What is Tom Reading?
Tom's Homilies 2013
Tom's Homilies 2014
Tom's Homilies 2015
August 20th, 2015
When Donald Trump announced he was a candidate for the Republican nomination for President in 2016 most Americans ignored him. He’s done this before. In 1999 he declared himself a candidate for the Reform Party, though he dropped out after a few months. After a few flirtations for the 2012 election he ended his candidacy.
But two months ago he announced his candidacy and it’s different now. It appears he’s serious and thinks he can win. The polls seem to back him up: as of right now he garners the support of 24% of Republican voters (Jeb Bush is in 2nd place with 13% of the vote) and in a head to head competition with Hillary Clinton he’s only 6 points behind.
We are a year away from the nominating conventions and fifteen months away from the election but already there is copious amounts of chatter that the Donald may be our next president. I have to confess a certain amount of amusement over this. Fringe candidates like Donald Trump and Rand Paul feed into the general discontent many voters feel. Fifteen months out it’s easy to express anger and frustration without having to worry about actually voting for these tangential candidates.
But the 24 hour news cycle is benefiting from this energy and projecting that our next president may be one of these. It won’t. The long journey to the White House demands a candidate who reflects the values, hopes, and dreams of the majority of Americans. It’s no coincidence that Ross Perot in 1992 and John Anderson in 1980 garnered more interest than votes.
These candidates and many others believe that a momentary spike in the polls will translate into a belief in their leadership. We American voters respond to pollsters in different ways: fifteen months out we express our fears and frustrations, and in the voting booth we vote for our dreams.
Many voters worry about the direction of our country and most of them are expressing their fears. But at the end of the conversation they’re not willing to entrust our future to someone who expresses only anger and no leadership. In November of 2015 we will all vote for the candidate who best expresses where we want to be in the future.
I believe most of us want a future where all of us have what we need, where we welcome those who want to join us in building a more perfect union. Where anyone who wants to advance has the opportunity to do so. Where all of us recognize that our ancestors came to this land with a determination to work and a hope to provide for us, their descendants. When we vote in November, 2016 we need to remember them.
I believe that all of us who will vote for our next president will recognize the candidates who share our values and support our descendants as much as our ancestors.
And more to the point I hope all of us will look at Donald Trump and the rest of his supporters and recognize that our nation will do well by choosing someone who will lead us from fear and toward inclusion. Donald won’t do that.
August 4th, 2015
I speak for almost everyone of my generation when I praise To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It was published in 1960, the year I was born. I read it as a high school freshman when it was assigned. I assumed it would be the usual boring nonsense I was supposed to read.
I was wrong: a few pages into this book was hooked. I still remember the first line: “When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.” The book entered me into a world I only recognized peripherally. Growing up in (Northern) Virgina I knew there was racism in the justice system and that African Americans didn’t enjoy the “innocent until proven guilty” or “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” But reading this book I was faced with a black man (Tom Robinson) who was not only clearly innocent but in danger of his life only because he was accused by a white man (Bob Ewell).
Throughout this book I came to admire Atticus Finch, Tom’s attorney. Atticus was the father of Scout, the book’s narrator. He had no agenda but justice and knew that Tom was innocent. Things didn’t turn out well for Tom but Atticus clearly came out as the hero. From both the book and the 1962 movie (where Atticus was played by Gregory Peck) we all hoped for the courage and moral compass that led Atticus to do what he did.
We also wished Harper Lee had kept writing. She apparently retired and didn’t write anything else and we felt that loss. A few years ago we learned that she was elderly and no longer able to live independently.
But we also learned that someone found a manuscript she had written before To Kill a Mockingbird. This started a debate that continues to this day. From what I’ve been able to read, Miss Lee wrote a book (now called Go Set a Watchman) before To Kill a Mockingbird.
So here’s the problem: Did Miss Lee intend to publish this earlier work? Many of us believe that she submitted Go Tell a Watchman to her publisher only to have the publisher tell her to rework it. She did and the world received To Kill a Mockingbird. Given that she may well have decided to bury Go Set a Watchman. Frankly, I wish she had. Or at least spend part of the last 50 years reworking To Find a Watchman.
Maureen Corrigan has an excellent review on National Public Radio and I couldn’t agree more.
This book is a mess. Most of us who didn’t like it point to the treatment of Atticus Finch. Here is an avowed racist, a man who believes the federal government had no business ordering the desegregation of schools. He was a member of the KKK and is now a member of the racist Citizen’s Council.
But even that aside the book didn’t work. My spin is that this book is about Scout (now called Jean Louise) who returns to her home some twenty years after To Kill a Mockingbird. Where she once idolized her father she is now horrified by him and his views. Growing up she based her moral compass on his and now finds she can’t, and needs to develop her own moral compass. But this book is sloppy in writing, with several asides that contribute nothing to the story.
I suspect that Harper Lee never intended this book to be published; if she had she would have rewritten it. She would have made it better. Someone is going to make a great deal of money off this. As for me, I’m glad I borrowed the book and won’t contribute to it.
July 23rd, 2015
Last month the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that gay couples have a right to marry and any laws that prevented that are unconstitutional. It’s been nearly a month since the ruling came out, but I wanted to read the opinion before writing about it (yes, you can actually contact the public affairs office of the Supreme Court).
People who handicap the Court generally assumed Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayer, and Elana Kagan would vote for marriage equality; Justices John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito would vote that states should have the right to decide, and that Justice Anthony Kennedy would be the swing vote that would carry the majority.
They were right. Justice Kennedy voted to strike down laws in those states that prohibit gay marriage. He wrote the opinion for the majority. Justices Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito all wrote dissenting opinions.
Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy spoke of how “the history of marriage is one of both continuity and change.” Furthermore, “[h]istory and tradition guide and discipline the inquiry but do not set its outer boundaries.” He noted that in 1967 the Court struck down laws in much of the South that prohibited interracial marriage. Additionally in 1978 the Court struck down a law in Wisconsin that prohibited men from marrying if they owed child support, and in 1987 they found that prison inmates cannot be prohibited from marrying. The majority finds this case is a continuation of striking down laws that forbid different people from marrying.
The minority argued that while those other cases did strike down laws that prevented certain classes of people to marry, none of them changed the definition of marriage, that being between one man and one woman. Justice Roberts, in particular, felt that there has been a robust and necessary debate in this country on the definition of marriage and this ruling short circuited that debate. Ultimately he wrote that the definition of marriage should be decided by legislation, not judicial decision.
Justice Scalia agreed with Justice Roberts, and added his own concurrence. He found it telling that societies all over the earth and throughout history have defined marriage the same way: one man and one woman, and yet 5 unelected justices change marriage with the flick of a pen.
Justice Thomas wrote the part of the opinion that troubles me the most. The majority opinion speaks of how marriage equality allows the same dignity to homosexual couples that heterosexual couples have been able to take for granted. Justice Thomas argued that the government cannot confer or deny dignity. He wrote: “Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved.” The fact that he is descended from slaves who would doubtless be shocked by this is only part of my disappointment.
Finally, Justice Alito, in addition to concurring with many of the arguments, added this one: this ruling will make it more difficult for those who disagree about gay marriage. He wrote it “will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.” Further, “[r]ecalling the harsh treatment of gays and lesbians in the past, some may think that turnabout is fairplay.” In other words, this means the bullies may now be bullied.
I make no secret of my support for marriage equality. Far from devaluing marriage, I believe this enhances marriage by making it possible for a group that has been previously excluded. I’ve been married for 17 1/2 years and it’s been wonderful. It’s nice to see that our gay brothers and sisters have that open to them also.
By the way, the ban on interracial marriage was struck down 48 years ago. Most Americans now profess agreement with that decision. I pray that in a few years almost nobody will admit to having opposed gay marriage.
July 20th, 2015
In a previous post I spoke about Donald Trump and the offensive remarks he made about immigrants. I hoped that either he would grow up or drop out of the race.
Oh well. On Saturday, July 18th he was being interviewed by Frank Luntz at the Family Leadership Summit. In the course of the interview Mr. Luntz referred to Senator John McCain (R-AZ) as a “war hero.” It’s kind of a throwaway line as I think most of us view Senator McCain as a hero. He was a Navy pilot who was shot down in 1967 over North Vietnam. From then until 1973, when he was released, he endured horrific injuries, botched surgeries, near starvation, and torture. In 1968 the North Vietnamese offered to send him home but he refused to go unless all those who had been POW’s longer than him were also released. The North Vietnamese refused and he was a prisoner for another five years.
By any definition he was a hero. He was someone whose actions encourage others to serve and live with greater courage and distinction. Simply put, his actions made all of us better people.
Enter Donald Trump. For a full transcript of Mr. Trump’s remarks you can look here.
There’s enough offense here to go around but I want to focus on one line:
.. He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured, okay? I hate to tell you that. He’s a war hero because he was captured, okay?
If Mr. Trump likes people who weren’t captured he’s telling us one of two things:
- He’s not a hero because heroes are those people who are smart enough or skilled enough to not get shot down. This is hard to stomach because it’s only the bravest enough among us to go that far into harm’s way. Senator McCain wasn’t shot down over friendly territory or even neutral territory. Hanoi was the capital of North Vietnam and there wasn’t a more dangerous place in the war. He stood tall in Hell.
- He’s not a hero because he surrendered. American POW’s were treated harshly in World War II because the Japanese believed that honorable soldiers would kill themselves before allowing themselves to be captured. Japanese captors believed that American POW’s were the “lowest of the low” because they were too cowardly to take the honorable route and commit suicide.
So this is an open question to Mr. Trump: If you believe Senator McCain isn’t a hero, is it because of reason #1 or reason #2?
By the way there’s an excellent article in today’s Washington Post. It gives a timeline of both Mr. Trump and Senator McCain from 1968 to 1973.
In fairness to Mr. Trump, while Senator McCain was being tortured by the North Vietnamese, Mr. Trump spent countless hours collecting rent from tenants in his apartments.
July 13th, 2015
Every four years I give myself a self inflicted wound. I try to keep track of candidates for the next Presidential race. If that weren’t enough, once the delegate race begins I try to keep track of how many delegates are committed to each candidate.
This is more complicated that you might think. As I write this the “conventional wisdom” claims there are 15 running for the Republican nomination and 4 for the Democratic nomination.
That’s at least who I have listed on the left column of this blog. But if you go to the Republican web page there is a straw poll that includes Mark Everson (who has declared but is not taken seriously by most Republicans), Jim Gilmore (who hasn’t declared and doesn’t have a web page, only a facebook page), John Kasich (who also hasn’t declared and has only a facebook page and a twitter feed), and Peter King who hasn’t declared but does have a web page.
On top of that you can look at web pages that list Republican, Democrat candidates as well as candidates for other parties. These pages list dozens of other declared and potential candidates.
Both major parties will have to walk through the weeds and determine who are viable when they choose not only funding but also places at debates.
God it’s great fun to live in a democracy.
July 9th, 2015
I’m writing to share some good news with you: Today, July 9, 2015 my nephew and godson Nathan Rycroft earned a Ph.D from Boston University.
I’m writing to tell you about this event not because of Dr. Rycroft, but because of his great grandfather Calixte Allain.
You see, your words on immigration have prompted me to think about the role of immigration in my family. On June 16, 2015 you said this:
When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
Nathan’s great grandfather left his home in Canada and came to Gardner, Massachusetts somewhere around 1915. He married in 1918, had children born in 1920, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1926, 1928, and 1931. Of his seven children, he had five boys. Of those boys, four of them served in uniform during World War II or Korea, or both. He worked hard all his life and he did it with essentially a 3rd grade education.
His youngest son (Donald), Nathan’s grandfather, was able to earn a high school diploma. He did it through a combination of Calixte’s and Emma’s dedication and Donald’s determination.
Donald married in 1958, moved to Woodbridge, Virginia and had children born in 1960 (me) and 1962 (my sister Lisa). Both of us earned Master’s degrees, me from Catholic University and Lisa from American University. We did it through a combination of Donald’s and Claire’s dedication and our determination.
Lisa married in 1984 and had children born in 1987 (Nathan) and 1991 (Christopher). Nathan graduated college in 2009 and Chris in 2015. Nathan went on to get his Ph.D today.
I’m writing to you to tell you that Nathan’s great grandfather didn’t come to this country with “problems.” He came here with a determination to make a better life for him, his future wife, and future children (and grandchildren and great grandchildren). He didn’t bring crime, drugs and he didn’t come to rape anyone. He brought a future of good people who are now working hard, paying taxes, and are the kind of Americans you want to attract.
I understand that you are attracting potential voters and funding with your invective against people who don’t look like you (or me) but I want you to know that your bigotry runs against our history as Americans. The Statue of Liberty welcomes the people you want to exclude.
Please stop your bigotry.
July 4th, 2015
While I was born in Washington D.C. I grew up in Virginia, home to the capital of the Confederacy.
I’ll freely admit that I grew up in Northern Virginia that is in many ways distinct from the rest of the state. My parents, and the parents of most of my friends, came from somewhere else to work for the government, either in uniform or as a civil servant. My southern roots are shallow.
That said, it’s been interesting to listen to the national conversation on the Confederate Battle Flag. There was an official Confederate Flag but it looked too much like the United States Flag and was confusing to Confederate soldiers. The “Stars and Bars” has come to be known as the Confederate Flag.
On April 9, 1965 Robert E. Lee and his Confederate forces surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant and the Confederate States of America ceased to exist.
But the flag didn’t. Many in the South continued to fly the flag for a variety of reasons. Some felt that “the South will rise again” and independence from the United States was only a matter of time. There weren’t many of them, and they really didn’t matter.
The battle flag endured because many in the South wanted to rewrite history. They continue to claim that the Civil War (or “the war between the states” or “the war of Northern aggression”) wasn’t about slavery but about states’ rights and southern heritage. They insist the flag isn’t about racism or exclusion but about celebrating their heritage.
Fair enough, but for the descendants of slaves (like Michelle Obama) and even for those whose ancestors came from Africa after 1865 (like Barack Obama) the battle flag is a symbol of only this: slavery. It harkens to a time when they and their children were owned as property. A time where they were believed to be inferior and unable to care for themselves. A time when it was against the law to teach them to read.
And since 1865 it’s become a symbol of ongoing racism. Organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and the Council of Conservative Citizens insist the battle flag isn’t a symbol of racism while they continue to insist that Americans of African descent are a danger to us all.
The real danger is the ongoing racism and it must stop. And the battle flag must also.
Today is the 239th anniversary of the birth of our nation. Let us all honor the same flag.
June 27th, 2015
Thursday morning at breakfast the Today Show broke into its programming to announce a decision in the case of King v. Burwell. By a 6-3 decision the justices found for the defendant.
I’ve been disturbed at the news coverage on this. Virtually all the reporting makes it sound like a boxing match: Who won and who lost. I’m willing to bet that an embarrassingly small percentage of the population could name the case (King v. Burwell) or the issue that the court decided today.
The implications were clear: had the court found for the plaintiff the Affordable Care Act would likely not have been able to survive. So what were the particulars of the case?
The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also called “Obamacare” was signed into law in 2010 and mandated that nearly everyone purchase health insurance. Many of us work for companies that provide us with adequate health insurance, but many companies don’t If you’re a part time or per diem employee you may not get health care from your company. If you work for a small business they may not afford to pay for health insurance. If you’re under 65 and not employed (for any reason) you have nobody to provide you health insurance.
You’ve always been able to buy a health insurance policy on your own, but for many people that was not an option. Premiums were prohibitively high, and you can be denied for a host of pre-existing conditions. I have sleep apnea and before the ACA I would have been excluded from any private health coverage.
The ACA mandated that health insurance companies not exclude anyone for pre-existing conditions. Health insurance companies (rightly) argued that this doesn’t work for them because under this system nobody would buy health insurance until they needed it (much as you can’t buy fire insurance when your house is already on fire). The mandate was necessary as this provided health insurance companies a larger base of customers. That’s the basis of insurance: most people who buy insurance don’t need it and this pays for the minority who does.
But there was still another problem: a large percentage of our population still couldn’t afford to purchase health insurance. We can’t tell people they have to buy health insurance if they simply can’t afford to. Because of this the ACA provided subsidies for people whose earnings fall below a certain level.
The ACA wanted the states to participate in this and made this deal: if your state wishes, it can set up a health insurance exchange. For those eligible for subsidies, the federal government will pick up all of the cost for the first few years and most of the cost from then on. If a state refused to set up an exchange, the federal government would set one up. I believed that most states would see the value in setting up exchanges. I was wrong. Only 16 states set up exchanges and the rest depended on the federal government.
That’s all fine, but here’s where we get into the current lawsuit. Most of us get our health insurance through our employers and our employer pays part of the premium. For people who get their insurance through these exchanges, paying the full premium would be overly burdensome, and the ACA provides subsidies to help people buy insurance. Buried deep in the legislation is the phrase that subsidies are only available to people who purchase their health insurance on an exchange “established by the State.”
The plaintiffs argued that these subsidies are only valid for health insurance exchanges established by one of the 16 states, and that if you live in one of the states that doesn’t run its own exchange, you are not eligible for subsidies.
Frankly that would have sent the entire ACA into a death spiral. People in those 34 states would lose insurance because they couldn’t afford to purchase it. The loss of premiums would have made it much more difficult for insurance companies in those states to continue to provide coverage and many of them would stop providing insurance in those states at all.
In the majority ruling the Court found for the defendants, arguing that if this phrase meant to apply only to those 16 states, the seeds of its own destruction would have been written into the law. In other words this can’t have been the intent of the authors because they never would have written legislation whose implementation was impossible.
Simply put this was the last, desperate act of a group of people who don’t like President Obama, don’t like anything he supports, and hoped against hope that they could convince the Supreme Court to strike it down. Fortunately it didn’t work.
June 6th, 2015
June 6, 1944 is a day most members of the Greatest Generation will never forget. By 1944 everyone knew that Allied Forces stationed in England would need to make an amphibious landing on the coast of France. Nobody (or at least almost nobody) knew where or when.
The English Channel is a little over 20 miles wide at its narrowest (in the Strait of Dover) and Adolf Hitler, among others, believed the invasion would start there, in Calais. It didn’t.
The invasion instead was south of Calais, near the villages of Caen and Bayeux. They hoped to join their forces at St. Lo.
It was chaotic from the very beginning. The weather was not cooperative and many of the paratroopers were dropped far from where they were supposed to be.
Nevertheless, this day was ultimately successful. The Allied troops were able to claim a beachhead and begin the march toward Berlin. Ten months later the Nazis surrendered and Europe was once again free from tyranny (at least those countries not conquered by the Soviet Union.
I’ve spoken with several of the troops who landed at Normandy that day. Their memories continue to move me to tears. I can’t help but know that the first few waves landed and understood that their jobs were to use up all the Nazi bullets. I remember one man telling me that they were told to get off the transport boat and start marching: if the man next to you goes down, don’t try to help him. Just keep marching. He defied that order when the guy next to him walked off the transport boat and stepped into a divot in the ocean and fell in over his head (and was in danger of drowning). This man told me he defied orders by grabbing the collar of his buddy and dragged him back up.
He also told me that during the transport he saw the soldiers doing several things. Some were praying the rosary, some were staying silent, and some were playing dice. It’s hard to imagine being on a transport, as a teenager or young adult, knowing this may well be the last day, or the last hour of your life. By sunset on this day, 71 years ago, they were all grateful to be alive.
I’m grateful too.
May 25th, 2015
As many of you know, every four years I begin to track those who are running for President. And even though the election is over 17 months away, the campaign is beginning in full swing.
As I write this the race for the nomination for the Democrats is a small field. But the race for the Republican nomination is a much more open field. In the past I’ve gone to pains to include those who seek the nomination in other parties or those who run as independents.
Running against the current of common sense I’ve done it again. If you scroll down the left side of this page you’ll see those I’ve listed. I have a few criteria. I won’t list anyone who hasn’t declared. Several candidates in both parties are “exploring” whether or not to run; I’ll include them when they declare.
There are several smaller parties who run candidates and I begin with their web pages. Again you need to declare to be included.
By far the independents are the hardest group to track. I’ve developed this criteria for this list: you have to be eligible to be president (ie, 35 years old and a U.S. citizen by birth) and you have to have a web page. I know this probably discriminates against candidates who are not computer literate, but since I depend on computer searches, it’s the best I can do. If you write to me and tell me you’re running, I’ll include you.
Let the races begin.