In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on!


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Were You There?

Holy Week deserves a host of posts with moving sacred music, scripture passages, and reflection on our relationship with God. But Melany and I have been out of town most of this week, so until this afternoon I haven't been able to sit down, collect my thoughts, and gather resources for a post. So, this one will be brief--but I hope, will help the reader discern what the profound events commemorated this week mean.

Easter, of course, is the glorious Day of Victory, when Christ's Resurrection spelled the doom of evil and death forever, and threw open the gates of Heaven to all who would sincerely confess their sins and embrace the Lord as Savior. But that victory, and the forgiveness of our sins, was won at the most terrible price--the inexpressible suffering and death of the One who was most perfectly innocent of all sin, who knew and loved us, and sacrificed His own life for every one of us, while we were yet sinners and knew Him not. As the prophet Isaiah wrote hundreds of years before Jesus was even born into this world:
[H]e hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. ~ Isaiah 53:2-6
As I was listening to my favorite Serenity Radio station on Pandora the other day (scroll down the list under Pandora in the right sidebar and click the link to listen to it yourself!), I heard a most beautiful rendition of the African-American spiritual Were You There? by the late, great Kate Smith. The clarity and power of her voice made me attend to this familiar hymn like I never had before, and reflect carefully on its compelling words:
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?

Were you there when they pierced him in the side?
Were you there when they pierced him in the side?
Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they pierced him in the side?

Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
As I listened, I knew deep in my heart what the answer to the hymn's question was: yes, I was there. My sins were the reason for His suffering; He was nailed to the tree and pierced in His side for my wrongdoing; and He bore death, freely and lovingly, so I wouldn't have to. He carried all my failures into His tomb. But Glory and Hosanna, He left them there on the glorious morning of His Resurrection!

Alas, I couldn't find a video version of Kate Smith's rendition. But I did find two other very different, yet both very moving, versions. The first is a solo performance by Deborah Liv Johnson featuring a beautiful collection of family pictures that remind that we were all "there."

The second version is quite unique, performed by what's billed as "The Largest Ever Male Voice Choir In Wales," filling an entire arena!

May I remember in humble contrition, every day, that I WAS there when "they"--with my help--crucified my Lord. And may I humbly and firmly resolve, every day, to be thankful for His forgiveness and to so live that He wouldn't have to endure it again.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Born Yesterday?

Born Yesterday is a comedy written and first staged on Broadway in the 1940s (and successfully put to film a couple of times since then), about ignorance and corruption in our nation's capital--what a timely (if not so funny) subject! Apparently, "born yesterday" is also what our current representatives in Washington think we common citizens were.

This past weekend I posted about the supposedly "historic"--yet utterly ridiculous--deal between Congressional Republican and Democrat leaders, which averted a federal government shutdown by cutting $38.5 billion from the budget for the remainder of fiscal 2011. A fact not widely noted when the deal was struck was that that amounted to all of about 1 percent of total federal expenditures for the year (as one commentator noted, "If the government were a family living on $60,000 a year, that's equal to a $600 cut."), and left travesties like ObamaCare and abortion factory Planned Parenthood fully funded with our tax money. Final details of the agreement had yet to be put to paper and voted on by the end of this week.

Those details finally emerged yesterday, and show that the budget deal was not only weak and a disappointment, but an almost complete sham and a brazen insult to the intelligence of the American people. According to a story from the Associated Press, "[t]he historic $38 billion in budget cuts resulting from at-times hostile bargaining between Congress and the Obama White House were accomplished in large part by pruning money left over from previous years, using accounting sleight of hand and going after programs President Barack Obama had targeted anyway."
The details of the agreement reached late Friday night just ahead of a deadline for a partial government shutdown reveal a lot of one-time savings and cuts that officially "score" as cuts to pay for spending elsewhere, but often have little to no actual impact on the deficit. As a result of the legerdemain, Obama was able to reverse many of the cuts passed by House Republicans in February when the chamber approved a bill slashing this year's budget by more than $60 billion.
. . .

[T]he cuts that actually will make it into law are far tamer, including cuts to earmarks, unspent census money, leftover federal construction funding, and $2.5 billion from the most recent renewal of highway programs that can't be spent because of restrictions set by other legislation. Another $3.5 billion comes from unused spending authority from a program providing health care to children of lower-income families.

About $10 billion of the cuts comes from targeting appropriations accounts previously used by lawmakers for so-called earmarks . . . Republicans had already engineered a ban on earmarks when taking back the House this year.

Republicans also claimed $5 billion in savings by capping payments from a fund awarding compensation to crime victims. Under an arcane bookkeeping rule - used for years by appropriators - placing a cap on spending from the Justice Department crime victims fund allows lawmakers to claim the entire contents of the fund as budget savings. The savings are awarded year after year.
The story notes that in exchange for these illusory "cuts," the White House foiled GOP attempts to block global warming rules by the EPA, new rules governing the Internet, federal funding of Planned Parenthood, and financing for the enforcement new health care regulations.

Another AP story points out that "the budget cuts come after two years of generous increases awarded to domestic accounts when Democrats controlled both Congress and the White House," and that:
M]any of the cuts officially unveiled on Tuesday are illusory. Almost $18 billion - just less than half - involve simply mopping up pools of unused money spread across the budget. While still counting as cuts, the money from those pools can be used to shore up day-to-day agency budgets and other programs like health research. Admittedly, those cuts don't reduce the deficit.
In light of the budget deal's transparent emptiness and the tricks out of which it's made, conservatives' criticism of the compromise is growing, and a number of influential members of Congress, including Reps. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky), plan to vote against it. Thank the Lord there are a few sensible, honest, and courageous people in Congress. One only wonders about the so-called "leaders" who crafted and supported the deal, especially Speaker of the House John Boehner--what were they thinking? Are they that stupid or that gullible, or are they actually in bed with the Democrats and the Obama administration? How stupid and gullible to they think we common people are? Did they assume we wouldn't notice, or not care?

What's just as disheartening is that so many freshman representatives, elected in November 2010 on a platform of fiscal restraint, have fallen into lockstep with the Republican establishment leadership to support this sham compromise. If your representative is one of them, you should call or email his/her office as soon as possible and loudly voice your displeasure--and keep a weather eye on his/her positions and future voting records in Congress. If they don't do the job you sent them to Washington to do, they should be sent packing in the next election and replaced with someone who, as best you can tell, will. We need representatives who will not just talk the talk of responsible government, but walk the walk--no matter how "radical," "extreme," or even "uncivil" the liberal establishment and media portray them.

We have to make it clear to those in Washington that, no matter what they may think, we weren't Born Yesterday.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Modest Proposal

As long as we're on the subject of federal funding for Planned Parenthood, let's consider this: instead of "defunding" them, allow the organization all of the taxpayer dollars it gets now, on one condition: they don't perform abortions, and they don't give any money to anyone for the purpose of getting or performing an abortion. The federal government has long conditioned educational, highway, and other types of funding for state and local operations on the recipient's adherence to the government's demands, limitations, and regulations. Why not treat Planned Parenthood in the same way? Think of it: they could dispense all the mammograms, cancer screenings, and condoms they wanted to, as long as they didn't provide or facilitate abortions. No Republican war on women's health! No conspiracy to encourage the spread of STDs among minorities and the inner city poor! And since abortions constitute only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood's total health care services, according to its own figures, they should hardly miss the work, right? And (regrettably) there are other abortion providers out there, right?

Somehow I doubt they'd go for this deal either. But would it hurt for some courageous, enterprising Congressperson to submit the bill?

Just sayin'.

Midnight Train to Bankruptcy

By now you've heard about Friday night's Congressional vote on a stopgap measure to continue funding the federal government for another two weeks until an actual budget for the next fiscal year can be crafted and voted on. The measure was purportedly necessary to forestall a "shutdown" of the federal government by midnight--the expiration of the last continuing resolution funding federal government operations--but the vote approving the measure actually passed a few minutes after midnight (the brief interregnum had no appreciable impact).

Among other features, the budget measure "cuts" $38.5 billion from federal expenditures over the remainder of the current fiscal year; prohibits the use of federal or local government funds to pay for abortions in the District of Columbia; and omits or sets aside for separate Senate vote provisions to defund Planned Parenthood and portions of Obamacare, and to block EPA global warming rules. The agreement voted on was negotiated by President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev). Reid declared the deal "historic."

Only in the annals of meaningless accomplishments. Although Fox News is pitching the deal as a big win for Rep. Boehner and House Republicans, it dissolves into an empty gesture when examined in light of surrounding circumstances. For example, Republicans had included language to deny federal money to put in place Obama's year-old health care law; the deal only requires such a proposal to be voted on by the Democratic-controlled Senate, where it is certain to fall short of the necessary 60 votes. More significantly, MSNBC reports that "Republicans were forced to accept billions of dollars in phantom savings, cutting money that probably wouldn't have been spent anyway."
Some $18 billion of the spending cuts involve cuts to so-called mandatory programs whose budgets run largely on autopilot. To the dismay of budget purists, these cuts often involve phantom savings allowed under the decidedly arcane rules of congressional budgeting. They include mopping up $2.5 billion in unused money from federal highway programs and $5 billion in fudged savings from capping payments from a Justice Department trust fund for crime victims.

Both ideas officially "score" as savings that could be used to pay for spending elsewhere in the day-to-day budgets of domestic agencies. But they have little impact, if any, on the deficit.
Still more telling is the simple, yet devastating, analysis by Andrew Riley of All-American Blogger, who notes a few important facts:
Federal Budget: $3,820,000,000,000.
Income: $2,170,000,000,000.
New Debt: $1,650,000,000,000.
Amount Cut: $38,500,000,000 – about 1% of the total budget.

It helps me to think about these numbers in terms that I can relate to. Let’s remove nine zeroes from those numbers and pretend this is a monthly household budget for the fictitious Jones family.

Total income for the Jones family this month: $2,170

Amount of money the Jones family spent this month: $3,820

Amount of new debt added to the credit card this month: $1,650

Outstanding balance on the credit card: $14,271 (This represents our national debt)

So last night, the Jones’ sat down at the kitchen table and agreed to cut $38 from their monthly budget. A historic amount.
A $38.5 billion reduction in budgeted federal spending might be the most ever in one fiscal year, in terms of number of dollars, and might have meant something back--not so many years ago--when the budget was several orders of magnitude lower than it is now. But after the successive binges of the Bush and Obama years, it's barely a teaspoon in the Pacific Ocean. That it took such a protracted and bitter political fight to yield such a paltry "savings" suggests that federal spending and total debt may now be impossible to arrest and beyond anyone's effective control, a raging cancer that will eat away at an ever-larger proportion of our nation's current and future wealth until there is none left for it to consume (for a breathtaking graphical depiction of the numbers involved and their explosive growth, see the U.S. National Debt Clock). Is America about to become an impoverished third-world country?

The budget deal's real significance, or lack of it, was summed up by two courageous Congresspersons who voted against it:

Michele Bachmann: “The deal is a disappointment for me and for millions of Americans who expected $100 billion in cuts. ... Instead, we’ve been asked to settle for $39 billion in cuts, even as we continue to fund Planned Parenthood and the implementation of ObamaCare. Sadly, we’re missing the mandate given us by voters last November."

Rand Paul: The CR "does not set us on a path to fixing the spending and debt problems our country is facing. There is not much of a difference between a $1.5 trillion deficit and a $1.6 trillion deficit—both will lead us to a debt crisis that we may not recover from."

The other colossal failure of this measure, as Rep. Bachmann noted, was removal of the rider that would have cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood (PP), the nation's largest single provider of abortion services and which, notes CNSNEWS' Terence P. Jeffrey, performed "332,278 abortions in 2009. That equals an average of 910 abortions per day—or about 38 per hour, or one every 95 seconds." The budget deal does provide for a symbolic vote in the Senate on a stand-alone bill that would specifically prohibit federal funding of Planned Parenthood, but shortly after the deal was sealed, both the New York Times and the Associated Press reported that this stand-alone defunding measure was certain to lose in the Democrat-dominated Senate. As Mr. Jeffrey points out:
Among the things the House Republican leadership gave up last night on the Planned Parenthood funding question is the leverage they might have had over opponents of the provision had they forced them to choose whether or not they were willing to shut down other government programs just to insure that the nation’s largest abortion provider continued to be funded by U.S. taxpayers.
It looks like they were prepared to do just that, and risk the ensuing political fallout. According to an AP story, "Democrats said they saw a radical agenda against women's health, especially poor and low-income women, and wouldn't allow it, even if it meant shutting down the government." Why weren't their feet held to that fire? It's clear where lie the priorities of Planned Parenthood's defenders--better to deny pay and funding for our troops and federal law enforcement personnel than to force the abortion industry and its supporters to pay their own way. The empty mantra that PP doesn't use federal tax money for abortions because it's against the law doesn't stand the most superficial examination: according to the AP story, PP "receives $363 million in federal funds, [and] . . . the organization's annual budget is $1.1 billion." So, about one-third of its budget is covered by federal tax money, yours and mine, even as it terminates over 300,000 pregnancies a year. It doesn't take a PhD from Barack Obama's alma mater to recognize that, directly or indirectly, federal funding keeps PP in the abortion business. Without it, that organization would have to rely on client fees and private donations. So why don't we make them do just that? I have absolutely no doubt that if he really wanted to, George Soros alone could fund every abortion performed by Planned Parenthood out of his own pocket, with plenty of cash left over to continue manipulating the world economy. Why don't we challenge him and his left-wing billionaire chums to do so? What moral law or political or financial necessity dictates that ordinary working men and women pay for the killing?

This country is clearly on a midnight train to moral and financial bankruptcy, and we needed much more than just the 2010 elections to find enough representatives with courage and common sense to derail it. Every citizen must work hard to identify and support, with time and money, political candidates who will make the hard choices in Washington. We must discuss the issues with our neighbors and encourage them to do the right thing--and be willing to so ourselves, even when it means risk and personal sacrifice. Ultimately, the battle won't be won or lost in Washington at all, but in our homes, workplaces, churches, and our own hearts and minds. If enough individuals work hard and long enough at it, we might be able to derail that train yet.