Paul Zummo

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.

American Foreign Policy Fecklessness Captured in One Photo

June 6, 1944, 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. General Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which “we will accept nothing less than full victory.” More than 5,000 Ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day’s end on June 6, the Allies gained a foot- hold in Normandy. The D-Day cost was high -more than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded — but more than 100,000 Soldiers began the march across Europe to defeat Hitler.


Fast forward almost exactly seventy years later. A band of Islamic militants opposed to western influence and branding themselves Boko Haram has kidnapped hundreds of girls and are holding them captive. This is our response: Continue reading

Fired for Thoughtcrime: Not Agreeing with the Zeitgeist

Suddenly a CEO getting axed for having been discovered to be an opponent of same-sex marriage is not the most frightening speech-related firing of the year:

Turtle Rock Studios community manager Josh Olin, who has been promoting its upcoming co-op multiplayer game Evolve, has been released from the position following some controversial tweets about embattled L.A. Clipper owner Donald Sterling.

Today, on his Twitter account, Olin wrote the following statements regarding now-banned NBA owner Donald Sterling, who was recorded making racist and inflammatory comments by an ex-girlfriend:

And here is what his former employer had to say:

What values are Turtle Rock Studios pretending to uphold? As Olin clearly explained in later tweets, and which was fairly obvious from the initial tweets, he was not defending Sterling. Olin’s point is that Sterling expressed a truly despicable opinion, but one stated in the privacy of his home and on a call that he was not aware was being taped. Even Kareem Abdul-Jabbar expressed concerns with the manner in which Sterling’s views were made public. Olin merely objects to the media sensationalism.

I think Olin’s only error was calling Sterling a victim, as that could be perceived as a blanket defense of Sterling’s views. But we’ve now reached a point where people are getting fired not even for their own publicly expressed viewpoints, but rather for objecting to the public backlash. Yes, we all take risks when we express our opinions in public, especially those of us who do not hide our identity. Yet this is perhaps the scariest example of intolerance towards viewpoint expression.

Getting back to Jabbar, I think he expresses the ridiculousness of these public spectacles quite nicely:

Moral outrage is exhausting. And dangerous. The whole country has gotten a severe case of carpal tunnel syndrome from the newest popular sport of Extreme Finger Wagging. Not to mention the neck strain from Olympic tryouts for Morally Superior Head Shaking.

As Jabbar also points out, it’s a bit hypocritical to scream in outrage about the NSA while casting a blind eye to the secret taping of a private conversation. I guess it’s a good thing Kareem doesn’t work for Turtle Rock Studios, or else he’d undoubtedly be a goner by now, forced to retire in shame and potentially even changing his name to Roger Murdock just to hide his disgrace.


I rarely read Hot Air much these days, though it is fortunate that I decided to take a look this afternoon or else I would have missed this insightful post from Ed Morrissey, as he absolutely nails it on two distinct issues.

First off, Morrissey calls out the Democrats for their attempt to amend the first amendment. Senator Tom Udall from New Mexico has introduced an amendment inspired by recent Supreme Court decisions that curtailed certain campaign finance restrictions. Morrissey notes that not only does this amendment not have a prayer of getting anywhere near the two-thirds vote required, it’s simply not something that very many Americans are clamoring for.

If Democrats think this will allow them to ride a wave of Occupy Wall Street populism, they’d better look again at the polling this week. Despite spending weeks on the Senate Floor ranting about the Koch Brothers, Harry Reid’s McCarthyite campaign of Kochsteria has resulted in … almost nothing. In the NBC/WSJ poll linked earlier, only 31% had an opinion about the Koch Brothers at all, and only 21% thought of them negatively in a poll where 43% of the respondents admit to voting for Obama in 2012. Michael Bloomberg, one of the left’s multibillionaire activists, got a 26% negative score, and the Democratic Party got a 37% negative score. (The GOP got 44%.) Nearly twice as many respondents think of Barack Obama negatively than they do the Koch Brothers, despite weeks of hard-sell demonization from top Democratic Party leaders.

Well, the Democrats are trying just about everything to prevent the electoral thumping that they will undoubtedly receive this Fall, and this is just one more act of desperation that will have absolutely no impact whatsoever. But at least it lets us know the truth about what they think of the first amendment.

But I’m even more impressed with Morrissey’s final paragraph, as he brings up a Supreme Court case that I’ve long contended was the impetus for all of the craziness that the federal government has spewed forth over the past seven decades.

If Democrats (and Republicans) want to act seriously to take billionaires out of the political game, they’re aiming at the wrong Supreme Court decision. They should pass an amendment repealing Wickard v Filburn‘s impact on the interstate commerce clause. That decision shifted massive political power from the states to Washington DC by defining practically everything as interstate commerce — including non-commerce. Killing Wickard would shift most regulatory power back to the states, and take the corruption out of Washington DC as the stakes would become too small for billionaire investment. Don’t expect Senate Democrats to do anything meaningful on crony capitalism, though … or anything meaningful at all, if this stunt is all they have.

Other than Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood, Wickard stands out as the absolute worst decision in the history of the Court. As Ed points out, it essentially allowed the federal government to intervene in every nook and cranny of our lives under the justification of “interstate commerce,” even where the action under consideration was neither interstate or commerce.

Ed’s also correct in noting that this expansion of the federal government is the prime reason that so much money is being pumped into federal elections, lobbying, and other activities. Last week I heard Russell Simmons spouting about how all of the evils of our world are due to the corrupting influence of money, and that’s why he supported Occupy Wall Street. Yet Simmons and his ilk are the very ones seeking to augment the powers of the federal government. They don’t see the inherent contradiction in this approach. As the federal government grows and grows and grows, it only increases the avenues for monied interests to wield their influence. It is the massive expansion of the federal government that has inspired this massive spending by outside groups. Of course interested stakeholders are going to want to influence the federal government in areas that affect them. The solution to diminishing their influence is not in curtailing the first amendment, but in restoring the balance of power between the states and the federal government. The Koch brothers (and George Soros for that matter) will immediately lose interest in spreading their wealth around to hammer away at the federal government if the federal government would simply get out of everyone’s business.

Like that will ever happen.

The Inhumanity of Hate Crime Legislation

Frazier Glenn Cross is the former grand dragon of a chapter of the KKK who murdered three people in Kansas City last week. While one would think that murdering three people would be sufficient grounds for, at a minimum, putting Cross away for the rest of his life, the true hammer has fallen: he will also face hate crime charges.

There is something rather off-putting about using hate crime laws as a means of punishing Cross. To most rational souls, murder is the worst crime that any human could be guilty of, yet it is as though simply committing murder is not really sufficient. Oh no, old run of the mill murder may be bad, but when the person is motivated by hate, well, then the federal government is really going to come after you with both guns blazing, so to speak.

It’s an unusual mentality for a number of reasons. When one commits an act of murder, that indicates to me that there is already some level of hate involved. Normally people do not shoot other people in fits of love. Thus charging a murder with a hate crime seems rather redundant.

More importantly, there’s this rather strange psycho-analysis implicitly involved here, as though murder itself is not truly the worst possible crime. Are we suggesting that a person who kills another person for that person’s wallet is somehow less evil, less criminal, and deserving of lesser punishment than the guy who shoots another person because said person is another religion, race, or creed? Is the humanity of the individual murdered in a robbery less than the humanity of the person murdered because of the color of their skin, or in this case because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? This situation is even more bizarre because the actual victims were not in fact Jewish. I suppose we should be relieved that mistaken identity does not mitigate the level of charge being leveled against Cross. One shudders to ponder the potential legal labyrinth we would have to travel down were we to insist that the victims actually be in the assigned category being hated. I’m sure Mr. Cross’s attorneys will attempt to argue that since he does not hate the ethnic and religious groups of his actual victims, the hate crime charge is therefore illegitimate. In which case I suppose Mr. Cross could be charged with some lower level crime, like, I don’t know, first degree murder.

There are those who might argue that the more you can throw at a monster like Cross in order to send him away, the better. While I am somewhat sympathetic to this point of view, I’m still left bothered by the subtle message that these laws send. Yes, we do have to make certain judgments about a person’s reasoning for killing another – that is why we distinguish between first and second degree murder. That is also why a person who is defending their own life is not charged with the same level of crime, if any, as the person who kills in cold blood. But cold blooded murder is cold blooded murder, and to assign a greater penalty to one who kills out of racial or religious animus strikes me as a sign of placing some sort of greater value on the life of one murdered in a so-called hate crime. If we deem all life to be sacred, then there should be no worse crime than to kill in cold blood, regardless of motive. These laws do not deter anyone and do little more than to serve as some sort of token outrage against a perceived thought-crime. It’s almost as though the real outrage isn’t that Cross (in this case) killed anyone, but that he was a bigot. That shows some terribly skewed priorities.

Who Are We Trying to Evangelize?

In all the recent discussions about the Church drawing converts under the stewardship of Pope Francis (a proposition of dubious merit), it is argued that Pope Francis’s pastoral style is one particularly suited to bring in people who have long been disenchanted with the Church. The underlying assumption seems to be that those whom the Church should be catering to are liberal Protestants, fallen away Catholics, and non-religious people of various stripes. At least this is the impression that I get from reading comments and articles defending the Pope’s, err, temperate pastoral approach.

Yet are these the only groups of non-Catholics that we should be trying to encourage to come into our fold? Not everyone who is a non-Catholic is reflexively suspicious of the Church and her dogmatic teachings. In fact there are many  like Chris Johnson at the Midwest Conservative Journal – a Protestant who has taken up the cudgels so frequently for the Church that Don has named him Defender of the Faith – who are better exemplars of the faith than many actual Catholics. In other words, there are many (for lack of a better word) conservative Protestants who are every bit as much in need of evangelization, if only to just nudge them gently over the line towards full conversion. Yet where is our missionary outreach to them?

In fact, these very people are being turned away from conversion. While the likes of Johnson have long been disgusted by the leadership of the Anglican communion, what are they seeing from Rome and elsewhere that is drawing them closer to our side of the Tiber? Why bother going through the pains of throwing off one’s childhood religion, spending hours in RCIA, and accepting the full teaching authority of the Church when they will get the same wishy-washy sermons, the same watered down doctrine, and the same reluctance to combat the culture head on? At least Episcopalians still have a pretty liturgy, so might as well just cling to that.

Three out of every four people are not Catholics, and of the remainder who knows how many take their faith seriously. There are all sorts of individuals who need to be brought the Good News of Christ. There isn’t one “right” way to reach them, yet more and more we seem to be favoring a model of evangelization that runs counter to our purposes. Soft pedaling our core teachings and relaxing the rules might get some people’s attention to start with, but it is not enough to truly convert their hearts. Meanwhile those that might be most inclined to walking through that door are more likely to pause as they witness a pale imitation of what they hope to leave behind.

At the risk of bringing politics into this, it is not altogether unlike the attempt to turn the Republican party into the Democrat party light in some mistaken attempt to draw more votes. But why would voters go for the low calorie version when the real thing is so much more decadent and filling? Similarly, a Protestant-light version of Catholicism will win few converts but turn away those on the threshold of coming home.


Abortion Clinics on the Endangered Species List in Texas

It’s time for some good news, and I consider this very good news. As of today, there are 20 abortion clinics open in the entire state of Texas, down from 44 nearly three years ago, and it is estimated that by September that number will be reduced to six. SIX. Now, while that is still six too many, in a state the size of Texas that is cause for some modest celebration. Coming on the heels of Wendy Davis’s relatively pathetic performance in Tuesday’s primary in which she managed to attract fewer voters than the previous guy who lost the general election to Rick Perry, and the fact that early polls show that Davis is cruising to a crushing defeat in November, it is clear that voters in the state are very happy with the law that has helped shut down these murder abortion clinics.

The National Journal article is worth a read for a couple of reasons. First of all, the clear undercurrent of lament in the author’s tone is palpable (“leaving low-income women in rural Texas without nearby access to abortion”). More importantly, it emphasizes the vital role that culture plays with regards to abortion. While we can never discount the role of laws and regulations within the abortion debate, especially since it was the enactment of a law that helped drive these numbers down, the social stigma in the state against abortion also has played a critical role.

Neither clinic has an [ambulatory surgical center] and Hagstrom Miller says she doesn’t have the budget or patients to build a multimillion-dollar center. The Beaumont clinic does currently have a physician that has hospital admitting privileges, but he is 75 years old and trying to retire. Attempting to get hospital admitting privileges has proven a fruitless process; the stigma against abortion is too great in Texas, and Hagstrom Miller has not been able to get responses from any doctors or hospitals, despite calling them all.

“I have trouble getting a vendor for bottled water,” she says.

As though I needed another excuse to love the state of Texas.

Being Pastoral Doesn’t Mean Watering Down the Faith

I owe Oprah Winfrey an apology. For years I have blamed her for what I have termed the “Oprah-ization” of society. We are living in an age where feelings triumph over everything else, and where everybody is a special snowflake whose precious feelings should never be hurt. I have blamed Oprah for perpetuating this with her shlocky television show and through most of the other channels of communication through which she has spread her false gospel. But only now have I realized that Oprah isn’t the villain; rather, she is merely the symptom of a much wider societal affliction that has affected all of western civilization including, sadly, the Catholic Church herself.

This was hammered home reading this article about Cardinal Kasper and the possibility of communion for remarried Catholics. After offering up the usual platitudes about Jesus’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage, Cardinal Kasper than signals his willingness to essentially ignore what Christ had to say.

 However, “after the shipwreck of sin, the shipwrecked person should not have a second boat at his or her disposal, but rather a life raft” in the form of the sacrament of Communion, he said.

Cardinal Kasper, like most men of the cloth who want to change Church teaching, pretends that he is doing anything but.

“One cannot propose a solution different from or contrary to the words of Jesus,” the cardinal said. “The indissolubility of a sacramental marriage and the impossibility of a new marriage while the other partner is still alive is part of the binding tradition of the faith of the church and cannot be abandoned or dissolved by appealing to a superficial understanding of mercy at a discount price.”

At the same time, “there is no human situation absolutely without hope or solution,” he said Catholics profess their belief in the forgiveness of sins in the Creed, he explained. “That means that for one who converts, forgiveness is possible. If that’s true for a murderer, it is also true for an adulterer.”

Well if the murderer is a serial killer who has no intention of stopping his killing spree, then the murder’s contrition is less than authentic. Similarly, a divorced and remarried Catholic’s sin is not in some remote past, but rather is an ongoing sin that cannot simply be shrugged away.

Cardinal Kasper then speaks of possible reforms, and this is where the magic word meant to shut off all debate comes in: pastoral.

A possible avenue for finding those proposals, he said, would be to develop “pastoral and spiritual procedures” for helping couples convinced in conscience that their first union was never a valid marriage. The decision cannot be left only to the couple, he said, because marriage has a public character, but that does not mean that a juridical solution — an annulment granted by a marriage tribunal — is the only way to handle the case.

One is left to wonder what precisely the Cardinal has in mind. Would the couple have to just simply feel that their first marriages were invalid and thus never happened? According to Cardinal Kasper I guess it would be the pastoral solution. In other words, feelings trump 2,000 years of everything the Church has ever taught about marriage.

Cardinal Kasper returns to this term later.

“A pastoral approach of tolerance, clemency and indulgence,” he said, would affirm that “the sacraments are not a prize for those who behave well or for an elite, excluding those who are most in need.”

And that, my friends, gets right to the heart of much that is wrong with the Church. Too many of our shepherds are under the impression that being pastoral means being soft and timid. Cardinal Kasper’s vision of being pastoral is placating the sinner rather than leading the sinner towards righteousness. This is in fact the very opposite of being pastoral. A shepherd of the Catholic Church is charged with leading his flock towards its eternal reward in paradise. There are many tools at the shepherd’s disposal, and I am not suggesting that there is any one right way. Certainly haranguing those of his flock who have strayed may not be the best method of getting them back into the fold. But telling them that they’re just spiffy as they march headlong towards the cliff is also inappropriate.

As is the case with Oprah, I can’t even blame Cardinal Kasper, not when he is an isolated case. Indeed his attitude is all too reflective of where the Church is at this moment in history. Though I am fortunate to be in a parish whose priests are unafraid to speak out about the controversial issues that most other priests avoid, my fellow parishioners and I are the exceptions to the rule. Much more common are generalized, fluffy homilies that don’t dare to touch upon abortion, contraception, gay marriage, etc. That is why when the controversy erupted over Pope Francis saying that we ought not “obsess” over these issues that I almost had to chuckle. Obsessed? Who exactly is obsessed about these topics? Certainly not the priests and Bishops who say nary a peep about them lest they offend someone in the pews.

It’s not as though it is not worthwhile to explore ways in which we can improve upon the situation of remarried Catholics and to examine the procedures we have in place for annulments. Yes, there is room for a “pastoral” approach. But anything that is done must be genuinely loyal to the teachings of our Lord and not merely pay them lip service. Moreover, it time that our shepherds learn how to guide with both compassion and firmness, and to remember that saving souls cannot be done if we are dishonest about our motives and unwilling to gently guide people back onto the right path. 

Pat Archbold’s Controversial Call for Unity

Pat Archbold has written an intriguing post arguing that the Pontificate of Pope Francis is the best opportunity to bring the SSPX back into the fold.

I have great concern that without the all the generosity that faith allows by the leaders of the Church, that this separation, this wound on the Church, will become permanent. In fact, without such generosity, I fully expect it. Such permanent separation and feeling of marginalization will likely separate more souls than just those currently associated with the SSPX.

I have also come to believe that Pope Francis’ is exactly the right Pope to do it. In his address to the evangelicals, he makes clear his real concern for unity.

So here is what I am asking. I ask the Pope to apply that wide generosity to the SSPX and to normalize relations and their standing within the Church. I am asking the Pope to do this even without the total agreement on the Second Vatican Council. Whatever their disagreements, surely this can be worked out over time with the SSPX firmly implanted in the Church. I think that the Church needs to be more generous toward unity than to insist upon dogmatic adherence to the interpretation of a non-dogmatic council. The issues are real, but they must be worked out with our brothers at home and not with a locked door.

Further, Pope Francis’ commitment to the aims of the Second Vatican Council is unquestioned. Were he to be generous in such a way, nobody would ever interpret it to be a rejection of the Council. How could it be? This perception may not have been the case in the last pontificate. Pope Francis is uniquely suited to this magnanimous moment.

You can go here to read the rest.

Now the link goes to Pat’s own blog and not the National Catholic Register, where Pat originally published this piece. And that is why I have called this post controversial, because for reasons that remain unfathomable, NCR has deemed fit to remove this post. Frankly I see nothing remotely objectionable with anything that he has written. Even if one disagrees with the upshot of it, why did NCR feel the need take this post down? It’s a bizarre decision, and frankly it leaves me gravely concerned about where we’re heading in the Catholic blogosphere and what is deemed as “acceptable” opinion.


The high priest asked whether the charges were true. To this Stephen replied: “My brothers! Fathers! Listen to me. Our fathers in the desert had the meeting tent as God prescribed it when he spoke to Moses, ordering him to make it according to the pattern he had seen. The next generation of our fathers inherited it. Under Joshua, they brought it into the land during the conquest of those peoples whom God drove out to make room for our fathers. So it was until the time of David, who found favor with God and begged that he might find a dwelling place for the house of Jacob. It was Solomon, however, who constructed the building for that house. Yet the Most High does not dwell in buildings made by human hands, for as the prophet says:

The heavens are my throne, the earth is my footstool;
What kind of house can you build me? asks the Lord.
What is my resting-place to be like? Did not my hand make all these things?’

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are always opposing the Holy Spirit just as your fathers did before you. Was there ever any prophet whom your fathers did not persecute? In their day, they put to death those who foretold the coming of the Just One; now you in your turn have become his betrayers and murderers. You who received the law through the ministry of angels have not observed it.”

Those who listened to his words were stung to the heart; they ground their teeth in anger at him. Stephen meanwhile, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked to the sky above and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at God’s right hand. “Look!” he exclaimed, “I see an opening in the sky, and the Son of Man standing at God’s right hand.” The onlookers were shouting aloud, holding their hands over their ears as they did so. Then they rushed at him as one man, dragged him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses meanwhile were piling their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul.

As Stephen was being stoned he could be heard praying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And with that he died. Saul, for his part, concurred in the act of killing.




Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.

I don’t expect Cardinal Dolan and other prelates to walk into the lion’s den. But perhaps the current “live and let live” strategy isn’t working as effectively as they think.

But then again, who am I to judge?

If We Only Had a King

I guess leftists were right – we truly lived under a tyranny during the presidency of George Bush. After all, just look at how contemptuously he treated the legislative branch of government. In his first cabinet meeting after the Democrats took control of the House, Bush told his top deputies that his “agenda will move forward whether Congress votes for it or not.” Then he added:

“One of the things I’ll be emphasizing in this meeting,” he said, “is the fact that we are not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we’re providing Americans the kind of help that they need.”

“I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone,” the president asserted, “and I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions that move the ball forward in helping to make sure our kids are getting the best education possible, making sure that our businesses are getting the kind of support and help they need to grow and advance, to make sure that people are getting the skills that they need to get those jobs that our businesses are creating.”

“And I’ve got a phone,” he continued, “that allows me to convene Americans from every walk of life — nonprofits, businesses, the private sector, universities — to try to bring more and more Americans together around what I think is a unifying theme, making sure that this is a country where if you work hard, you can make it.”

It was a common lament during the Bush presidency that we were living under something resembling an imperial presidency. We were told that Bush’s advocacy of a unitary executive, as well as his penchant for issuing signing statements that added his gloss to duly enacted legislation, as well as his mere existence on planet Earth all signaled the end of democracy as we know it. Never mind that the executive branch was specifically designed to be unitary in nature, the Framers having decided against all alternative arrangements. And never mind that the signing statements were nothing more than inocuous expressions of how the executive bureaucracy would carry out legislation passed by Congress. No, we were truly living in Stalin’s Russia.

Thankfully Americans came to their senses and elected the wise and beneficent Barack Obama. Truly he was the change we were looking for. He promised us all a return to a more open administration that didn’t keep secrets, would restore competency to the White House, would be completely honest, and most importantly, wouldn’t disregard the other branches of government.

Alas, if wishes were trees, the trees would be falling.

You see, the above of course was not spoken by George W. Bush, but rather by President Obama on Tuesday.

Checks? Balances? Looks like the constitutional scholar residing in the White House is unfamiliar with such terms.

Do We Have Free Speech?

I dislike mentioning the First Amendment when controversies like the Phil Robertson versus A&E brewhaha break out. After all, the First Amendment applies only to Congress (and the Supreme Court has ruled [incorrectly, if you ask me] that it applies to state governments via the 14th Amendment), and the actions of a cable network don’t really implicate the First Amendment. On the other hand, Ace of Spades makes a fairly compelling argument that this is too narrow an interpretation of what the First Amendment is all about.

It’s also untrue. Yes, the First Amendment, strictly speaking, applies only to the government. But there is a spirit of the First Amendment too, not just a restriction on government action.


And that spirit is this:


That we should have, to the extent compatible with ordered liberty, the maximum possible right to think and say and believe what we choose, and anyone who attempts to use force to coerce someone to think and say and believe something that is alien to them is acting contrary to the spirt of the First Amendment.


I’ve said this a dozen times:


The real, tangible threat to our right to think and speak as we will, as conscience, faith, or reason (or all three together) might impel us, is not from the government, but from our employers, and from the massively corporate media institutions that impose real penalties on people — fines, really, imposed by firings, suspensions, mandatory Thought Rehab and so forth — for daring to utter words other than the Officially Approved Institutional Corporate Slogans.


Yes, A&E has the right to suspend Phil Robinson. A&E also has the right to stand up for a broad and generous principle of Freedom of Thought and Expression.


Why does no one speak of that right? Sure, they have the right to act hostilely towards the spirit of the First Amendment and use coercive power to hammer people into only speaking the Officially Approved Institutional Corporate Slogans.

As I said, this is a very compelling argument, though I’m not sure I completely buy into it. In the case of employers firing people for expressing their free speech rights, true government coercion, it could be argued, would be actively prohibiting employers from firing employees for expressing unpopular opinions. Now, I personally think employers should give their employees wide latitude when it comes to expressing their opinions, and there are few examples I can think of where it would be acceptable to fire people for their political opinions.*

Which leads me to one of the most outrageous examples of over-reaction I’ve ever seen. Justine Sacco was a communications director for a firm called IAC – I say was because she was fired after tweeting the following:

Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!

The tweet was obviously a (really bad) attempt at mocking the concept of white privilege. It did not sit well with many of the purveyors of decency on the left, and within hours there was a social media firestorm. This woman with barely over 100 followers had become the locus of hate throughout the twitterverse, and soon her employers were compelled first to issue a statement of regret, and then to sack Sacco (sorry).

What was particularly heinous about the incident was how it revealed the true ugliness of social media, and I’m not referring to Sacco’s tweet. Her tweet was dumb, but clearly an example of poor humor and not racism or maliciousness. Yet this woman was hounded by the likes of Buzzfeed and other media outlets, and her tweet drew far, far, far more attention than it really merited. Like a pack of ravenous wolves, they descended on the metaphoric body of the tweet and made sure that not even a bone was left on the carcass. And why? Because of a really bad joke.

Now Sacco certainly deserves some share of the blame. After all, she was a communications director, and as such should have known better. And there’s something to be said about taking a more careful approach with social media. But are we really comfortable with getting a woman fired for a poor joke? Was her company’s bottom line really imperiled by Sacco’s crack? And of the millions of dumb tweets sent every day, why was hers one that merited such attention?

Sacco’s firing troubles me much more than Robertson’s suspension, which is not to say I wasn’t troubled by the latter. Robertson is a public figure, and he’ll be okay in the end. On the other hand, Sacco was fired because she tweeted something that offended certain people’s sensibilities. It had no bearing on her actual work with IAC, and it’s doubtful that her company’s reputation would have been damaged had they retained her. The social media pack mentality also does not speak well for our society as how many individuals mindlessly joined the herd without giving a second thought to what they were doing?

Most importantly I am just concerned about where we are headed culturally when we can’t make a public utterance without fearing the loss of our livelihoods. As Dale Price said, “If you say you believe in free speech but are routinely demanding “consequences” for speech you disagree with…you really don’t believe in free speech.” Sure we should be responsible for what we utter in public, but we need to have some perspective. I do not want to live in a country where it is acceptable to be easily fired for the flimsiest of comments.

For example, if the Chief of Public Relations for the Democratic National Committee suddenly took to twitter to rip into Harry Reid and Barack Obama, then it would most certainly not be inappropriate for the DNC to take action against that person. More seriously, I’m also thinking of teachers at Catholic schools who publicly dissent against Church teaching.

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