Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sarah Palin - Out of Right Field

Driving around Alaska one sees numerous bumper stickers that declare, “Alaska Girls Rock!” or something else to that effect. It would appear that the campaign of Senator John McCain took notice of that. In an election that features a Presidential candidate originally from Hawaii, it only made sense for Alaska to join the party.

Sarah Palin is hugely popular in the State of Alaska. She is a true reformer who took on Alaska’s political establishment and gained some significant victories. Politically speaking in what is expected to be a down year for the Republican brand, it can only be a plus that the political establishment in Alaska is dominated by a Republican Machine. This is the state of Senator Ted Stevens and Representative Don Young who pretty much define wasteful government spending and privilege (i.e. Bridge to Nowhere). Sarah Palin has accomplished a great deal in her short time as governor of Alaska, her time on the Oil and Gas Commission for the state (Alaska is an energy rich state), and mayor of Wasilla. As Ethics Commissioner of the Alaska Oil and Gas Commission, she blew the whistle on legal and conflict of interest violations on the board. In 2006 she first defeated the incumbent Republican governor in the primary before beating the former Democratic governor of Alaska. She has challenged both Ted Stevens and Don Young, even supporting a primary challenge to Congressman Young (the outcome of which is still undecided). She targeted appointments made by the defeated governor, returned windfall state revenues to the people, and has pushed for a new Natural Gas Pipeline in the state to increase energy supply both in Alaska, but also in the Lower 48.

As a Catholic it is exciting to see someone selected to run for this position with such strong pro-life credentials. Sarah Palin gave birth to her fifth child, Trig, this year. Trig was diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome, but the Palins wouldn’t consider an abortion, the fate of nearly 90% of children diagnosed with that chromosomal anomaly. Sarah Palin is a politician who not only speaks pro-life and pro-family values, but lives them.

She is also the epitome of the American dream and the very definition of an Alaskan girl. Her husband works on the North Slope, is a commercial fisherman, and races Snow-Machines (the Alaskan word for Snowmobiles). Sarah Palin hunts caribou, reportedly makes a mean moose stew, and is a lifetime member of the NRA.

The Palin’s oldest son Track is a member of the same Brigade Combat Team that I am a member of. (Full disclosure, I’ve never met him and I have no idea which unit within the Brigade he is actually in.) Track is an American patriot who wants to serve his country in the same fashion as many others; he probably doesn’t want to be a celebrity, though I won’t complain if it means (potentially) a vice president visits my unit during our deployment.

(Speaking of deployments, my Brigade’s deployment ceremony is on September 11th of this year. The date was obviously chosen for its significance to underline what exactly we are fighting for and what is at stake.)

Congratulations Governor Palin on your selection by the McCain Campaign. This historic campaign will either result in the first female vice president or the first African-American president. Despite the people who want to tear down this country and what it stands for, this simple fact highlights just how good and noble America is. America is not racist. America is not sexist. In America, truly dreams can come true. America is still a wonderful country. Let the real campaign begin (I’m glad I’ll be deployed - I won’t have to watch political advertising for the next two months!).

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Brave Little Georgia

The Russian Bear is on the move. Since the collapse of the Soviet Empire beginning in 1989, Russia has been looking to regain her status as one of the world’s preeminent superpowers. Russia had to look on in disgust as various former Republics and puppet states have moved into or towards the American/European Axis.

In 1999, the former Soviet vassals and the now pro-Western states of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary entered NATO. NATO continued to move eastward into the former Warsaw Pact when in 2004, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria joined NATO. That same year the former Soviet Republics (and regions traditionally ruled by Russia) of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania joined NATO. This eastward movement of NATO stung Russian pride.

The election of pro-Western governments that preached independence from the Russian sphere of influence in Ukraine (Orange Revolution) and Georgia (Rose Revolution) further injured Russian pride. Both the Ukraine and Georgia have also made inquiries into joining the Atlantic Alliance. Russia declared that situation unacceptable. Russia cannot countenance former vassals declaring their independence and embracing the West - thus the Russian saber rattling against Ukraine’s Orange Revolution and other acts of intimidation.

Russia has always had a strained relationship with the West. Culturally and religiously they are quite distinct, with a Russian Orthodoxy that is quite wary of Western influence. Even Tsar Peter the Great ran into stiff opposition when he attempted to westernize Russia. The Tsars’ campaigns to extend their control toward Constantinople (now Istanbul) were often opposed not only by their hated enemy, the Turks, but by the Western European powers as well. Russia has a history steeped in struggles with the West that have left her with an extreme distrust of Western motives.

In order to undermine Georgian authority and hopefully bring about a pro-Russian regime, Russia began to undermine Georgian authority in the provinces of Abkhazi and South Ossetia and fuel a rebel movement there. Ethnic Georgians were systematically removed much as Kosovars were by the Serbs and Russian passports issued to the remaining citizens. Russia further undermined Georgian authority in the region by deploying troops to act as “peacekeepers”. The Cold War between Russia and Georgia became hot on 8 August 2008. Russia invaded Georgia and has inflicted a humiliating defeat on the Georgian military. Russia, despite promises to the contrary, shows little inclination to withdraw from Georgian territory.

Russia’s actions are unacceptable and must be responded to with the strongest possible means. It would appear that a Russia-NATO collaboration is going to come to an end as a result. This should only be the beginning. Chancellor Merkl of Germany indicated in a recent show of support for Georgia, that Georgia would be welcomed into NATO. The US and Europe should review Russia’s role in the G8 and participation in the 2014 Olympic games in Sochi, Russia. As long as the United States and Europe convey the appearance of weakness, Russia will continue its march. Russia’s next stop will be the Crimea and the vital port of Sevastopol. Vladimir Putin has the capability to become a new Tsar in Russia, accomplishing great feats in modernizing Russia at the expense and destruction of her neighbors. The Bear is on the move.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Evangelism – It’s Not a Dirty Word

The concept of Evangelism (spreading the faith by word of mouth) has a difficult relationship with Roman Catholicism (in the United States) Today. Historically the Catholic Church has been the most evangelistic of Christian groups, sending missionaries (led by the Jesuits) to Latin America, Africa, India, Japan and China following the examples of the Apostles. In modern times (in the United States) evangelism has become the domain of Evangelical and Fundamentalist Protestant Churches. Evangelism is even a “dirty word” for some Catholics.

That is not the Christian calling and Pope Benedict XVI, echoing the call of his predecessor John Paul the Great, emphasizes the need and importance of evangelization. Speaking to the Third Missionary Congress he proclaimed that “the most important service we can give our brothers and sisters is the clear and humble proclamation of Jesus Christ, who came to this world that we might have life and have it in abundance.”

Obviously this evangelization can take many forms. But, Benedict points out that the most important requirement of any Catholic is the proclamation of the Truth. Service to others is still a requirement (one only needs to read the Epistle of St. James), but it must be in conjunction with evangelization.

Before we Catholics rush out to evangelize the non-Catholic/non-Christian world, we must first look to our own house. News reports repeatedly indicate the sad truth that many Catholics consciously deny basic tenets of their own faith or suffer from a supreme ignorance of it. Sometimes they are called “Disaffected Catholics” or “Recovering Catholics”. If our own Church is filled with so many who are lost or astray, they should be our first focus for evangelization. We should reach out first to those who already have connections to the Church by dialoguing and teaching them in such a way to bring them into the Church fully and actively.

There are 1.1 billion Roman Catholics in the world, yet many are Culturally Catholic or completely lapsed. We should find strength in our Catholic Faith and proclaim it fully. Perhaps our first focus should be the re-evangelization of the many Catholics who have lapsed or fallen away, then we can take the message to the world.