Paul Zummo

Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus with a Ph. D in Politics.

So About that Emerging Democrat Majority

In graduate school I read John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira’s The Emerging Democratic Majority. Here is the Amazon summary of the book:

In five well-researched chapters and a new afterword covering the 2002 elections, Judis and Teixeira show how the most dynamic and fastest-growing areas of the country are cultivating a new wave of Democratic voters who embrace what the authors call “progressive centrism” and take umbrage at Republican demands to privatize social security, ban abortion, and cut back environmental regulations. As the GOP continues to be dominated by neoconservatives, the religious right, and corporate influence, this is an essential volume for all those discontented with their narrow agenda — and a clarion call for a new political order.

I confess that the book provided a good chuckle, particularly as I read it in 2003, sandwiched in between successful Republican electoral triumphs. Particularly laughable were predictions that states such as Georgia and Texas were destined to become fertile ground for Democrats thanks to rapid demographic shifts.

Twelve years later, and I confess that I am not seeing much blue here or here.

Now, to be fair, Judis and Teixeira were not arguing that a permanent and enduring Democrat majority was on the cusp of dominating the political landscape. They noted that cultural and demographic trends favored the Democrat party, which is an observation that certainly rings true in many respects. Certainly at the presidential level it is true that Republicans seem to start out perpetually behind the eight ball, having to win every possible swing state to have any chance of barely squeezing past 270 electoral votes. And election results in 2006, 2008, and to a lesser extent 2012 seemed to confirm that the Republicans were in danger of extended minority status.

Then again, there’s this.

For those too lazy to click the link, it’s a map of US Congressional districts by party in control, and there is a sea of red that just washes over nearly the entire country. If you do not live along the coast in the United States, then there’s a near guaranteed chance that your representative is a Republican.

Even this map does not do the party justice. These maps show party control of the various state legislatures. After Tuesday night the GOP can now add Nevada, Minnesota, and West Virginia to the mix. Additionally, after inauguration days in January, 32 states will have Republican governors, including Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland. This table presents a clearer picture of where things stand. Republicans control both the governor’s mansion and the legislature in 24 states, with super-majorities in 15 of those states. Democrats, meanwhile, hold both the legislature and the governorship in seven states, with super-majorities only in Rhode Island and Hawaii. Seven GOP governors will have a Democrat legislature (with a super-majority of Democrats in Massachusetts), and 11 Democrats governors will have a GOP legislature (with a Republican super-majority in Missouri). Additionally Nebraska has a Republican governor and a non-partisan unicameral legislature.

Now, elections are cyclical, and things can change in American politics. The Republican majority in the Senate is rather tenuous considering that Republicans will have to defend 24 seats in 2016, many in blue or purple states, and in a presidential election year. That being said, Republican dominance at the state level is hardly a new thing. Republicans have fared well at state-level elections even in heavily Democratic years.

In the end, the Judis and Teixeira proposition (which they continue to defend, by the way) is fatally flawed for a number of reasons.

1) Politics is local – It’s a cliche, but it happens to be true. Though Americans tend to focus on presidential elections at the exclusion of all other races (much like some Catholics tend to focus on the Papacy at the exclusion of all other offices, ahem), believe it or not the presidency is not everything. Local decisions still have more bearing on your day-to-day lives than what the federals do, even if the federal government is more powerful today than in years past. Local circumstances are unique, and individual politicians at the local level might be able to connect with the electorate in a way that federal officials cannot.

2) Even the presidential disadvantage is overrated. Sure Republicans face certain electoral defeat in states that total close to 200 electoral votes (although Democrats face a similar hole in about the same amount of states), and Republicans continue to fail to break through in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Mexico and other swing states, while losing their grip in Virginia and Colorado. Yet again one must ponder if this is due to a complete change in the electorate or unique circumstances in each presidential election. It is my contention that candidates matter, and the lackluster string of GOP nominees – including the one guy who won – over the past two decades have failed to move the electorate. Yet the potential GOP field in 2016 is incredibly deeper than the Democrat field. The GOP will have at least half a dozen credible candidates running. GOP has establishment governors (Christie, Bush, possibly Romney), conservative Governors (Walker, Jindal, potentially Kasich, Pence, Perry), as well as conservative Senators (Cruz, Paul, Santorum). All of these candidates would be serious contenders on both a primary and general election level – perhaps the Senate field less so. The Democrat field meanwhile is essentially Hilary Clinton and . . . umm, is her husband eligible to run again? Elizabeth Warren is being touted as a potential candidate, but does anyone see her as a legitimate threat to win a general election? What else is there? Republicans will still have to scratch and claw to win in 2016, and they will have to do much better than they did in 2012 to get out the vote, but almost all of these candidates (except Romney) would seem to be individuals who could inspire more of the electorate.

By the way, I would tie this in with point one. Republican victories at the state level have provided the GOP with a much deeper bench to help them become more competitive in presidential elections.

3) The idea of any kind of cyclical majority is simply wrong. And this is the most critical point. The Teixeira/Judis thesis is part of a larger body of work in political science that contends that American politics has been dominated by a series of electoral realignments. Starting in 1800 with the Jefferson coalition, one party dominates government for roughly 30 years before a new governing coalition dominates. Therefore the next coalition after Jefferson emerged in 1828 with the Jackson Democrats, 1860 with the Lincoln Republicans, 1896 with the McKinley and the GOP, 1932 with the FDR coalition, and then 1968 with GOP electoral dominance. So now we should be entering a period of Democrat dominance. But as Richard Mayhew* aptly demonstrated, electoral realignment theory just doesn’t pan out under close scrutiny. There are just too many holes in realignment theory to show that there is a real pattern. In reality, elections are decided by unique circumstances. The quality rather than the ideology of candidates determines national elections much more than is acknowledged. And while demographic trends should not be ignored, nor should we simply rely on demographic analysis to predict election results. The politics of demographic groups change over time. After all, I don’t think Democrats are counting on the Irish Catholic vote as much as they used to. Some trends on Tuesday should be encouraging for Republicans, including garnering a majority (or plurality) of the Asian vote, a much more substantial percentage of the Hispanic vote, especially in Texas, and some inroads among women. Again, the midterm electorate might be different, but those groups should not be counted on to vote in exactly the same way for all perpetuity.

*In the world of political science, academics aside from Mayhew are akin to the priest who delivers 25 minute homilies that ultimately seem to have no point and which are forgotten by the time the Creed starts, whereas Mayhew is the young priest who delivers a meaty seven minute homily that you’re still thinking about the next day.

Demographics is not destiny. American politics is more than just the presidency. And the Republican party, as flawed as it is, is safely off of life support.

On the Moral Duty to Vaccinate Your Children

There is nothing quite as soul crushing as reading a thread on Facebook or social media regarding vaccinations, especially when well-intentioned but seriously misinformed Catholic parents express their outright refusal to vaccinate their children. This anti-vaccination fervor has been sparked by long-discredited studies as well as well as celebrities of shall we say less than dubious credentials.

Not all opposition to vaccination is based on groundless fears about autism or other health issues. Some Catholics also have concerns about the nature of vaccine research and the possibility that vaccines contain aborted fetal tissues. The Rational Catholic discussed this topic, and puts to rest some of the myths surrounding this line of attack, and he quotes from the National Catholic Bioethics Center:

Parents may vaccinate their children because by doing so, they are not involved in any illicit form of cooperation with the original abortion. Many Catholic experts concur that cooperation today is not really possible in an event that was over and done with many years ago. Because the abortion occurred long ago, and for reasons completely unrelated to vaccines, it is untenable to conclude that vaccine recipients today somehow cooperate in the original abortive event. Moreover, there is no ongoing use of recently aborted material for vaccine preparation; the lines obtained 30 or 40 years ago are the only abortion-derived lines being used currently for vaccine production. In sum, then, by vaccinating their children, parents do not illicitly cooperate in evil, nor otherwise engage in wrongdoing. If pharmaceutical companies or other agencies derive fetal cell lines from elective abortions, those companies or agencies, not the parents, are guilty of immoral cooperation in the evil of abortion.

The Rational Catholic has another pair of posts that delve deeper into vaccines, and goes so far as to argue that not can Catholic parents vaccinate their children, they have a moral obligation to do so. Again, quoting from the Catholic Bioethics Center:

Focusing in on your central question, there is indeed a moral duty to immunize one’s child and so help preserve the public good through the use of scientifically established and clearly beneficial programs of vaccination. The chickenpox vaccine may be an exception to this rule, as the risks resulting from this disease are not great. As for the rest, for example, measles, mumps, and rubella, these are important childhood vaccinations and parents have a special duty to care for and love their children. Children cannot make these decisions for themselves and so depend upon the prudential judgments of others.

Unfounded fears about possible adverse effects do not overcome the objective duty to make use of immunizations. To make a sound moral judgment, the individual Catholic must properly inform his or her conscience. That means that one must seek to determine whether fears are based in reason and fact, or they are instead merely — if I may put it this way — superstitions. A correctly formed conscience will come to the conclusion that immunization is a moral obligation.

For those who remain “invincibly ignorant,” and who refuse to acknowledge facts, they must follow their conscience even though it is ill formed.

Of course not everyone will be convinced on this issue, no matter what evidence is out before them. But hopefully all parents – Catholic or no – will at least mediate on the potential harm they are doing to their children and other people’s children by refusing to vaccinate them.

“Because Shut Up” He Said

How do you solve a problem like Walter?

Walter Cardinal Kasper, that is.

Cardinal Kasper, who is leading the charge to allow some civilly divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion, has given an interview with Zenit. The entire thing is a dispiriting mess, but the truly horrendous part comes partway through the interview.

I do not see this going on in the Pope’s head. But I think the majority of these five people are open people who want to go on with this. The problem, as well, is that there are different problems of different continents and different cultures. Africa is totally different from the West. Also Asian and Muslim countries, they’re very different, especially about gays. You can’t speak about this with Africans and people of Muslim countries. It’s not possible. It’s a taboo. For us, we say we ought not to discriminate, we don’t want to discriminate in certain respects.


But are African participants listened to in this regard?

No, the majority of them [who hold these views won’t speak about them].


They’re not listened to?

In Africa of course [their views are listened to], where it’s a taboo.


What has changed for you, regarding the methodology of this synod?

I think in the end there must be a general line in the Church, general criteria, but then the questions of Africa we cannot solve. There must be space also for the local bishops’ conferences to solve their problems but I’d say with Africa it’s impossible [for us to solve]. But they should not tell us too much what we have to do. (emphasis mine)

So a Prince of the Church has essentially dismissed the viewpoints of an entire continent, as well as a large chunk of another. This from a Cardinal who only moments earlier had praised Pope Francis because:

Is there any sense that he’s trying to push things in that direction?

He does not push. His first speech was freedom: freedom of speech, everyone should say what he thinks and what he has on his mind and this was very positive.

Well, obviously it’s only positive so long as those backward ninnies from Africa and the Middle East keep their pieholes shut, right Cardinal?

By the way, people should not disregard how awful the rest of the interview is. First, here’s the Cardinal sounding like he would be a good addition to the National Catholic Reporter:

But people feel the Church’s teaching is going to be undermined by your proposal if it passes, that it’s undoing 2,000 years of Church teaching. What is your view on this?

Well nobody is putting into question the indissolubility of marriage. I think it wouldn’t be a help for people, but if you look to the word of Jesus, there are different synoptic gospels in different places, in different contexts. It’s different in the Judeo-Christian context and in the Hellenistic context. Mark and Matthew are different. There was already a problem in the apostolic age. The Word of Jesus is clear, but how to apply it in complex, different situations? It’s a problem to do with the application of these words.

And for those who still think the relatio is nothing to get too worked up about, there’s this gem:

The teaching does not change?

The teaching does not change but it can be made more profound, it can be different. There is also a certain growth in the understanding of the Gospel and the doctrine, a development. Our famous Cardinal Newman had spoken on the development of doctrine. This is also not a change but a development on the same line. Of course, the Pope wants it and the world needs it. We live in a globalized world and you cannot govern everything from the Curia. There must be a common faith, a common discipline but a different application.

But remember kids, you have nothing to worry about. No doctrine is going to change.

You may now resume putting your heads in the sand.

What to Expect When You’re Expected Not to Expect

There’s a bit of an irony in the fact that I’ve not been able to get to Jonathan Last’s What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster sooner in part due to having several small children to tend to. Alas, as Last dutifully emphasizes, my family is an outlier in modern America (even if in our own Catholic community we sometimes feel like we are woefully far behind).

Last’s book is a very important, if somewhat depressing read. America’s birthrate has been hovering at barely above replacement for the past several decades, and is starting to dip below the magic 2.0 line. Though we are doing better than almost all of the rest of the western world, we have reached a point where more and more Americans are choosing either not to have kids, or are having only one or two if they do, in large part thanks to starting so late. The only thing keeping our birthrate even near replacement are immigrant families, but even the trend here is steadily declining as immigrants are assimilating in at least one way: not having as many children as they used to.

Last identifies several key factors. Long story short, middle class Americans are getting married later and later (if at all), as they spend their most fertile years paying off their college debts. There’s much more to it than that, but most Americans in their 20s would prefer to spend whatever money they have left over after loans on more consumer goodies. Last identifies several other anti-family pressures. He even alludes to increasingly harsh child safety seat measures. As I can testify, I am pretty sure my oldest child won’t get to ride in the front seat until she’s in drivers ed.

One key takeaway is that this demographic disaster is a largely cultural phenomenon that cannot be reversed by legislation. To be sure Last offers several minor policy suggestions, but he concedes that these would barely make a dent. Last notes that several countries that have tried extreme measures to reverse their demographic decline have failed miserably, and the evidence is in that mere policy fiat will not stem the tide.

One of the most striking aspects of the book was Last’s discussion of how he felt compelled to leave Old Town (a suburb outside of Washington, DC) and flee to the suburbs once he and his wife began having children. The kind of life they were living in this very trendy and hip location was no longer supportable with children in tow. What’s more, the cultural milieu of places like Old Town are almost hostile to children. As someone who has spent time in these areas, I can acknowledge the truth of this. It is difficult, though not quite impossible, to raise a large family in certain parts of DC, in part because it’s so expensive, but also because, well, it’s not the most kid friendly environment.

The key observation is that there are many subtle cultural forces at work against the family. As noted above, Last mentions child safety seats. The mandates to keep kids in some form of safety seat until they are practically adults necessitates purchasing larger vehicles. You might want to take note of how many Honda Odysseys, Siennas, Town and Countries, and similar minivans there are in the parking lot next time you go to Church. These are not cheap vehicles. That’s not to say that these laws are necessarily wrong, or are a primary driver (no pun intended) of smaller families, but they are just one of many things working against the family.

There’s also just the general hostility towards large families. As this Matt Archbold post from July reminds us, some people just can’t fathom the idea of handling more than one or two children. Or as the mom in Matt’s post put it, “Who has five children? I’d kill myself if I had that many kids.”

So with all that in mind, what can we do? For starters, we need an entity or organization that fearlessly and tirelessly celebrates the family. Such an entity would speak of the value of children and of the wonders of procreation. This entity would speak against all of the forces that work against the family. It would even unabashedly critique the contraceptive and consumerist mentalities that persuade people to put off having children. Such an entity, if one such entity exists, would first work to convince its own membership on these matters, and would risk alienating a few of them so long as it managed to sway the rest. It would have to preach from the pulpit, if you will, ceaselessly imparting knowledge and guidance.

Oh for such an entity to exist.

Cause and Effect

Pat Archbold has highlighted this post from a professor at the “Catholic” Villanova University by the name of Katie Grimes. Grimes exhorts the Bishops at the upcoming Synod on the family to recognize some of the “injustices” of Christian marriage.

Bishops participating in the synod ought to consider issues of sexual morality in accordance with the preferential option for the poor.  In this way, rather than blaming the decline of marriage on sexual immorality, the bishops ought to recognize the way in which, at least in the United States, marriage has increasingly become a privilege of the privileged. For example, today, the college-educated are both more likely to be married by the age of 30 and less likely to divorce than those who lack a college degree.  Marriage seems the consequence not so much of moral righteousness but of socioeconomic privilege.

Bishops ought to also listen to those critics who point out that marriage also accords disproportionate benefits to the well to do.   Marriage, they claim, is not just about sex and love and children and stability, it is also about acquiring andtransmitting wealth.  Put another way, heterosexually married white and upper-middle class Catholics who follow all facets of magisterial sexual morality perpetuate social injustice not just in the political or economic spheres but also through their sex lives.*

In addition to insisting that all sex must be good sex, may the bishops also accord more attention to the relation between social justice and sexual goodness.

One can spend a day and a half unpacking all of this, not to mention the long-winded preamble where Grimes goes off on whitey putting African Americans in jail because, I guess, that’s what whites like to do. There’s certainly something to be said about the clunky academic jargon that Grimes not so masterfully uses as subterfuge to mask her dissent.

Instead of looking at all that, we should instead ponder that Grimes is actually kind of right about marriage. Just about every study shows a direct correlation between marriage and economic stability (for lack of a better term). Married men earn more than unmarried men. Married people are more financially secure. And yes, marriage rates for lower income individuals is lower than for upper and middle class people. Unfortunately Grimes comes to the wrong conclusion. Instead of looking at marriage as an institution for the privileged elite, Grimes fails to consider that the correlation between financial stability and marriage is a reason to promote marriage rather than to take swipes at it. In other words, she doesn’t seem to consider the possibility that the reason most married people are financially secure is due, at least in part, to being married. In other, other words, she may be mistaking cause and effect.

Now I’m not suggesting that marriage automatically makes the poor richer, nor that economic advancement should be anything close to a motivating factor in considering matrimony. And yes, people are delaying marriage until they are more “set.” But perhaps it is this latter attitude that needs adjusting. Too many people may be putting off marriage further and further into an ideal future that may never arrive. They may, in fact, be unintentionally putting off doing something that will ameliorate their financial situation. Perhaps Grimes ought to exhort herself to consider how the continued assault on marriage is one of the contributing causes of the social injustice she so decries. Perhaps she ought to recognize the way in which, at least in the United States, marriage has become a saving grace for the underprivileged.

Then again, this is a woman who thinks white married people perpetuate social injustice through our sex lives. We probably should not anticipate too much deep thought from such a mind.

 

End Times Catechesis

On the bright side, a Christian-based movie is being released today.

Unfortunately that movie is this:

Left Behind

Well, they can’t all be The Passion of the Christ.

With Left Behind being released today, it’s probably a good time to brush up on what Catholics actually believe about the end times. In long form, there’s Paul Thigpen’s The Rapture Trap: A Catholic Response to End TimesFever. Even better is Carl Olson’s Will Catholics Be Left Behind? Meanwhile, Msgr. Pope has penned a blog post on the Catholic approach to the end times which helps sum up Catholic teaching on this matter.

As for you poor, brave souls who for some reason choose to view this cinematic masterpiece, I have a feeling you’ll be feeling envious of this man by the end: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

No

Seriously, NO.

A recent column by the conservative pundit Byron York noted that Romney had kept in close contact with many of his advisers and aides. As we spoke, Romney compared the barrage of 2016-related questions to a scene in the film “Dumb and Dumber.” After Jim Carrey’s character is flatly rejected by Lauren Holly, she tells him that there’s a one-in-a-million chance she would change her mind. “So,” Romney told me, embodying the character, “Jim Carrey says, ‘You’re telling me there’s a chance.’ ”

This was the obvious opening for me to ask if there was a chance. Romney’s response was decidedly meta — “I have nothing to add to the story” — but he then fell into the practiced political parlance of nondenial. “We’ve got a lot of people looking at the race,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”

Well I can’t think of a better potential candidate than the guy who lost to an unpopular incumbent during a time of high unemployment and after passage of a widely reviled health care reform law.

Too Dumb to Vote

Note to self: never get on Kevin Williamson’s bad side. Here is Williamson’s rebuttal to a particularly empty-headed column from Lena Dunham.

If you would like to be filled with despair for the prospects of democracy, spend a few minutes attempting to decipher the psephological musings of Lena Dunham, the distinctly unappealing actress commissioned by Planned Parenthood to share with her presumably illiterate following “5 Reasons Why I Vote (and You Should, Too).” That’s 21st-centuryU.S. politics in miniature: a half-assed listicle penned by a half-bright celebrity and published by a gang of abortion profiteers.

It is an excellent fit, if you think about it: Our national commitment to permanent, asinine, incontinent juvenility, which results in, among other things, a million or so abortions a year, is not entirely unrelated to the cultural debasement that is the only possible explanation for the career of Lena Dunham. A people mature enough to manage the relationship between procreative input and procreative output without recourse to the surgical dismemberment of living human organisms probably would not find much of interest in the work of Miss Dunham. But we are a nation of adult children so horrified by the prospect of actual children that we put one in five of them to death for such excellent reasons as the desire to fit nicely into a prom dress.

It’s not for nothing that, on the precipice of 30, Miss Dunham is famous for a television series called Girls rather than one called Women. She might have gone one better and called it Thumbsuckers. (The more appropriate title Diapers would terrify her demographic.)

And he’s just getting warmed up.

Williamson’s contempt for Dunham is shared by yours truly, as she is representative of a completely narcissistic generation of pseudo-intellectuals whose idea of good citizenship is casting ballots that elicit warm fuzzies in the cockles of one’s heart. Dunham’s insipid and banal meanderings would be worthy of mild scoffing were it not for the fact that a generation of Americans is so mesmerized by her lot.

Williamson says in his concluding paragraph:

I would like to suggest, as gently as I can, that if you are voting as an act of self-gratification, if you do not understand the role that voting in fact plays in a constitutional republic, and if you need Lena Dunham to tell you why and how you should be voting — you should not vote. If you get your politics from actors and your news from television comedians — you should not vote. There’s no shame in it, your vote is statistically unlikely to affect the outcome of an election, and there are many much more meaningful ways to serve your country and your fellow man: Volunteer at a homeless shelter; join the Marine Corps; become a nun; start a business.

Statistically speaking, those most in thrall with Dunham, Stewart, et al are likeliest to stay home on election day. Unfortunately, the percentage of Americans who are of this type is growing as we are increasingly becoming a nation of perpetual children (who, in turn, have no actual children, but that is for the next post).

Down the Memory Hole

Msgr. Charles Pope wrote a fantastic post the other day calling for an end to the St. Patrick’s Day parade and Al Smith dinner. I’d like to link to the post at the Archdiocese of Washington website, but I cannot. Why? Because the post has been pulled by the ADW blog. That’s right, our morally courageous leaders have once again faced the possibility that someone might question our cooperation with evil, and instead of allowing the exchange of ideas, they simply shut off dissent.

The post, in its entirety, can be found at the Rorate Caeli blog. This comment from Msgr. Pope confirms that the the missing post was not some accidental thing.

Bless you all for your prayers and encouragement. I hope you will understand if I cannot continue to post your comments on the parade article here. I will read them but cannot post them, I will send you an e-mail gratitude.

I ask your charity and understanding for the Archdiocese of Washington which has always generously sponsored this blog and been supportive of our conversations.

I also hope you will understand if I cannot explain why it was removed.

I am a loyal son of the Church and I love my Archdiocese.

I am a parishioner in the Archdiocese of Washington, and I must say that Cardinal Wuerl and his ilk are not fit shepherds of our Church. It is clear that the American Bishops have chosen sides in the culture wars – it is their own side. Well, the next time the Cardinal’s sonorous voice implores me to give a little more next February at the next appeal, don’t be surprised if my wallet should disappear as quickly as Msgr. Pope’s blogpost.

And speaking of gutless cowards, though I have not always been a fan of Michael Vorris, it is difficult to dispute what he has said about EWTN.

I Fought the Law (And the Law Won)

There is an unspoken commonality between the two big domestic news items of the past week. The first, of course, involves the shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer. The second is the (farcical) indictment of Governor Rick Perry. The former has sparked outrage and continued discussions over items ranging from racism to police brutality. There has been a much needed discussion of whether the police have become more confrontational, and whether they have become overly militarized. Though the wizards of smart at such venerable institutions as Vox may not realize it, this has actually been an ongoing conversation for some time in conservative and libertarian circles. Even some on the right have attacked armies of strawmen in claiming that conservatives in general are reflexively defensive of the police. While we certainly are less quick to call for prosecutions before all the evidence is in (unlike certain governors), that doesn’t mean we automatically awesome that the police are in the right whenever a civilian is shot and killed.

As for the Perry indictment – well, when even the editorial pages of the New York Times and Austin American Statesmen, as well as lefty pundits like Jonathan Chait, acknowledge (through gritted teeth) there is no there there, you might just have yourselves a completely partisan and unmerited prosecution. But the conversation surrounding the Perry indictment has centered around its frivolousness and the potential impact on Perry’s political future. What it has not sparked is a similar conversation about prosecutorial misbehavior that we are hearing regarding police misbehavior. And that is a mistake.

Before continuing, I want to make clear that the two cases are not of the same gravity. Michael Brown is dead, whereas at worst Rick Perry’s possible presidential ambitions have been hampered (though there is a possibility that in fact this has been incredibly beneficial to his presidential aspirations). In the grand scheme of things, I would gladly take wrongful prosecution over being shot and killed by a police officer. Yet, when we talk more generally about law enforcement and criminal prosecution, we should be just as concerned about bad DAs as we are about rotten police officers.

The Perry case has drawn notice, but it’s certainly not the first case of a political prosecution. Indeed, it’s not even the first case of a purely partisan, political prosecution of a Republican coming from a Travis County District Attorney (see Delay, Tom). In Alaska, prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence that would have exonerated the late Ted Stevens. Now these are political prosecutions, so it might be somewhat more difficult to empathize with the wrongfully prosecuted. But there have been other noteworthy examples of prosecutors either disregarding evidence, or simply engaging in prosecutions due to political pressure, or to advance their own careers. The most notorious example in recent years is perhaps Michael Nifong, the Durham county DA who pressed forward with rape charge against Duke lacrosse players even after it became manifestly obvious that no crime had been committed. This past year we witnessed the George Zimmerman trial, an event which occurred it seems largely because the DA was fearful of the political fallout (and I acknowledge that I might be somewhat generous about her motivations) if there was no prosecution. Even the Michael Brown shooting could become a political prosecution if it is felt that the police officer has to be tried merely to appease the mob.*

*Again, let me emphasize that I am not saying that a trial would merely be a political witch-hunt. We do not have all the evidence in, and it is quite possible that Darren Wilson ought to be indicted once all the evidence is in. I am merely saying here that there is a potential for an unjustified prosecution based solely on political pressure.

These are but the most notorious examples that come to mind, but undoubtedly there are others that are just heinous, if not worse. The point is that some prosecutors – much like some police officers – are motivated by less than honest intentions, and their behavior can be just as destructive to a person’s life. Now, I’m not saying that every incorrect prosecution is a wrongful prosecution. Prosecuting attorneys are mortal and can honestly but incorrectly come to the conclusion that the suspect is guilty. We can only hope in those cases that the jury can realize the error. Prosecutors should not be maligned for honest errors in judgment. But what is dangerous and what does tear at the social fabric is a DA who marches on in spite of contradictory evidence, who intentionally stifles exculpatory evidence, and who refuses to relent all because they just so desperately need a conviction, and any conviction will do.

We don’t fear District Attorneys as we do police officers because District Attorneys don’t carry guns (as part of their jobs), and so they aren’t going to wrongfully kill anyone. But we need to demand the same level of integrity from them as we do the police precisely because they are guardians of law and order. When they use their office as a political weapon, they are making a mockery of the rule of law.

The Tenets of BBQ-ism

I acknowledge that this post has nothing (or next to nothing) to do with either American politics or Catholicism, but please indulge me as it is almost the weekend. This comes from my blog, the Barbecuers’ Guide to Dieting, which I am once again updating. It’s a basic set of tenets that are meant to inspire those of you looking to diet.

1.  Enough with the no-fat nonsense.

I was corrected on Facebook for particularly focusing on yogurt as there may be some practical reasons for the existence for non-fat yogurt, but in general non-fat stuff is simply crap. Not only does non-fat food usually taste significantly worse than full-fat food, it’s not any healthier. Calories are what counts, not necessarily where the calories are from, and non-fat stuff is usually loaded up with sugar. In the end, you are consuming just about the same amount of calories. What’s more, fat tends to fill you up more than sugar, so you are likely to get hungrier quicker if you go with the non-fat option. Finally, who wants to taste a dry, 90% lean burger when you can have a glorious 80% or even 75% lean one?

2. Dieting isn’t what you think it is.

This is connected to the first point. You might think that in order to lose weight you need to stop eating things like bacon and eggs and replace these items with “healthy” alternatives. In some cases you may have to, but that is rarely the case. People overestimate how many calories are in things like bacon and eggs and underestimate how much are in other products. Four slices of bacon add up to approximately 200-250 calories, depending on the cut. Two whole eggs are about 150 calories total, and less than half than that if you only eat the whites (which is frankly where a lot of the nutrition is). So a breakfast of bacon and eggs will be anywhere between 300-500 calories, depending on how you prepare it. That “healthy” muffin might contain as many calories if not more, and it will not fill you up or keep you as full as the alternative. Even a fruit smoothie will probably contain as many, if not more calories. Now, there are other reasons to go with the fruit smoothie (like the vitamins), but calories shouldn’t be why.

Long story short, the key to dieting is keeping careful track of what you eat. If you need to write down what you eat, especially at the beginning, in order to track your calories, that’s all well and good. The main thing is that you at least don’t intake more calories than you burn if you’re goal is weight maintenance, and to burn more calories than you consume if your goal is weight loss. It doesn’t exactly matter what you eat, which brings me to point number three.

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What Are We So Afraid Of?

In my last post I brought up helicopter parenting and small families, and I postulated that there was a connection between the two phenomenon, and that  fear prevented people from wanting large families, and further tended to make these same parents afraid to let their children be children.

Subsequently my wife sent me this article in Time Magazine, and I can’t help but think that fear is behind this cultural shift as well. As my wife said this is meant to be a cute and cheeky look at modern dating and marriage, but like her I just found it incredibly sad. Here’s a bit:

You could say I beta-tested my relationship.

It began with a platform migration ​(a cross-country move) and a bandwidth challenge (cohabitation in a 450-sq.-ft. apartment). There was a false start (botched marriage proposal). Then, an emergency deglitching (couples therapy). We tried to take the product public before we were ready (I wrote about our relationship in Newsweek). And then, finally, we abandoned launch. There were simply too many bugs.

It’s a joke, kind of — except that when it comes to millennials and marriage, the beta test may be par for the course. And really, why wouldn’t it be? For a generation reared on technology, overwhelmed by choice, feedback and constantFOMO, isn’t testing a marriage, like we test a username, simply … well, logical?

You can see where this is going.

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Small Families, Helicopter Parenting, and the Fear of Children Being Children

Matt Archbold shared a story that is simultaneously humorous and quite sad.

My wife and I recently attended a sports banquet for one of our kids’ sports teams at a local restaurant. It was one of those events that I wanted to go to about as much as I wanted to get three teeth pulled. But my wife assured me it would be fun. I didn’t believe her but I came anyway.

We’ve gone to so many of these things as my five kids are all on at least three sports teams. All the kids sat together at a very long table and all the parents sat at another table with the coaches. I have a theory about sports teams, the worse a team is the more coaches it has. And this team had lots of coaches.

We were seated with about eight coaches and some parents we didn’t really know.

So what’s the first thing someone we don’t really know will bring up as a conversation starter? Well, it’s the only thing they know about us which is that we have five kids. This one coach said he knew it was us when we arrived because he saw all five of our kids walking in. “That could only be the Archbolds,” he laughed.

The mom directly across from me, who I didn’t really know and hadn’t seen at many games, leaned in conspiritorially and asked, “Who has five children? I’d kill myself if I had that many kids.”

Go to the link to read the rest of the story. The key statement comes here:

The woman, however, didn’t appear to appreciate my little joke and continued that she thought it was irresponsible to have that many children because you couldn’t possibly give enough attention to five kids. She then went on to explain all the things her child is involved in from soccer to piano to basketball to a reading club to field hockey.

Though the Zummo family exceeded the culturally acceptable family size last October with the birth of our third daughter, I must say that we have fortunately not had many if any encounters with such negative people. I have heard the occasional expression of incredulity from parents of one or two children, but nothing approaching the sentiments expressed by this individual.

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So Impeach Him

If the Legislature shall fail to pass legislation that the President deems essential, the President shall have the authority to unilaterally pass such legislation via Executive Order. – US Constitution, Article II, Section 5, as envisioned by Barack Obama.

One would think that, having unanimously been rebuffed by the Supreme Court yet again for executive overreach, President Obama would be somewhat chastened. Of course the person who thinks that obviously doesn’t know Barack Obama.

President Barack Obama appeared equally annoyed and frustrated with House Republicans on Tuesday, dismissing their recent threat of a lawsuit and promising to continue with the executive actions that have so bothered the GOP.

“Middle-class families can’t wait for Republicans in Congress to do stuff,” Mr. Obama during a speech along the Georgetown waterfront. “So sue me. As long as they’re doing nothing, I’m not going to apologize for trying to do something.”

Since there is no imaginary codicil in the Constitution that permits the President to act unilaterally, even if “middle-class families” can’t wait, President Obama is technically quite wrong. Leaving aside the dubious analysis that middle-class families are anxiously awaiting some kind of immigration reform, the President’s self-congratulatory statement about trying to do “something” is constitutionally and politically noxious.

The constitutional problem is obvious. We still liver under a republican form of government, one that is largely built upon the foundation of checks and balances and separation of powers. To concentrate powers into one hand is to set a course for tyranny. As our constitutional scholar of a President has no doubt read:

But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

Reading a little further down, Madison writes, “In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates.” Yes, the legislature is to be dominant, with the president afforded necessary checks to make sure that the legislature doesn’t get out of control. But that check on the legislatures comes in the form of a veto pen. The president’s power is essentially a negative one, ensuring that the Congress does not abuse its constitutional authority. Notice, however, that Madison does not prescribe an affirmative check to the presidency. He does not advocate  – nor would almost any of the Framers – presidential ability to act outside of Congressional authority (save in times of rebellion) on his own initiative. The president’s job is to restrain Congress, not for him to get out hand himself when he doesn’t like legislative inaction.

The policy aspect of Obama’s arrogant message is that at least he is doing something. It doesn’t really matter what he is doing or whether what he’s doing actually works, but the main thing is he’s doing something. And that sums up the progressive movement in a nutshell. “Don’t just stand there, do something” has been the official motto of the progressive movement for the past century. The details are of niggling importance. That the proposal might, at best, be unhelpful and, at worst, deprive citizens of their liberty, is not given much consideration.

Of course Obama is merely treading in the same path as progressive presidents that have preceded him. Woodrow Wilson (aka the reason we shouldn’t allow Ph. Ds in the White House, says this Ph. D) wanted to radically re-orient the American polity towards a Prime Minister model. FDR threatened to expand the size of the Supreme Court until he got what he wanted. President Obama is simply acting out the aspirations of Wilson, FDR and their many progressive boosters. Congress? Bah, unhelpful. The Supreme Court? Bah, we’ll just ignore those old codgers.

Unfortunately the president’s arrogance is justified. After all, what is Congress going to do? Speaker Boehner’s going nowhere lawsuit is a futile and pathetic attempt to reign in Obama. Republicans may very well sweep the midterm elections, but we all know that this president is not going to be impeached, and assuredly will not be removed from office. No, President Obama will certainly still be in office until noon on January 20, 2017. So he can taunt Congress all he wants knowing full well that they can’t and won’t do anything to him, and that a large chunk of the public doesn’t even care that this is happening.

Please don’t take this as yet another criticism of those feckless Republicans. Admittedly their options are narrow, and they are narrow because of the reckless fecklessness of Congressional Democrats. There was a time in this country when it was thought that we had in essence four parties: Congressional Democrats and Republicans, and then the Presidential Democrat and Republican parties. All members of Congress jealously guarded their own powers and protected the institution, even when presidents of the same party were sitting in the Oval Office. Those days are gone. There is really nothing short of premeditated homicide caught on film that would spur Congressional Democrats to join in any impeachment proceedings, and even then it might only be a 50/50 vote in that caucus. This is a bipartisan problem to some extent, though the progressive left is even more invested in the idea of a single, centralized authority benevolently guiding us towards utopia.

That is why I think Jonah Goldberg’s criticism of Charles Murray’s piece, in which Murray tries to distinguish between the liberal left and the progressive left, hits the mark. Murray is somewhat right that there is a distinction to be made between “liberals” on the left who, while they agree with the favored policy choices of the progressive left, nonetheless deplore the tactics employed, especially as regards to the stifling of dissent. Yet these liberals don’t kick up too much of a fuss when those tactics achieve their preferred policy outcomes. I don’t see too many liberals complaining about executive overreach – well, not when the overreach is coming from the hands of Barack Obama.

And so here we are, with a president openly thumbing his nose at the republican form of government, and roughly half of the country is yawning at or cheering on this development.

Mr. Franklin’s sage wisdom echoes through the ages.

Breaking: Hobby Lobby Wins

The Supreme Court has voted in favor of Hobby Lobby in a decision just handed down this morning. Justice Alito wrote the majority opinion. The ruling appears to be a very narrow one, holding that closely held corporations cannot be compelled to provide contraception coverage. It doesn’t apply to other mandated coverage. More on the content of the ruling when the decision is released.

By the way, I have to relate something Kathryn Jean Lopez just tweeted. Evidently the protesters on the anti-Hobby Lobby side are chanting “Out of our bedroom!” You know, the people who want US to pay for THEIR contraceptive coverage.

Three Quick Takes

- In one of the biggest political upsets in recent memory, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary to tea party challenger David Brat. As has been pointed out, Cantor’s voting record was certainly conservative, but as a member of the leadership Cantor became a symbol of grassroots frustration with the GOP, particularly in its quixotic attempt to pass amnesty comprehensive immigration reform. Members of the establishment are taking the loss with the usual class and decorum we’ve all come to expect from them.

– Helicopter parents are bad enough, but when they helicopter other people’s kids they’re even more insufferable. Dougherty’s post was inspired by a Salon article in which a mother explains her ordeal of dealing with the police and the courts after leaving her child in the car for five minutes. Some of the comments at both Dougherty’s blog and the Salon article are simultaneously hilarious and infuriating. We are informed of all the possible grisly outcomes of leaving a child in the car for five minutes –  scenarios that are almost all certainly less likely to occur than a child getting hit by a car in the parking lot. I understand that people want to look out for children and want to make sure that an unsupervised children are not being abandoned, but the woman who videotaped the children and waited for the mother to return before snitching is a complete . . . ninny.

– Kevin Teirney has posted roughly the one millionth blog post on civility in the Catholic blogopshere I’ve seen in the past two weeks. I’m not trying to pick on Kevin – the post itself is good and Kevin himself is a fine writer. It’s just that lately there seem to have been an overabundance of these types of posts, and I’ve hit a level of fatigue regarding blogging about blogging. Yes, be more civil. Now let’s move on.

Get the Knives Out

Last week Hilary White wrote an article for Lifesite News in which she reported on the fact that Pope Francis concelebrated Mass with and then later kissed the hands of an activist priest, Fr. Don Michele de Paolis, who has publicly spoken out against Church teaching on homosexuality. The priest also co-founded an organization, Agedo Foggia, that works to subvert the Church’s teaching. The article made no conjectures at all about the Pope’s motivation, nor did White at any point insert any editorial comment on the matter. She simply reported on the known facts – disputed, by the way, by no one – and then wrote about de Paolis’s previous work and writings. I repeat, White reported on the matter, and none of the facts she mentioned have been disputed by anyone. It is an accurate and well-sourced article.

The reaction to the piece was severe and swift. Soon after the article was published, and presumably in reaction to Hilary White’s article, Simcha Fisher intoned on her facebook page:

Two sentences that make me turn on my bull@#$% detector: ones that start, “Guess what Pope Francis just did?” and ones that start, “According to LifeSiteNews . . . “

Damien Fisher added in the comments: “If any lifesiter is reading this: You all suck at reporting and have no business pretending you are a news organization.”

By the way, at no point in any of their charitable screeds against Lifesite did either of the Fishers point out or specify any flaws in Hilary’s reporting. No, according to them Lifesite just sucks and you have to deal with it. Other comments on the thread were similarly lacking in anything resembling charity or substantive criticism.

Other denizens of the Catholic blogosphere weighed in with predictable reactions that I am not going to bother linking to, but you know where to look. Lifesite News itself issued this clarification that managed to offer up scores more conjecture than anything Hilary White offered in her article. First, Lifesite tried to backtrack the article:

LSN’s intention in publishing the story was to present the known facts about a public meeting between the pope and one of Italy’s leading Catholic dissidents – a newsworthy event in itself. However, in retrospect we recognize that in the absence of certain necessary clarifications and contexts the facts alone, as presented, unnecessarily lent themselves to misinterpretation.

What clarifications and context were needed, precisely? As usual, the Vatican spin machine offered no assistance, so all that was left for Hilary to do was report the facts as known to her.

LSN proceeded to propose several possibilities about what the Pope was up to.

Possibility #1: Pope Francis did not know about De Paolis’ pro-gay activism

In the first place, it is possible that Pope Francis was himself unaware of De Paolis’ pro-gay activism. As LSN’s original report stated, De Paolis officially met with Francis in his capacity as the founder of the Emmaus Community in the southern Italian city of Foggia, an organization that assists the poor and those suffering from AIDS – in other words, a commendable outreach. We do not know whether De Paolis’ other work agitating against Catholic teaching on homosexuality came up during the meeting. Pope Francis’ gesture in kissing De Paolis’ hands would in this case have been no more than a sign of priestly confraternity – a humble sign of respect from one priest to another. This view is given weight in light of the fact that Francis routinely shows respect for those he meets by kissing their hands. This week alone he publicly kissed the hands of the Patriarch of Constantinople, as well as a group of Holocaust survivors he met during his trip to the Holy Land.

However, even if the above scenario is accurate, it does raise some interesting questions about the Vatican’s vetting process. Why, for instance, of the many priests who would welcome the opportunity to concelebrate mass with the pope, did Francis’ handlers choose for this public honor a priest who is best known for his work opposing the Church’s teachings? On the other hand, it is possible that even they were they not aware of De Paolis’ background – a possibility that at first glance bears discomfiting echoes of that PR flub from Benedict’s pontificate, when the Vatican overlooked critical facts about Bishop Richard Williamson of the SSPX. Finally, given Pope Francis’ habit of mingling freely with guests at Domus Santa Marta, it is also possible that no such vetting process was applied to De Paolis, although this does seems unlikely, especially given that he was apparently given advance notice of his meeting with the pope.

Possibility #2: Pope Francis knew who the priest was, and was reaching out to him in mercy

On the other hand, it is possible that Francis and his handlers knew about De Paolis’ advocacy, but decided to arrange a meeting as an opportunity for the pontiff to reach out to the wayward priest as an act of mercy.

Some have compared the pope’s meeting with De Paolis to the famous meeting between the pontiff’s namesake, St. Francis, and a priest who was living in sin with a woman. After being urged by some local townspeople to go chastise the priest, Francis finally agreed. But instead of rebuking the priest as the townspeople expected, St. Francis fell to his knees and, without saying a word, began kissing the priest’s hands. According to the story, the priest repented.

The suggestion that the meeting between De Paolis and Pope Francis is similar is an attractive one. It is also given credence both by the pope’s love of St. Francis, as well as the strong emphasis of his pontificate on reaching out to the marginalized, and to bringing them back to Christ through kindness and mercy.

However, this interpretation runs into the difficulty that De Paolis himself has only spoken positively of the meeting with the pope. In his public comments he certainly has offered no indication that the pope either called him to repentance, or that he is considering abandoning his heterodox views after the meeting. Given the public nature of the meeting, this then raises prudential questions about the possibility of scandal, in the absence of a corresponding public statement from the Vatican or the pope calling De Paolis to repentance and conversion.

Possibility #3: Pope Francis intended the meeting as some kind of an endorsement of De Paolis’ work

The third possibility is that the pope knew of De Paolis’ pro-gay activism, but decided to meet with him anyway as a sign of respect either despite or even because of that activism. However, given the gravity of such an allegation, and how little is known about the meeting, there is clearly insufficient evidence to propose this as the best interpretation.

All three scenarios are certainly plausible (less so the third [I hope]), yet this is all complete guesswork. Hilary White did the responsible thing by offering up the facts as known to her through her reporting, and it would actually have been quite irresponsible for her to provide some kind of rationale for the Pope’s behavior based on educated guesswork. So she is experiencing blowback for failing to do precisely what she should not have done. Unreal.

I understand that we are living through some tense times, and there is a division developing between Catholics based on our feelings regarding the current Pontiff. I can respect the views of those who think the media and some Catholics have blown the Pope’s words and behavior out of proportion even if I think that some of the defense if fairly weak sauce. Yet what I cannot tolerate is this knee-jerk reaction against anything that might possibly cast the Pope in the bad light, especially when it is a straight news report in which the critics compile no substantive criticism of the reporting. It’s also especially galling that a faithful and talented reporter like Hilary White is mocked and derided on Facebook by people who can’t seem to compile an intelligent thought without offering up the intellectual equivalent of a loud grunt.

There’s also a delightful irony in the fact that the knee-jerk defenders are quick to resort to ad hominem attacks, such as mocking the “Cathowackosphere” before immediately making appeals such as “If you have a specific criticism, make it constructively, charitably, and reasonably. If you can’t, maybe you should just keep it to yourself.” Evidently this standard is to apply only to those who have expressed concerns with Pope Francis, and not defenders who can’t seem to handle any news story about the Pope without destroying the reputation of the person reporting the facts.

Update: Please read Steve Skojec’s blog post on this matter.

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