Friday, May 2, 2014

Roll Call's Take On the West Virginia 1st District Incomplete

Roll Call yesterday evaluated the West Virginia political landscape, accurately noting its headlong drive away from the national Democratic leadership.  Because of the intriguing contests within, it concentrated mostly on the 2nd and 3rd Districts.

The 1st came at the end as an afterthought.  David McKinley, an incumbent expected to handily win re-election in 2014, might run for governor in 2016.  Roll Call said "state Republicans" speculated that were that to happen, McKinley's son. Delegate Amanda Pasdon, or Mac Warner were the main contenders.  This actually was an update from the original guess which was Mary Lou Retton.

"State Republicans" left a lot of possible names off of that list, including Delegate Gary Howell.  Howell ascended to leadership positions in the House much sooner than most.  He also raised more money for his 2012 campaign than almost any other delegate from a rural district. As a small businessman and chairman of a national automotive caucus, Howell has numerous contacts with industry.

Howell also spearheaded an intense and ongoing bipartisan effort to lure a major food manufacturing center from California to the Potomac Highlands of West Virginia.

Charleston based Republicans, unfortunately, often overlook the many emerging leaders in the Eastern Panhandle.  In this case, it left a national publication with the impression that Republicans only had a handful of options in 2016 should McKinley move on and Tim Miley run for the seat.  That hurts the party as a whole.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

One of Humanity's Highest Honors For One of Its Greatest Individuals

Stalin once joked "how many divisions has the pope" in response to a henchman reporting papal opposition to him.  The evil empire he built, however, came to ruin partly due to the efforts of the Papacy.  Last Sunday, Pope Francis canonized two former popes, John XXII and John Paul II, also known as "the Great."

Not often can a 2,000 year old institution say that one of its greatest leaders governed in the living memory of most here on earth.  St. Leo I the Great met the terrifying Attila and his Huns on the gates of Rome and convinced them not to plunder and slaughter the vulnerable populace within.  St. Gregory the Great defined the Church and its role for centuries after in his writings. St. Gregory VII faced down the Holy Roman Emperor, protecting the power of his office, but had to flee Rome at the end of his life, his last words being "I have loved justice and hated iniquity, therefore I die in exile."

Other popes led the Church through periods of modernization, such as the Catholic Reformation and the Second Vatican Council (under the tutelage of St. John XXII.)  But not since the Middle Ages has a pope had an impact quite like St. John Paul II the Great.

He was born Karol Josef Wojtyla in Poland in 1920.  At 19, he saw German tanks and Soviet Red Army ranks cleave into his fiercely proud country. He studied in secret for the priesthood under the Archbishop of Krakow during the war, learning both love for humanity and the desire to oppose unholy totalitarianism.

Poland during the Cold War occupied an unstable place in the Soviet Eastern European empire.  They did not forget its occasional and bloody uprisings under the Czar in the 1800s.  Leaders feared the latent strength of its people, who waged a destructive guerrilla war against German occupation.  Poland, therefore, got a little more latitude than other countries.

Poland's Catholic Church never cracked under the pressure of the secret police.  Unlike many other countries, Catholicism was seen as tantamount to patriotism.  Church leaders fought to remain independent and true to the people and the Word as much as possible without bringing retribution. By 1964, he rose to become Archbishop of Krakow.  In the meantime, he had served as a bishop and contributed heavily to the reforms undertaken at the Second Vatican Council.

Soviet leaders and intelligence opened psychological operations against Wojtyla in 1971.  They noted that "without openly opposing the Socialist system, he has criticized the way in which the state agencies of the Polish People's Republic have functioned." By the mid 70s, Polish prosecutors concluded that his sermons could earn him prosecution and a sentence of one to 10 years.  The respect of the Polish people and his international reputation saved him from anything but impotent outrage.

The College of Cardinals elected him as pope in 1978.  He took the name of his predecessor who had died unexpectedly soon after his own accession. John Paul II served as a direct statement by the Roman Catholic Church at a point in the Cold War when western resolve seemed to flag.  He was the first Pole ever chosen and the first non Italian in centuries.

Within a few years, the world saw the rise of three leaders, St. John Paul II the Great, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and President Ronald Reagan, destined to transform the world.

Each of the three were idealists at heart.  Thatcher envisioned that a free market could restore Britain to its former economic glory.  She and Reagan both believed in the spiritual power of freedom to inspire those living in tyranny.  An entirely free world could be an entirely peaceful world.  The pope shared these dreams, as well as Reagan's very deep personal faith in a God that wanted His people to live in freedom.

When a Pole became pope, the Soviet empire's days were numbered, although no one knew it then.  Poland's keystone position in the prison of nations served as the flaw.  Even the Polish government by the late 1970s gave up on Marxism-Leninism, looking for western credit to create semi-free trade.  This debt scheme collapsed at about the same time as Polish workers started to rebel.

Polish shipworkers had tired of working in dangerous conditions for low pay so they did what many Westerners had done, form a trade union.  In a free society, this happens without calamity.  In a state supposedly dedicated to the workers, it struck at the heart of why Communist authoritarianism was legitimized.  If a peoples' republic is not a workers' state, how can it justify tyranny.  Walesa's union soon grew into a political party, Solidarity.

Communist bosses in Moscow and Warsaw celebrated Wojtyla's vacating his seat in Poland.  They foresaw that the "Catholic Church will now make greater efforts to consolidate its position and increase its role in the social and political life of the country."  But they sorely underestimated what was to come.

After the election of Reagan, Vatican ties with the United States warmed.  An official diplomatic exchange took place for the first time in many years.  Vatican and US intelligence shared information on happenings behind the Iron Curtain.  Money came from the CIA through the Vatican to boost Walesa's Solidarity and other groups.

The Pope himself remained the prime mover of Polish public opinion.  Millions poured into the streets to welcome his return in 1983.  Communist leader Wojciech Jaruzelski found himself increasingly between the two stools of hard line rulers in Moscow willing to order in tanks to restore power and the enthusiasm of the people.  Jaruzelski later remembered that even as an atheist, he found his knees shaking under the table in anticipation of meeting the Pontiff.

St. John Paul II had that effect.  Only a generation removed from active anti-Catholic bigotry in the United States, Protestants outnumbered Catholics in overflowing crowds that came to hear him.  He balanced a rigorous defense of traditional doctrine with repeated assurances of the love of Jesus Christ for all humanity.  The Papacy remained a rock during his tenure as a defense of values such as right to life while never wavering in the ideal of God's grace and mercy.

By the 1990s, freedom had won in Europe.  Poland's Communist leaders simply gave in to public pressure, held elections, and peacefully left office.  Other regimes fell, some with peace, others in violence.  In the end, hundreds of millions ended up living in relatively free societies unafraid of the KGB or its little brothers in occupied states.

The peaceful victory of liberty was the goal of St. John Paul II the Great and his secular partners, Reagan and Thatcher.  All three were necessary to the process, all had roles to play.

In the end, the Pope needed no divisions.  He helped to defeat the Evil Empire with the love of God; for that he earned the title of "Great."

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Not So Sterling Reputation

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling bought his team for $13 million in the early 1980s.  Until now, he and his views have moved under the radar.  Now the spotlight shines on him, his words, his actions, and his team.  Will he survive as owner?  He will not, but his handling of his franchise should have brought such attention long ago.

First, Sterling has consistently been a bad franchise owner.  He is the old crotchety male version of the Cleveland Indians owner from Major League, except that his team is in the destination city.  Two generations of players endured the Clippers cheapness, even to the point of falsifying statistics to get out of incentives bonuses. In the 1990s, they put off replacing a fired coach as long as possible.  A Sports Illustrated writer dropped this memorable line "Going without a head coach did not make the Clippers any worse."  Sterling figured out that he could turn a profit by paying as little as possible for players, personnel, and any other amenities.

When the Cincinnati Bengals approached this level of miserliness, the NFL threatened to seize control of its operations.

Of course Sterling has also been described as a "slumlord" by multiple outlets.  Stands to reason, considering how he handled the Clippers.

Sterling has a long rap sheet of making outlandish comments about any number of people or groups.  The worst may be, allegedly, wanting a white southern coach to mentor poor black men, like a "plantation."

He did manage to manipulate the perception game, contributing thousands of dollars to minority groups including the NAACP.  Strangely enough, the century old civil rights group had stood poised to give him a lifetime achievement award.  What for outside of contributions, few seem to know.

Now, Sterling has been recorded in a private conversation with his girlfriend (yes, he is married) berating her for bringing black people to "his games" and taking selfies with such degenerates as Magic Johnson.  This will be a tipping point for a league long frustrated with his antics.

The NBA has a precedent they can follow, which is Major League Baseball handled the fallout from the misdeeds of former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott.

Schott owned the Reds from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s.  Publicly, fans loved the eccentric widow of a car dealership mogul.  She always brought her beloved dog Schottzie to the ballpark, said crazy things, and basically seemed harmless. Ticket and concessions prices for Reds fans remained low comparable to most other franchises at the time. Under her tenure of ownership, the Reds usually remained competitive and even won a World Series.

Behind the scenes, many knew tragedy was coming.  Former commissioner Fay Vincent tried to caution Schott about her drinking problems.  Eventually in vino veritas won out.  Schott sank herself by relating what she thought to be truths, such as how Hitler was not so bad before he started killing people, as well as other unpalatable opinions about minorities and a number of other issues. Keeping a swastika armband in her office did not help either.

Baseball suspended Schott a total of three times before she gave way and sold most of her ownership stake.

Donald Sterling's sins of commission in revealing his ugly opinions of blacks (and his mild mannered voice inflections on tape reveal these to be strongly held beliefs more so than an angry outburst would) will likely lead to s suspension later today.  But the NBA should not have waited until this point to come down hard on Sterling.  This owner cheated his players by falsifying their stats.  He ripped off fans by not investing even adequately in trying to win, banking that he could profit off of media agreements and ticket sales more even when winning less than 20 percent of games per year.

What he said, what he feels disqualify him to represent the league as a fully functioning owner.  What he did to the fans and men who played for him required sanction long ago.