22 April 2005

In the Nuclear Winter of the Filibuster

The Republicans have put the nomination of two judges on the agenda again, even though the previous Congress filibustered their nomination. It is the first move in a complicated chess game that Republicans have warned will lead them to change Senate rules, unless Democrats back down on the filibuster.

Naturally, Democrats are outraged. They argue that it is the dictatorship of the biggest bully, When the game does not go their way, Republicans change the rules, Democrats say. The underlying argument is that the filibuster is not illegal, in fact, that it is a purposely designed part of the system of checks and balances, intended to prevent the majority party to rule by decree. Every senator has the constitutional right to speak, even if it be ad nauseam to the rest of the Senate. Tough toenails, is the Democratic response to that objection. The law is the law.

Technically speaking, the Democrats are right. Limiting debate without the required sixty senators to end it is a violation of the rules as they stand. But ethically and morally, Republicans have every right to be outraged at the Democratic use of the filibuster. The concept of “filibustering” in the Senate was not designed by the Founding Fathers, nor any other statesman. The filibuster came into being when political debate degenerated into political sabotage. To talk of the filibuster as a constitutional device is nothing but propaganda. I have written about this before.

The question is, will the Republicans have the guts to change Senate rules? Vice-president Dick Cheney has already indicated he will cast the tie-breaking vote if the Senate votes 50-50 on the question. But Democrats have already warned that they will shut down government if the rules are changed. That would mean, no legislation of any kind would get passed, with severe consequences for all branches of public service. No salaries of federal employees would get paid and federal services and agencies such as US Mail would shut down.

The Democrats are banking on the likelihood that the Republicans will find that perspective too worrying. A handful of Republican senators have already said that the “nuclear option” as the Democrats disparagingly call the proposal to end the filibuster is too much for them, and they will vote against it. The Democrats are probably right. Their assessment, that the voters will hold Republicans—and not Democrats—responsible for the mess that would ensue, is probably correct. It is an illusion to think that the Republican electorate is made up largely of highly-principled conservative Christians. In the chaos, it will probably become clear that business interests and lobbyists’ money do most of the talking.

Thus, I believe that, even though I support ending the filibuster, it will not come to that. Nevertheless, the dispute has highlighted how wide the fallout would reach if the partisan Civil War did come to a head. New York Times columnist David Brooks yesterday analyzed the situation correctly, when he noted the main wedge separating red from blue America: Roe v. Wade. Until the liberal tyranny from the judicial benches is undone, there can be no normality in US politics.

21 April 2005

Spain to Legalize Gay Marriage

After the Netherlands and Belgium, Spain is set to become the third country in the world where gays and lesbians will be allowed to marry (source: BBC News). The Lower Chamber in Spain’s parliament approved a bill today that would make this happen. The Upper Chamber is not likely to block it. An unprecedented roar erupted from the public balcony when the bill was approved. “A historic day for Spain,” the numerous gay activists exclaimed.

A historic day indeed. But it will be a black page in Spain’s history books. Gay activists had campaigned hard to get this bill approved. The main reason for passing it? According to the gay activists, Spain needs to award gay people these special rights in order to move Spain from a conservative Mediterranean culture to a progressive European society, that is, to make it more in line with the rest of Europe.

But there are only two other countries in Europe where gay marriage is legal and they are not exactly the most important ones either. It is just another example of gay activists giving phoney reasons for claiming special rights and being just a little bit more equal than other people.

There are rumblings in other countries, too. Sweden is already notoriously pro-gay, as is Denmark, which recognizes gay partnerships. And last year, Great Britain worked on passing a bill on civil unions as well. Pro Family groups in that country have been campaigning hard to explain to the British public that the civil union bill would create gay marriage in all but name. It would award, like the Spanish bill, special privileges to a group of people, solely on the basis of their sexual preferences.

In other words, two non-gay men or non-lesbian women who share property or a house together for other reasons—because they are long-time elderly friends sharing rent, or a disabled mother and her daughter who takes care of her—would not get any of the privileges and benefits that gays and lesbians do get. Despite the fact that there are only a few gay couples who would benefit. If you are not gay, you just don’t qualify.

20 April 2005

A Protestant’s Response to the Election of Benedict XVI

It would be easy to say, as a protestant, that the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to be the next pope, leaves me completely disinterested. It would also be a complete lie. And for all those protestants who scoff at the media hype about it, here’s news for you: it matters for protestants who is pope.

The sad thing is that in the dechristianized West, your average heathen neighbor cannot tell the difference between Christians and Mormons, or Christians and Muslims, and certainly not between Protestants and Roman Catholics. Read the liberal media and you should realize that everyone who talks about Jesus is automatically labeled an evangelical and if you ever mention anything contrary to one of the New Age creeds

—“We believe in a woman’s right to abort her baby because she cannot face changing diapers. We believe in the right of any human to marry any other creature regardless of race, religion, gender, species or number. We believe in creating life for spare parts and ending it for spare parts. So help us the Universal Energy into which we hope to be dissolved when our bodies die.”—

you are sure to be called a right wing extremist or be compared to a member of Al Qaeda.

In other words, most ignorant liberals (not necessarily a tautology) will consider the pope the universal representative of Christianity. What the pope says or does, reflects on all Christians, even protestants. It is the weakness of the schismatic nature of protestantism that there is no unified ambassador on earth. But then I guess, protestants believe in that one Ambassador, Jesus Christ, Someone the RC church has sort of lost sight of when Mary and the saints (please do not start a rockband with that name) started crowding Him out.

So, what is a protestant to make of Pope Benedict XVI? As far as I can tell, he is a clone of John Paul II. He has somewhat less charisma and more of a German accent but, apart from that, it seems John Paul II is ruling from beyond the grave. That means a strong conservative voice on social issues but also, unfortunately, unflinching on the RC superstitions, i.e. Mary as a fourth person in the Trinity, purgatory and indulgences, praying to a pantheon of saints and worshiping the bread-god in the eucharist. Another toughy. Let’s just pray that the new pope will focus on the former and down-play the latter, at least in the public arena. Because if he is seen as a strong, principled Christian, his example may yet be a PR opportunity for the gospel. After all, the Holy Spirit does not need human perfection to effect grace and faith. Even the pope can be saved.

15 April 2005

Dutch Secretary Labels Prostitution ‘Fitting Employment’

Dutch parliamentarians are struggling with some unforeseen consequences of the legalization of prostitution in their country. The lower chamber debated on Wednesday, April 13 with Labor Secretary Mr. De Geus about his assessment that prostitution cannot be dismissed as unfitting employment in all circumstances.

Under the Dutch welfare system, the unemployed can only continue receiving benefits if they are registered with a government employment agency and actively participate in finding a job. The government also has guidelines to link vacancies to jobseekers’ qualifications. Under those guidelines, refusing a job considered a fitting match to one’s qualifications results in a benefit cut.

However, with the legalization of prostitution, the government employment agencies were forced to start registering vacancies in this branch. In a letter to parliament last month, Mr. De Geus reported his department’s assessment that there is no basis under current Dutch law to exempt prostitution from the government guidelines regarding fitting employment. While he remarked that the agencies are not actively recruiting jobless women for these vacancies, and are in fact encouraged to leave them “dormant” in their databases, the enforcement branch of the Department of Welfare and Labor is compelled to consider the question whether a job as prostitute may be fitting employment for certain people. The secretary suggested that “women who were formerly employed as prostitutes” might well fall into that category.

Even the Dutch parliament is unhappy with this situation but is faced with the consequences of its own actions. Many secular representatives are scrambling to find a compromise but legally there can be no exemption for prostitution as long as it is legal.

Meanwhile, Christian representatives are warning of worse situations in the future. Rep. Tineke Huizinga and Ms. Yvette Lont, both members of the Christian party ChristenUnie, write in the Nederlands Dagblad that the legislation creates a trap for women who are currently trying to get out of prostitution. Registering with the government employment agency would only cause the agency to make the observation that they are qualified for their vacancies in prostitution. While no-one has as yet had their benefits cut under the Dutch rules, Rep. Huizinga and Ms. Lont note that authorities in Germany, where similar legislation was enacted, have done so with a 25 year-old schooled IT worker who refused to accept a job as prostitute. The fact that Mr. De Geus is ignorant of the true state of affairs in the world of prostitution is commendable in him as a private person, Huizinga and Lont write, but as Secretary he should know better.

While it is important not to engage in superficial assessments of the climate in liberal Holland, there is no denying that ignorance and a sharp decline in Christian values have made the country into a showcase for what happens when utilitarian pragmatism becomes the basis for morality. Perhaps the most difficult for conscientious Christians in the Netherlands is the fact that their battle for traditional values is somewhat invisible in the absence of active persecution of Christians and in a place where Satan does not fight openly under the banner of outright evil but deludes good but ignorant citizens in the disguise of New Morality. Let us remember to pray for those who are fighting and for those who are being deluded.

Sources: (for those who read Dutch)

14 April 2005

Nuclear Option A Good Thing

The sooner Congress decides to outlaw the sabotage practice known as “filibustering” the better. Personally I think that the Founding Fathers were having a bad day when they forgot to prohibit it. The filibuster is a deeply undemocratic tool that has never been used for anything but obstructing the will of the majority of the people. Now, don’t get me wrong, minorities should not be robbed of their rights. But there is no justification for claiming special rights for minorities. The Declaration of Independence talks about “all men [being] created equal”, not about some minorities being so special as to warrant extra rights, because otherwise it would be unfair.

Yet that is the position of the Democrats. They have been denouncing the so-called “nuclear option” as more evidence of the fact that Republicans are just power hungry and want to lord it over the poor little Democrats. I could not disagree more. Democracy is Greek for “rule by the people.” The majority of people voted for Republicans so that they have the mandate to make decisions. The Democrats’ misuse of Congressional debating procedures is unconstitutional and unethical and should be prohibited.

But wait. That does not solve everything. I am not a Republican and while I happen to side with the Republican proposal on this topic, I do not support the Republican party. I am quite wary about the hypocrisy that is manifesting itself among Republicans (and Democrats). Scrapping the filibuster would tip the balance to the Republicans. It would be foolish to deny that. It would be in line with the election results but does have certain risks.

So, what is the problem? The problem is the two-party system. Since everything in US politics is binary, the result in Congress is that one of two parties will always be in charge. If there were ever a third party with enough clout to keep either party from 50% influence, the filibuster would become unnecessary to prevent the dictatorship of the majority. That would mean pretty large changes in the US election system. Right now all other parties apart from the Republicans and Democrats are completely meaningless. That is something I worry about, since I support neither party. So, let’s start retiring some of those Republicans and Democrats and replace them with third-party candidates. Let’s build up a true conservative party that is not in the pocket of big businesses and special interests but finds its true basis in Scripture and the Constitution.

(That, by the way, is not an endorsement of the Constitution Party, with whom I also have certain quarrels.)

13 April 2005

New Ambassador to that Institution that Doesn’t Exist

I suppose it’s not a promising start to a conservative blog if the first couple of messages just rail against Republicans. Well, see my previous posting. The thing is, this Bolton guy doesn’t merely look bad in the liberal media portrayals, this guy is a loonie. Of course, his embarrassment must be enormous. Before he was nominated for this high-profile government post, he was free to say whatever many protectionists really do think (that the UN is an unnecessary super-government). Now it is coming back to haunt him. I don’t know whether he is qualified for the job in the mere technical sense (i.e. does he have the right diploma’s and job experience). But I can tell you now that the guy is not qualified for this job. If you are on record as saying that you can remove the top floors of the UN building without anyone noticing the difference, that doesn’t sound like you take the UN very seriously.

It is another very disappointing decision by George W. Bush. I am really not a great fan of him as a president. He’s probably a nice enough guy in person but there are a number of policies that I really can’t agree with. What ever possessed him to nominate John Bolton for the UN ambassadorship? Are there really no other Colin Powells out there, people who don’t necessarily have to be perfect but who at least aren’t complete fruitcakes?

Tom De Lay Should Resign as Majority Leader

Well, call me a liberal then, if you have to. Even if I am really a conservative, I am by no means a Republican. Many in the US confuse the two terms. And don’t think that Mr. De Lay is not conservative enough for me. I simply think that his conduct is, shall we say, less than entirely ethical. Even for appearances’ sake, he should have stepped down as majority leader long ago. I do not believe all the allegations Democrats are lodging against him, but, for goodness sake, he is an embarrassment for conservatives. Don’t confuse my politics with this man’s practices, please.

12 April 2005

A Calvinist's View of the Papacy

So, what are we to make of the recently deceased pope? Even among Roman Catholics there is considerable disagreement about John Paul II and his achievements. Most liberals, both Catholics and non-believers, always reviled him as a backward fossil who was out of touch with reality. Yet many nominal Catholics in Europe—those who barely make it to church once a year—mourned him as one of the greatest popes the church ever had, a view shared by many conservative Catholics around the world.

Pope John Paul II was honest and consistent. Once he had made up his mind he would not waver. He did not change direction with the wind. He was consistent in everything, sometimes to minute details that nevertheless could affect important public pronouncements. John Paul II condemned war as an outworking of sin and as inherently evil, but he did not reject it as morally repugnant by definition. He believed that any country has the right to defend itself and use military means if all other avenues were exhausted. As a result, he was known to be against the Iraq war, a fact often cited by anti-war protesters. But he condoned the US intervention in Afghanistan without having to compromise his principles because that war was justified: it was in direct reaction to a military attack and thus counted as self-defence.

He was a fierce promotor of environmental protection and criticized the false notion, still held by many American conservatives, that capitalism is the most effective economic system ensuring freedom and equality. One can hardly accuse the pope of having been a communist, since he saw its evils firsthand in his native Poland. He was simply smart enough to see that economic policy can only do so much to make man happy.

But in other areas Pope John Paul II had more troubling views. Liberal secularist condemn his views of abortion, women’s rights (within and without the church), contraception, gays and AIDS. As a Calvinist, I disagree with many theological doctrines held by the Roman Catholic church. The heresies pointed out by Martin Luther, John Calvin and the other reformers are still adhered to by the largest Christian denomination in the world. The erroneous idea that Mary and the saints can somehow intercede for us with God, among the most damaging inventions of the medieval church, was strongly revived by John Paul II. The Roman Catholic church still holds to a number of such errors, such as the validity of the apocryphal books of the Old Testament, the idea that one is saved through faith and works, indulgences and purgatory, and transsubstantiation during the Eucharist. Any Protestant must be annoyed that the Roman Catholic church never repealed its 16th century pronouncement that all non-Catholics are going to hell. And, finally, the whole idea of a "pope", based on a misreading of Jesus’ charge to Peter, is something Calvinists shrug their shoulders at.

In other words, there is enough for Protestants to complain about. Some have called the pope the anti-Christ, echoing the words of the Westminster Confession. Similarly, the Heidelberg Catechism talks about the "papal mass" as a condemnable idolatry. But these documents always talk about the institution, never about individual people. While I heartily agree that the Roman Catholic church stopped being a faithful church somewhere during the High Middle Ages, that does not mean that there is no shred of Christ or the Gospel left within that denomination. Nor does it mean that all Catholics are condemned to hell, neither the ordinary believer nor those in orders.

The man Karol Woytiła was a sinner like everyone else. Yet he seems to have loved God and his neighbor to the best of his ability. As pope he did nothing special to deserve to be condemned to hell by any on this earth. That judgment is up to God. He was gentle and kind, a charismatic speaker and writer, intelligent, principled and a good leader. He was someone who heard, believed and taught a version of the Gospel infected by a millennium of Roman heresies. Considering the extent of the pollution, it is to the credit of God that His grace shone through even within the Roman Catholic church during the ponitificate of John Paul II. Just as no man is expected to grasp all of God’s truth completely, neither was the late pope. The errors he taught will be charged against him at the Judgment Seat but if he believed in Christ as his only Savior, then he, too, is now in glory.