorate voted for Great Society part Deux. If this assessment is accurate, I would really like someone to give me a clue on who the conservative candidate was and when did he show up in the campaign. The simple fact is Senator McCain was and is a moderate who seems slightly embarrassed to be a Republican. He ran as a moderate whose biggest selling point was that he was more apt to go against his own party than Barack Obama would is own. Senator McCain went out of his way to prove he would work with Democrats and compromise on key issues where practical. It was Senator McCain who advocated the government to buy troubled mortgages, he was a champion of the government bailout of the financial industry, and he advocated the ‘cap and trade” policy in an effort to help fight global warming. He was all over the place and had no coherent message. It seems that some in the Republican leadership want to repeat this model hoping for a different outcome. Brilliant!
Meanwhile, Barack Obama focused his campaign rhetoric on plans to give 95% of Americans a tax cut, reducing government spending, and bombing Pakistan into the stone-age if they got in our way going after Osama Bin Laden. Hmmm – who does that sound like? Granted, Obama’s approach was to camouflage his liberal background, policies, and tendencies with Reganesque rhetoric, but to a confused and exhausted electorate it worked. So in summary, the Republicans nominated a man who talked like a New Deal Democrat and the Democrats put forth a candidate that sounded like Reagan and looked “cool”. One can almost reach out and grab the irony, cut a slab out of it, and throw it on the grill with some onions and peppers.
In the end, the American voter was attracted to Obama’s moderate message that was well focused, well articulated, and well delivered. In contrast, the Republicans offered a candidate who couldn’t articulate a clear message, seemed almost apologetic to be running as a Republican, and looked like he was in a bad mood. ”. The American voter could not understand McCain’s message and what his administration would do for the country. The only spark his campaign received was the introduction of Sarah Palin and we all know how well they failed to leverage her effectively. It seems that the conservative and optimistic message still wins – unfortunately it was delivered by a radical leftist who brings with him a left-wing agenda and a party beholden to the MoveOn.org crowd. The fact this bait and switch job could have been sold so easily should alarm the party leadership because it signals that something is really wrong at RNC headquarters and their “strategy.
So where does this leave the Republican Party and conservatives? Well, in all honestly, it leaves us in a precarious position. Republicans are a minority in the House, the Senate, and are on the outside looking in at the White House. In addition, the main stream media has unashamedly aligned itself with the incoming Obama administration and promises to offer very little scrutiny of future policies and his administration in the near future. Unlike the 1964 election, we don’t have a Ronald Reagan who can articulate the foundations of a new conservative movement. We are in great danger of returning to the days of country club conservatism whose only reason for being was that they can run the government leviathan a bit more efficiently using a little less money than the Democrats. As proven in the past, that is a prescription for permanent minority status for Republicans. We might as well take tips from the Conservative party in Britain to map out our future – is John Major still available? More importantly, it robs our nation of an alternative political narrative when the federal government, under the complete control of Democrats, is rapidly preparing a European style welfare state that will bankrupt us financially and enervate us spiritually and morally.
These serious times require that we conservatives develop, articulate, and communicate a bold, clear, and strikingly conservative message. Our message has to be a stark contrast to the one being offered by the Democrats. In addition, the people who are selected to deliver this message should be able to not only state a policy, but also clearly explain how these conservative policies better meet the needs of the people and are more sustainable over the time. As conservatives, we will have to put in the time and effort to argue and explain how limited government, lower taxes, more capitalism, and more private property will address the concerns of Americans better than the “state as Santa Clause” model being offered by the Democrats. We need to expose the liberal agenda for what it is - a cynical attempt by Democrats to buy votes with government largesse to maintain their hold on power – the fate of the nation be damned. We need to do this without fear, without apology, and demand that liberals explain and justify their policy proposals. It is time to turn the tables – and do it quickly. Some will read this and say – “Hey sounds great, but it is easier said than done.” Well maybe not so hard if we Republicans decide that we want to be party of conservative ideas and translate these ideas into concrete policies.
Let’s take education policy. During the debates, Obama complained that the $9-10 billion a month spent on the war in Iraq ‘stole’ resources away from education programs. That was a huge opportunity for McCain to make a solid rhetorical point. He could have reminded Obama that the Department of Education has seen a continuous rise in its budget since its founding in 1977, that the federal government spends more per K-12 student than any other industrialized nation, and that this ever increasing budget has had no demonstrable impact on improving public education in the United States. McCain could have asked Obama to defend the money spent at the Department of Education and ask if any reasonably intelligent person thinks this relatively new agency has any impact on education in the US. McCain could have said the money spent to maintain a bureaucracy in Washington D.C. could be better spent on vouchers allowing low-income families to find schools that better serve their children. McCain could have, but he didn’t – an opportunity lost. Obama also told some real whoppers during the debates about how the excesses of capitalism caused the current mortgage crisis. McCain could have taken the opportunity to remind Obama about the role of misguided social policy (expansion of CRA), lowered FHA lending standards, and Fannie Mae’s packaging of dodgy loans as ‘guaranteed’ government backed paper to the secondary markets in causing this mess. He could have pre-empted Obama’s false narrative about our current economic crisis and clearly explained how more government intervention in the financial industry, the automobile industry, and the economy overall will only lead to more economic disasters. McCain could have also discussed how America’s military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan have gone along way towards re-establishing the credibly of American force and resolve after a decade of retreat and cowering in the face of radical Islam and terrorism. Well – we all know how that went.
What is needed now is one brave, clear voice of reason that will turn to the siren calls of moderation and capitulation and shout “Stop”! If we conservatives want to win, we need to grow a spine, a brain, and a belief in the principles and values that define conservatism. The country club Republicans need to be removed and expunged from the party. The moderates need to be shunned and excommunicated. New leaders with bold and aggressive ideas must to take hold of the party leadership. Conservatism needs to define the debate and drive the political narrative – not play on the field chosen by our opponents. Any other path will lead the party to permanent minority status and permit the slow drift of our nation towards the lazy slumber of socialism and the social and cultural sclerosis that will follow.
My fellow conservatives, can we do it?
Yes we can.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Being listed in fourth place for Time magazine's "Person of the Year," as Sarah Palin was for 2008, sounds a little like being awarded the Order of Purity (Fourth Class). But it testifies to something important.
Though regularly pronounced sick, dying, dead, cremated and scattered at sea, Mrs. Palin is still amazingly around. She has survived more media assassination attempts than Fidel Castro has survived real ones (Cuban official figure: 638). In her case, one particular method of assassination is especially popular -- namely, the desperate assertion that, in addition to her other handicaps, she is "no Margaret Thatcher."
Very few express this view in a calm or considered manner. Some employ profanity. Most claim to be conservative admirers of Mrs. Thatcher. Others admit they had always disliked the former British prime minister until someone compared her to "Sarracuda" -- at which point they suddenly realized Mrs. Thatcher must have been absolutely brilliant (at least by comparison).
Inevitably, Lloyd Bentsen's famous put-down of Dan Quayle in the 1988 vice-presidential debate is resurrected, such as by Paul Waugh (in the London Evening Standard) and Marie Cocco (in the Washington Post): "Newsflash! Governor, You're No Maggie Thatcher," sneered Mr. Waugh. Added Ms. Coco, "now we know Sarah Palin is no Margaret Thatcher -- and no Dan Quayle either!"
Jolly, rib-tickling stuff. But, as it happens, I know Margaret Thatcher. Margaret Thatcher is a friend of mine. And as a matter of fact, Margaret Thatcher and Sarah Palin have a great deal in common.
They are far from identical; they rose in different political systems requiring different skills. As a parliamentarian, Mrs. Thatcher needed forensic and debating skills which her training in Oxford politics and as a tax lawyer gave her. Mrs. Palin is a good speaker, but she needs to hone her debating tactics if she is to match those of the Iron Lady.
On the other hand, Mrs. Palin rose in state politics to jobs requiring executive ability. Her successful conduct of the negotiations with Canada, Canadian provinces and American states over the Alaska pipeline was a larger executive task than anything handled by Mrs. Thatcher until she entered the Cabinet and, arguably, until she became prime minister.
Mrs. Thatcher's most senior position until then had been education secretary in the government of Edward Heath where, as she conceded in her memoirs, she lacked real executive power. Her political influence within that government was so small that it took 17 months for her to get an interview with him. Even then, a considerate civil servant assured Heath that others would be present to make the meeting less "boring." Her main political legacy from that job was the vitriolic slogan, "Margaret Thatcher, Milk-Snatcher," thrown at her by the left because of a budgetary decision she had opposed to charge some children for school meals and milk. It was the single most famous thing about her when she defeated Heath for the Tory leadership in 1975.
At this point she became almost as "controversial" as Sarah Palin. Heath, for example, made it plain privately that he would not serve under her. And Sir Ian Gilmour, an intellectual leader of the Tory "wets," privately dismissed her as a "Daily Telegraph woman." There is no precise equivalent in American English, but "narrow, repressed suburbanite" catches the sense.
Mrs. Thatcher attracted such abuse for two reasons. First, she was seen by the chattering classes as representing a blend of provincial conservative values and market economics -- Middle England as it has come to be called -- against their own metropolitan liberalism. They thought this blend was an economic dead-end in a modern complex society and a political retreat into futile nostalgia. Of course, they failed to notice that their modern complex society was splintering under their statist burdens even as they denounced her extremism.
Second, Margaret Thatcher was not yet Margaret Thatcher. She had not won the 1979 election, recovered the Falklands, reformed trade union law, defeated the miners, and helped destroy Soviet communism peacefully.
Things like that change your mind about a girl. But they also take time, during which she had to turn her instinctive beliefs into intellectually coherent policies against opposition inside and outside her own party. Like Mrs. Palin this year, Mrs. Thatcher knew there were serious gaps in her knowledge, especially of foreign affairs. She recruited experts who shared her general outlook (such as Robert Conquest and Hugh Thomas) to tutor her on these things. Even so she often seemed very alone in the Tory high command.
As a parliamentary sketch writer for the Daily Telegraph (and a not very repressed suburbanite), I watched Mrs. Thatcher's progress as opposition leader. She had been a good performer in less exalted positions. But initially she faltered. Against the smooth, condescending Prime Minister James Callaghan in particular she had a hard time. In contrast to his chuckling baritone she sounded shrill when she attacked. But she lowered her tone (vocally not morally), took lessons in presentation from (among others) Laurence Olivier, and prepared diligently for every debate and Question Time.
I can still recall her breakthrough performance in a July 1977 debate on the Labour government's collapsing economy. She dominated the House of Commons so wittily that the next day the Daily Mail's acerbic correspondent, Andrew Alexander, began his report: "If Mrs. Thatcher were a racehorse, she would have been tested for drugs yesterday." She was now on the way to becoming the world-historical figure who today is the gold standard of conservative statesmanship.
Mrs. Palin has a long way to go to match this. Circumstances may never give her the chance to do so. Even if she gets that chance, she may lack Mrs. Thatcher's depths of courage, firmness and stamina -- we only ever know such things in retrospect.
But she has plenty of time, probably eight years, to analyze America's problems, recruit her own expert advice, and develop conservative solutions to them. She has obvious intelligence, drive, serious moral character, and a Reaganesque likability. Her likely Republican rivals such as Bobby Jindal and Mitt Romney, not to mention Barack Obama, have most of these same qualities too. But she shares with Mrs. Thatcher a very rare charisma. As Ronnie Millar, the latter's speechwriter and a successful playwright, used to say in theatrical tones: She may be depressed, ill-dressed and having a bad hair day, but when the curtain rises, out onto the stage she steps looking like a billion dollars. That's the mark of a star, dear boy. They rise to the big occasions.
Mrs. Palin had four big occasions in the late, doomed Republican campaign: her introduction by John McCain in Ohio, her speech at the GOP convention, her vice-presidential debate with Sen. Joe Biden, and her appearance on Saturday Night Live. With minimal preparation, she rose to all four of them. That's the mark of a star.
If conservative intellectuals, Republican operatives and McCain "handlers" can't see it, then so much the worse for them.
Mr. O'Sullivan is executive editor of Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty in Prague, and a former special adviser to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. His book, "The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister" (Regnery), has just been published in paperback.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
It’ll warm your heart and restore your faith that the true meaning of Christmas hasn’t been lost, if you’ve been having some understandable doubts about that due to the crass commercialization that often seems to overwhelm the holiday season.
The Saintly Side of Nick
Merrifield Santa Claus brings manger front-and-center
Gretchen R. Crowe Arlington Catholic Herald
It’s a sight to see: a real, live Santa Claus on his knees, hands folded, inclining his head reverently toward statues of the Holy Family. Then, still kneeling, he becomes “maestro Santa” — leading children and their parents not in “Jingle Bells” or “Up on the Housetop,” but in a verse each of “Oh Come, All ye Faithful” and “Silent Night.”
In case you think you’re having a Christmas hallucination brought on by too much eggnog or an overabundance of holiday films, rest easy. This is just how they do Christmastime at the Merrifield Garden Center just outside the Beltway in Merrifield at Lee Highway and Gallows Road.
Rather, this is how John Buckreis does Christmastime. The Annandale man’s approach to Santa Claus “as the modern-day St. Nicholas” has kept generations of families returning to the jolly old elf’s garden center home for nearly 30 years.
The 78-year-old tries not to turn his Christian message into a lecture or an in-your-face religious experience, but instead imparts his message subliminally, using “Santa’s Alphabet Calendar” instead of an Advent one, and mixing religious songs with the secular. If the kids have deeper questions about the true meaning of Christmas, they can look to mom and dad for answers. “I turn it over to the parents,” said Buckreis, a parishioner at St. Michael Parish in Annandale. “I’m forcing the parents to become involved in Christmas and they love it. They want it.”
“This is the real Santa,” said one of those parents, Lisa Davis, who has brought her two boys to Merrifield for the last six years. “He makes you believe from the time he walks out until the time you leave. He includes Jesus into his performance. That’s what the real meaning of Christmas is.”
Let’s be real here, though. Most kids wait in line — sometimes for hours — not to talk about the New Testament, but so they can climb into Santa’s sleigh with their Christmas lists, eyes wide in anticipation that their conversation will lead to a toy-filled Christmas morning. That, after all, is their right as children — and part of the excitement of the season. But as they slide off his knee, Santa has two things ready for them — a lollipop and a holy card.
“No other place does that,” said Andrea Albanese, a parishioner of St. James Parish in Falls Church, who has brought her children to see Santa for the last five years. “It’s pretty counter-cultural.”
For 63 years — since he was 14 — Buckreis has breathed a Christian spirit into Santa Claus, beginning in the Buffalo orphanage he called home. In a homemade suit of dyed cloth and cotton balls, “I was considered a very, very ugly Santa Claus,” he said. He went door-to-door in wealthier neighborhoods, serenading households with Christmas songs in exchange for donations of used toys.
The unique St. Nicholas arrived in Northern Virginia in 1966, where he appeared at various small businesses throughout the area. But it was Merrifield Garden Center in the mid-1970s that offered him space — their entire warehouse from the end of October to the end of January — and complete creative control over his program and environment. Every year just before Halloween, the head elf re-creates his house in time for his debut at the beginning of Advent.
The Garcia family, including Kyle, 9, Miranda, 8, and Kaylie, 2, all parishioners of St. Francis de Sales Church in Purcellville, flocked to see Santa Claus last weekend. Not only has their mother, Michelle, been bringing them since the oldest was 2, but she herself used to climb on his lap — and there are photos to prove it.
Santa gives a reminder of the real reason behind the December holiday, Kyle said while waiting in line.
“Some people just think it’s about presents,” he said. “It’s not just about presents, it’s about Jesus.”
“The kids truly believe,” Michelle added. “They get the excitement of the traditions of Christmas and they know that there is a Santa, but they know the true meaning behind Christmas is really Jesus.”
Santa’s house is truly a work of art. Signs hanging from a ceiling covered in lights proclaim “Merry Christmas” in 50 different languages. Two trains run constantly, one around a little ceramic village, another elevated on tracks high above. Each day during his opening “press conference,” Santa Claus answers questions — his favorite food is chocolate chip cookies and his reindeer run faster than a jet — and opens a letter on his calendar. Each entry has a corresponding short “homily” that reinforces the religious spirit of Christmas.
“It’s a breath of fresh air,” Albanese said. “He puts the meaning into the season.” Will McGowan’s daughter, Amy, attends the Academy of Christian Education in Reston. This is her second year visiting the Merrifield Santa, “but we’ve heard about this from many people for many years,” McGowan said.
“He’s the best Santa,” he added. “He leaves the commercialism out and brings what the true meaning of Christmas is. It’s as simple as that.”
“I get the best reward,” Buckreis said. “If (St. Nicholas) was alive on this earth today, he would say, ‘I am putting Christ back into Christmas where He belongs.’” Santa will be in Merrifield until Dec. 23, when he closes up shop and heads to the North Pole.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
The new Capitol Visitor Center has a shaky grasp of history
Carpenters follow a simple rule: Measure twice, cut once. The builders of the brand-new Capitol Visitor Center (CVC) might have benefited from a similar adage about checking facts before etching them into stone. Just a few weeks before the opening of their $621 million underground complex on December 2, they were trying to correct a dumb mistake. A major display misidentified the nation’s motto as “E pluribus unum.” In reality, the national motto is “In God We Trust,” as Congress established by law in 1956. Anyone who looks closely at the panel in the front of the exhibition hall will see the temporary plaster fix-up job.
Confusion about the motto is the type of innocent blunder a person might make while playing a casual game of Trivial Pursuit, but not the kind of error you’d expect to see chiseled into the hallowed halls of the Capitol. And some conservatives worry that this is more than a routine case of federal incompetence. “There’s a terrible movement to rewrite our history and obscure our faith,” says J. Randy Forbes, a Republican congressman from Virginia who chairs the Congressional Prayer Caucus, about the CVC.
In September, Forbes and more than a hundred members of the House, from both parties, released a letter to Stephen T. Ayers, the acting Architect of the Capitol: “We have been troubled to learn in recent weeks that some aspects of the new CVC . . . [may] reflect an apathetic disposition toward our nation’s religious history.” Their efforts have led to improvements, but it’s a fight that shouldn’t have needed waging in the first place — and even in its aftermath, plenty of problems remain unaddressed.
Last fall, Ayers came under fire for a policy that seemed not merely apathetic toward religion, but actively hostile. A boy from Ohio wanted to give his grandfather an American flag that had flown over the Capitol. He contacted his congressman, Republican Michael Turner, whose staff worked to fulfill this ordinary constituent request. When the flag and its accompanying certificate showed up in Turner’s office, however, something wasn’t quite right. The boy had asked for an inscription on the certificate that honored his grandfather’s “love of God, country, and family.” The certificate, however, did not include the word “God.” Turner asked for an explanation from the architect’s office and learned about a policy against religious expressions on flag certificates. He and several other members of Congress complained, and the prohibition was quickly eliminated. “The Architect of the Capitol is no longer censoring the Architect of the Universe,” said Rep. Tom Feeney, a Florida Republican, at the time.
The immediate problem was solved, but many conservatives were startled by its mere existence — and they observed that it came in the wake of a trend toward the effacement of religion from the public squares of Washington. David Barton, a historian who heads WallBuilders, an Evangelical organization, had tried to call attention to it. The FDR Memorial, dedicated in 1997, contains no mention of God. Neither does the World War II Memorial, opened in 2004. Carved on one of its walls is a short D-Day message by Dwight Eisenhower, but the quote ends just before Ike seeks “the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.” Barton is convinced this isn’t accidental: “It’s hard not to see the bias. Religion is completely scrubbed out.”
The Capitol, by contrast, is full of religious imagery. Eight large pictures ring its massive rotunda. One is titled “Baptism of Pocahontas.” In another, Pilgrims kneel in prayer, surrounding a Bible opened to the first page of the New Testament. Two more feature crosses. Perhaps the most prominent display is in the House chamber, where the words “In God We Trust” appear on the wall above the speaker’s rostrum.
Even so, the Capitol is occasionally called a “secular temple.” While tourists on pilgrimages to Washington don’t always have faith on their minds, many of them do want to see where their legislative representatives work. Unfortunately, the Capitol wasn’t built to receive guests in today’s large numbers. The idea for an underground visitor center on the building’s east side goes back several decades. In the early 1990s, members of Congress envisioned a structure only slightly smaller than the one that was actually built — “all for a mere $71 million,” as the Washington Post put it at the time. Republicans objected to the cost, however, and the project was shelved. But it didn’t vanish. When a lunatic gunman killed two Capitol Police officers in 1998, Congress felt a need to overhaul its security procedures, and as part of the plan, it authorized $100 million for the CVC.
The congressional Big Dig was on — and the expenses started to pile up. Within two years, the CVC’s price tag rose to $265 million. Then came 9/11, the anthrax attacks, and more worries about security. New budget: $373.5 million. The opening was delayed. Today, the estimated construction cost of Congress’s next-door pork-barrel project is $621 million, almost nine times what Republicans once deemed too steep.
The CVC will prove popular with tourists. When it opens, they’ll see a big difference in convenience and efficiency. Rather than standing in long lines on sweltering summer days, they’ll be able to make advance reservations on a website and walk into an air-conditioned facility. They’ll also get to watch an orientation film in one of two theaters, eat in a 530-seat restaurant, and choose from 26 restrooms. (There are only five public restrooms in the Capitol itself, and they aren’t easy to find.)
They’ll also have a chance to stroll through a large exhibition hall and study educational displays on Congress and the Constitution — and that’s where the controversy over content arose. When Sen. Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, explored the hall, he wasn’t pleased. “There was an obvious absence of any accurate historical reference to our religious heritage,” he says. He noticed the misidentification of the national motto, but the problem went much deeper — and he took it to the floor of the Senate. “In touring the CVC, I found the exhibits to be politically correct, left-leaning, and secular in nature,” he said on September 27. “There seems to be a trend of whitewashing God out of our history.” He noted that although the hall displayed a couple of Bibles, a replica of the House chamber didn’t include “In God We Trust” above the speaker’s rostrum.
There were other questionable omissions. One display, for instance, quotes from the Northwest Ordinance of 1787: “The authors of the Northwest Ordinance believed educated citizens were critical to the success of self-government. Article 3 declared, ‘. . . education shall forever be encouraged.’” But that’s a highly selective excerpt that secularizes the document. Here’s the full quote from Article 3: “Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”
DeMint and Forbes pressured the Architect of the Capitol’s office to improve these displays. At one point this fall, DeMint put a hold on the bill that would have allowed the CVC to open. He and Forbes wound up winning several concessions: The replica of the House chamber now includes “In God We Trust,” and the Northwest Ordinance is more fully explained. In addition, the Pledge of Allegiance will be carved into the walls of the CVC and there will be new displays on the role of religion in the nation’s heritage.
Yet the exhibition hall still includes plenty of liberal bias. A section on FDR describes the New Deal, in rah-rah fashion, as “a creative burst of energy that initiated economic recovery” during the Depression. There’s a panel on the 19th-century impeachment of Andrew Johnson, but nothing comparable on the 20th-century impeachment of Bill Clinton (except a brief mention in a video). What’s more, conservative icons are almost totally missing. There’s a picture of Robert A. Taft, but no image of Barry Goldwater or Henry Hyde. At the same time, the CVC is full of dutiful tributes to female firsts: the first woman elected to the House (Jeannette Rankin), the first woman to serve in the Senate (Rebecca Felton), the first woman elected to the Senate (Hattie Caraway), the first woman elected to both the House and the Senate (Margaret Chase Smith), the first “woman of color” and first Asian-American woman elected to Congress (Patsy Mink), the longest-serving woman in Congress (Edith Nourse Rogers), and so on.
An alcove on modern history includes big pictures of an Earth Day rally, an ACT-UP protest on AIDS funding, and hippies at the Pentagon in 1967. It’s not as if the CVC made no attempt at balance: There’s also a black-and-white photo of Vietnam-era “pro-war demonstrators” that’s one-quarter the size of the full-color anti-war image. Yet the CVC seems a little hung up on Vietnam. On the same wall, there’s a hard-to-miss picture of a woman hugging a tombstone at Arlington National Cemetery. The caption reads: “The nation continued to mourn its fallen soldiers of the Vietnam conflict. The war claimed over 58,000 casualties.” (Actually, it claimed over 58,000 deaths; the number of casualties, which includes injuries, is a lot higher.) The photo is a powerful symbol of loss. A close look at the tombstone reveals, however, that it’s for a man who died in 1982, seven years after the last American soldier left Saigon. He was not a “fallen soldier of the Vietnam conflict,” but a 76-year-old veteran of three wars.
There are plenty of little errors, too. The presidential election of 1824 was not the first one “to excite high public interest and participation” (read about the elections of 1796, 1800, and 1812). The states did not ratify ten of the first twelve amendments to the Constitution passed by Congress (they ratified eleven: The first ten are the Bill of Rights and the eleventh is the 27th amendment, finally approved in 1992).
It’s hard to avoid a sad conclusion: Congress’s monument to itself isn’t even good enough for government work.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Cardinal Dulles died Dec. 12; he was 90. An evening wake was scheduled for Dec. 16 and 17 at Fordham University Church, followed by the celebration of Mass each evening. A funeral Mass for the cardinal was scheduled for Dec. 18 at St. Patrick's Cathedral, followed by burial at the Jesuit Cemetery in Auriesville, N.Y.
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired Washington archbishop, and a fellow member of the 2001 class of cardinals, described the Jesuit scholastic he first met 60 years ago as even then being "an imposing personality with his twang, his razor-sharp intellect and, perhaps more than anything else, his obviously profound dedication to his faith."
"He was one of the truly great American theologians, constantly renewing and deepening his commitment to the truth," said Cardinal McCarrick in one of many statements issued by church leaders, friends and colleagues after Cardinal Dulles' death.
From his early impressions of Cardinal Dulles as a young priest whose first Mass he helped organize, Cardinal McCarrick said his friend was "a holy man, totally without guile or pretense."
Pope Benedict XVI offered his condolences to the Jesuit community and Cardinal Dulles' friends and family. He remarked on the cardinal's "deep learning, serene judgment and unfailing love of the Lord and his church which marked his entire priestly ministry and his long years of teaching and theological research."
The pope said he prays that "his convincing personal testimony to the harmony of faith and reason will continue to bear fruit for the conversion of minds and hearts and the progress of the Gospel for many years to come."
Cardinal Dulles, the son of former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and nephew of onetime CIA director Allen Walsh Dulles, was the grandson of a Presbyterian minister.
He joined the Catholic Church in 1941 while a student at Harvard Law School. He served in the Navy in World War II, then entered the Jesuits after his discharge in 1946. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1956.
Cardinal Dulles had been the Laurence J. McGinley professor of religion and society at Fordham since 1988. He also had taught in Washington at the former Woodstock College, now folded into Georgetown University, and The Catholic University of America. He had been a visiting professor at Catholic, Protestant and secular colleges and universities.
Prominent among his many writings was his groundbreaking 1974 book, "Models of the Church," in which he defined the church as institution, mystical communion, sacrament, herald, servant and community of disciples, and critiqued each model.
Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Cardinal Dulles' "wise counsel will be missed," and that "his personal witness to the pursuit of holiness of life as a priest, a Jesuit and a cardinal of the church will be remembered."
Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington said that Cardinal Dulles' elevation from priest to cardinal was a sign of the particular esteem in which he was held. One of the rare nonbishops to be appointed to the College of Cardinals, he was named a cardinal in recognition of his service to the church as a theologian.
"He presented an authentic Catholic theology that was deeply rooted in the church's intellectual heritage and the American experience of that tradition," Archbishop Wuerl said.
He added that he would cherish the opportunities he had to work with Cardinal Dulles, whom he described as "insightful and ever kind. He had a way of making complicated and sometimes opaque issues clear and intelligible. But he also always had time to listen to others who did not have his level of theological mastery and to welcome their contribution."
Some of his fellow Jesuits recalled Cardinal Dulles for his intellect and for more mundane human traits.
"Cardinal Dulles was man of tremendous intellectual rigor whose teaching and writing contributed greatly to the vibrancy of Catholic intellectual life," said Father Thomas H. Smolich, president of the Jesuit Conference. "Yet for a man with so many gifts, he never viewed himself as anything more than a poor servant of Christ."
Jesuit Father Kevin Burke, president of the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, Calif., said Cardinal Dulles was among the theologians who after the Second Vatican Council brought fresh approaches to ecclesiology, the study of the nature and functions of a church.
"In addition, he began to pay particular attention to the amazing burst of theological creativity among Jesuits that appeared around the time of the council," said Father Burke, according to a release from the Jesuits.
In an article written for the Jan. 5 issue of America magazine, Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, editor-in-chief, quoted Cardinal Dulles looking back on his own career in "A Life in Theology," the April 2008 lecture at Fordham the cardinal described as his farewell address: "I do not particularly strive for originality. Very few new ideas, I suspect, are true. If I conceived a theological idea that had never occurred to anyone in the past, I would have every reason to think myself mistaken."
The cardinal thought tradition was essential to theological development, noted Father Christiansen.
"Developments of doctrine," the cardinal observed, "always involve a certain continuity; a reversal of course is not development."
Father Christiansen also gave some more personal perspectives about his fellow Jesuit, describing his transition to a small Jesuit community in 1970 after Woodstock College moved from the Maryland countryside to New York City.
"Raised in a household with servants and having lived his life in institutions (the Navy and the Jesuits), small community was his first experience of domesticity," Father Christiansen wrote. "He learned to sew -- he had to be taught several times -- to shop and to cook. His favorite entree: Shake 'n Bake chicken."
The America article said Cardinal Dulles' lanky figure was subject to loving caricature within the Jesuit community, including a portrayal of him as the Mad Hatter in a mural of "Alice in Wonderland" painted in the kitchen of the 102nd Street Jesuit community in New York.
"A photo of the Wonderland mural hung until the time of his death in his room at the Jesuit infirmary," wrote Father Christiansen.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Major and immediate UAW restructuring is needed in order for the Big Three to get back on track to ultimately become a global player in the auto industry. The chart on the left tells the story...
Great editorial from Saturday's Investor's Business Daily:
The proposed $15 billion bailout of the Big Three failed in the Senate for one major reason: Some lawmakers stood up to the unions. But their stand may be moot, since automakers may get the money anyway.
For a full week, GOP lawmakers bore the brunt of the bitter battle waged over an aid package for GM and Chrysler. Though the idea is wildly unpopular among voters, some Washington politicians were desperate to pass it — particularly the Democrats, who are beholden to the Auto Workers and other unions for tens of millions in campaign donations.
In addition to major restructuring by the automakers, GOP senators insisted on givebacks by the United Auto Workers. The UAW responded with a resolute "No." But the bailout foes won, killing the $15 billion in aid.
And they were right to do so.
As the chart shows, gold-plated union contracts are a big reason for U.S. automakers' woes (though managerial incompetence at the Big Three also played a role). The average Big Three worker made $73.26 an hour in 2006; the average worker at a foreign transplant, $44.20. Bailout foes wanted the gap to be shrunk by the end of next year.
A chart making the rounds on the Internet tells it all: Last year, Toyota made 9.37 million vehicles. GM, virtually the same number. Yet, Toyota made a profit of $38.7 billion on its global operations, or $1,874 per car, while GM lost $38.7 billion, or $4,055 a car, almost entirely due to its operations in the U.S.
Even so, the UAW vowed to make no big changes unto 2011, when their current deal expires. That basically would lock in the Big Three's lack of competitiveness for at least three more years, requiring billions and billions more in bailouts or bankruptcy.
Immediately after the bill failed Thursday night, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he "dreads" seeing what the stock market would do on Friday. "It's not going to be a pleasant sight," he warned. For the record, the NASDAQ rose 2.2%, while the S&P 500 increased 0.7%. He needn't have worried.
As for the UAW, they rolled the dice, betting they could lose in the Senate and still get bailed out. It looks like their gamble paid off.
On Friday, the White House said it might use money from the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program — reversing its earlier stance. Why? "A precipitous collapse of this industry would have a severe impact on our economy, and it would be irresponsible to further weaken and destabilize our economy at this time," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Friday.
We're sympathetic, but this is the wrong path to take — especially after the president's own party successfully made its case in Congress, and won.
We don't want to see workers suffer or the auto industry disappear. But the fact is, under bankruptcy reorganization, they won't. The workers will still exist, as will their skills. Unprofitable plants that can't be turned around will close. A bankruptcy judge will sell unprofitable assets to those who can use them productively.
They won't need a "car czar," or congressional oversight, or political micromanagement. And out of this process, a slimmer, more competitive and, yes, even profitable Big Three can emerge if we let it — one that will be able to compete with foreign companies on our own soil.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
The stinging criminal complaint against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his chief of staff John Harris raises lots of questions for President-elect Barack Obama – a few of which he answered on Thursday, at his first news conference since Blagojevich was charged in the cash-for-Senate-seat affair.
Here are seven worth asking:
1 – “Did you communicate directly or indirectly with Blagojevich about picking your replacement in the U.S. Senate?”
Obama issued a categorical statement Tuesday that he personally hadn’t spoken with Blagojevich about the seat — but seemed to correct himself in a way that suggested others around Obama might have.
“I had no contact with the governor or his office and, so we were not – I was not aware of what was happening," Obama said.
Yet, according to prosecutors’ characterizations of Blagojevich’s wiretapped telephone conversations, the Illinois governor seemed to believe he had a channel of communications with Obama’s team.
For instance, Blagojevich was recorded speaking to a union official who Blagojevich “understood … was an emissary” to discuss the interest of Obama confidant Valerie Jarrett in the seat, according to the criminal complaint unveiled Tuesday.
But at some point, Blagojevich seemed to become aware that Obama’s team had no interest in his favored option – he would pick Jarrett in exchange for being named secretary of health and human services, prosecutor allege. How did he know that?
Asked at the press conference if he or his people had interacted with Blagojevich or his office about filling the vacant Illinois Senate seat, Obama said he, personally, had not.
But he left the door open to the possibility that his aides may have and promised that he would reveal the results of an investigation of any such interactions “in the next few days.”
He said: “what I want to do is gather all the facts about any staff contacts that may have taken place between the transition office and the governor’s office.”
He asserted, though, that no one on his staff engaged Blagojevich in his alleged efforts to trade the Senate seat for personal benefit.
2 – “Why didn’t you or someone on your team correct your close adviser David Axelrod when he said you had spoken to Blagojevich about picking your replacement?”
Last month, Axelrod unambiguously described a conversation between Obama and Blagojevich about filling the seat.
“I know he's talked to the governor and there are a whole range of names, many of which have surfaced, and I think he has a fondness for a lot of them," Axelrod told an interviewer from Chicago’s Fox affiliate.
But then, Axelrod retracted the comment – after the president-elect asserted Tuesday that he hadn’t spoken to Blagojevich. Axelrod issued a statement saying he "was mistaken when I told an interviewer last month that the President-elect has spoken directly to Governor Blagojevich about the Senate vacancy. They did not then, or at any time, discuss the subject."
3. “When did you learn the investigation involved Blagojevich’s alleged efforts to ‘sell’ your Senate seat, or of the governor’s impending arrest?”
Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said it was not until Tuesday that Obama learned the details of the complaint against Blagojevich – the same day it was released to the public – and wouldn’t say exactly when or how Obama was notified.
But at least some people got an early heads-up: Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. told reporters that he was notified Monday night by federal prosecutors that the investigation was coming to a head, that an arrest was imminent and that Jackson was not a target.
4 – “Did you or anyone close to you contact the FBI or U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald about Blagojevich’s alleged efforts to sell your Senate seat to the highest bidder?”
Blagojevich seems to believe that Obama’s team was aware of – and had rejected – his offers, telling Harris in a wiretapped Nov. 11 conversation that Obama was “not willing to give (Blagojevich) anything except appreciation” for picking Jarrett.
If Blagojevich contacted anyone on Obama’s team even hinting at a possible pay-for-play arrangement, it seems they would have been obligated to report that to law enforcement.
One report out of Chicago suggested the possible tipster was Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s pick for chief of staff and a potential conduit for any communications from Blagojevich’s office to Obama. But Emanuel’s office has denied that story.
5 – “Did federal investigators interview you or anyone close to you in the investigation?”
Fitzgerald said Tuesday he was “not going to speak for what the President-elect was aware of,” but it’s difficult to imagine his investigators did not reach out to Obama or his team during the course of the investigations into Blagojevich and businessman Tony Rezko, given how closely the subject matter involved Obama.
Rezko, a former Obama fundraiser who in June was convicted of 16 corruption-related counts, had alleged that prosecutors pushed him for dirt on both Blagojevich and Obama.
This one was answered directly at the press conference. Asked if federal investigators had contacted him or his people in the course of the investigation, Obama said that neither he nor his people had been interviewed.
6 – “When did you and Blagojevich last speak and about what?”
Obama and Blagojevich both attended the National Governors Association meeting last week in Philadelphia and were photographed shaking hands at the event.
Before the meeting, Blagojevich was quoted saying he had asked Obama’s transition team for federal stimulus aid of $3 billion over the next three years to help fill Illinois’ estimated $2 billion deficit.
If Obama had spoken on the phone with him since Election Day, it’s conceivable that the conversation would have been recorded by the FBI, which in late October won a court order authorizing the wiretapping.
7 – “Do you regret supporting Blagojevich?”
Obama endorsed Blagojevich in his two gubernatorial runs and was among his key advisors during his first bid, in 2002.
During the governor’s reelection campaign in 2006 – with press reports swirling about a grand jury investigation into Blagojevich’s alleged jobs-for-contributions scheme – Obama praised the governor as a leader “who has delivered consistently on behalf of the people of Illinois.”
It doesn’t seem like he shared the same high regard for Obama, at least not lately, considering that during a Nov. 10 conference call with advisers he called his old political ally and the president-elect an obscene name.
Friday, December 12, 2008
We have been in the throes of a culture war for the past half-century, but never has it been more imperative to buckle your seat belts until now. Quite frankly, the culture war is about to explode.
The culture war pits traditionalists against modernists. To be more specific, it pits those who ascribe to the timeless values that inhere in faith, family and country against those who reject faith and family—traditionally understood—and who equate patriotism with jingoism.
Who are these people who comprise the ranks of the modernists? They are people so thoroughly secularist that they literally loathe religion. They are people who think that anyone who supports marriage as an institution exclusively designed for one man and one woman is a bigot. And they are people who think that the U.S. government is the cause of American bashing around the world.
Where do we find such persons? Many work in Hollywood, the media, the universities, the arts and in the non-profit sectors of the economy. They are fundamentally unhappy with themselves, God, nature, the U.S. and Western civilization. And that is why many hate the Catholic Church: It is a traditionalist institution that not only embraces God and nature, it is responsible for making Western civilization the greatest civilization in the history of the world.
We’re in for it. Why? Because the modernists feel emboldened after the November election. Please don’t misunderstand me—I am not blaming Barack Obama for all of what is about to happen. I am blaming many of those in the occupations I cited who see in his victory a golden opportunity to wage war on traditionalists. They are already revving it up; just wait until they kick it into high gear.
The modernists will be paying close attention to what Obama does in his very first days in office. If he does what he has pledged to do—push for the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA)—then that will prove to be pivotal in the culture war. We won’t have to wait long on whether his promise to Planned Parenthood will be realized, and that is because two days after he is sworn in, it will be the 36th anniversary of the infamous Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
In 1993, two days after he was sworn in as president, Bill Clinton rapped pro-lifers in the face when he overturned every Executive Order limiting abortion. Will Obama choose the day pro-lifers assemble in Washington for the Right to Life March to stick it to them? If he affirms his support for FOCA, that will prove to be incendiary.
FOCA is not just another pro-abortion piece of legislation. It is the most radical, comprehensive pro-abortion bill in the history of the United States. No nation in Europe has anything like it. If passed by the Congress, and signed by Obama, it would effectively nullify every state restriction on abortion. That means that all parental consent laws would go by the wayside. It means that partial-birth abortion would be legal again. It even means that Catholic hospitals and Catholic doctors may lose their right not to perform abortions.
The Office of the General Counsel of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has prepared an analysis of FOCA that is as accurate as it is scary. Among the many provisions it is likely to invalidate are “laws protecting the conscience rights of doctors, nurses and hospitals, if those laws create even minimal delay or inconvenience in obtaining an abortion or treat abortion differently than other medical procedures.”
In other words, if FOCA were ever to become law, not only will the rights of the unborn be stripped for all time, the rights of the born who defend them will be stripped as well. Sadly, because the abortion rate among black girls is so high, it means that America’s first African American president will preside over an increase in the death of black babies.
If Obama touts FOCA on January 22, it will spark not simply the pro-abortion industry, it will ignite all the modernists who have a real problem with faith, family and country, traditionally understood. With no one left to demonize in Washington, radical secularists will take after the Catholic Church and every other traditionalist institution. Look for them to target any religion that doesn’t ascribe to its modernist interpretation of discrimination, all with an eye towards gutting its tax exempt status.
Much of the action will take place outside the beltway, in local communities across the nation. There will be culture war battles on a myriad of fronts. Fortunately, it will bring traditional Catholics, evangelical Protestants, Muslims, Mormons and Orthodox Jews closer together. We should not be reluctant to form coalitions across faith lines.
So buckle your seat belts. The polarization that has marked the culture war thus far is about to worsen. At stake is the very moral foundation this country was built on, and the values and social institutions it reflects. As you might expect, we will not walk away from this fight. We will not sit on the sidelines—we will be gladiators, not spectators.
So on that note, let me wish all of you a very Merry Christmas.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
As he departed the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked if the American Founders had created a monarchy or a republic. "A republic," he famously replied, "if you can keep it."
For our nation to continue to thrive, citizens and statesmen need to constantly renew a civic literacy about the principles of the American Founding, which is why The Founders' Almanac contains information that is vital for our day.
It gives policymakers, political leaders and informed citizens needed information about America's origins, including a calendar of important events, essays on leading statesmen, hundreds of useful quotations by category, key documents, and an annotated bibliography.
The Founders' Almanac is an essential reference tool for anyone interested in conserving the principles of the American Founding and rekindling its spirit in the public life of our nation.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Lt. Col. Oliver North (Ret.)
The Freedom Alliance is an educational-charitable foundation that, among other things, provides college scholarships to the offspring of U.S. military personnel killed in action.
Every year, coincident with the Army-Navy Game, the organization presents its Defender of Freedom Award to an individual whose character, courage and selfless deeds inspire virtuous service from the rest of us. This year's recipient, U.S. Marine Lt. Andrew Kinard unequivocally meets these criteria.
On Oct. 29, 2006, Lt. Kinard was leading his Marines on a foot patrol in Rawah, Iraq - searching for a terrorist bomb factory - when a command-detonated IED exploded directly next to his left leg. The blast blew him into the air - and he landed almost 20 feet from the crater. Three other Marines were wounded.
According to those who were there, before the grievously injured officer passed out from loss of blood, he ordered them to set up security, get a head count and start treating the other injured Marines. The platoon corpsman tried to staunch the flow of blood but couldn't find enough undamaged tissue to apply tourniquets and the lieutenant was losing blood - from almost everywhere.
A Cas-Evac helicopter airlifted him to the Marine Air Base at Al Asad, then to the Army trauma hospital at Balad, north of Baghdad. Sixty-seven pints of whole blood - more than 5 times the amount in a healthy adult - were pumped into the failing officer's veins in a 24-hour period.
By the time he was flown to Landstuhl, Germany, in a C-17 Nightingale, he had gone into cardiac arrest -and been resuscitated - twice. Emergency surgeries went on nearly nonstop to plug the seemingly innumerable holes punched in his body. The family was alerted, and a prayer vigil held. Hundreds of people half a world away went to their knees and begged God for a miracle.
Some miracles happen immediately. This one took awhile.
Four days after being blasted to pieces, Andrew Kinard was in the intensive care unit at the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., with his family around his bedside - and still praying. By the time I got back from Iraq, just before Christmas 2006, "Drew" as his Marine and Naval Academy friends call him, had already endured more than two dozen surgeries.
His doctor told me the 24-year old lieutenant was "getting better" even though he had
pneumonia, a blood infection and multiple perforations of his intestines from shrapnel. They had just done one of the many skin grafts necessary to prepare his stumps for prosthetic limbs.
When I walked into his room, his mother and his sister Katherine were with him. His dad, a doctor in Spartanburg, S.C., and two younger siblings, Courtney and Will, were all en route to spend Christmas with their badly battered Marine.
Except for all the cards, poster, banners, Christmas stockings, lights, photos and flags, the room would have looked like a scene from a science fiction movie. Monitors, electronic devices, compressors, pumps and assorted tubes, wires and bags of colored fluids surrounded the bed - all connected to Andrew Kinard. Tiny flecks of shrapnel were still visible on the side of his face. He had no legs. His abdomen was an open hole. And he was smiling. "God is good," he said in greeting.
Over the next 11 months of hospitalization, Andrew Kinard was living proof of that statement. When I would ask him or his family, "How can I help you?" The inevitable response would be: "Just pray for recovery." And so, he also became evidence of the power of prayer.
In April 2007 he flew to Camp Lejeune, N.C., to meet his Marines when they returned from Iraq. Wearing his Marine utility uniform for the first time since being wounded, he greeted his comrades in a special "all-terrain" wheelchair.
Asked by a reporter to recollect the day he was wounded, he acknowledged that his memory of the attack had been dulled by shock and pain. Then he said, "A man asks himself, if something happens to me, when I go into battle, how will I react? Will I be brave?"
As they arrived home, the members of "Alpha" Company made it clear: Lt. Andrew Kinard was, without a doubt, their hero.
On Oct. 29, 2007, exactly a year after he was wounded, the indomitable young officer came home. Dignitaries and thousands of well wishers were on hand to welcome Andrew at First Baptist Church, Spartanburg. The following Sunday he spoke at all three services - thanking all for their unfailing prayers.
His recovery will continue for years to come. But on one of my visits to him in the hospital the man who had once played rugby at the Naval Academy said, "I don't need legs. I have my arms. I learned discipline at the Naval Academy. I have my faith - and a desire to serve. Maybe I'll go to law school."
Andrew has all of that - and more. He also has a great sense of humor. He has a T-shirt with the words "Marine For Sale" printed on the front. On the back it reads: "40 Percent Off - Some Assembly Required."
Monday, December 8, 2008
From all eternity Almighty God took delight in what was to be the most perfect work of His hands, and anticipated this wonderful plan with an outpouring of His Grace.
Man, created innocent, fell by disobeying Him; the mark of original sin remained engraved on his forehead and that of his progeny who will bear its consequences until the end of time.
A woman brought ruin, and a woman was to bring salvation. The one, being tempted by a serpent, stamped the mark of sin on the human race; the other was to rise through grace, pure and immaculate. She would crush the head of the serpent who was helpless before her and who struggled in vain under her heel; for she was conceived without sin, and through her came grace to mankind.
Protected with Grace by Him Who was to be the Savior of Mankind that had fallen into sin, she escaped all shadow of evil. She sprang from the mind of God as a pure ray of light, and will shine like a morning star over the human race that turns to her. She will be the sure guide who will direct our steps toward the Divine Sun which is Jesus Christ. He makes her radiant with divine splendor and points to her as our model of purity and sanctity. No creature surpasses her, but all creation defers her through the Grace of Him Who made her immaculate. He Whom she was to carry in her womb was the Son of God participating with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the glory of her conception.
Clothed in light from the moment of her conception, she grew in grace and comeliness. After Almighty God, she is the most perfect of creatures; more pure than the angels; God is indeed well pleased in her, since she most resembles Him and is the only worthy repository of His secrets.
In the natural order she preceded her Divine Child, Our Lord, but in the divine order Jesus, the Divine Sun, arose before her, and she received from Him all grace, all purity and all beauty.
All is darkness compared to the pure light that renews all creation through Him Whom she bore in her womb, as the dew on the rose.
The Immaculate Conception is the first step in our salvation. Through this singular and unique gift Mary received a profusion of Divine Grace, and through her cooperation she became worthy of absorbing infinitely more.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
Three candidates qualified to be included on the GOP convention ballot for Attorney General -- Sen. Cuccinelli; John Brownlee, former U.S. Attorney for Western Virginia; and Arlington lawyer Dave Foster.
Faced with the requirement of collecting 4,000 petition signatures by Dec. 1 in order to qualify to be on the Republican ballot at the State Convention in May, Sen. Cuccinelli collected more than 12,500 original signatures from registered Virginia voters and, with copies of signatures from other petitions with his name on them, he is expected to report a total of more than 22,000 signatures.
In fact, the Cuccinelli campaign submitted more original signatures than any other statewide campaign for any office, including the nominees for Governor and Lieutenant Governor.
With the Republican nominations for the state's top two positions already wrapped up, the Convention will be the culmination of a six-month campaign in the three-way battle for the GOP nomination for AG.
Although the R.C. Blog was impressed with Messrs. Brownlee and Foster after hearing from them this week at the Fairfax County Republican Committee meeting, it continues to fully support and endorse Sen. Cuccinelli for the AG nomination.
The R.C. Blog will continue to track and report on this three-way race leading up to the state convention in Richmond next May.
Friday, December 5, 2008
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Seminoles junior safety Myron Rolle announced yesterday that he will bypass his senior year of eligibility to accept his Rhodes Scholarship and study in Oxford, England, starting next October. Rolle was projected to be a high NFL draft pick in either the 2008 or 2009 draft.
Rolle, an aspiring neurosurgeon, was awarded the scholarship last weekend. He is the first Florida State football player to be so honored.
Rolle said he cannot delay the Rhodes Scholarship and is trying to decide whether he will participate in the next NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis in February. He also is considering training before and after his studies at Oxford and trying out for the NFL afterward.
"I want to be a neurosurgeon," Rolle said. "And I want to help impoverished nations build up their vaccination programs. I think in many poor countries, vaccination programs and mental health programs are wrongly pushed aside."
Thank you Myron Rolle for serving as a role model for student-athletes in an era where the only non-sports news they typically produce revolve around suspensions, arrests, and violence. Sadly, Rolle's positive story has not had much of an impact on his own teammates. This past week, two Florida State freshman wide receivers were arrested on misdemeanor battery charges stemming from a fight in the student union two weeks ago.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
"The people at the very top don't just work harder or even much harder than everyone else," Gladwell writes. "They work much, much harder." Achievement, he says, is talent plus preparation. Preparation seems to play a bigger role.
For example, he describes The Beatles' rise to fame: They had been together seven years before their famous arrival in America. They spent a lot of time playing in strip clubs in Hamburg, Germany, sometimes for as long as eight hours a night. John Lennon said of those years: "We got better and got more confidence. We couldn't help it with all the experience playing all night long." Overnight sensation? Not exactly. Estimates are that that the band performed live 1,200 times before their big success in 1964. By comparison, most bands don't perform 1,200 times in their careers.
Neurologist Daniel Levitin has studied the formula for success extensively, and shares this finding: "The emerging picture from such studies is that 10,000 hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert in anything. In study after study of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, the number comes up again and again. Of course, this doesn't address why some people get more out of their practice sessions than others do. But no one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery." Two computer giants, Bill Joy, who co-founded Sun Microsystems, and Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, also were proof of the 10,000-hour theory. Their years of hard work paid off, don't you think?
As Gladwell puts it, "Practice isn't the thing you do once you're good. It's the thing you do that makes you good."
Consider these thoughts from successful folks in all walks of life:
-- "A winner is someone who recognizes his God-given talents, works his tail off to develop them into skills, and uses these skills to accomplish his goals." -- Larry Bird, basketball star turned coach/team president.
-- "No one can arrive from being talented alone. God gives talent; work transforms talent into genius." -- Anna Pavlova, ballerina.
-- "I know the price of success: dedication, hard work and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen." -- Frank Lloyd Wright, architect.
-- "The way to learn to do things is to do things. The way to learn a trade is to work at it. Success teaches how to succeed. Begin with the determination to succeed, and the work is half done already." -- Mark Twain, writer and humorist.
-- "Things may come to those who wait. But only the things left by those who hustle." -- President Abraham Lincoln.
Do you detect a theme here?
The abilities these people possessed were far-ranging, yet the formula for success was the same: hard work and lots of it. I don't know anyone who has succeeded any other way. Some people just make it look easy. Of course, you probably didn't see the first 9,999 hours of hard work. And you don't just have to work hard; you have to work smart, too.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
The earliest Thanksgivings were celebrated by Americans who were keenly aware that their blessings -- like their rights -- came from God. In times of hardship unimaginable to us today, they took time to give thanks to their Creator.
Throughout early American history, when they suffered from drought, famine or war, Americans paused, not to seek vengeance or to question their faith, but to give thanks to God for the blessings they still had.
At a time when the economic news seems to get worse every day, it’s important to remember the humble faith of these early Americans. They didn’t just give thanks when times were good, they gave thanks when times were bad -- especially when times were bad.
Today is a decidedly different time in America.
Not only have many Americans forgotten or never learned the historic origins of our Thanksgiving -- to pause and give thanks to God for our abundance -- but radical secularists are intent on removing God and faith from our national life altogether.
Many of the entertainment and political elite seem to be threatened by religious faith.
Others seem intent on denying or whitewashing the central role that religious faith has played in American history, such as the attempt to whitewash God out of the Capitol Visitor’s Center. These radical secularists seek to portray those who acknowledge this historical fact as theocrats intent on imposing their religion on others.
In fact, to acknowledge the centrality of God in American history is to acknowledge America’s great freedom of religion -- the freedom to worship and the freedom not to worship. Many Americans have taken advantage of this freedom by drawing closer to their Creator. They understand, even if so many of our media and political elites don’t, that religious freedom is the cornerstone of all of our freedoms.
The centrality of God in Thanksgiving in America comes through in the words of some of our greatest national leaders:
Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson, in 1779: “[I] appoint … a day of public Thanksgiving to Almighty God … to [ask] Him that He would … pour out His Holy Spirit on all ministers of the Gospel; that He would … spread the light of Christian knowledge through the remotest corners of the earth … and that He would establish these United States upon the basis of religion and virtue.”
President George Washington’s first federal Thanksgiving proclamation in 1789: “Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.… Now, therefore, I do appoint Thursday, the 26th day of November 1789 … that we may all unite to render unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection.”
President Abraham Lincoln, making Thanksgiving an annual national holiday in 1863, in the midst of the Civil War: “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”
It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people.
Our leaders have not been alone in celebrating God’s gifts at Thanksgiving, of course.
I conclude with a poem by Lizelia Augusta Jenkins Moorer, an African-American poet writing at the turn of the 20th century. Her generous, hopeful view of Thanksgiving is made even more remarkable by the suffering and discrimination she endured as an African-American in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Let us give thanks to God above,
Thanks for expressions of His love,
Seen in the book of nature, grand
Taught by His love on every hand.
Let us be thankful in our hearts,
Thankful for all the truth imparts,
For the religion of our Lord,
All that is taught us in His word.
Let us be thankful for a land,
That will for such religion stand;
One that protects it by the law,
One that before it stands in awe.
Thankful for all things let us be,
Though there be woes and misery;
Lessons they bring us for our good-
Later 'twill all be understood.
Thankful for peace o'er land and sea,
Thankful for signs of liberty,
Thankful for homes, for life and health,
Pleasure and plenty, fame and wealth.
Thankful for friends and loved ones, too,
Thankful for all things, good and true,
Thankful for harvest in the fall,
Thankful to Him who gave it all.
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