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John Wayne's Holster: April 2005
John Wayne's Holster
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Friday, April 29, 2005

Grading the President’s Speech

President Bush held a prime-time press conference last night - only the fourth one of his presidency - in which he laid out his ideas on two issues, Social Security and Energy. Read the TRANSCRIPT here.

Addressing Social Security, the President reiterated the message he had put forth on his 60-day road tour - that Social Security is heading towards bankruptcy and needs to be fixed. Although his road tour has not been successful in selling his privatization plan to the public, I think it has been successful to the extent that the public is convinced that Social Security needs to be fixed. Although the President spoke only in generalities he did offer a glimpse of the plan he was putting forward.

According to the Bush plan, the payout of benefits would be based on a sliding scale, wherein benefits would be progressively reduced for those in higher income brackets. In addition, the President stated that the system should be set up in such a way that “benefits for low-income workers will grow faster than benefits for people who are better off”. The President also continued to push his privatization plan saying that workers should have “the opportunity…of putting a portion of their payroll taxes into a voluntary personal retirement account”. He added that investing in treasury bonds should be included as an option for those who have reservations about the safety of investing in the market. Following the speech, Republican strategist Ken Mehlman challenged critics of the Presidents’s plan to stop playing politics and show up at the negotiating table with their own plans. This seems to me to be a reasonable request.

Personally, I am in favor of taking more control of my own money rather than have the government control it for me; however, I must say that I am not a big fan of the President’s plan. I feel it is too risky (see my previous post on this topic). However, to his credit, the President has put something on the table. Despite the shortcomings of his plan, it offers a starting point for negotiating a workable solution to the problems that lie ahead for Social Security. The President has stated multiple times that he is open to any options that do not include a tax increase.

Those opposed to the plan have been critical of what the President has put forward, but they have not offered any proposals of their own, and in some cases appeared to be obstructing the President’s attempts at negotiating a solution. For example, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi refused to allow other Democratics to attend a bipartisan meeting with the AARP to discuss possible reforms. Perhaps someone in her party should tell Ms. Pelosi to lead or get out of the way.

Addressing Energy policy, the President reminded us that our consumption has grown forty times faster than our production over the past 10 years. As such, we have become more reliant on foreign energy sources to satisfy our energy needs. To address this problem, the president suggested four key steps we need to take: conserve more energy, make to most of our existing energy resources, develop new sources of energy, and help growing energy consumers to become more efficient.

Personally, I think the President struck out here. Despite the lip-service he gave to developing new energy sources, he seemed to be focused on oil – how to get more of it both at home and abroad, and how to keep the oil price down. This is OK for today, but is short-sighted in the long run. This bypasses the very problem the President is attempted to address – our reliance on foreign energy. Negotiating with the oil shieks to step-up production and put more crude on the market may affect the prices we pay at the gas pump, but they do nothing to reduce our reliance on foreign energy.

In the Q&A following the speech, the President suggested that drilling in the Alaskan Nation Wild Refuge (ANWR) would help to reduce our reliance on foreign energy. Yes – but for how long? By all estimates that I have seen, there is really not much oil there to begin with. This is not a long-term solution. At best, it does very little to solve our energy problems and only serves to help the oil industry turn a quick buck. What about increasing the number of terminals that will allow us to import liquefied natural gas? While natural gas is more environmentally friendly than oil, and domestic energy resources such as the so-called “clean coal”, it does not address the problem of our reliance on foreign energy!

If the President is really concerned about decreasing our reliance on foreign energy, he has to get out of bed with the oil industry and get serious about developing alternative energy sources. The President briefly mentioned that we need an active nuclear energy policy. On this I agree with him. Rather than get into a lengthy discussion on the topic, I suggest that the interested reader check out an insightful article on nuclear energy penned by Nicholas Kristof, OpEd columnist for the NYTimes.

At the end of the day it comes down to this - China and India are on the rise, and are after the same energy resources we currently rely on. Those resources won’t last forever and are likely to become more expensive as the supplies dwindle and demand escalates. The US needs to develop new energy resources! We are more than capable of doing so, but are we willing? Do our leaders have their hands in the pockets of the oil industry? It seems so. If not, then why are we moving so slowly in developing new resources. Developing them will not happen overnight - it will take time. I am not sure what the President is waiting for.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Benedict XVI Charts His Course

The conclave is over and the Holy Spirit has spoken! Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany has been elected as Pope.

Cardinal Ratzinger has assumed the name Benedict XVI. Prior to his ascendancy to the Papacy, Cardinal Ratzinger served as the Dean of the College of Cardinals and as Prelate for the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Now that he is Pope, just what kind of Ponfiticate we can expect from Benedict XVI? No one can say for sure. However, if we take a look at his life, analyze his writings , and examine the positions he has taken, we can get a pretty good idea of how he will shepherd the Church in the coming years.

Joseph Ratzinger was born in Bavaria in 1927. Germany was coping with the overly harsh conditions imposed upon it by the Treaty of Versailles, which ended WWI. During this time, there was a radical nationalist sentiment growing in Germany that spawned the Nazi party. As a boy of 13, Ratzinger was enlisted in the Hilter youth program. Membership in the Hitler youth was mandatory (lest one opt out by going to Dachau). Later, he was conscripted into the army in the anti-aircraft corps, from which he later deserted (for which he could have been shot on sight if caught). The oppression Ratzinger experienced living under Nazi rule instilled in him the indespensible role that absolute truth played in the preservation of freedom. He saw the Church as fulfilling the vital role of preserving and protecting the truth.

Ratzinger entered the seminary and was ordained, along with his brother Georg, in 1951. In the early 60’s, Fr. Ratzinger was present at all four session of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) where he served as the chief theological expert to the moderate Cardinal Joseph Frings of Cologne. Fr. Ratzinger played an influential role in the council and quickly gained a reputation as a progressive theological thinker for his position on the limits of Church authority and his criticism of the growth of church bureaucracy, particularly that of the Holy Office. During the Council, he was partial to the idea of change in the Church, but rather than the embrace of modernity favored by a large faction of Cardinals at the Council, Fr. Ratzinger favored a return of the Church to its more traditional role as a hierarchical patristic authority. Referring to the Councils and to the general state of the Church itself, Fr. Ratzinger remarked that he “found the mood in the church and among theologians to be agitated. More and more there was the impression that nothing stood fast in the church, that everything was up for revision.” It was this struggle between modernity and traditionalism that evidenced to Fr. Ratzinger that the seeds of liberalism and relativism were beginning to sprout within the Church. Fr. Ratzinger would dedicate his priesthood to uprooting them and will undoubtedly continue to do so as Benedict XVI.

In 1966, he accepted a faculty position at the University of Tübingen, where he held a chair in dogmatic theology. In the late 60’s, amid a wave of student uprisings, Marxism began to take center stage as the dominant philosophy at Tübingen, and religious beliefs were forced into a subordinate role. Fr. Ratzinger resigned his position at Tübingen and moved back to Bavaria where he became dean at the University of Regensburg and a theological advisor to the German bishops. These experiences made it clear to him that, ‘the abuse of faith had to be resisted precisely if one wanted to uphold the will of the [Church]”.

In 1972, he and several other theologians founded the journal Communio, which advanced the “return to tradition” stance that he favored during the Second Vatican Council, and is very much in line with the mind-set of Ratzinger today. In 1977, Pope Paul VI appointed him archbishop of Munich and Freising. Upon his confirmation as archbishop, he adopted the Episcopal motto of “co-worker for truth”. As he stated, in his capacity as archbishop it was his duty “follow truth [and] to be at its service… because in today's world the theme of truth has all but disappeared...and yet everything falls apart if there is no truth.”

In 1981, Pope John Paul II appointed Cardinal Ratzinger as Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – the office formerly known as the Holy Office and the Inquisition. Historically, the Holy Office has been very secretive and was plagued by the shameful clouds cast over it by the Inquisition. As Prefect, Cardinal Ratzinger changed all that. He opened the operations of the CDF to the public. As Fr. Augustine Di Noia, theological adviser for the U.S. bishops points out, “[The CDF’s] procedures, its staff, are all now a matter of public record…He has transformed it into a very modern office.”

As CDF Prefect, Cardinal Ratzinger’s major role was to enforce adherence to Church doctrines. In this role, he was a resolute traditionalist. He reigned in dissident theologians, condemned lifestyles advocating self-assertion, and resisted pressure for moderation of church teachings regarding birth control, euthanasia, stem-cell research and religious pluralism. His maintenance of these positions has earned him praise among church traditionalists, and disdain among church progressives. Nevertheless, he has been steadfast, and will likely continue to be so.

There are many important issues facing the Catholic Church as it continues to head into the new millennium. Among these are: doctrinal dissent in the western churches, a shortage of priests, the call for expanding the leadership roles of women, and pressure to decentralize Church authority. In many ways, it is expected that Benedict XVI will continue to follow the course that he himself help John Paul II chart. It is almost a certainty that there will not be any change in the Church’s position on the ordination of women or on the collegial authority of the Cardinals. Addressing the shortage of priests by relaxing the celibacy requirement is also unlikely to occur, but is not completely out of the question. The priest shortage is a real problem for the church and may require a dramatic canonical change. The Church already allows married Episcopal priests to convert to Catholicism, and serve as priests while remaining married. It is not implausible that celibacy may be lifted for the average parish priests, but is likely to remain a requirement for the monastic orders and higher ranking clergy, such as bishops and cardinals.

Regarding dissent from doctrine, Benedict XVI may take an even harder-line than his predecessor. In his public ministries, he has advanced an agenda that allows no room for compromise by the laity regarding Church teachings on a number of issues, including abortion, euthanasia, and religious pluralism. Those who reject these teachings risk putting themselves outside the fellowship of the Church. During the recent US political campaign, a controversy erupted when a private memo issued to American bishops by Cardinal Ratzinger was leaked to the press. In the memo, Cardinal Ratzinger stated that candidates who support issues like abortion or euthanasia should be denied Holy Communion. Demanding that Catholics toe the line regarding doctrinal adherence carries the inherent risk of agitating progressive Catholics and even turning so called “cafeteria Catholics” away from the Church. But according to Vatican observers, Benedict XVI thinks this is a fight worth fighting. In fact, Ratzinger has suggested in the past that the Church may need to become smaller in order to remain faithful to the truth.

At the root of these issues that are facing the pontificate of Benedict XVI lies the problem of moral relativism. In a pre-conclave homily, Cardinal Ratzinger identified relativism as the most pressing problem facing the Church today. He stated, “We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.” In other words, right are wrong are subjective judgments that are open to the interpretation of the individual. Compounding the problem is the fact that the relativist ideology is so deeply woven into the democratic fabric that it will be difficult to disentangle. Democracy and liberation have been misinterpreted as license. In the pursuit of our own freedom, we have trampled and denied the same to others. This is most apparent in the depravity underlying abortion and euthanasia. People seemed to have forgotten or altogether ignored the fact that true freedom must rest on the foundation of truth and operate within its limits. Any form of liberation not rooted in the truth is, according to Cardinal Ratzinger, dehumanizing and “harbors the radical antithesis to God”.

Eradicating relativism will take center stage in the pontificate of Benedict XVI, just as the overthrow of Marxist dictatorships in Europe did for John Paul II. The future of the Roman Catholic Church may very well rest in the outcome.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Benedict XVI

Habemus Papum!

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger elected as new Pope. Cardinal Ratzinger will serve as Pope Benedict XVI. Read the story HERE

As Cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger served as the dean of the College of Cardinals and was the right-hand man of Pope John Paul II. Cardinal Ratzinger's main role was to assure that those who spoke for the Church toed the Vatican line as far as doctrine was concerned.

As Pope, it is expected that Benedict XVI will continue the tradition set by John Paul II.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Who Cares About Taiwan?

For the past several decades, China and Taiwan have coexisted under the “One China, Two Systems” policy. In recent years, there has been a growing sentiment in Taiwan to declare independence. China is dead-set against this. China considers Taiwan a renegade province, and appears to be willing to use force, if necessary, to make it comply with the “One China” policy. If Taiwan were allowed to separate, that might encourage other regions in China with separatist tendencies (Tibet, Inner Mongolia) to follow course, and could lead to the downfall of the current Communist government.

One would think that the Bush administration, with all its rhetoric about freedom and democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan, would support Taiwan’s desire to determine her own future. That has not happened. The official Bush position is to preserve the status quo. In other words, preserve the “One China, Two Systems” policy. Critics of the Bush administration are quick to point out the apparent hypocrisy of maintaining this position. They even go as far as saying that Bush has “sold out” Taiwan. Read it HERE

I believe this is a bit underhanded and misleading. Bush has not abandoned Taiwan. The Bush position is a diplomatic necessity under the present situation. Although there is growing sentiment in Taiwan regarding independence, the people remain divided on this issue. The US is still committed to defending Taiwan in the event that China should use military force against her. But the US should not push the issue at present, as our military is a bit overextended in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That being said, I think it should be pointed out that the rationale for our defense of Taiwan has nothing to do with ideology or democracy. Like all US foreign policy, it is purely self-serving. Our worldwide commitment to a nation's right of self-determination has taken a back seat.

But why is the US so interested in Taiwan? It is a small island country of about 23 million people. In a nutshell, the answer is that Taiwan holds a vital geostrategic position in the control of Asian security and the emerging Asia-Pacific economy. The US wants to continue to be the dominant force in this area, and wants to prevent China from doing the same. A failure by the US to support Taiwan in its current crisis with China would demonstrate to our regional allies (Japan, South Korea, Australia) that we are unreliable, which could negatively affect our reputation in the region and around the world.

China’s economy is emerging! With 1.3 billion people and untapped natural resources, it has the potential to be not only the dominant economy in the Asia-Pacific region, but in the world. For China to realize this potential, it must expand its maritime influence. China's access to the Pacific is obscured by a chain of islands that essentially extends from Russia, through Taiwan, and down to the Phillipines. Taiwan represents China's gateway to the Pacific. Controlling this gateway is vital to maintaining China's economic growth and establishing sea lines of communication to ensure its ability to import oil.

China would also be able to control and disrupt sea lane access to other regional powers. Japan would be most affected by this, as she too relies on the same sea lines for the importation of virtually all her energy and raw materials. As an ally and trading partner of Japan, the US would be affected economically. However, the geopolitical consequences for Asian security (from the US perspective) would be severely endangered. China would be able to deny sea access to the US Navy, effectively pushing our outer defense perimeter back to Guam or Hawaii. This could have dire consequences, particularly if the current nuclear situation with North Korea should escalate.

Bottom line: Taiwan is in a key strategic position for exercising economic and military control in the Asia-Pacific region. Both the US and China realize this and are effectively engaged in competition for control of the island, and thus domination of the region. Unfortunately neither country has Taiwan’s best interest at heart.

Friday, April 08, 2005

In Defense of the Papacy

Earlier this week, Thomas Cahill, author of “How the Irish Saved Civilization”, penned an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times entitled “The Price of Infallibility”. Read it Here. The article is very critical of the papacy of John Paul II. The thesis of the article is that the Pope, via his rigid authoritarianism, had a failed papacy because he was unable to find common ground with the needs of modern Catholics. The Pope was seen as too inflexible on issues such as masturbation, abortion, birth control, stem-cell research, and homosexual behavior.

Cahill maintains that the Pope’s lasting legacy will come from the Episcopal appointments he made - the bishops appointed by John Paul II essentially shared his views. Progressives often portray the hierarchy of the Church as a collection of misogynistic and self-righteous condemners who are stuck in yesteryear. They point to the Pope’s unbending opposition to condoms, particularly when it comes to controlling the spread of AIDS in Africa, as an example of his failure to bring the Church into the new millennium. In Cahill’s eyes, the Church’s rigid authoritarianism will eventually lead to its downfall.

I find it befuddling that the secular media expect the Church to act as if it were a democratic establishment – as if its position on issues should shift with the wind of public opinion. This attitude denies the fact that some truths are eternal – that they can not be changed. This way of thinking is so foreign to the progressive mindset that it seems incomprehensible to them. Progressives want to replace the culture of moral absolutism with the haze of moral relativism. They want the Church to compromise, but the Church can not. To compromise the truth requires that one perpetuate a lie.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Is America Becoming A Theocracy?

With the outcome of last years Presidential election and the recent activism concerning the Terri Shiavo case, many on the Left, and even some on the Right, have expressed the belief that America is becoming a theocracy. They seem to harbor a belief that the Right is hellbent on tearing down the walls that separate church and state, and discarding the Constitution and replacing it with the Bible.

These seem like wild and outrageous claims to me. After all, this is not the Republic of Iran we live in. And Religious Right is not the Taliban. The United States a theocracy? What is the basis for this brand?

Those who contend that America is becoming a theocracy can cite a number of examples to support their claims. The Right wants to overturn Roe v Wade…wants a gay marriage ban…wants “God” kept in the Pledge…is against euthanasia…is against stem-cell research…wants to legislate their morality on the rest of us, etc, etc.

On the surface, it would seem that the Left has a point. The Religious Right does indeed stand for the issues listed above (and perhaps more that are not listed). But how does that translate into establishing a theocracy in America? The clergy is not running the government, there is no state-imposed religion, there is no religious affiliation required to run for office, and there is no affiliation required to vote. And last time I checked, we had democratic elections and America was a pretty secular nation that worshiped modernity. Nothing theocratic in that.

Perhaps the Left feels threatened that parts of their secular agenda- an agenda that they imposed on the Right via judicial activism - could be out the window. The Right feels alienated. They wonder why their tax dollars are used to support condom distribution, or to pay for "social services" (i.e. abortions), or promote anti-family agendas. Forget saying prayers in class, their children can not even organize voluntary bible studies on school property.

When you break it down, the so-called “Religious Right” is essentially a well-organized block of voters who have an agenda and will go to whatever means they can to see it implemented. They support (financially and otherwise) candidates who most-closely represent their values and beliefs. In that sense, they are no different from the Left.

It seems to me that the real problem that exists between the Left and the Right is that our leaders have polarized us. The Right has claimed the franchise tag on religion and morality. And it seems that the left is willing to let them have it. In fact, the Left seems to have gone a step further by distancing themselves from religion and morality. I think both sides are mistaken.

The Right certainly does not speak for God. While it is true that they support a “culture of life” when it comes to issues of abortion and euthanasia, their god-speak doesn’t come across as godly when it comes to issues of social justice. For their part, the Left, which has traditionally supported a progressive social agenda, has mistakenly placed religion and morality in exile, and instead have offered a godless and hedonistic agenda.

The two sides have come to be identified by their extremes, to the point where each can not be accepted by the other. I think we have failed to recognize the vast common ground that lies between us. I think Bono (U2) gets it right when he asks “How far should we go to try to understand each other’s point of view?”

Sunday, April 03, 2005

A Hero For The Ages

As I am sure we are all aware, Pope John Paul II passed away on Saturday.

More than any man in my lifetime, he has had the greatest positive impact on the history of mankind. Men like him come along only once a millennium.

A deep respect for life was the hallmark to just about everything the Pope did. It was evident in his sermons and his encyclicals. It was evident in the way he lived his life, despite a great amount of physical suffering.

And perhaps most importantly, a profound respect for life was the central theme in the way the Pope welcomed his death.

John Paul II truly was a "hero for the ages".