What is Tom Reading?
Tom's Homilies 2013
Tom's Homilies 2014
Tom's Homilies 2015
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.
May 18th, 2015
Last month Nancy’s father suffered a stroke. He’s 96 and in otherwise remarkable health and his recovery is optimistic. It’s been an emotional roller coaster that happens to nearly every family at one time or another, and God knows I’ve been witness to it thousands of times in my role as a hospice chaplain.
In the last four weeks I’ve also found there is a learning roller coaster to this. We purchase insurance for all sorts of things: our life, our homes, our cars. But we also buy insurance for our health and that’s an entirely different equation.
We buy car insurance in the hope that we’ll never need it. In the off chance we do need it, we’re pretty certain what it will do. If we wreck the car our insurance will fix or replace it. Case closed. Same with homeowner’s insurance.
But health insurance is a different animal altogether. It’s fairly expensive and most of us don’t pay the entire premium ourselves. Because of a series of random events, we expect our employers to pay the lion’s share and they do. Before the passage of the Affordable Care Act millions of Americans could not afford health insurance. If they got sick or injured they showed up in a hospital emergency room and made a horrible bargain: fix me and hope I can repay you.
If you couldn’t, it was a lose/lose situation. The hospital wouldn’t get reimbursed for the care they provided and sued the patient. The patient, who couldn’t pay, filed for bankruptcy and destroyed their ability to ever borrow money again. Result: the hospital needed to find another way to achieve financial solvency and the patient spent his life stuck in a cycle of poverty.
Bottom line: if you didn’t have insurance you owed whatever the hospital claimed you owed with almost no ability to negotiate.
But if you did have insurance you were gold. Your insurance company would pay for whatever happened to you. You may have a small copay but it’s at best a small percentage of the cost of caring for you.
And here’s what you didn’t know: your insurance company has the ability to negotiate how much they pay. They will pay less than the cost of caring for you because the hospital can recoup the difference with the individuals who can’t negotiate.
I’ve written this article because we received a bill from Scripps Memorial Hospital for Al’s stay there. He suffered his stroke on the evening of Saturday, April 18th. We brought him to the emergency room that evening where they admitted him. He stayed there until the afternoon of Wednesday, April 22nd.
We were pleased with his health and pleased with the staff and have nothing but nice things to say about the staff at Scripps Memorial. We weren’t sure how much it would cost but we all agreed it was worth it.
A few days ago we got the total. The total cost for his stay was $49,773.00 and the copay was $700.00. Truthfully, that seemed like a good deal for us. The copay was 1.4% of the bill. We were pleased with the insurance.
But there was another line in the bill. Turns out the insurance company didn’t pay $49,073.00. They paid $11,536.56. They have enough patients that they can play hardball with the hospital and negotiate a reduced rate.
In the end it pays off for everyone. The hospital is able to be profitable receiving $11,536.56 from the insurance company and $700.00 from Al (for a total of $12,236.56). Truthfully it’s a win/win/win. The hospital can live with a reimbursement of $12,236.56, the insurance company can afford to pay $11,536.56, and Al can afford to pay $700.00.
But for someone in the exact same position without insurance, they don’t have the option of paying $12,236.56. Their bill is $49,073.00 and the hospital expects every dime. If it’s not paid right away it goes to a collection agency. These patients and families are in an untenable situation: they are willing to pay whatever they can but they just can’t pay enough.
The passage of the Affordable Care Act provides health insurance for many who had been left outside. There are still those who gamble against needing health insurance but that number is much lower. To the extent that many candidates for the Republican nomination promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, we can assume that they choose loose/loose over win/win/win.
As Al’s son in law I’m grateful to be part of the win/win/win.
April 14th, 2015
My last post celebrated a good day: the day the Civil War ended. Our newly reunited nation rejoiced and nobody was more grateful than our President, Abraham Lincoln. Even before the war ended he was outlining the plan to bring back the states that wanted to secede. He articulated a process that would echo the Biblical parable of the Prodigal Son.
In one of the cruelest twists in American history, a man who hated Lincoln killed him 150 years ago today. John Wilkes Booth first devised a plan to kidnap the president as a bargaining chip to force the Union to ransom him in return for Southern emancipation. When the South surrendered on April 9th, Booth’s plan lost its purpose. Booth, a frequent actor at Ford’s Theater, found out on the morning of April 14th, that President Lincoln would attend the play This American Cousin that evening. He took that opportunity to kill Lincoln instead of kidnapping him. The plan was greater than that. He devised a plan where he would kill President Lincoln. George Atzerodt would kill Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Lewis Powell would kill Secretary of State William Seward.
George Atzerodt got drunk and didn’t attempt to kill Johnson, Powell was able to wound but not kill Seward, and only Booth carried out his mission.
Booth was shot to death on April 26th. Azerodt and Payne were executed on July 7th (along with Mary Surratt and David Herold)