Twenty Things that Caught My Eye Today: A Plea to Joe Biden for the Persecuted & More (December 17, 2020)

1. Timothy Dolan and Toufic Baaklini: Remember the Persecuted at Christmas

We hope President-elect Biden will build on the accomplishments of the Trump administration, namely its assistance to genocide survivors and priority on international religious freedom as a centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy. At the same time, Mr. Biden should correct the Trump administration’s shortcomings, particularly its failure to confront Turkey meaningfully.

As for America’s Christian citizens, we must never become complacent in the face of adversity. We must roll up our sleeves, organize, and advocate for persecuted members of the body of Christ.

2. NPR: As Hospitals Fear Being Overwhelmed By COVID-19, Do The Disabled Get The Same Access?

That emergency room doctor would be the first at the hospital to raise a question that would shadow decisions about McSweeney’s care over nearly three weeks at the hospital: Why does a woman with significant and complex disabilities have a legal order that requires the hospital to take all measures to save her life?

McSweeney was 45 when she died on May 10. Her death would raise another question, one that people with disabilities and the elderly have worried about since the start of the coronavirus pandemic: Are they denied care when it gets scarce — like drugs or treatment, including ventilators — that might save their lives?

It’s common that doctors often see someone with multiple disabilities, like McSweeney, one way and the person’s friends, family and caregivers see her another.

Researchers call this the “disability paradox” — the large gap between how a person with a disability rates the quality of their life and what a doctor would rate it.

A “vast majority” of doctors say people with a significant disability have a worse quality of life, according to a recent poll by Dr. Lisa Iezzoni, a Harvard Medical School professor and physician who studies health care disparities for people with disabilities.

3. Catholic News Agency: As abducted Catholic priest is freed, congregation prays for kidnappers’ conversion

The Congregation of the Sons of Mary Mother of Mercy expressed gratitude to all who joined in praying for the priest’s release.

“We call on the government at all levels to invest more in securing the lives and properties of citizens as well as provide job opportunities and the enabling environment so that our teaming youths will be meaningfully engaged,” Ajacro said.

The priest’s kidnapping came a week after the U.S. government designated Nigeria as a “country of particular concern” for engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom,” along with other countries including China and Saudi Arabia.

4. New York Times: Vaccination Campaign at Nursing Homes Faces Obstacles and Confusion

Some residents and staff are balking at taking the vaccine. Short-staffed facilities are concerned about workers calling in sick with side effects, straining resources just as some frail residents are likely to experience fever and fatigue from the shot. Most nursing home employees work in shifts; will it be possible to vaccinate everyone over the course of just a few visits from CVS and Walgreens?

“Given the pace of this rollout, I am very concerned that nursing facilities won’t have the time or capacity to really explain the vaccine to residents and their families,” said Nicole Howell, a state-funded ombudsman in California whose office works with 29,000 long-term care residents.

5. Crux: Texas archbishop: ‘Conversion of heart’ needed on death penalty

Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio is the latest bishop calling for the Trump Administration to stop carrying out federal executions before the presidential term ends.

“It’s tragic because the death penalty is not the answer to the horrible things that these people have committed. It shows how we are not evolving as people who in facing difficulties we help each other to build up as members of society,” García-Siller told Crux.

The ninth and tenth federal executions of the year were last week. Both were controversial, with eleventh hour calls to halt the executions. There are three more scheduled before President Donald Trump leaves office in January.

6. Fr. Raymond J. de Souza: Lack of clean water in First Nations communities should come as no surprise

Indigenous-Canadians on reserves are not free to make arrangements for their properties, which they do not own in the way that other Canadians own their homes. So it becomes a government project or, actually, a multi-government project, with the local reserve bureaucracy working with bureaucrats in Ottawa. What could possibly go wrong?

After a suitable acknowledgement of customary pieties, the Post’s editorial gingerly suggested that “better mechanisms to allow band members to hold their leaders accountable” and “comprehensive land reform” might offer better solutions.

Local democracy and property rights, in other words. It has been known to work. Millions of Canadians in rural areas rely upon them to get clean water every day.


8. Politico: EU states can ban kosher and halal ritual slaughter, court rules

Religious groups immediately condemned the ruling, with European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor labelling it “a heavy blow to Jewish life in Europe” in a statement.

“The right to practice our faith and customs … has been severely undermined by this decision,” Kantor said.

“We plan to pursue every legal recourse to right this wrong,” added Yohan Benizri, the President of the Belgian Federation of Jewish Organisations.

9. Asra Q. Nomani & Norma Margulies: Nation’s No. 1 High School and Poised To Pick Students Based On Race, Not Achievement

…The Jefferson fiasco underscores how activist school boards, superintendents, principals, teachers, staff, and alumni from California to Massachusetts are conspiring to irresponsibly and recklessly overhaul school policies, education standards, and curriculum this year. For example, they’re canceling grades in San Diego, replacing merit-based admissions with lotteries in San Francisco’s Lowell High School and the Boston Latin School, and renaming schools in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Falls Church, Virginia; and Washington, D.C.

…school leaders and activists made the majority-Asian students at Jefferson out to be problematic. That student demographic became the scapegoats, called “toxic,” “racist,” and test-prepped in “pay-to-play” schemes by the activists, school board members, and even the school superintendent. The education secretary even once compared test preparation to illegal “performance-enhancement drugs.”

By July, according to the results from FOIA findings, the Jefferson principal, superintendent, school board member, and student were knee-deep in task-force meetings that were exploring eliminating the school’s merit-based test. On the late afternoon of August 7, a Virginia Department of Education official on the task force, Michael Bolling, sent an email to the Jefferson principal, Bonitatibus, saying he wanted to “applaud your commitment to increasing the diversity at TJHSST and openness to considering adjustments to testing and potentially a lottery.


11. Crux: Chaplains, care home staff coping with COVID-19 protocols

At the AMITA Health Holy Family Medical Center in Des Plaines, Illinois, critical care nurse Sister Maria Magdalena Rybak arrived at a… reality of an intensive care unit and coronavirus floor at capacity – two places where she is often the last person to see a patient before they die.

“I think about their families. That they cannot be with them, cannot hold them. We do our best, but yet we are not their family so being in that role is very emotional and difficult because I always put myself in their shoes as their mother or father,” Rybak said.

The patient’s family is typically brought in virtually. While they say goodbye to their loved one, Rybak touches the patient’s hand, forehead or cheek as the family members would have under normal circumstances.

“It’s just hard to know that the most basic need that we have as human beings, our spiritual need to have the presence of loved ones, they were deprived of it,” she said.

12. The Guardian: ‘He ruined us’: 10 years on, Tunisians curse man who sparked Arab spring

Ten years later, Tunisian is a democracy. It has withstood assassinations, terrorist attacks and the ideological gulfs of its leaders, at crucial moments pulling back from the precipice of returning to authoritarian rule, as happened in Egypt, and of civil war, as in Syria, Yemen and Libya.

Tunisians are freer to criticise their leaders than before, and their elections are honest. Yet people are miserable and disillusioned, joining jihadi groups in among the largest numbers per capita of any country in the world, and making up the majority of boat-borne migrants to Italy this year.

Voter turnout has been falling in Sidi Bouzid since the first free elections in 2011. Hichem Amri, a social activist, says the city is so far unimpressed by the system, though not for the reasons that sometimes gain currency in western capitals. What ails Tunisian democracy is not a fundamental incompatibility with Islam, nor some authoritarian strain in Arab politics. Rather, he says, it is something that has come to resonate more loudly in Washington and London over the past 10 years: a feeling that democracy as it is practised works only for an elite in Tunis and along the coast, without reaching far enough into communities such as Sidi Bouzid to give people a say over the forces that shape their lives.

13. Charles Fain Lehman: The Role of Marriage in the Suicide Crisis

The effect apparent from the population-level data is even more pronounced than that in the NLMS data. The suicide rate among divorced adults is more than three times that of married adults, while the suicide rate among singles is 1.5 to 2 times the rate among those who are married. In other words, marriage is a protective factor for suicide risk.

There are multiple stories that one could tell about this finding. Those who are more likely to marry may also be less likely to commit suicide, for reasons of personality, environment, or both. Socioeconomic status, in particular, mediates the relationship between marriage and suicide risk: increasing white mortality rates are driven by those at the bottom of the education distribution, who are also increasingly less likely to be married compared to their well-educated peers.

It is not implausible, however, that there is also some causal relationship between marriage and lowered suicide risk. Married people are on average happier. They also, definitionally, have at least one person to whom they are robustly socially linked—meaning they are less likely to be lonely, among other positive outcomes. Divorce, by contrast, is linked to depression in at least some people.

14. Gracy Olmstead: How to Be Pro-Life in Our Real Lives

A call to local civic action, love, and empathy can’t answer important questions regarding national abortion policy or health care laws. But it can bolster and grow the pro-life, whole-life witness. It can show non-Christian and Christian alike that we mean what we say—no matter who becomes president, no matter what unexpected crises rock our country.

15. Dr. Anika Prather: A Discussion on Black Lives Matter and How Classics have been a Tool in our Fight for Equality


17. The Washington Post: A third-grade teacher in Minnesota donated a kidney to her school’s custodian

When they spoke again that night after surgery, Mertens couldn’t stop calling Durga an angel.

“I told Erin, when I first woke up out of surgery, it was nothing I’ve ever felt before,” he said. “It was a new life.”

Mertens sent Durga flowers at Thanksgiving and still calls her to thank her, but he acknowledges that he is at a loss to truly express his gratitude. His wife tries to find the words.

“She’s our miracle, our angel,” Lynda Mertens said. “We’ll forever be grateful for her.”

18. Catholic News Agency: Colorado medical practice to offer specialized care to adults with Down Syndrome

Bella Health & Wellness, a practice based in the Denver suburb of Englewood, Colorado, announced at a Dec. 3 fundraiser that they will partner with the Jerome Lejeune Foundation, a French organization named for the pro-life doctor who discovered the genetic cause of Down syndrome in the 1950s.

The new partnership will enable Bella to care for adult patients who have Down syndrome, she said. Bella will help Lejeune learn more about how medicine in the United States works, while the Foundation’s knowledge of how to care for people with Down syndrome, passed on to Bella’s staff through mentorships, will greatly benefit Bella’s medical practice.

“We know that there is an identified need, and we are going to be there to fill it,” she said.

19. Daniel Darling: Recapture the Wonder of Christmas

Whatever the motivations, it’s striking that Christians, who believe and bear the good news that God has visited us in Jesus, who have the opportunity to tell and retell to a watching world the story of God’s rescue and restoration, are the most cranky about it. It could be that Christmas seems Christless this year because of an increasingly secular world. Or perhaps it’s not the number crunchers on Madison Avenue or the secularists at the Harvard faculty lounge taking Christ out of Christmas but Christians who, overcome by angst and anger, have stopped radiating the joy of those who’ve encountered the Son of God.

We who believe this story to be more than Hallmark feels should be among the most joyful souls come December. Consider the reaction of the shepherds to Jesus: they awed, they bowed, they shared. Or the response of the Magi, who traveled a great distance: they knelt, they gave, they worshipped. And so should we.

ALSO: I’ll be talking with Dan Darling Friday at 2 EST for the third session in NRI’s Center for Religion, Culture, and Civil Society series called Making Sense of 2020. RSVP for Zoom participation here. Or watch on NRI’s YouTube or Facebook page.

20. Daniel Lelchuk: Beethoven at 250: Four Masterpieces

It’s 2020: no big concerts, no live audiences. But as I listen to Beethoven here at my desk, the power of the music remains undiminished—and I want to tell you about a few of his works that I really love because I think his spell is going to work on you too. I won’t tell you what these pieces should mean to you, though: Great music is great in part because it has both a collective message and infinite personal messages. I have picked extraordinary recordings to go along with the works here, and I hope you’ll listen and love these as I do. So I invite you to take a little tour with me through a few of Beethoven’s great pieces, and who knows—maybe 2021 will end up being your Beethoven year.

BTW, if you missed it: I talked with Malka Groden from the Manhattan Institute and Naomi Schaefer Riley of the American Enterprise Institute about children in our country in foster care and other vulnerable situations. Watch at your convenience:

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