Thoughts on Notre Dame Cathedral

Earlier this week we learned to our horror that Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was on fire. Because of the bravery of the Paris Fire Department, and particularly the actions of Notre Dame’s Chaplain Fr. Jean Marc Fournier it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

Construction began in 1160 and wasn’t completed until 1260: nobody who began the construction lived to see its completion and nobody who witnessed its completion was born when it was began. In the last 800 years people from all over the world have gathered to worship there. Modern day visitors to Paris know they need to visit three places: Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and the Louvre.

I have to confess that I’ve never been to Paris and I haven’t had the opportunity to visit Notre Dame, but I understand its attraction. My parents and grandparents belonged to Notre Dame de St. Rosary parish, that we all call “Holy Rosary.” My grandmother, Imelda Cazeault (1909-1981) told me about how, as a child, she witnessed the delivery of the bell that was raised into the bell tower.

When she died I was one of her pallbearers and as we carried her into Holy Rosary for the last time, the bell tolled for her (as it did for all funerals). At that moment, in 1981, I found myself carried back to 1915 when she was six years old and watched that same bell hoisted up into the tower. I was also carried back to November 18, 1918 when my father’s parents (recent immigrants from Canada) married.

The sound of the bells became timeless to me. It brought me back to 1915 and 1918, but also to 1931 when my father was baptized, to 1938 when my mother was baptized, and to 1958 when my parents were married. It also brought me back to 1994 when I returned to Holy Rosary as a priest to celebrate my (3rd) first mass and to 1995 when I returned to celebrate the funeral mass for my grandfather (and namesake), Thomas Cazeault (1902-1995).

I write this to illustrate the place Notre Dame de Paris holds in the hearts of Catholics. While Notre Dame de Gardner is more than a century old, Notre Dame de Paris is over 800 years old. Its place in history is clear.

Notre Dame de Paris will rebuild and we will all rejoice. But we should also rejoice that its history will continue well into the future, to Christians who aren’t yet born but will find its place in their lives.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 126: Thoughts On the Electoral College

Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution outlines the role of the Executive Branch. There we find the Electoral College. When we vote for President we select electors who meet to elect the President.

This allows for the unlikely possibility that the majority of Americans may vote for one candidate while the electors may choose another candidate. But this is exactly what happened in 2000 and 2016. Vice President Al Gore won the popular vote but lost to President George W. Bush in the electoral college in 2000. In 2016 Secretary of State Hilary Clinton also won the popular vote but lost in the electoral college.

Because this happened twice in 16 years, and both times sent a Republican to the White House, some are calling for the end of the electoral college and electing the President on a straight popular vote. Proponents of eliminating the electoral college argue that this unfairly benefits states with smaller populations. States send electors to the electoral college based on the number of Representatives plus Senators. For example New York sends 29 electors because they have 27 members of the House of Representatives and 2 Senators. South Dakota sends 3 electors as they have 1 member of the House of Representatives and 2 Senators. My thanks to Linda Monk in her excellent book The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution. She broke down the data and showed that one elector in South Dakota represents 232,000 people while in New York one elector represents 550,000 people.

Candidates for President know this, and the electoral college drives much of where they decide to campaign. I can’t tell you how many of my fellow Californians complain that candidates ignore us, except when they need to fundraise. California sends 55 electors, but it’s a safe state for Democrats and the Republicans see no point in campaigning here. Likewise, Texas sends 38 electors but it’s a “safe” Republican state.

So what states do the candidates care about? That’s actually more complicated than it sounds.

Each Presidential election comprises two parts: getting the nomination and winning the election. And the strategies are different. Most states select their nominees through primaries and they hold both Democratic and Republican primaries on the same day. With the exception of a sitting President running for reelection, most primaries begin with several candidates and the field winnows with each primary. All candidates know that winning early primaries gives them an advantage in popularity and fundraising. This works well for the first three states who hold primaries: Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

But once the nominees are chosen, the calculation changes. Now the candidates turn to states with relatively large populations where the numbers of Republicans and Democrats are relatively close: Ohio (18 electors), Florida (29), Pennsylvania (20), Michigan (16), and Wisconsin (10). These five states send only 93 electors out of 538 but they make the difference between victory and defeat.

So what happens if our President was elected only the popular vote? Defenders of the electoral college argue that the candidates would focus only on large population centers: New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston (my city of San Diego ranks 8th). Rural areas would be totally ignored.

I’m not certain that’s true. Our campaigns have become so nationalized that all of us see the candidates wherever they are. And speaking for myself, I’m just as happy not to have candidates creating havoc and gridlock when I’m trying to get to work.

I recognize that I would be bombarded with campaign mailers, but does it really matter if my recycling bin is filled at the expense of a recycling bin in Ohio?

And yes, at the end the day we can only eliminate the electoral college by amending the Constitution. It’s a long process. A bill would have to be introduced to Congress and get a 2/3 majority in both houses. Then it goes to the states where 3/4 of the state legislatures would have to approve. Of our 50 states, 38 would have to approve it, meaning that 13 states could block it.

Just some thoughts on a Wednesday evening.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 125: Speaker Pelosi is Right About Impeachment

Nearly from President Trump’s election there has been a move to impeach and remove him from office. His ongoing lies, abuses of power, and disregard for the rule of law has only provided fuel for this growing fire. As I write this we read daily about various investigations of him, those around him, and the things they’ve done.

Pair this with the fact that most voters in 2016 voted for Hilary Clinton and others and it’s not hard to understand this. But for the first two years of his presidency Mr. Trump didn’t need to worry about this since his party controlled both houses of Congress. Simply put, the Democrats could complain all they wanted but they were powerless to do anything about it.

That changed in November when the Democrats won a majority of members of the House of Representatives though Republicans claim a slim majority in the Senate.

So here’s the problem: removing a president from office requires a two part process and states that a president can only be removed for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” He (or she) can be impeached (by a simple majority in the House) and removed from office (by a 2/3 vote of the Senate). You can read this in Article II, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution. Our founders purposely made this hard to do.

In our history, two presidents have been impeached but neither was removed from office: Andrew Johnson (1808-1875) and Bill Clinton (b.1946). I believe neither of them should have been impeached.

President Johnson came to office in what could be argued was our lowest point as a nation. He took the oath of office a few hours after the death of Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), a few days after the end of the Civil War. Shortly after this, President Johnson began to feud with the Cabinet he inherited. He wanted to implement President Lincoln’s plan to generously welcome back the Southern States. But many Republicans, including Secretary of State Edwin Stanton (1819-1869) advocated a much harsher Reconstruction. Recognizing this conflict, Republicans in Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act over the president’s veto. It prohibited him from firing a member of his cabinet without Senate approval; it’s been a tradition before and since that the president needs the Senate’s advice and consent to name a member of his cabinet but that they serve at his pleasure and can be removed at any time, for any reason (or no reason). With his belief that the Tenure of Office Act was unconstitutional, President Johnson attempted to fire Secretary Stanton. By a vote of 126 to 47 he was impeached. But when it moved to the Senate he was kept in office when the vote of 35 to 19 wasn’t enough to remove him from office (it’s worth noting that 35 voted to remove him, but 36 were needed).

President Clinton came into office in 1989, after 12 years of Republican presidents. People who didn’t like him referred to him as “Slick Willie” and criticized his wife for keeping her maiden name. In 1992 we learned that Bill and Hillary had lost a great deal of money investing in a real estate deal called Whitewater and an investigation was initiated. Eventually a woman named Paula Jones accused him of sexual harassment. President Clinton has always denied her claims, and during an appearance before a grand jury he was asked if he ever had sexual relations with a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky. He had a legal, but inappropriate relationship with Ms. Lewinsky. But he denied the affair, and lying to a grand jury is a crime. The House impeached him by a vote of 228-226. But, like President Johnson, the Senate refused to remove him from office, voting 55-45 to keep him in office.

I argue that neither should have been impeached because neither of their offenses constituted an abuse of power. Much of the rhetoric surrounding the American Revolution found its voice in the tyranny of King George III (1738-1820) and I believe our Constitution provides the opportunity to remove a President if he abuses his power. President Johnson challenged an unconstitutional law and President Clinton lied to prevent embarrassment.

Two years into the Trump presidency we have reason to believe he has abused his power but we don’t have proof. There are some things he may have done that were wrong but not an abuse of power: he may have lied about the value of his properties to enable him to borrow money (for example). This is clearly a crime but it’s not an abuse of power. He can be held to answer for this when he leaves office, but I don’t this should cause his removal from office.

On the other hand we see allegations that he may have broken the law to abuse his power. Investigations in place look to the possibility that the president conspired with the Russians: in return for them to post fake social media that put Hilary Clinton in a bad light (in the hopes that voters would believe this and vote for Mr. Trump), President Trump would ensure a more cozy relationship with the United States.

But we don’t have all the facts yet. If our suspicions come to light, from the Mueller report or some other source, Speaker Pelosi and I will change our minds on impeachment. Only then will we support impeachment and removal from office.

Only then.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 124: Why This Isn’t a National Emergency

Last Friday many of us gathered around our televisions, radios, and social media with one question: will our government stay open? We all were grateful that President Trump signed an continuing resolution to keep the government open despite not getting all the funding he wanted for a border wall on the Mexican border.

I’ve written about this before but a border wall is expensive, ineffective, and unpopular.

Unfortunately we knew it was only a matter of time before the other shoe would drop, and it did. President Trump has shown us again and again that he believes his office gives him unlimited power and that we are not citizens but subjects. I’m not sure who, but someone told him about the National Emergencies Act of 1976. It allows the President, during national emergencies, to act now and wait for Congress to support it. You can read his remarks on February 15th here: here. Previous presidents have invoked this during emergencies like 9/11 and hurricanes. These were events were it was clear that fast action was needed and consensus was assumed.

Enter President Trump’s wall. He recognized that he’ll lose much of his base if he doesn’t build the wall and he’ll pay an even higher price if he shuts down parts of the government again knowing the House of Representatives will never agree to the wall.

And so he manufactured an emergency. He’s claiming that we need the wall to stop drugs even though a wall won’t fix it. He also claims this will stop criminals from coming and committing crimes against Americans even though the crime rate among the undocumented is lower than the crime rate among Americans.

Clearly the emergency he speaks of isn’t an emergency for the United States. It’s an emergency for his re-election campaign. He’s recognized that the road to victory in 2020 becomes much more difficult if he doesn’t have a wall to point to.

His base doesn’t care that Hillary isn’t in jail or that coal isn’t coming back. But to his horror, Mr. Trump does know that when he promised to build the wall they were listening.

The rest of us care more about our future than we care about his future. The president’s road now goes through the court system and I pray the Judicial Branch cares more about our future.

Fortunately the next step is the Judicial Branch. As I write this 16 states have filed suit to stop this. I believe they will rule in favor of our nation instead of our president, but even if they don’t, there’s a good chance it will be tied up long enough to land on the desk of the next president.

We can only hope.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 123: All Americans Should Read James Comey’s Book

This morning my wife Nancy and I finished reading James Comey’s book A Higher Loyalty.

It’s an excellent book and I recommend it to everyone. In it Mr. Comey describes the highs and lows of his life and his commitment to serve our nation. By any measure Mr. Comey’s patriotism reminds us all of what we should all aspire to as Americans and pass that along to our children.

President Trump’s election came three years after Mr. Comey was appointed by President Obama for a ten year term. And while the FBI director normally serves for ten years, he serves at the pleasure of the President. He can be fired by the President for any reason, or for no reason.

And Director Comey was indeed fired by President Trump on May 9, 2017. There’s much to this and I encourage everyone to purchase Mr. Comey’s book to get the whole story. It’s seriously a good read.

But I want to zero in on a paragraph toward the end of Mr. Comey’s book. He and his wife Patrice were blessed with daughters and a son (Collin) who died as an infant in 1995. Collin’s death made Mr. Comey a more compassionate and caring man. He recognized that their pain, and the pain of their surviving children, called them to greater empathy to the suffering of others. Collin’s death not only made Mr. Comey a better husband and father, it made him a better law enforcement officer. It further emboldened him to do justice better.

In his book Mr. Comey wrote about his experience against the reality he saw with President Trump. He wrote this, and I want all Americans to read this:

I see no evidence that a lie ever caused Trump pain, or that he ever recoiled from causing another person pain, which is sad and frightening. Without all those things – without kindness to leaven toughness, without a balance of confidence and humility, without empathy, and without respect for truth – there is little chance President Trump can attract and keep the kind of people around him that every president needs to make wise decisions. That makes me sad for him, but it makes me worry for our country.

We all deserve better leadership. We all deserve a President that leads all of us, that values our values, and lives the values that we embody in the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these the homeless tempest-tost to me I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 122: This Deal You Can’t Make

Dear President Trump:

Let’s face it, things are not going well for you these days. In a previous post I spoke of the need for you to give up on your promise to build a wall on our border with Mexico.

During your campaign you made several promises that your base never really took seriously. You promised to lock up Secretary Clinton. You promised to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

You made these promises because your base believed that you knew how to make deals. They read with devotion from your book The Art of the Deal.

And let’s face it: you thought yourself untouchable. During the campaign you bragged that your support was so strong that you could stand in middle of 5th Avenue and shoot someone and not lose any votes.

But to your horror your base expects you keep your promise to build the wall. The political commentator and author Ann Coulter has already turned on you.

So what now?

Well, you are clear in your book that when negotiating a deal you should never be afraid to walk away. That was easy when you leveraged your father’s money to build something, but the President negotiates in an entirely different world and neither you nor your base ever figured that out.

Funding the government isn’t just another deal: it’s an imperative for our nation. Last month you walked away from the table with Congress which resulted in 800,000 federal employees and more than 1,000,000 contractors not being paid. In fairness it was assumed that the federal employees would receive back pay, but the it’s worth noting that the contractors likely will not.

Our government doesn’t need a real estate developer with mixed results and several bankruptcies, it needs someone who understands that a deal must be made. It needs someone who understands that this is the real world and your petulance (and fear of losing your base) affects the lives of real people who want nothing more than to serve their country. It needs someone who understands that families who live from paycheck to paycheck are not irresponsible.

President Trump, I understand that your ego and insecurity demand that you win your reelection at all costs, and that while strong leaders command respect, you crave approval. I understand that you honestly believe you will be remembered as a successful President. And I understand your greatest fear lies in the possibility that you will be held accountable, even by your base, by your actions.

Frankly I don’t envy you. From North Korea to Russian interference to your inability to keep talented staff, nearly nothing you’ve done has realized success. I know this isn’t what you signed onto. But the rest of us live in a world where we accept the consequences of our actions and move on.

At the very least I encourage you to step out of the 2020 election, and perhaps you need to admit you’re in over your head and resign.

Seriously, call me.

Congratulations to My Father in Law on His First 100 Years

On January 23, 1919 Paul Graff (1882-1967) and his wife Theresa Sailer Graff (1892-1978) gave birth to their first child, Al Graff.

Today we celebrate his 100th birthday.

Several years ago I got a copy of his parents’ marriage license from Mandan, North Dakota. They married on September 10, 1917. Their marriage license was incredibly involved. A physician (whose name I can’t read) attested that they weren’t related and neither was “an idiot, epileptic, imbecile, feeble minded person, common drunkard, insane person or person who has heretofore been afflicted with hereditary insanity, or afflicted with pulmonary tuberculosis in its advanced stages, or afflicted with any contagious venereal disease.” Another part of the application attests that neither of them “has one-eighth or more negro blood.” I’ve often thought it would be good to have a document that attests that I’m not an idiot, imbecile, or feeble minded person.

By any measure Al has lived an incredible life. He came of age during the Great Depression. He and his cousin Paul Graner attended Loyola High School because the pastor of their parish, Our Mother of Sorrows paid their tuition in return for them spending each Saturday cleaning the church.

After high school Al worked for a year at the Cudahy Packing Factory to save money for college. He was then able to attend the University of California, Berkeley and graduated in 1942 with a degree in engineering.

Seven months before he graduated the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He and his classmates were told to stay in school and hone their skills. After graduation General Electric hired him and moved him to Schenectady, New York. He was deferred from service during World War II because he worked on a team that developed the first jet engines.

After the war he married his sweetheart Marion Goetz (1922-2000). In 1958 they moved to Rancho Santa Fe, California and joined St James and St. Leo’s Catholic Church.

As his career in engineering wound down he began studies to become a permanent deacon. In 1983 he was ordained and began his second career.

As a deacon he preached, taught, counseled, and served the people of God. And even into his 90’s his generosity wasn’t done. He donated seed money to St. James Academy, ensuring that future generations could be given the opportunity he was given as a member of the class of 1936 at Loyola High School. He paid it forward.

Full disclosure: I’m his son-in-law, married to his youngest daughter Nancy. Twenty one years ago he welcomed me into his family with enthusiasm and joy. Eighteen years ago, after Marion died, he agreed that we should purchase a house together and we live in a wonderful neighborhood.

For the last two decades I’ve been blessed to stand in his shadow and benefit from his generosity. He has perfected the ability to give without remembering and accept without forgetting. His belief that God’s love for us surpasses our ability to create chaos and hurt each other has taught me the seismic ability of God’s forgiveness.

I stand in awe.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 121: Your 2.0 Report Card

Dear President Trump:

Two years ago today you became our President. I don’t think you expected it and I know I didn’t, but it happened. At the time your told us you were going to be the greatest President in our history. I didn’t believe it then and I don’t believe it now; two years ago I set us some benchmarks and told you that you would be graded against them. So here’s what I have:

  • The Dow Jones average was 19,732.40. Today it is 24,706. That looks good but you caught a break coming into office after President Obama rescued the economy from the brink of disaster. Last year at this time it was 26,071.72. You’re going backwards.
  • Likewise the NASDAQ was 5540.08 on January 20, 2017. A year later it was 7336.38 and today it’s 7157.23. Again, you’re going backward.
  • Finally, the Standard and Poor’s 500 (the S&P 500) started at 2663.69 and last year it was 2810.30. Today it’s 2670.71. More backwards.
  • You’ve done well with the unemployment rate. In 2017 was 4.7% and in 2018 it was 4.l%. Currently it’s 3.9%. I give you props for that.
  • Currently 153,340,000 are employed in the United States and that’s good. It’s up from 123,570,00 two years ago. Of course, it doesn’t count the government employees that aren’t being paid. More later.
  • Gallup tells us that your approval rating stands at about 37% and that’s been consistent for your time in office. Your minimal base appears to continue to support you
  • You ran on a platform to make us great again. When you entered the White House the federal deficit was $590 billion (that is, we spend more than we earn). Today it’s $985 billion.
  • The deficit is different from the national debt. The deficit means we need to borrow money to keep things working. The debt tells us how much money we’ve borrowed (and need to repay). Two years ago the national debt was just under $20 trillion. Now it’s approaching $22 trillion.
  • You ran promising to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with something better. Your best efforts to replace the ACA didn’t work, though you have had some success in disabling it. Two years ago 11% of Americans didn’t have health insurance. Today it appears to be 12.2%

But these numbers don’t tell the whole story. As I write this we are nearly a month into a partial government shutdown. Thousands of government employees and contractors are not being paid (even though some are forced to work) because you insist on building a border wall that most Americans recognize as a bad idea. You’re not doing this because you think it’s a good idea or good for the country. You’re doing this because you recognize that Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter will not support you and you’re afraid of them.

Mr. Trump, you could resign, go back to your tower in New York, and never have to worry about paying your bills. If you do that thousands of government employees and contractors will also have to stop worrying about their bills.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 120: Your Shutdown Appears to Hurt Everyone But You

As I write this we approach the 26th day of the partial government shutdown. We’ve had shutdowns before but this is our longest.

This shutdown does not affect all federal employees and is called a “partial shutdown.” But that’s little comfort to those are not being paid. And those who are not being paid are divided into two groups: essential and non-essential.

The non-essential federal employees cannot work and are not being paid. Essential employees must work and are not being paid. So what’s the difference? Good question.

I believe that all federal employees are essential because they serve all of us. In the past few days I’ve suggested that we abandon essential and non-essential and instead use the words safety related and non safety related. This made some sense because safety related employees guard our safety (e.g. the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Transportation Security Administration) and we can’t function without them. But other agencies provide essential services that don’t endanger our safety.

But here’s where it get complicated for our President: as the shutdown continues we’re finding that his base may suffer from his unwillingness to care about the work that our federal employees do. As a candidate he promised to improve the lives of American farmers and by overwhelming numbers they voted for him. But his protectionist policies make their lives more difficult because other nations reduce how much they purchase from us. We can see soybean farmers as an example.

In response to this Mr. Trump allocated subsidies to soybean farmers. Some of them grumbled that they chose farming to grow crops, not to cash checks but I haven’t heard of anyone who refused to cash the checks.

But the government shutdown has meant that farmers aren’t getting their checks.

Today we received word that 2500 federal employees were ordered back to work to ensure these farmers get their checks.

In other words, 2500 federal employees who haven’t been paid since the government shut down are now ordered back to work without pay so that the President can ensure that the minority of Americans who voted for him will continue to receive checks for not farming.

It’s hard to imagine that anything will make him care for the people who work for him and stop pandering to his base.

Adieu Scully

Seven and a half years ago our neighbors Craig and Alison rang our doorbell with a generous gift. They were walking their dog when they heard a kitten meowing. He was on pitcher’s mound at a little league field on the edge of a canyon at dusk. They recognized that if they didn’t scoop up and save this kitten he would have been eaten by a coyote within minutes. They couldn’t take him home as they have a dog.

They rang our doorbell asking us to keep this kitten overnight and in the morning they could take him to see if he had a microchip that would identify his owner. The next morning Alison drove him to the San Diego Humane Society. Unfortunately they couldn’t check for a microchip and they took him across the street to the San Diego Pound. The pound immediately took control of this kitten for a week, waiting for the owner to claim him. I wrote about this at the time. It was an ordeal but we adopted him and named him Scully after the long time Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Vin Scully.

Our cat Scully was a good cat. We loved our time with him and both of us appreciated the fact that he liked to sleep on our laps. Last Tuesday Tom woke up and brought in the newspaper. But when he tried to pet Scully on the loveseat he recognized that Scully died during the night. Tom took him to an emergency veterinary clinic where they confirmed that Scully died from a massive stroke.

He died in a sleeping position and that makes us think he didn’t suffer. We miss him terribly but are comforted by the fact that he didn’t suffer or die in pain.

Adieu Scully.