2012 Election Only Just Begun

With the announcement last weekend of Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan as the Vice-Presidential running mate for Republican Party standard bearer Mitt Romney, the real race towards Election Day 2012 has finally begun.

For American voters, the contrast is stark and the choice is clear: continued big government Democratic Party-led liberalism leaning towards socialism, or Republican Party-led return to traditional American conservative free market principles.

While Americans have lived through a year’s worth of Republican debates and primaries while suffering through the Obama economy and public media debates over the basic nature of America’s future direction, they have also been largely spared a true bombardment of political ideas and exchanges.

That is all about to change, as the coming weeks and months will bring an ever-increasing bombardment of television, radio, and Internet ads, speeches, and endorsements that will likely have most of us thankful on the morning of November 7th no matter which way the election goes.

In Tampa, Florida from August 27th-30th, the Republican National Convention will take place and will take over the news cycle with speeches and policy outlines. America will receive a final, brief vacation from politics over the Labor Day weekend.

This will be quickly followed by the Democratic National Convention in Richmond, Virginia from September 3rd-6th. The two campaigns will outline their policies, highlight their candidates, and point out their direction for America during these two intense weeks.

During the month of September, the two campaigns will take to the cities and towns of America, barnstorming the nation with stump speeches, public appearances, and fundraisers. Dozens of speeches will be delivered, hundreds of chicken dinners will be consumed, thousands of babies will be kissed.

There will be tens of thousands of photos snapped, millions of voters will be telephoned, and tens of millions of dollars will be raised as the Romney-Ryan and Obama-Biden teams do the public and media circuits, particularly in “swing states” like Ohio, Colorado, Iowa, North Carolina, and Florida.

October will see the arrival of fall, and the Presidential debates, a series of four scheduled events. It all starts on Wednesday night, October 3rd at the University of Denver where major swing-state Colorado will be in the spotlight with Romney and Obama squaring off on domestic policy issues. On Thursday night, October 11th at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky the Veep candidates Ryan and Biden will square off over both foreign and domestic issues.

Tuesday night, October 16th will see the return of the Presidential candidates for a debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York on both foreign and domestic policy. Finally on Monday, October 22nd at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida it will be a Romney-Obama showdown on foreign policy issues.

Following the final debate there will be just two weeks until Election Day 2012. You can be assured that all day, every day, we will be bombarded on every news station imaginable with a steady diet of Presidential politics. Much of the national cable and network news coverage and nightly portions of local news coverage will focus on the candidates, their daily appearances, and any particular items of note that crop up on the campaign trail.

This is all just to focus on the Presidential election. There will be a number of other important elections taking place at state and local levels as well. Republicans need to pickup 4 seats to take over control of the U.S. Senate, and there are at least 5 races currently listed by most watchers as a toss-up.

The races for Governor in places like North Carolina, Wisconsin and Indiana could prove important to the Presidential race. These races will all garner a certain amount of attention, as will some ballot issues. For instance, typically liberal California will be voting on Proposition 36, which involves major changes to the “Three Strikes” law.

The bottom line for Americans is that their lives are about to be invaded by an onslaught of Presidential and other election coverage that is going to saturate our lives for these next three months. The best advice is to be ready for it, and accept it, because unless you are prepared to head into the hills and disconnect all of your devices, you are going to be subject to this onslaught on a regular basis. This is Democracy in action in the modern technological age.

What’s coming? Just wait until your cellphone starts getting calls from candidates, your email begins getting filled with political messages, and your Facebook page gets taken over by political ads. What? That’s already begun?

Become a beacon of light

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.
Genesis 1:3-4

There is plenty of darkness in the world today. Every single day you can turn on a 24-hour news network, open any news website, pickup a newspaper and read about the influence of the darkness in men’s souls.

As of yesterday there were 212 homicides committed in the City of Philadelphia alone. That’s 17 more than last year at the same time, and last year ended with 18 more than the previous year.

On Sunday, white supremacist Wade Page walked into the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin and shot nine people, killing six immediately. Among the three critically wounded was a white Oak Creek police lieutenant, Brian Murphy. One wonders if a white Irish-Catholic who worked every day to keep his community safe and peaceful was an intended target of Page’s particular brand of hate. One answers that it really doesn’t matter.

Page and others such as Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who murdered 13 people in their 1999 rampage at Columbine High School in Colorado, and Troy West, who mercilessly beat a black female military veteran in front of her 7-year old daughter outside a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Georgia in 2009 are all examples that the white community needs to take to heart.

Shootings, stabbings, and other attacks in this country and around the world do not have as their common denominator the race, sex, ethnic background, or religious belief of the attackers. What they do have in common is darkness and hate. At some point in the attackers lives, they chose to embrace the darkness over the light, and as with many who make such a choice, found their lives spiraling out of control.

We can all find reasons to hate others if that is what we want. Everyone is victimized at one time or another in their lives. From events as large-scale as the Nazi atrocities in World War II or the terrorist attacks of 9/11, to something as personal as a crime committed against us by someone of another race or group, events occur out of the hateful hearts of others that can often result in some of us responding with hate of our own.

Many respond to these circumstances by taking on their own darkness and hatred within their hearts against those who victimized them. This hate festers and grows and in the end perpetuates the overall hate in the world. Often these victims pass their hatred along to their children, helping racism and sexism grow, tainting any good that the parents may also try to teach those impressionable minds, such as positive faith messages.

The fact is that we are all called on to not only continually seek the light, but to become beacons of light in the world. We are called to this not only when the sun is shining and the skies are clear and there is a song in the air. We are called to this on the worst of days, when the evil in other men’s souls causes fear and hurt and death and destruction.

In the New Testament, Matthew writes famously in his Gospel: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Good men and women understand the premise that they are called to turn away from darkness and embrace light. This begins with the things with which you surround yourself, the ways in which you express yourself, the styles and colors in which you dress regularly, the people and writings and music which you allow to become influences in your life. Embrace darkness, and do not be surprised when darkness and negativity become regular occurrences in your life.

There is a place for darkness. It is a time and place and mood to be used for peace, quiet, and reflection. But darkness is not where we should be living, only a temporary place for rest, until the light returns. John writes: “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” Those who choose to live in that darkness, to make it a primary influence in their lives and in their hearts, grow increasingly incapable of understanding and embracing the truth of the good to be found in the light.

Do you want people to stop beating and killing gays, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, children, women, blacks, police officers? Do you want people to stop hurting and killing one another? Then what you really want is people to stop hating one another. You can start that process, by stopping the hate within yourself. Be that “city on a hill“, that lighthouse shining in the darkness, the light breaking through the clouds.

Paul says it best, calling us in his letter to the Romans: “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Love one another, forgive one another. Give peace a chance. Choose to live in the light, and to become a beacon of light in what can often be a dark world. It is where you are called to live, how you are called to act, what you are called to be and believe.

Disagreement Does Not Equal Hate

Traditional, Conservative, and Christian, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee used his popularity in those circles and publicly called for Americans who support traditional marriage to get out to their local Chick-fil-A restaurant this past Wednesday.

On his Facebook page, Huckabee posted the following statement: “Let’s affirm a business that operates on Christian principles and whose executives are willing to take a stand for the Godly values we espouse.”

This led to an uprising of support among those, such as myself and my wife, who agree with Huckabee’s position on marriage as intended by God to be between one man and one woman. We ate dinner on Wednesday late afternoon at the Chick-fil-a restaurant at 2301 E. Butler Street, just off Aramingo Avenue in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The place was packed, and had to bring extra help on to serve all those who, like us, heeded Huckabee’s call and came out in support.

The controversy began when leaders within the LGBT community (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) had discovered that Chick-fil-a takes public stances on behalf of, and supports charitable organizations that benefit, traditional marriage as biblically defined. As the company’s President, Dan Cathy, said when confronted on the issues this week: “Guilty as charged!”

The leaders within LGBT then did what the overwhelming majority of liberals begin to do when they realize that not only does someone disagree with them, but is willing to do so publicly, including putting their money where their mouths are – they began to express hatred. They did so in the usual fashion, by accusing those towards whom they felt hatred of hating them.

It is the oldest trick in the liberal book. If you do not support gay marriage, then you are not only against it, but you hate us. The old “either you are with us, or you are against us” mentality is put into play with aggression. The immediate use of this type of accusation can be found on page one in the liberal handbook. Immediately following on page two comes demonization of the person, company or group that is against your position.

No consideration was paid to a company statement that read “The Chick-fil-a culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.”

The company went on to explain that it has a history of applying biblically-based principles to its business practices, such as remaining closed on Sundays, and that it intends to “leave any policy debates over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”

In an interview with the Baptist Press, Cathy stated that “We are a family-owned business, family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.

The most recent Gallup Poll on this issue shows that a full 74% of Republicans say that same-sex marriage should not be legal, and 67% of all Americans who attend weekly religious services feel the same way. In an October 2011 poll by the Pew Forum, 74% of white Evangelicals and 62% of black Protestants are opposed to allowing gays and lesbians to marry.

But what will not be revealed in poll figures are the feelings behind those religious, moral, cultural and political opinions. The fact of the matter, which I can reveal from my own personal feelings, those of people close to me who feel the same as I, and every single person that I have ever spoken to on this issue who shares my values is that hate is nowhere in the equation.

We don’t hate gays. We don’t wish anyone damned to eternal hell. We don’t want anyone served differently in restaurants. We don’t want anyone treated differently by the police or fire departments. We don’t want anyone beaten or killed or even completely shunned.

What we do want is the hatred to stop – from the liberals. If you find that some business supports your social, political, moral position on some issue, then by all means, support that business. In fact, the Starbucks coffee company has apparently come out in support of gay marriage. Perfect opportunity to show your support by frequenting their business with your dollars. Just don’t tell us how to spend ours when we disagree with you.

On this past Wednesday, August 1st, 2012 the Chick-fil-A company set a one-day sales record. This record was set thanks to the support of the huge number of people in this country who believe as they do, that traditional marriage is the way to go. There were no signs demanding death to gays, there were no feelings of hatred towards gays.

Fundamental disagreement on this or any other issue does not equate to hate. I have known a number of gay individuals in my lifetime, none of whom I hated even though I completely disagreed with the choices they were making and/or the ways in which they were choosing to publicly express themselves sexually.

I pray that as we move forward both as a nation and as a species, that we can all find a way here on God’s beautiful creation of a planet to live together in peace. That we can all find love and compassion for one another. And that those who accuse others of hate perhaps take the time to listen to their own words, and into the feelings in their own hearts. It is there that they are more likely to find any true hate.

Post-Trade Phillies Ain’t Done Yet

At the 2012 MLB trade deadline on Tuesday, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro made a handful of decisions that signal two things: first, the Fightin’ Phils lineup needed to change and, second, the team was not at all interested in a complete rebuild from scratch. The GM did two things, didn’t do a couple others, and effectively put a couple others on the back burner with the chance that something could still be done there.
The first thing that Amaro did was to deal away long time centerfielder Shane Victorino to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for effective right-handed relief pitcher Josh Lindblom and high-ceiling righty pitching prospect Ethan Martin.

Next, Amaro decided to deal away rightfielder Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for a package that included rightfielder Nate Schierholtz, top catching prospect Tommy Joseph, and young pitching prospect Seth Rosin.

Decisions that Amaro apparently made involving not dealing away players included pitcher Cliff Lee and shortstop Jimmy Rollins. A number of teams inquired on the availability of Lee, but were apparently rebuffed from the start, or given such a high list of demands from Amaro that talks went nowhere in a hurry. 
The Oakland A’s, fishing around for a shortstop, apparently checked in on their hometown boy JRoll, but again were either immediately rebuffed or unwilling to meet a high Phillies price.

The moves which Amaro seems to have put on the back burner are the trading of righty starting pitcher Joe Blanton, who has quietly become an extremely effective starting pitcher over the last few weeks, and outfielder Juan Pierre, a speedy veteran who has been a stabilizing force this year. 
Strong rumors had the Phils and Baltimore Orioles close to a Blanton deal, including the faxing of medical reports. But the deal never got done, presumably hung up on the amount of money remaining in Blanton’s contract and how it would be split between the two clubs. Both players could still be traded in waiver wire deals during August.
The decisions for Amaro were difficult first of all for the most obvious reason: that they had to be made at all. Had this 2012 Phillies team been able to continue to tread water through July as they had through May, staying within a handful of games of the NL East divisional leaders while Ryan Howard and Chase Utley worked their way back into the lineup, then perhaps no moves are made to deal anyone away. In fact, in that scenario, the Phils probably would have gone shopping for relief and 3rd base help as a buyer.
However, after hanging close through the first couple of months, the club effectively collapsed in June and July, while both Washington and Atlanta played consistently solid baseball to pull away. By the time that Howard and Utley returned and got their legs under them, the Phillies were already buried in the NL East basement, not even within shouting distance of the 2nd Wildcard playoff spot.
This made the decision to deal away Victorino a true no-brainer. The popular “Flyin’ Hawaiian” will be a free agent in the off-season, and the Phillies were unwilling or unable to reach a longterm deal agreement with him. When the Dodgers were willing to ship the Phillies the solid righty reliever that the club has needed all year in Lindblom, and tossed in a good pitching prospect in Martin to sweeten things, the deal was done.
The decision to deal away Pence was more complex, involving the direction of the team into the future and the financial flexibility to make other necessary moves. Amaro had committed publicly to coming back in 2013 around the rotation trio of the newly re-signed Cole Hamels and veterans Roy Halladay & Cliff Lee, as well as closer Jonathan Papelbon, catcher Carlos Ruiz, and long time infielders Ryan Howard, Chase Utley & Jimmy Rollins. The club has a lot of money tied up in those 8 star core players, and the salary relief from a Pence deal makes adding more necessary pieces for next year and on into the future a more solid possibility.
The trading of Victorino and Pence also allows the club to finally make an informed decision on the future of both Domonic Brown and John Mayberry Jr. Both young outfielders will now be given the chance to play on an almost everyday basis in the major leagues, against all types of pitching. The team will have two full months to watch their performance, make an informed evaluation on them, and move accordingly in the off-season.
As of today, the Phillies still sit in last place in the NL East, 14 1/2 games behind front-running Washington and 12 behind Atlanta for the 2nd Wildcard slot. They are a game behind Miami as they try to get out of the cellar, and 3 1/2 behind the slumping Mets for 3rd place in the division. The goals for now should be modest: keep improving, get past both Miami and New York. Do those things over the next four weeks, crawl back within maybe 7-8 games in the Wildcard race by September 1st, and perhaps even this current season might still hold some late excitement.
Some scribes and pundits would laugh that possibility off, but they are forgetting a number of things. First and perhaps most importantly, this is not the same team that stumbled through the first four months. The rotation of Hamels-Halladay-Lee-Worley finally appears to have all four pitchers healthy and ready to take their regular rotation turns going forward. The bullpen picture is becoming much clearer behind Papelbon, with Lindblom on board and with Antonio Bastardo pitching much more effectively of late.
The return to at least playable health by both Howard and Utley has been integral to the lineups success. Since losing the first game after the All-Star break, the club has a 10-6 record. They have a pair of 4-game winning streaks in that time, neither of which includes a victory from any of Hamels-Halladay-Lee. Toss out the devastating 3-game sweep at the hands of Atlanta last weekend, and they have scored 65 runs in the other 15 games. That’s 5 runs per game, acceptable at any time, and enough to win regularly. The return of Howard and Utley to the 3-4 spots in the lineup has obviously improved their overall offensive game.
The schedule may be challenging, but it is exactly what a healthy club trying to make up games in the standings wants to see. They have many of the teams ahead of them on the calendar this month, and thus can take care of their own business directly. Coming up is a 9-game homestand with Arizona, Atlanta, and Saint Louis, all teams that they need to make up ground with. Following that will be a 7-game road trip to Miami and Milwaukee. Then the month ends with a 10-game homestand against Cincinnati, Washington, and the Mets.
The final story of the 2012 Philadelphia Phillies was not written at the MLB trade deadline. That final story will be written over these next four weeks against the schedule just recited. Can a healthier team get a little fire in their bellies, feed off the packed home crowd in 19 of 26 games, and perhaps climb back above .500 and into the race? I firmly believe that they can, given that continued health from all of the core players from this point out.
Either way this story ends, the 2013 team will surely come back ready to contend once again. You will almost assuredly have a rotation featuring Hamels, Halladay, Lee, Worley and Kyle Kendrick. You will have a bullpen with Papelbon closing, being set up by Lindblom and Bastardo, and with youngsters like Michael Schwimer, Jake Diekman, and Michael Stutes all a year older and more experienced. There is always a veteran bullpen arm to be found in the off-season, and my bet is that Amaro finds one to help those kids in the 6th & 7th innings.
With Howard, Utley and Rollins all returning next year, with Chooch continuing behind the plate, and with Domonic Brown likely to hold down one outfield spot, the club will be looking into filling holes at 3rd base and in the outfield via the trade or free agent routes. Available to fill the centerfield hole will be a pair of ex-Phils in Michael Bourn and, wait for it, Victorino. Also available are big ticket outfielders such as Josh Hamilton and B.J. Upton. Amaro has freed up salary space and flexibility, and has stated the club will be adding one and possibly two free agents.
For fans who have gotten used to the Phillies as a winning baseball team, my advice will be to not jump ship. Keep your seat on the bandwagon reserved. Renew those season ticket packages. Your team that has won 5 straight NL East titles, and that has had a winning season in 9 of the last 10 years, will continue to fight towards at least one of those goals this year, and will absolutely remain a contender for at least the next couple seasons. They are not rebuilding, they are simply retooling.
To those who will undoubtedly call this a pie-in-the-sky, glass-half-full, rose-colored glasses view of things, I would only respond that writing and genuinely feeling that the world is ending would be all too easy. You want to take the easy way out, feel free? Me? I hear the players speak, and know that they are fighters, many with a history of success. I see all that has gone wrong in recent months, and believe it impossible that it will continue to roll that way.
For the 2012 Phillies, the next four weeks will tell the story. For the 2013 Phillies, the next four months will tell the story. My bet would be that both of these stories end with a happy ending for all who remain dedicated, loyal, faithful, and involved as players and fans of the Fightin’ Phils.