Thursday, July 13, 2017

'THE PRESERVE OF THE POWERFUL'



“Power should not be concentrated in the hands of so few, and powerlessness in the hands of so many.”
-           Maggie Kuhn, founder of the Gray Panthers



I can only imagine the agony Chris Gard and Connie Yates, the parents of 11 month old Charlie Gard, must be going through right now. Their child is suffering from a rare genetic disorder that slowly saps the life out of him. His brain cells are dying and he is unable to breathe without the aid of a mechanical ventilator. The British doctors have told the parents they have done all they can and it’s now time to allow Charlie to die with dignity.

Chris and Connie believe there is still hope for Charlie. They have offers of financial support from more than 80,000 donors who have pledged $1.7 million for experimental treatment that is available here in the U.S. They’ve gotten messages of support from the Pope, Donald Trump, and even celebrities like Cher.

Unfortunately, neither the money nor the messages of support may change the outcome. While there is a slender thread of hope in the form of an appeal that is going to be heard on Monday, the 10th, it is just that, a slender thread.

Are Charlie’s parents so desperate to keep Charlie alive they are refusing to see the reality of the situation? No, not at all. They’ve told the hospital that they understand Charlie may die and if that is to be the outcome, they want to take him home to spend what little time is left surrounded by those who love him. Tragically, the hospital has told them they cannot even take Charlie home to be with the parents who love him. They’ve even refused to entertain the possibility of hospice care.

In response to the hospital’s denial of what seems to me to be a reasonable request, Chris poured out his anguish to the Daily Mail – “We want to give him a bath at home, put him in a cot which he has never slept in but we are now being denied that. We know what day our son is going to die but don't get a say in how that will happen.”

Any parent worthy of the title would, or should, feel the same way.

Chris and Connie’s grief has been compounded by the law. When the hospital decided to act without their consent, they filed a legal appeal that made its way to the European Court of Human Rights.

In a ruling that must have pierced like a sword to the heart, the Court ruled in favor of the hospital. Mr. Justice Francis, the presiding judge, put it this way: “Some people may ask why the court has any function in this process; why can the parents not make this decision on their own? The answer is that, although the parents have parental responsibility, overriding control is vested in the court exercising its independent and objective judgment in the child's best interests.”

What did the ruling mean to Chris and Connie? It meant they were powerless. In an interview with N.P.R., Dr. Claire Fenton-Glynn, a legal scholar that the University of Cambridge, explained how it works – “Under English law, we don't talk about parental rights. We talk about parental responsibility. We don't say that a parent has a right to make a decision for their child, particularly in the cases of medical treatment.” In cases where the matter is adjudicated, making the decision “doesn’t start with the presumption that the parents are right.”

This is the long and short of it. European law ignores the parents and gives the decision making power to bureaucratic actors who may have other things besides the child’s welfare in mind.

This shift in power from the individual to the state or those acting with state approval are becoming quite common in Europe. In the Netherlands and Belgium, for example, euthanasia is legal, with supposed legal restrictions in place to protect the public. Yet, even with the so-called protections, over 400 Dutch citizens were euthanized without their consent or the consent of their loved ones in 2015 (Wesley Smith – the National Review, July 2017).

The legal door has been opened and it’s going to be almost impossible to close. As British journalist Anne Perkins recently wrote, “The Charlie Gard case is a sad reminder that the law is the preserve of the powerful.”

Thankfully, parents and individuals still have rights here in America. But, will it always be that way or will the powerful find a way to strip us of those rights? I suspect it’s a question we’ll have to one day answer and that day may be coming sooner than we care to believe.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

DEPLORABLE?

Loyal Democrats were devastated when the results to the special election in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District were certified. They had pinned their hopes on a young man named Jon Ossoff, a political neophyte. The party had spent millions, believing they could take this Deep South red seat from the Republicans. They had started the night with the old strains of Jimmy van Heusen’s “High Hopes” dancing in their heads. But, alas, victory was not in the cards. Ossoff lost. “High Hopes” gave way to the proverbial “Dirge of Defeat.” 


Defeat is never easy to swallow, and this loss was especially painful to the Democrats. It was best expressed by Hazel Hunt, a woman “The Atlantic’s” Molly Ball described as “a middle-aged drama teacher.” Ms. Hunt told Ms. Ball how the results made her feel. “It makes me very sad. It tells me that despite all the wonderful people I met in this campaign, there are still a lot of people who support the meanness and ignorance and tearing each other apart.”

There you have it. Supporters of Democratic candidates are “wonderful people.” Trump supporters are mean and ignorant. It’s become a refrain of the Democratic Party. The words change, but the sentiment doesn’t. In 2008, Presidential candidate Barack Obama described un-progressive Mid-westerners as so bitter they cling to their guns and God. In her campaign for the Presidency, Hillary Clinton described half or more of Donald Trump’s supporters as “a basket of deplorables.”

Were the remarks unfortunate Freudian slips? Were they misinterpreted? The Democrats claimed that was the case, but what else could they say?

I’ve never been a Donald Trump supporter. I’ve used some strong language in a few of my columns to describe him. My candidate was Marco Rubio. But, even though I didn’t support Donald Trump, I know a lot of people who did. I’ve disagreed with them, but I’ve never thought of them as “deplorables.” I don’t believe they’re ignorant or mean, nor do I believe they just “cling to guns or religion” to mask their hatred.

My usual custom in the morning and evening is to walk our dogs. I’ve always enjoyed walking by the Schumann’s place on the corner of 11th and Rural and occasionally taking a moment to chat with Gerald, when he was still alive, and his wife Orinne. My memories of those chats have always been pleasant.

One night, during the election season, I noticed that Orinne was uprooting some Trump-Pence campaign signs in front of her house. I’d known from our earlier chats that she was a Trump supporter and wondered whether she had changed her mind. I asked her about it and she chuckled a bit. “No,” she replied. “Every time I put them up in the morning, some angry person rips them up in the night. So, I just save them the trouble of venting their anger by taking them down myself at night and putting them back in the morning.”

Orinne and I disagreed about the election, but never disagreed on the really important things in life. We’re friends and we have a common faith. 

Orinne has never said an unkind thing to me or about me. About the only thing she ever said to me about my Presidential vote was, “Phil, I’m disappointed, but you’re still my friend.” We spoke a few times about her reasons for voting the way she did and they made good sense to me. She’s pro-life and that’s always been an important component in her decision making process. She’s also a faithful citizen. A little while ago we spoke and she said that Romans 13:1 is very meaningful to her. 

I’ve met a lot of really nice people since I’ve lived in Emporia, but I can’t thinking of anyone I’ve met who is as kind and caring as Orinne. She is one of those people who truly lives out her Christian faith. 

I don’t believe Orinne Schumann is an anomaly. There are a lot of Orinne Schumanns in this country. Like Orinne, they are loyal Americans. They love their families, their communities, and their country. Some of them serve in our military. Others have children who have done multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq while their critics spend their time sipping over-priced latte’s at Starbucks. Still others work at minimum wage to make ends meet. They’re kind, decent, people who vote based on the dictates of their conscience. They vote the way they do because they care about this country.

The Democrats can’t seem to figure out why they keep losing elections. Well, maybe if they stopped painting with such a broad brush and labelling Orinne Schumann and millions of decent, caring Americans as deplorable, hateful, or ignorant, they might be able to win them over and get their votes.
 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

THE COMEY SHOW

The much anticipated James Comey show is over. People who should have been at work can go back to what they get paid to do and the nation’s watering holes can replenish their stocks. 

I watched some of it on C-SPAN, but decided it would be better to just read the transcripts of the testimony. 

What have I learned so far? I learned that Comey believes Donald Trump is a liar. I’m tempted to say I’m shocked about the President’s behavior, but I’m not. In fact, the only thing I find shocking is that James Comey somehow innocently stumbled upon something most Americans already know. Donald Trump lies. 

But then, catching Presidents in lies isn’t all that shocking. It’s like what Judge Judy says about teenagers. You can tell they’re lying because their lips are moving. Richard Nixon told us he wasn’t a crook. Lyndon Johnson told us he wasn’t going to send American boys to do what Vietnamese boys should be doing. Ronald Reagan lied about arms for hostages. Bill Clinton lied, straight faced, about Monica Lewinsky. Barack Obama lied about the Affordable Care Act. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

I also learned that James Comey doesn’t like Donald Trump. Well, welcome to the club, Mr. Comey. There are a lot of us who don’t like him, for obvious reasons. There’s a lot to not like. 

I got to watch Donald Trump in full bloom back in the nineties when Nancy and I lived in New Jersey. He was every bit as unsavory then as he is now. I would watch him and wonder, “What kind of experience could have formed the kind of man he was?” Years later I read portions of Timothy O’Brien’s “TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald” and I saw very clearly how it happened. The most telling of the formative experiences came in 1964 when his father took him to the dedication of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. The celebration should have been about Othmar Amman, the engineer/designer of the bridge, but that wasn’t what happened. As Trump recalled, Amman stood quietly in the rain and was “ignored as the city celebrated his creation.” Who took the credit? Who almost always does? The politicians, or as Trump described them, “jerks.” They were being applauded while the man who was responsible for the bridge’s creation was being “made a fool of.” 

As he watched the spectacle, a light of mini-revelation went off within him. This is how he put it: “I realized then and there something I would never forget. I don’t want to be made anybody’s sucker.” 

That’s Donald Trump in a nutshell. It’s embedded in his D.N.A. Any time he thinks someone is making a fool of him, he swings back, almost always recklessly. He can’t help himself. 

I think this character flaw may be the thing that propelled him to the White House. In 2011, President Barack Obama made a fool of him at the White House Correspondents’ dinner. As Mr. Obama went on and on, savoring the moment, Donald Trump sat in the audience, stone faced. The President escalated the rhetoric to the boiling point. He had, rhetorically speaking, torn the Donald to shreds. The salvo was so masterful.it caused Trump’s cheeks and forehead to turn as red as New Jersey beefsteak tomatoes and his glare became as icy cold as the surface of Europa. 

The impish grin on the President’s face spoke volumes. I think this is why Donald Trump decided to run for President. He was not going to be a fool of. 

Was the observation he made at the Verrazano Bridge when he was 18 entirely accurate? I doubt it, but I think there may have been a glimmer of truth in his observation. I’ve been exposed to a lot of politicians and political appointees in my life and the words of Holy Writ describe many of them quite aptly - “they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces…” (Matthew 23:6-7) 

What else did I learn? I learned that there doesn’t seem to have been any collusion and it does appear to be true that Mr. Comey told the President three times he wasn’t under investigation. Apparently, the New York Times and CNN got it all wrong. Shocking, isn’t it? 

I learned that, on the heels of her meeting on the tarmac with Bill Clinton, Attorney General Loretta Lynch applied a bit of pressure to Mr. Comey. It was subtle and linguistically clever. It worked! I learned that the President applied undue pressure to Mr. Comey when it came to Michael Flynn. And I learned something that really troubled me. Mr. Comey couldn’t summon up the courage to tell the President that what he was doing on behalf of Flynn was inappropriate. He didn’t offer to resign, which is what he should have done. 

All in all, it was quite an education.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

THE PILLARS OF CONSERVATISM



“Freedom is a need of the soul, and nothing else.  It is in striving toward God that the soul strives continually after a condition of freedom.  God alone is the inciter and guarantor of freedom.  He is the only guarantor…. Religion and freedom are indivisible. Without freedom the soul dies. Without the soul there is no justification for freedom.”
-          Whittaker Chambers – “Witness”


I didn’t attend the forum on the “common good” a few weeks ago, so the information I’ve gleaned about it has come from media reports. With that said, I did find one of the comments cited in the Gazette from Professor Charles Brown quite interesting

This is what Professor Brown said - “What strikes me is that conservatives don’t have the faith in peoples’ abilities to come together, reason together and make constructive changes for the future. It strikes me that they, too, often say, ‘Well, we’re just better off to just let things alone...’

While I’m sure that Professor Brown’s thoughts are sincerely held, I must say that they don’t represent the Conservatism I explored, studied in depth, and adopted in the late seventies.

I didn’t come by my Conservatism easily. I grew up in Boston, America’s cradle of liberty and one of the country’s Progressive strongholds. Until the 1970’s, I would never have considered voting for a Republican, nor can I recall knowing many Conservatives other than an occasional acquaintance I tolerated for the sake of politeness.

Things began to change when a friend encouraged me to read William Buckley’s “God and Man at Yale.” I was surprised to find that Buckley wasn’t the fire breathing lunatic I’d heard about. Once I passed that threshold, I decided that further exploration was in order. I read Whittaker Chambers’ “Witness” next, followed by Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations," F.A. Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom” and “The Fatal Conceit.” Then came Milton Friedman’s “Capitalism and Freedom” and Edmund Burke’s “Reflections on the Revolution in France.”

My pilgrimage was complete as soon as I read the final page of Russel Kirk’s “The Conservative Mind.” I knew that I was a Conservative and was proud to be part of the movement.

When Professor Brown said that Conservatives “don’t have faith in the peoples’ abilities to come together,” he couldn’t have been more wrong. That’s not the Conservatism I have practiced for many years now.

When one looks at the core beliefs of Conservatives, he or she won’t find a shred of evidence that suggests that Conservatives “don’t have faith in the peoples’ abilities to come together.” At the heart of Conservative belief is the principle that people should live cooperatively with their neighbors and be as free as possible to govern their own lives. Further, they should be governed by people who promote human freedom and virtue.

If Professor Brown believes that we Conservatives don’t have faith in people, he has misread us. We do trust people, but we also understand human nature and recognize, as Founding Father Alexander Hamilton did, that men aren’t angels and limits must be placed on those men and women who govern us.

In his recent book, “Constitutional Conservatism,” Peter Berkowitz described how Conservatism works: “It assumes the primacy of self-interest but also the capacity of and necessity for citizens to rise above it through the exercise of virtue. It welcomes a diverse array of voluntary associations because they are an expression of liberty, to prevent any one from dominating, and because they serve as schools for the virtues of freedom. And it recognizes the special role of families and religious faith in cultivating these virtues.”

Conservatives value liberty. Where the real divide between Conservatives and Progressives comes in to play is the value Conservatives place on what Berkowitz called “traditional understandings of order and virtue.” He says that Progressives see these traditional understandings as obstacles to freedom. Conservatives, on the other hand, see them as pillars of freedom.

We Conservatives aren’t resistant to change, but we are the first ones who would say, to paraphrase English poet/philosopher G.K. Chesterton, “Don’t ever tear down a fence until you know the reason why it was put up.” Put another way, Conservatives believe Hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress.” (from Kirk’s “The Conservative Mind”)

We Conservatives are fully prepared to cooperate with our fellow citizens and leaders. We are willing to compromise when compromise is called for. Above all, we want to secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and for the generations of Americans to come. We believe these blessings are best preserved when we preserve them freely and cooperatively. These virtues are nourished, as Berkowitz observed, “by tradition.”  In fact, liberty and tradition are inter-dependent. They’re like love and marriage from the old Sinatra tune - “You can’t have one without the other.”

Thursday, April 06, 2017

"ACT NATURALLY"

“Well, I'll bet you I'm gonna be a big star
 Might win an Oscar you can never tell 
The movies gonna make me a big star 
Cuz I can play the part so well” 

- “Act Naturally” – Buck Owens and the Buckaroos (1963) 




I recently saw a very funny snippet of video about acting. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld, himself a recipient of many entertainment industry awards, was about to receive another one when he turned the tables on the Hollywood stars (another name for someone with an inflated sense of self-importance) assembled. A small sampling follows:

“They come to these award shows dressed like senators from Krypton.” “They haven’t got an original thought in their brains.” “He pretends to be ‘Bob Johnson’ on screen and he’s declared a genius.”

Oh, give ‘em hell, Jerry!

I’ve always been grateful that I never dreamed of gracing the silver screen or seeing my name in lights. Acting to me is about as worthless a job as being a professional food critic. I mean, don’t these folks have anything better to do with their time than to sit around restaurants complaining about the amount of saffron in the bouillabaisse. Talk about a useless profession. Film critics and op-ed writers, by comparison, are just a rung below sainthood on the social ladder.

When I was going to college, a faculty member in the arts department asked me to play the part of Jesus in a stage production. I should have felt flattered, but I didn’t. Now, mind you, I have the greatest of respect and admiration for Jesus. After all, he’s the one who opened the door to heaven for me. But, playing the perfect, sinless man was way out of my league. “How about giving me the role  ‘Phil Dillon, chief sinner?’” I replied. “I’ve got that one down pat. In fact, if it weren’t for the grace of Jesus I’d be dead meat right now.”

Think of it. Does any actor on the planet actually believe they can portray sinless perfection on the stage or on film and be perceived as believable? Come on, now. It’s not that a few haven’t tried. I saw Jeffrey Hunter in “King of Kings” and Max von Sydow in “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” How believable were they? Hunter was an American and von Sydow was a pasty-faced Swede. Jesus was Jewish. I don’t know much about Hunter’s background, but I believe I can safely assume he committed a sin or two in his life. In terms of belief systems, von Sydow was either agnostic or atheist. How about that – an atheist playing the part of God in the flesh? That’s what I call creative casting.

I don’t go to the movies as often as I used to, but it’s not because I don’t like actors. I just don’t see many actors these days I can find believable. It hasn’t always been that way. One of my favorite actors from the 40’s and 50’s was Jimmy Stewart. I absolutely loved him in “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Harvey.” Why? As I watched him, I realized that Jimmy wasn’t playing George Bailey or Elwood P. Dodd, he was playing Jimmy Stewart. He was playing himself. He was so good at it that I can still believe that an invisible, six foot, three inch tall rabbit roaming around is perfectly plausible and that I can also believe I too have a guardian angel named Clarence.

Another of my favorite actors was Jack Palance. He always seemed to play the bad guy and, man, did he do it well. He was at his most vicious in the great western “Shane,” when he played the gunfighter Jack Wilson. His lines were short, but both memorable and blood-curdling. “See ya’ later Shane,” as he hissed through clenched teeth.” “What’s it mean to you Shane?” as the two men faced each other down in Grafton’s saloon. “You mean I’ll kill him if you have to” in response to Rufus Ryker as they discussed killing Joe Starrett. 

Why did I love Jack Palance? For the same reason I loved Jimmy Stewart. Jack Palance played himself in Shane, not Jack Wilson. The more I watched him the more convinced I became that I’d never want to meet him in a dark alley.

There was something else about the two men I admired. Both served in our military dyring wartime, Stewart as a bomber pilot in World War II and Vietnam and Palance served in the Army Air Force during World War II. 

The reason men like Stewart and Palance were so believable was because they were ordinary guys who just couldn’t help being themselves.

I’m not sure that much can be said of our current crop of actors. "Superstars" like Tom Cruise and Matt Damon have never served in the military and Jane Fonda once manned an anti-aircraft gun for the North Vietnamese. How’s that for patriotism?

Like Jimmy Stewart and Jack Palance, I like being just myself. That way, if the doorbell rings or my country calls, I'll know how to answer.