Friday, August 28, 2009

Ted Kennedy’s Legacy (Part 2)

Looking back over the Kennedy family’s history, and focusing on Ted, I find some interesting things.

First, this youngest brother was an embarrassment to the family early on. He wasn’t a good student, cheated at Harvard and got thrown out, and generally didn’t seem to have much potential.

Second, this late bloomer ended up having more of an impact on this country than his two high-potential brothers, President Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, both of whose lives were cut short.

Third, despite appearing to be not too bright and having a flawed personal life, he grew into his job as senator. He developed a great speaking style, similar to his brothers, and effectively learned how to work the system: craft bills, negotiate, and compromise. Despite being on the far left of the American political spectrum, he could and did work with those in the middle and on the right. Too bad that doesn’t happen more today.

Fourth, his heart was in the right place in that he worked on behalf of the poor, the marginalized, and the disadvantaged. Despite a brief run at the presidency in 1980, he appeared to be content in the Senate, where he built a power base and pursued his agenda.

Fifth, I believe he was better off and more effective as a senator than he ever would have been as president. Similarly, Lyndon Johnson should have stayed in Congress where he had power and influence, and not become Vice-President (and ultimately President). It may have been God’s provision for Ted and the country that he remained in the Senate. Otherwise, it is possible he could have gone down in history as a mediocre president rather than as a great senator.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ted Kennedy’s Legacy (Part 1)

There will be a lot in the media about Ted Kennedy now that he has died. Let me add a few thoughts of my own.

He came from a family that clearly wanted to create an American dynasty. When Joe Junior was killed during WWII, the baton was passed to Jack. He did, in fact, become president, although his presidency was tragically cut short by an assassin in 1963. Bobby ran in the primaries in 1968, but his run was cut short by an assassin. Finally Ted considered running but his scandals precluded him from doing do. I’m glad he didn’t run, because I don’t think he had what it takes to be president.

As the last male survivor of that generation of the Kennedys, Ted ran for the Senate. In reality, he may have had more power and influence for a longer period of time in the Senate than he ever would have had as president. It was a good move and from his safe seat, he could pursue his liberal agenda.

Unfortunately his lifestyle was not a good example for his children, extended family, and the nation. He chased women (despite being married to a beautiful woman) and drank too much. He apparently inherited the Kennedy sex drive gene, and it got him in trouble. As a Kennedy, he could do no wrong in Massachusetts, so his Senate seat was always safe, no matter what.

While I didn’t agree with much of his liberal agenda, I do believe that he sincerely wanted to make the world a better place, which is commendable. The problem I have with liberals, in a nutshell, is not so much their objectives, but their means of achieving them. Often their programs do more harm than good because they don’t consider the unintended consequences of their programs.

Hopefully the retrospectives of Kennedy’s life will provide us with a nice history lesson concerning the last 50 years. Some of that history was influenced by Senator Edward Kennedy, and he deserves credit for doing his best to achieve what he believed in.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Humanitarian Act (Part 2)

You may have read my opinion in part 1 concerning the release of the Lockerbie terrorist, and may be thinking, “Isn’t Christianity all about mercy and forgiveness? Where’s this guy coming from?”

Let’s take a quick look at the Christian understanding of God’s justice. If you repent of your sins and place your faith in Jesus, you are spared the penalty of all that you’ve done wrong over your whole lifetime. Now that’s forgiveness! However, in order for that to happen, somebody did have to pay that penalty. If it isn’t you, then who paid? By his death on the cross, Jesus paid.

So God’s perfect justice demands that the penalty must be paid, either by Jesus or by us. If we trust Jesus for our salvation, we escape paying the penalty. If we don’t trust Jesus for our salvation, we pay the price, which is eternal separation from God. “Salvation” (from the Latin salvare meaning “to save”) means being saved from having to pay that penalty for our wrongdoing.

Man’s justice, while imperfect, also demands that a penalty must be paid for breaking the law. The worse the crime, the longer the time. If the full penalty, as determined by a court, is not paid, then justice is perverted. Even though the Lockerbie terrorist is dying, I believe he should die in prison in accordance with a life sentence. That what a life sentence means: you’re in prison until you die. No exceptions.

Another point is that governments are not necessarily subject to the same biblical guidelines as individuals. Jesus told individuals to “walk the extra mile” and “turn the other cheek.” Governments, by their nature, need to operate according to different standards because of the need to maintain order, seek justice, and defend its citizens. What might be a good act by an individual may be an irresponsible act on the part of a government agency. I’m not saying governments should be despotic, but their role is different.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Humanitarian Act? (Part 1)

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the recent release of the terrorist who had been imprisoned for the bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland. The Scottish justice officials claim they released him for “humanitarian reasons” because he is dying of cancer. Ethically and morally, was this a good thing to do. Was it a good deed or an injustice?

There are a lot of unknowns in this case. Was there a deal for oil made with Libya? Was this guy really the perpetrator or a scapegoat? Were there some sinister goings-on that we’re not aware of? Assuming that this was strictly done for humanitarian reasons and this guy really is the perpetrator, was it the right thing to do?

On the surface, it appears to be humanitarian – let the poor guy die at home with his family and friends. However, every action affects other people and usually has unintended consequences. In this case, we have somebody who committed a horrific crime, killing hundreds of innocent people. You have the families and friends of these victims, numbering into the thousands, who are emotionally affected by his release from prison. So it may have been a humanitarian action for the criminal, but it was not humanitarian to these thousands of family and friends. To them, it opened raw emotions anew, and they consider this release a gross injustice. To make matters worse, he received a hero’s welcome in Libya – another unintended consequence.

You might say, “So what? The guy only has three months to live? What’s the big deal?” To that I respond with two points:

(1) The guy committed a horrific crime and deserves no breaks, even if he is dying. He showed no mercy to the hundreds of people he killed, and deserves no mercy himself.

(2) The criminal justice system gave him a life sentence and it should be carried out. Releasing him perverts the system, especially given the nature of his crime.

Had his crime been less serious, such as drug possession, I would say by all means, release him and let him die in peace. That would be truly humanitarian and an appropriate act of mercy. But releasing a person responsible for the murder of hundreds of innocent people isn’t humanitarian, it is an injustice and hurtful to the families and friends of the victims, in my opinion.

A Good Deed

I was pleased to read a piece of good news in a recent Poughkeepsie Journal issue. Thanks, Journal, for printing an article about a good deed being done in Fishkill. A group of people have organized a volunteer effort to refurbish and repair a house so it can be sold for a decent amount of money. That money will then be used to help pay for the education of two orphaned boys.

These boys, who lived on Broad Street in Fishkill, had both parents pass away within a few years of each other. The house had fallen into disrepair, and these volunteers are working to get it into sellable condition. I believe they will be doing this through August 30, so please stop by and help. The house is across the street from the library, which has a container for monetary donations for these two boys.

Friday, August 21, 2009

New York City

This week my wife and I took a mini-vacation in New York City. Besides the heat and humidity it was a very enjoyable experience. We remember NYC back in the 1960s and 1970s when it was dirty, unfriendly, crime-ridden, and graffiti-filled. In those days most subway cars were ancient, dirty, and not air conditioned. Today the city is much better in many ways.

It’s still crowded, and there’s still crime, but less per capita than in many other American cities. The thing that struck us the most is the friendliness of the people. The hotel staff from the maid to the concierge, people in the subway giving up their seats to us, restaurant staff, and others seemed to be genuinely friendly and welcoming. If only more of our churches were as friendly and welcoming!

While in NYC we visited the Titanic exhibit at the Discovery Center just off Times Square. It was very interesting, and it pointed out one thing that I had forgotten. Of all the lifeboats that were launched off the sinking ship, most were not full. That means many people chose to put their faith in a sinking ship than in the safety of a lifeboat. Kind of makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Yet we do the same thing. We put our faith in failing institutions or other things of this world that will soon disappear, rather than placing our faith where it really belongs – in God. Let’s not be like those passengers on the Titanic with misplaced faith in a ship that was doomed. Instead let’s go with God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, who by the way loves you very much (whether you like it or not).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Health Care Reform

Obama’s “health care reform” is certainly a hot topic these days. There has been much anger expressed at these so-called “Town Hall Meetings” where people are outraged at the threat of government interference in their choice of doctors, plans, etc. Much of this emotion is based on ignorance and misinformation. I don’t have all the facts either, but let me point our a few things.

Tort Reform

As I mentioned in an earlier post, any changes to our health care system that don’t include tort reform are inadequate and counter-productive. Yet the politicians aren’t saying much, if anything, about limiting the liability of doctors, hospitals, and other medical people. See my earlier post in July for more on that very important subject.

The Uninsured and Under-Insured

I heard a statistic that said the number one reason that people file for personal bankruptcy is because of medical bills they just can’t pay. The uninsured use the emergency departments of hospitals as a clinic, which is expensive and not the use for which those facilities were intended. With something like 47 million people not covered by insurance, something must be done.

Do It Right the First Time

Whatever is done, it will dramatically change the health care landscape of this country forever. It must be done right the first time, or it will be a disaster. That’s why this can’t be rushed, but it must be moved along. All sides must be heard from. Government programs are subject to the Law of Unintended Consequences, and the possible unintended consequences must be thoroughly thought through, analyzed, and addressed. We can’t afford a health care disaster.

Quality and Quantity

The quality of medical care is generally good in the US. What health care reform must do is maintain that quality (and hopefully even improve on it) while making it available to more people. We should look to other industrialized nations and see what they are doing. Then we should take the best of each plan and put together something that will be the best in the world. In industry that is known as “Best Practice.”

Cost Control

Cost of universal health care is a legitimate concern. Government cost projections are notoriously optimistic, so this brave new world of universal health care must be done right, or it could bankrupt the country. Eliminating the cost of practicing defensive medicine and the outrageous cost of malpractice insurance are two big cost savings that can be realized by tort reform, which is desperately needed. Standardizing insurance forms, converting to electronic record-keeping, and eliminating other waste are other ways health care reform can help pay for itself.


The reason I’m writing about this is that it is a fairness and justice issue. We must, as a humane society, provide quality health care to everybody. Pray for our leaders, that they will have the wisdom to do this right.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Be alert

There is another lesson we can learn from the tragic accident on the Taconic Parkway in which eight people were killed when a drunken woman traveled the wrong way on that highway. The lesson is, pay attention!

Drivers must always be looking well ahead of the car in front of them, because you never know what’s coming up: a slow-down in traffic (watch for brake lights), a complete stoppage, merging traffic, an erratic or very slow driver on a high speed highway, or activity in the breakdown lane.

When traveling in any traffic, whether on a high-speed expressway or a lower speed city street, we always have to be alert and watching for the unknown. Even pedestrians must pay attention, obviously when crossing the street, but also while walking on the sidewalk. Pedestrians should watch for irregularities in the sidewalk, other pedestrians, and obstacles (trees, parking meters).

Despite this need for safety and alertness, people are distracted constantly. Cell phone use (whether walking or driving) is dangerous, and texting even more so. Texting while driving is the equivalent of driving while intoxicated and should never be done. In cars people drink, eat, fiddle with the radio or CD player, and all kinds of other activities. How about staying focused on the task at hand – driving!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Drunk Causes 8 Deaths

A couple of weeks ago there was a terrible traffic accident on the Taconic Parkway near Hawthorn, New York. A woman was driving the wrong way on this divided highway, keeping in her lane as cars swerved to avoid her. Finally she crashed into an oncoming car, killing all three men in that car in addition to four kids and herself in her car.

This was a big mystery, since nobody could figure out how she could have made such a terrible mistake in broad daylight, and not even react when she was obviously driving against the traffic. Finally the mystery has been cleared up. She was drunk and high on marijuana.

This is an example of how one person’s behavior can affect others. This woman’s irresponsible behavior caused the death of herself, her child, her brother’s children, and three others. What could make this even worse is that if her family knew of these tendencies and let her drive anyway. Sometimes family and/or friends must intervene.

Before doing something, such as drinking and driving, think of the possible consequences to yourself and others. I think, not only of this woman and her family, but of the New Jersey politicians that were arrested recently for taking bribes. What were they thinking? They brought shame upon themselves, their families, their cities and towns, and on the state of New Jersey. I think of the various politicians who have been caught in sexual sin, from Gov. Spitzer of New York to Gov. Sanford of South Carolina, and a lot of others. These things have a way of getting found out, so why did they think they were going to get away with it? Their careers are ruined, they and their families disgraced, their children ashamed, and their marriages gone.

There are consequences to your actions. Do the right thing, and the consequences will be positive. Do the wrong things, and there will most likely be disaster.