Category Archives: economics and financial policy

The Dehumanization of America: Tom Perkins, Peter Schiff, The Wall Street Journal and the Absence of Empathy

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“Our merchants and masters complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price and lessening the sale of goods. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.” Adam Smith The Wealth of the Nations: An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations

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Let me start this essay by categorically that I do not oppose people making money, becoming rich through their genius, their hard work, and being successful. In fact I applaud people who can do that. Adam Smith who developed what we know as Capitalism understood this. Unfortunately what now is described as Capitalism bears little resemblance to the understanding of Smith, and thereby his name is often dragged through the mud by people who seeing the bastard seed of the “new capitalists” reject the truly remarkable aspects of what Smith wrote about.

These men, and the society that they desire were described by Smith:

“As soon as the land of any country has all become private property, the landlords, like all other men, love to reap where they never sowed, and demand a rent even for its natural produce.”

Smith understood the value of free markets, but he also understood that the value of a human being was greater than a means to a profitable end. He had a sense of social responsibility, something that those who profess to be his disciples today lack. Smith noted:

“The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities.” 

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In the past week we have been witnesses of the banal attitudes of some men and the institutions that they represent toward those who they make their riches from. Tom Perkins, a now retired venture capitalist wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal which complained that the rich were the targets of a new Kristallnacht against the rich. Later when defending his ideas, though lamenting his use of the term Kristallnacht, he boasted of his wealth including a James Bond like car which could “fly” underwater and a nearly 400,000 watch. It was a crass vulgar display or his wealth. It was almost as if Smith had wrote about Perkins in 1776:

“With the greater part of rich people, the chief enjoyment of riches consists in the parade of riches, which in their eye is never so complete as when they appear to possess those decisive marks of opulence which nobody can possess but themselves.”

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Peter Schiff equated the value of a worker to what they are and not what they produce, especially in regard to the mentally retarded but an argument that can equally apply to those of lower education, those with physical disabilities or even mental illness. Of course the Wall Street Journal then had to rise to the defense of such sentiments.

I mention these men because they were crass enough to voice what so many like them actually think, thus the criticism is not of these two men, but of the lifestyle, culture and attitude that they represent, which pervades almost every part of modern American economic life. We live in a society which our news media, entertainment industry and often even religion exalt the wealthy and in which our political, social and economic elites see wealth as their divine right. Smith noted:

“This disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and powerful, and to despise or, at least, neglect persons of poor and mean conditions, though necessary both to establish and to maintain the distinction of ranks and the order of society, is, at the same time, the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments.”

Smith makes a direct connection between the attitudes toward wealth and the near worship of the rich and powerful to the corruption of the moral sentiments of a society. One only needs to look at the great banking, savings and loan and real estate meltdowns of the past 20 or so years to see the effects of this unquestioned worship of the rich and powerful has on the society at large. Even so those who have brought our economy to near ruin on numerous occasions do not see the connection. They are so insulated by their riches and success that they feel nothing of the suffering of others.

Theirs is a condition of intense narcissism and insecurity. They boldly assert their superiority over the majority of humanity, but are so insecure that they need to ensure that the government safeguards their position in society. Smith wrote:

“Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.”

Men like Perkins and Schiff and the shills at the Wall Street Journal have a profound lack of empathy, something that is common in narcissistic personalities. In fact the criteria listed for the psychiatric condition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder are present in many highly successful and powerful people, in politics, business, government, entertainment and even religion. Thus the  criteria serve well to illuminate the attitudes of such people, even if they themselves do not match enough of the criteria meet the clinical diagnosis.

*Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)

*Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

*Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)

*Requires excessive admiration

*Has a very strong sense of entitlement, e.g., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations

*Is exploitative of others, e.g., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends

*Lacks empathy, e.g., is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others

*Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her

*Regularly shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

Now it is possible for people to demonstrate some of these symptoms without being diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, in fact at least five have to be present for a clinical diagnosis. That being said, the words and actions Perkins, Schiff and others demonstrate some characteristics of a a narcissistic personality, especially the lack or absence of empathy, which I think is the most dangerous narcissistic trait of all.

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When men no longer can empathize with other human beings, and only see others, especially the weak, the poor, those different than them and the disabled as a means to their own riches, power or success; the stage is set for great human tragedy. It does not matter in what type of political or economic system that it takes place, it can be Capitalist, Fascist, Communist, Nationalist, Tribal or even Theocratic; the issue is not the system, but the underlying lack of empathy for others in those who rise to power in it.

The terrible result of such a lack of empathy is the dehumanization of a society.

Gustave Gilbert, who served as a U. S. Army Psychologist at Nuremberg noted something about them men that he observed and worked with during the Nuremberg Trials. The men included bankers, industrialists, propagandists, technocrats, police, party and military personnel who served the Nazi regime. Gilbert wrote:

“In my work with the defendants I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.” 

Now before someone jumps the shark and says that I am calling either Perkins or Schiff “Nazis” or Nazi sympathizers, be aware I am not. I just feel that Gilbert’s assessment of the definition of evil, is a lack of empathy is a universal statement. Though Gilbert worked among Nazi War Criminals, I believe that the statement is true in any society where a minority of the people live in such a manner that they control the society and are incapable of having empathy for others.

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There is an antidote to this, and it is not in trying to protect one’s position, but rather to be generous to others regardless of our estate and to avoid vanity. Smith wrote that “Bounty and hospitality very seldom lead to extravagance; though vanity almost always does.”  Likewise he noted something that all of us should take note of before in our attempt to climb to the top crush all beneath us:  “No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.”

So though my criticism falls on Perkins, Schiff and the Wall Street Journal it is something that all of us have to be aware of and guard against, regardless of our political, ideological, religious or economic philosophy of life; lest we sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Shutdown Showdown is Over But the Damage is Done: Respected Military and Economic Leaders Speak Out

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“The example that America knows how to govern itself is one of the compelling aspects of our national security, and right now, we are not demonstrating that.” General James Mattis USMC (Retired) 

The shutdown of the Federal Government and the near default on our debt payments led by Senator Ted Cruz and members of the Tea Party Faction of the Republican Party has severely damaged the United States. It was an action that they knew could not succeed, but they went ahead and did it anyway.

The short term costs were significant. Standard and Poor’s estimates that the 16 day shutdown cost over 24 billion dollars. But ultimately that is not the worst of the problem. The same faction led us into the sequestration and the Democrats assuming that the Tea Party faction would act responsibly agreed to it. However, that act is also hurting us. Retired Admiral John Harvey commented:

“The method we’re going to, the sequestration and the [continuing resolution], ties their hands as to where you go and make your choices. You don’t get to make choices, and that’s the danger. It’s not that we have tough circumstances. It’s that we don’t get to make the choices necessary to deal with those circumstances.”

General Mattis, the former Commander of Central Command also said:

“The economy’s always been the engine for our national security. There’s no way that that our military power will not erode if a robust American economic revival is not part of the cards. And the dysfunction in Washington right now shows a country unable to govern itself — and that is worth more than 10 battleships to us.”

Senior Military leaders regardless of their political leanings are general very pragmatic. We are well educated and unlike the stereotypes often have more education and experience that our counterparts in either the private sector or other part of government, especially many members of the House of Representatives.

We read history, are engaged in foreign policy, economics, political science, ethics and other subjects that most people, especially the pundits and special interests only pretend to study for partisan gain. We do not get our history from barley educated hacks like David Barton, Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly.

The remarks of General Mattis and Admiral Harvey are shared by many in the military, even officers who are very conservative and not in favor of some of President Obama’s policies.

I mentioned the other night that the foundations of national power are often referred to as the DIME. That is the Diplomatic, the Informational, the Military and the Economic power of the nation. These components are dependent on each other. One only has to look to history to see this.

As General Mattis said “our economy has always been the engine of our national security.” However much of that economic power has been squandered and because we have chosen to ignore it we have seen our infrastructure rot away. Without a thriving economy our military might suffers, you do not win wars with military power alone, nor do you deter enemies.

Likewise our diplomatic power, linked to our economic and military might leverages our favorable image in the world to get other powers to go along with policies that benefit both us and them. The story that we tell about ourselves, the informational power of the nation also is part of our national power and security.

What the 2011 threat to trigger the debt limit crisis by a newly empowered and recently victorious Tea Party led Republican Party was bad in the short term as well as the long term. That deal from a national security point of view alone, not counting the cost to the poor and to important scientific, medical, economic, energy and education aspects of our economy was devastating. The sequester cuts if they are allowed to continue will endanger the country in many ways. As Admiral Harvey noted they “tie our hands.”

The damage to our international reputation over the past couple of years, but especially the self-inflicted wound of the past few weeks is devastating. Countries that are our economic and military rivals like China are hammering us and suggesting a new world order, a “de-Americanized” world order. If you think that the economy is bad now, see what happens of the dollar is no longer the world’s reserve currency. The cost of oil and everything else that we depend on from other nations will rise in a big way. Borrowing costs, just try to get a loan for a house or a car should that happen.

That is just the tip of the iceberg because once our key allies and trading partners lose confidence in our ability of govern ourselves our influence will decline and I believe in a major way. People around the world are now wondering if they can trust us. Our political system, as cantankerous as it can be worked for over 200 years, not perfectly, but well enough because our leaders understood the necessity of compromise and working across party lines for the benefit of the country. My example for this is how President Ronald Reagan and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill in spite of there major policy differences remained personal friends and when appeared to be going bad worked together.

John Chambers the head of S&P’s Sovereign Ratings committee noted just how close that the actions of Congress had come to sending our national debt rating crashing. http://www.newsweek.com/exclusive-sp-was-minutes-marking-down-americas-debt-396 Chambers noted:

“It is simply not a characteristic of the most highly rated sovereigns that you have to worry about them not paying their debts,” Chambers said, noting that no nation has ever defaulted for such a ridiculous reason – political games of mutually assured destruction. “It is unheard of in a cohesive civil society, making it all the more puzzling and lamentable that we have these shenanigans over spending that has already been approved by Congress.”

It is time for political leaders to wake up and realize that what they are doing will destroy this country. Unfortunately there are some out there like Senator Cruz who are willing to do this all over again. That is unfortunate, unwise and just plain stupid.

God help us all.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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To the Brink…An Unnecessary Condition of Affairs

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I have resisted writing much about the shutdown that has beset our nation the past two weeks and the looming debt default. Truthfully I don’t know what to say. I am amazed that we have reached this point, but then at the same time I am not. I saw it coming in 2011 when the I wrote a couple of articles while nursing a broken leg. One The Deal is Done and are We? There are Always Results was written the day the deal was done, the other Be Careful…there is a point of no return and we may have crossed it was written the day prior to the deal.

Both articles lamented the state of the body politic of the nation and recognized that the actions of our political leaders, men and women elected by us were much less about the budget than a cultural war elicited by the unbridled hatred of our fellow citizens.

Back then I wrote:

“The attitudes that we have formed and angry words which we now use so ubiquitously are reflective of a deep hatred that now is becoming what defines us as a people.  In fact the deep and abiding hatred which now permeates our society is now threatening the international standing and I would say the national security of the United States.  We have only ourselves to blame because through our actions and inactions of the past decade we have made our choice to be what we have become and there is no one group especially in our political, media and business elites that have served us well.  In fact we have as voters chosen this toxic mix of elected officials often more influenced by hate spewing pundits and our own self interests rather than that of the nation and future generations much as we would like to claim that we are looking out for the future.”

I am an American. I serve my country regardless of who the President is. I have served under five Presidents now. In each case there have been things that I have liked and disliked about each of them as well as policies with which I have disagreed. But for me the fundamental principle was always the good of the country. That is something that I cannot say exists, especially in the Jacobins of the Tea Party who have driven the country to the point of default for no good reason.

People can say that their opposition to the Affordable Health Care Act is a matter of principle. But it is law and has been deemed Constitutional by the Supreme Court. Shutting down the government and bringing about default is not the means to change a law, even one that some despise.

The government shutdown, the default and the Sequester brought about by the Budget  Control Act of 2011 are dangerous. I see them from a national security point of view. In national security parlance our national power is not merely based on military power. It is what we call the DIME. The Diplomatic, Informational, Military and Economic power of the nation. These factors all have been weakened by the shutdown, the threatened default and the sequester. Our status as a world power is directly affected by these actions, and like it or not in our globalized interconnected world all these factors matter. The actions of Congress, particularly the members of the House precipitating these actions are dangerous, irresponsible and stupid.

It doesn’t take much to figure out that the Chinese in particular are attempting to use this to their advantage. The are lobbying for a new world economic order which would replace the Dollar as the world wide reserve currency. The loss of this would harm us immeasurably as many of our advantages in trade, finance and other economic matters are directly related to our economic and political stability and trust of other nations believing that we will act in a responsible matter.

Likewise there are people that have become unhinged. Today I had a comment on the site which I did not allow from a man in Louisiana (IP address lookup is a cool tool) who was more extreme than many of the more extreme Tea Party extremists I have encountered. By labeling these particular people extreme I am not making a blanket statement about people in the Tea Party because I know many good people who I count as friends in the Tea Party movement who are rational, reasonable and non-violent.

That being said I have gotten past the point of needing to engage unhinged internet trolls or giving them room to spout their hatred on this site. The man was spouting the most insane babble, a mixture of Alex Jones paranoia and simple hate devoid of any real real arguments. I went to his site and saw that this was his normal writing style. It was scary because his answer was violence.

I am reminded of what Robert E Lee testified before a Senate hearing after the defeat of the Confederacy.

“I may have said and I may have believed that the position of the two sections which they held to each other was brought about by the politicians of the country; that if the great mass of the people, if they had understood the real questions would have avoided it. I did believe at the time that it (the war) was an unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides.”

That is what we face today. There is a hard core of idealist who will not compromise, who see compromise as weakness and defeat. They lack the understanding that the very narrow latitude prescribed in our governmental structure and Constitution prescribed by our founders demands compromise. Otherwise the system cannot work. It is not perfect by a long shot. There will always be things about the country that one faction or another does not like and attempts to change through the normal legislative process. That is what is supposed to happen in order to form “a more perfect union.” However that is not what is happening in this case. The radicals appear to want to destroy the country allegedly to save it.

I know not what tomorrow holds. I hope and pray that the shutdown will be ended, a continuing resolution passed and default averted. However I do not know if it will happen, and that should cause all of us regardless of our political views to ask just what the hell are we doing?

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Shutdown Dead Ahead

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“Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. Thus people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance.” Eric Hoffer “The True Believer 

It looks like tomorrow I will go to work and get to hear how the Republican and Tea Party Shutdown of the government will impact my senior military schooling. I do know that at least some classmates will be sent home to their parent commands approximately 3 1/2 weeks into a 10 week course required by law for them to serve in either their current or projected assignments. Likewise much of our civilian faculty and staff will be sent home leaving those of us working to complete the course without their knowledge and experience as well as what we will lose when our fellow students are sent home. I will remain because unlike most I am being assigned as faculty to the school that I am attending.

It seems strange for me, a man who spent almost his whole life in the military as well as a member of the Republican Party until my return from Iraq in 2008 to watch this debacle occur and to understand that those in the GOP leadership pushing hardest for the shutdown really don’t care.

Listen, I get the fact that a lot of people on the political right do not like the Affordable Health Care Act (aka Obamacare.) However it was passed in both houses of Congress, signed into law and been ruled Constitutional by the Supreme Court. However throwing a tantrum and shutting down the government is not how our founders envisioned the repeal of laws. Their remedy was to win elections, repeal unpopular laws, even Constitutional amendments  through the legislative process even if it took a while. In fact there are numerous examples of this including my favorite the repeal of Prohibition.

However it appears now that the members of the radical minority of the Tea Party and GOP House of Representatives caucus and freshman Senator Ted “Green Eggs and Ham” Cruz want to make the entire government shut down to try to win their point. Unfortunately for everyone their irresponsible actions will cost the country billions of taxpayer dollars, not to mention the economic impact in the private sector, something that Wall Street and the American Chamber of Commerce are warning are dangerous to our economy. But then let us not forget that we are supposedly, if you believe in American Exceptionalism “a city set on a hill” then you have to realize that what is happening tonight is resonating with people around the world.

Those who looked to American democracy as a model or example are looking elsewhere and who would blame them? The Chinese Communists are completely amoral but their system seems to be working. Now I don’t think it to be superior and they too have problems but that is not what the world sees. Likewise nearly every advanced nation on the planet, almost all of which are Western democracies have some form of Government funded health care. I have many friends around the world and most, even military men wonder what the hell is going on with our politicians.

Why is this happening? The real fact of the matter is that this has nothing to do with the budget. It has nothing even to do with the Constitutionality of the AHCA. It is a power play to try to humiliate a sitting President who won not one, but two elections by convincing margins. Some of the grand standing by those in the GOP has been more than crass. One House Representative compared their action to the brave passengers of Flight 93 on 9-11 quoting Todd Beamer “Let’s roll.” When I heard that I was both saddened and angered, having been on active duty before and after 9-11 and having served multiple tours in the Arabian Gulf or Iraq I found the entire display offensive and almost Talibanesque.

The fact of the matter is that this isn’t about economic policy or even health care. It is about power and it is about the unremitting hatred of a minority of people who loathe the fact that an African American President passed a health care law that was originally drafted by the Conservative Heritage Foundation. A law that if a Republican had passed it would be hailed as a law that made everyone pay for their health insurance. But such is the zero sum politics of this faction.

This shutdown going to hurt a lot of people. It will hurt our economy. It will also hurt national security. However those forcing the issue do not care, because the ultimate goal has nothing to do with the AHCA or the budget, but rather a minority, many (but certainly not all) motivated by racism (yes I said it) attempting to put the Black man in the White House in his proper place. If you don’t believe me just go out and read their columns, internet posts and social media entries. If you have any sense you will see this.

There is a way to change laws and there is a way to make corrections in our system, but this is not the venue for it. Too much is at stake. However it seems that much of the leadership of my former part seem hell bent on devastating the country and destroying their party. Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater must be spinning in their graves. Neither of those conservative icons would have tolerated this behavior. But then, even if you didn’t agree with them all the time you had to admit that they could work with others and understood both the Constitution and our legislative system. John Boehner, Ted Cruz and the other leaders of this insanity seem neither to understand or care.

God help us.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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I Have a Bridge to Sell You: Don’t Want That? How About These Pills and Money Instead? Padre Steve Muses on Radio Advertising

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Sometimes a writer has to write about something less than serious, even if it has somewhat serious implications….

I have to drive a lot. As such my current vehicle is equipped with Sirius satellite radio. I am not particularly esoteric in my radio tastes. I listen to the Sirius 70’s music channel, “70’s on 7” as well as various sports and news channels. Thankfully the 70s channel is commercial free, however, the others are filled with commercials and these are not your what you see on TV, despite the fact that at one time satellite radio was advertised as being advertisement free. That being said I have enough capitalist in my moderately liberal constitution to tolerate advertising because businesses have to make money.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zK2p5TAhd0s

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjYVk9cz_aE

Now I don’t mind advertising or people and businesses making money, except some of these advertisements, in fact I think most of them seem more than unseemly. They seem to me to be somewhat grotesque in their appeal to the most base, carnal and insidious passions known to humankind. They play on most wanton passions  that we know as people. It is actually fascinating when one decides to listen to the barrage of advertising for products that appeal to every one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Well at least the more exciting ones of them that are not that are not explicitly forbidden by law.

I am actually amazed when I listen to these advertisements. I have kind of lost count of the numbers of different variations in them but here are a few of my favorites.

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I think that the most common ads that I hear are ones for male Erectile Disfunction, or E D, The fascinating thing about these advertisements are the shear numbers and variations of them. There are the supposedly legitimate “real” prescription drugs, in their original prescription form, modified variants that give new life to the languid male sexual appendage in as little as 7 seconds. Of course there are the supposed “generic” versions of these little blue pills of happiness as well as foreign manufactured “organic supplements” that supposedly make the otherwise languid male organ do backflips or something like that all for a fraction of the costs of the real thing. For the first time this week I heard advertisements for female sexual enhancement supplement. That was interesting, but I digress…

Of course we can’t leave out weight loss medications sold over the airwaves and the internet, nor the one that I heard this week on a program to help you gain weight. I thought that answer to gaining weight was eating Big Macs at every meal, but evidently I was wrong, there is a program guaranteed to help you get a fat ass, if you are willing to spend the money. My advice, save the money and spend every waking hour at McDonalds, Wendy’s, Burger King and Hardy’s with occasional forays to Dunkin’ Donuts and Krispy Kreme.

Then of course there is money. Money, money, money, must be funny, living in the rich man’s world. I find the money making schemes, or the presented on these radio advertisements to be worthy of a Ferengi, not that there is anything wrong with that because I admire the Ferengi.

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But as much as I admire the Ferengi I am a mere “Hu-man” and have to point out that despite my admiration for the Ferengi that I have a hard time with Hu-mans like me attempting to outdo the Ferengi in the acquisition of capital, earned or swindled. The financial “opportunities” presented include “opportunities” in gold, silver and other precious metals, most of which have lost value after speculators took them to unimagined heights due to world economic uncertainties. Then there is the economic apocalypse promised by those that promote secret ways to avoid the economic catastrophes that they promise, except that they keep running the same commercial that they did last year as if was new. I guess that the warning may not been as critical as the advertisement.

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Then there are the advertisements that promise to deliver people from their debts, especially massive amounts of debts to the IRS and state tax agencies that could only come through attempting to illegally not pay taxes in the first place or those that simply want to escape paying for things that they bought. Those are just a few of the economic scams that await people should they respond to them. There are a host of others including those of payday loan agencies and even unregulated agencies on Indian reservations.

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Of course there are the “Christian” relationship and dating sites like Christian Mingle, which promises to help you “find God’s match for you.” Sorry to sound cynical but I have seen too many Christian friends duped by such sites to believe anything that they advertise. I can’t wait to hear an advertisement for “Christian Mangle” the site that links “Christian” abusers to victims, at least there might be some truth in advertising in it, but again I digress….

All of these advertisements promise to give those desperate enough to send money to them to eliminate debts, both honestly and dishonestly incurred, to get rich quick on the misfortunes of others, to increase sexual drive and performance and even to use God and the internet to find a mate to dominate.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pqXfq3f4jE

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYz7HHbaums

The sad thing is that these are just a sampling of the offerings being marketed to those gullible enough to throw down a credit card number. Somehow the proliferation of such ads makes me long for the days of K-Tel and Ronco back in the 1970s and even the Saturday Night Live satires of them.

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http://www.hulu.com/watch/19046

About the only thing I haven’t heard an advertisement for is premature ejaculation, but I hear that’s coming quickly.* I guess that is why that for the most part I listen to my 70s music, brought to me without commercial advertisements.

So for tonight,

Peace

Padre Steve+

* Credit to Mel Brooks for that line

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Thoughts on the Coming of Sequestration

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The Empty House

Sequestration, the obscure but deadly poison pill agreed to by the President and Congress on August 1st 2011 in order to stave off the first ever default on our national debt. When the deal was reached I felt that it would be a tragedy for our county. I knew then in my heart based on the angry and often hateful tenor of the debate that I saw in Washington DC concerning the debt limit crisis that led to the act that it was something that would not be immediately repealed and do great damage to the country. I felt that it was much like the Missouri Compromise of which Thomas Jefferson said:

“but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. it is hushed indeed for the moment. but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. a geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.” 

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Of course I hoped, perhaps beyond hope that much of the posturing and demonstrations during the debt stand off by both sides were election ploys. Though I did not believe that either side would compromise I hoped that cooler heads on both sides would prevail and seek a long term compromise deal. I hoped but I did not believe.  I wrote:

The battle lines are still drawn and the language except for the utilitarian language that compromise was necessary to stave off a default has not changed an iota.  The language of compromise does not sit well with the most vocal members of the Tea Party faction nor those on the hard Left.  Many Tea Party leaders and members continue to argue that their leadership to push the government into default to achieve their goals.

The default may not happen now but the crisis is not past.  No it will be with us for a long time with more division, more bitterness and more fuel being poured onto the flames of hatred that have consumed us.  Much like the various crises and compromises on the road to the Civil War nothing substantial has changed.

I can see it as if has already happened. The Unholy Trinity of politicians, pundits and preachers will step up their rhetoric inciting their followers to adopt even more uncompromising positions.  The already fearful enmity will deepen and the center will disappear. Emotion in the form of hatred will drive the arguments that neither side will listen to even as the United States and the world economy worsens and the wars continue.  Young Americans will give their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan even as their political leaders on both sides of the aisle seek ways to reduce the force and even the pay and benefits that they have earned after 10 years of unending war that the rest of the nation while seemingly grateful does not understand nor share.” 

Unless something happens soon the terrible vision that I had will become a reality. Sequestration went into effect just before midnight. In the two preceding weeks Congress worked a total of three and a half days obviously intent on doing nothing. Despite the warnings of the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, numerous military and business leaders including the US Chamber of Commerce and heads of social service and religious organizations as to the devastating consequences of sequestration nothing was done and now sequester is here.

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However the divide was too deep and the hatred too much. I still hope and pray for  resolution before the full effect is felt. I know many people that will feel the direct effects of this, especially in areas that are heavily military and which depend on the military for much of their economy. Virginia, Texas, Maryland and California will be particularly hard hit. Other states, especially poor southern states which are heavily dependent on Federal aid will also by punished with the irony that it is some of the political leaders that they elected that are pushing hardest for the cuts.  People who think that they will not be effected will be surprised when they find the Federal services that they assumed will always be there cut in front of their eyes.

Unfortunately this is just one part of the drama that will play out in the next few weeks. I know that many people believe that the President and Congress will reach a deal and I hope that they are right, because I do not want to be right on this.

God help us.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under economics and financial policy, News and current events, Political Commentary

Remembering the Deal with the Devil that Has Brought us the Sequester

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“But we have no one to blame but ourselves. We voted them all into office and we have encouraged their repugnant behavior with our votes which more often than not were purchased by the fear mongering engaged by each side and our desire to have our special interests and or ideology come out on top.” Padre Steve August 2nd 2011

Back in late July 2011 it appeared that the Federal Government would o what it had never done, default on the payments for the National Debt. I was in Washington that week and could not believe what had become of the country.

For me it was a week that I remember well because on a nighttime picture taking expedition on the National Mall I fell off a darkened ledge at the Washington Monument while turning to line up another picture while walking in the dark.

That week I wrote a number of articles on my observations of what was happening. Since it appears there is a strong chance of the dreaded “Sequester” occurring in a bit over 48 hours I am posting those articles in their entirety here along with the links to the articles on this website.

As a historian and serving Naval Officer I really have a hard time believing what is happening in our government. I can only imagine it is the same kind of feeling that officers in service in 1860 and 1861 felt as their families, friends and the elected officials home states were pushing the country into the abyss. Unfortunately now, as it was then there is enough blame to spread copious amounts between politicians, preachers, and pundits the Unholy Trinity of both parties and across the political spectrum. Men, women and institutions that care more for their special interests than the country that gives them the opportunity to achieve great things.

These are my writings from that unfortunate week in our history. Unfortunately nothing leads me to believe that anything has changed since then and that the leaders of both of our political parties and their supporters in their respective media, corporate and lobbying interests and partisan pundits and preachers on both sides will not do all they can to ensure the ruin of this country.

While I have my own opinions about the root causes of this situation and my own political leanings. That being said I cannot fail to note that among our political classes and their supporters that to some degree they and we are all to blame.  No one wants to hear that but it is the truth. Most of us and certainly our political leaders, lobbyists, business leaders and pundits have by refusing to listen to those we disagree with have brought us to this point. Just like 1860. This is something that need not have ever had to happen. I agree with the hero of the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Union General John Buford: “I am disgusted and worn out with the system that seems to prevail.”

God help us because I do not believe that our leaders have the capacity in themselves to do anything.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Tuesday in DC: Lunch with a Dear Friend and a Night walk through the Monuments

Today was another good day, in fact really good day at the conference I am attending with the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health.  At lunch I was able to spend some time with my former commanding officer at Marine Security Forces.  It was good to see Mike again.  He and I went through some very trying times together and I treasure his friendship as well of that of his family.  I think that of all the commanding officers that have served under which have included some incredible men that he was the best.  We are a lot alike in many ways both rather cerebral and out of the box thinkers. We basically are the same generation as far as military service goes, when he was a young Marine Corps Officer I was a young Army Officer.

We reminisced about the way the country was back then how our leaders still worked together and even if we disagreed with the policies of those in the opposing party that we still knew that we were Americans and that at the end of the day we were friends.  I guess that Mike and I are dinosaurs now; we tend to look at the big picture and both being career officers of the same generation have seen the country change. We both entered the military during the Cold War and after the loss of Vietnam.  Our teachers were the men that served in that war, those who came home to a then hostile country.  Neither Mike nor I are service academy types nor the products of conservative military schools, Mike went to Harvard and attended Navy ROTC and I went to a California State University School, CSU Northridge and took Army ROTC at UCLA.  We both come from strong yet tolerant religious traditions and were influenced by chaplains early in our careers.  Mike’s academic background is Economics mine Theology and Military History and both of us hold advanced degrees in those subjects.  We both graduated from the Marine Corps Command and Staff College.  We have both served overseas and in combat.  We love our country and treasure our military service and that of the men and women that we have served with over so many decades.

I am honored that Mike will administer the Oath of Office when I am promoted on September 1st at Harbor Park in Norfolk Virginia.  By the way Mike loves baseball too and being from Boston he is a Red Sox fan.  His dad, a die hard fan died a few months before the Sox broke the “Curse of the Bambino” in 2004. My dad died a few months before his San Francisco Giants won the World Series in 2010.

Talking with Mike today made me think back to a time when things were not like what they are now, where political opponents were simply opponents and not “the enemy.”  I shared with Mike the terms the German Military used in the Second World War to describe those that they fought against.  The Western Allies were “die Gegener” or simply opponents and for the most part the German military observed the Geneva Convention and Laws of War when fighting the Americans, British and French.  However with the Soviet Unionit was different.  The Soviets were “Der Feind” or the enemy.

As divided as we were in the 1970s and 1980s there was still a modicum of respect for the other side and ability to work together when we needed and Mike brought up the relationship of Ronald Reagan and Thomas “Tip” O’ Neill, vigorous political opponents who remained friends.  However there is today and has been for the past 20 years or so for members of the extreme wings of both major parties to identify their opponents as “enemies.”  The language difference is significant. An opponent is a adversary that you hope to defeat but there is not a hatred involved and when the competition ceases the opponents remain friends and even colleagues even as they prepare for the next “game” so to speak.

Enemies are another matter.  To be an enemy is to assume that the other side poses an existential threat to your side or your agenda.  Thus there can be no compromise and the opponent is not simply to be defeated but destroyed and annihilated much like the Old Testament when the Israelites were commanded by God to kill everything even the babies and pregnant women.  So much for being pro-life but I digress….

Today we are more divided than any time since the Civil War, blood is boiling and if there is compromise it will be a mere truce until the next round of political bloodletting which if we are not careful may become actual bloodletting and the enemies allow their unbridled hatred of each other spill out into open conflict.  Such affairs never end well and if we remember our history our Civil War’s military conflict was over in a few years and yet with the relatively primitive weapons of the ay killed more Americans than any other conflict.  The after effects well, frankly Scarlett took over a hundred years to recover from and I would dare posit that some believe that the war is not yet over.

Tonight I went to dinner alone cancelling my plans to head out to watch the Nationals play the Marlins. I needed the time and solitude and somehow a trip on the DC Metro seemed the last place that I would find it. I walked to the Gordon Biersch where I had dinner, drank a few beers and watched the Orioles beat the Blue Jays.  After dinner I detoured from my normal route back to my campus housing which takes me in front of the White House.

Amid the lights and the amazing splendor of the buildings adorned with American and District of Columbia Flags I walked and simply observed people.  Tourists from across the nation and the world were taking pictures, business people and government workers hurried about, vendors hawked their patriotic wares, mostly made in China I might add or snack foods.  Here and there a protester sought to draw attention to their pet cause, there is the anti-nuclear weapons protestor that has been camped across from the White House since 1981, people demanding to see the Birth Certificate, those protesting for the removal of various Arab dictators and others peppered about. Capitol Police and Secret Service officers were out in force and amid the fortress like surroundings of many government buildings and the offices such as the World Bank and major business and financial institutions armed police and private security stood watch with cameras watching every move.

When I passed the White House I was rather down.  So I decided to walk the monuments that adorn the Capitol Mall.  I passed the Executive Office Building and Washington Monument and crossed the street to the World War Two Memorial.  At each place I paused before I continued to walk into the night.  I then stopped by the Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam War Memorial, the stark reminder of the men and women killed and missing in that war as well as the rip in the fabric of the nation that I am not sure we have ever gotten past.  I then went and paused before the Lincoln Memorial and I thought of the immortal words spoken by President Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address shortly before he was cut down by a bullet fired by John Wilkes Booth.  They are words of reconciliation spoken even while Americans fought Americans in the last months of the war.

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Fellow-Countrymen:  At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

As I walked through the warm and humid night air I imagined what it must have been like for officers of the United States Army, Navy and Marine Corps as the nation split in 1861 with many Southerners leaving the service to enter the service of their own states.  Many tearful goodbyes were spoken by men that had served together in war and peace and on the lonely frontier of the nation, men who in a few moths time would be commanding American armies and killing their fellow Americans.  My family fought for the South being from Virginia.  I cannot say that I would have done different like them and so many Southerners or if like General George Thomas of Virginia I would have remained with the Union incurring the wrath of his family for the rest of his life.  Since I have never taken my Oath lightly I can only imagine that I would have done what Thomas did even if it meant the loss of family.

Today I fear that even if our leaders can avert a default on or debts that they have now set the stage for worse I the coming months and years. The open hatred and contempt of our leaders for one another and the ideas that each stand for has wounded the nation more deeply than any default or government shutdown could ever do. This is not simply partisan discourse it is a deep enmity and hatred that has not been seen in this country for 150 years.  If cooler heads do not prevail soon the damage may be irreparable and the consequences more terrible than we can imagine and why anyone would willingly continue down this road is beyond me, but hatred does terrible things to people and nations.

Since it was nearing10 PMI hailed a taxi by the Lincoln Memorial.  I entered into a conversation with the driver, an immigrant from Morocco who has been in the United States 22 years.  I mentioned my concern and he was far more hopeful than me. He said he believed that a shutdown would be averted.  I love immigrants especially recent ones who have left home and family to become Americans.  My dad’s side family has been in this country since 1747 and my mother’s even longer.  It was inspiring for me to hear this man still be in awe of this nation despite all of our troubles. When I left the cab I thanked him, gave him a decent tip shook his hand and in my woeful Arabic said “Assalamu alaikum” or peace be unto you.

As a historian I tend to see the dangers in what is happening in our country and I do have legitimate concerns, but when I hear the words of hope and awe that this country engenders in those who come here to be free I hope again in spite of myself.

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Meditations on a Wednesday Night in Washington DC 

I was reflective tonight and thinking about all of those great men and women who sacrificed so much to the sake of this land and also the world as I walked the capitol late this evening.  As I saw the flags around the Washington Monument at half staff in honor of former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John Shalikashvili my thoughts turned to the words of America the Beautiful.

O beautiful for spacious skies,

For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties

Above the fruited plain!

America! America!

God shed His grace on thee,

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea!

Today was another very good day in regard to the conference I have been attending at the George Washington University Medical School Institute for Spirituality and Healthcare.  Today was a day to practice what we have earned so far with men and women that are employed by the Medical School as “model patients.”  These are people that work with medical students before they even see a real patient and that simulate what the students might encounter when they actually start seeing patients as senior medical students and then as in their various internships and residencies following graduation.  I was very enlightening as we had the chance to be the physician in our encounters with the various actors.  Mine went very well and I thank God for the fact that I have worked with some very fine physicians that have modeled wonderful, compassionate and human care of patients on the various ICUs that I have worked in.

I have been very pensive this week due to the chaos that seems to reign in the halls of Congress in regard to the debt ceiling and intransigence of the members of that esteemed body to bother to work with each other or the President.

This evening I went out with my cousin Becky, actually she is my wife Judy’s cousin and works with one of the “Men in Black” law enforcement agencies headquartered in our nation’s capitol.  She was with a co-worker who has served at the end of the Cold War in Germany and in the Gulf War and we had a wonderful night talking, eating and drinking good beer at the Rock Bottom Brewery in Arlington.  After we were one I had Becky drop me off near the White House because I wanted to wander again about some of the monuments this time with my good camera as I wanted some good pictures from what I observed Tuesday night.

O beautiful for pilgrim feet

Whose stern impassion’d stress

A thoroughfare for freedom beat

Across the wilderness.

America! America!

God mend thine ev’ry flaw,

Confirm thy soul in self-control,

Thy liberty in law.

Since I have been at the conference or out most of the day I have only heard bits and pieces of the news, just enough to know that the Republicans and Democrats are still driving the train over the cliff even as some in each party attempt to throw the emergency brake to try to stop disaster from overtaking our fragile economy as well as that of the world.  The problem as I see it is that a vocal minority is hell bent on forcing their agenda at any cost and sabotaging the cooler heads in their own and the opposition party.

O beautiful for heroes prov’d

In liberating strife,

Who more than self their country lov’d,

And mercy more than life.

America! America!

May God thy gold refine

Till all success be nobleness,

And ev’ry gain divine.

Last night I was out and was a bit melancholy as I walked the monuments but came home encouraged by an immigrant cabbie from Morocco who still holds this nation in awe and wonder. It was something that I didn’t expect because it seems that so many of us that have lived here for all of our lives no longer have that sense of awe, wonder and appreciation for this now battered land.

I started at the White House and the proceeded past the Washington Monument to the World War Two Memorial, down the National Mall and pat the reflecting pool to the Korean War Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam War Memorial before walking the 7 or 8 blocks back to the GWU campus where I am staying.

O beautiful for patriot dream

That sees beyond the years

Thine alabaster cities gleam

Undimmed by human tears.

America! America!

God shed His grace on thee,

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea.

Tonight I took my time and did not get back to my room until 1230 AM.  I was more deliberate than last night and really pondered then things that made this country great and the sacrifices made by so many that we might enjoy freedom that most of the world cannot imagine.  I realized that it was not our economic or military might that made us great but the ideals that this country was founded upon and the sacrifices of men and women of many races and faiths who have each in their own way worked for the cause of liberty many at the cost of their lives in war or sadly in some cases at the hands of their own countrymen.

I do pray that the politicians, pundits and preachers, that “unholy Trinity” who have so terribly afflicted out nation and people with their loathing of all that are different than them will realize the damage that they have done to the peace and the very fabric of this country.  I pray that we are able to be one nation, or as it so well expressed on the Great Seal of the United States E Plurbus Unum, “out of many one.”

As I settled down and prepared for bed I came across a poem in a book of prayers that Judy put together for my birthday during one of those very lean seminary years.  It is by Alan Paton, a South African educator, writer and anti-apartheid activist who died in 1988 five years before the end of that evil system.  It is a poem but also a prayer and I think that it speaks as much to me now as the first time that I read it when Judy gave me this gift.

O Lord, open my eyes that I might see the needs of others;

Open my ears that I may hear their cries;

Open my heart that they need not be without succor;

Let me not be afraid to defend the weak because of the anger of the strong,

Nor defend the poor because of the anger of the rich.

Show me where love and faith are needed and bring me to those places;

And so open my eyes and my ears that I may this coming day

Be able to do some work of peace for thee. Amen.

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A Physically Painful Thursday Night in DC: Dinner with a Classmate and watching Our Government Implode

I have spent most of the day in some bad physical pain. Last night while walking around the National Mall taking pictures I hurt myself.  I was walking from the Washington Monument toward the World War Two Memorial looking at the Lincoln Memorial and trying to figure out a good camera angle.  I wanted good pictures so instead of walking down either of the sidewalks that line the Mall I wanted to stay in the center which meant walking “cross country” so to speak in the dark.

I was sizing up the shot of the Lincoln Memorial while walking forward and I turned briefly to look back to see if I had a good shot of the Washington Monument and the Capitol Dome.  As I made this slight turn I found that there was nothing under my right foot and I went crashing down onto a sidewalk about three feet below.  I landed on the side of my right leg with the main impact seeming to be at the place where the fibula and tibia come together just below the knee.  I felt a sharp pain but got up and limped back to GWU while getting shots of the WWII Memorial, the Korean andVietnamand Lincoln Memorials.  I got back to my room in a substantial amount of pain and it took forever to get comfortable enough to get to sleep.  When I got up all I could do was hold onto walls as I made my way across the room and put my leg up on the coffee table in the living area.  Eventually I made my way over to the conference site where thankfully I was able to keep my leg up most of the day.

When the conference was over I changed clothes to meet my friend Pat, a Marine Lieutenant Colonel who I attended the Marine Corps Command and Staff College with and met up with inIraqin 2007.  We met at Fado’s an Irish Pub where I had a very tasty Shepherd’s Pie and several pints of Kilkenny Ale which I have not had since traveling in the Mediterranean and the Gulf.  On the way there I rode the DC Metro and was very careful to not put any extra pressure on my leg than was absolutely necessary until I got caught in a crosswalk and had to try to run across to beat the light.  I am in good physical shape and I figured since I could walk I could probably still run.  I was wrong. The first time my right foot hit the ground a shock wave went through my leg with the area that I had injured erupting in pain bad enough to bring tears to my eyes.

After dinner I left the Metro station near GWU and stepped off what I thought was a short one step which were actually two steps again landing on my already throbbing leg.  I managed to get to my room where after a couple of Aleve tablets the edge is starting to come off of the pain.  Tomorrow I will check out of my room and the conference and about 900-930 AM will hit the road out of town.  I am in enough pain that as soon as I get into Virginia Beach I will stop at the Navy Clinic at Joint Base Little Creek or the Naval Medical Center to get my leg checked out.

I was very glad to get together with Pat and to enjoy the fellowship.  There is something about the shared military experience including war that binds people together.  It was as if we had seen each other yesterday, but then we chat often on Facebook and comment a lot on “The New Adventures of Doctrine Man!”

While we were talking another stake was placed in the talks to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. I believe that the nation is now being held hostage by a minority of people on the political right and left who have decided it is better for them to destroy the economy of the nation and livelihood of the vast majority of Americans to gain a short term political advantage in the 2012 elections.

This is not the first time this national suicide pact has happened.  It is now so late and the sides so far apart with such great enmity between them that even if in the now unlikely event a debt ceiling deal is reached the damage is done. Our national credit rating will be downgraded and although the nation will survive life will become exponentially more difficult for most Americans and the chaos will spread around the globe.

Back in the late 1920s the radical left and radical right in the German Weimar Republic represented by the German Communist Party on the Left and Hitler’s National Socialist Party of Germany on the Right sabotaged the more moderate politicians of the Center Party and the Socialist Party of Germany.  When Wall Street Crashed and the World entered the “Great Depression” the parties of the Left and Right became even more polarized leading President Paul Von Hindenburg to appoint Hitler to form a government.

Of course the rest as we historians are prone to say is history. The short sighted policies and actions of the German political parties after the collapse of the Empire eventually brought about the Nazi dictatorship.  If our political leaders continue down this path we can expect that the already fragile economy will take a terrible hit.  We can expect that many people in the United Statesand around the World will suffer the economic effects of the actions of these so called leaders.  As things get worse the extremists in both major political parties aided and abetted by those that think that they can gain by this tragedy will fight it out until one or the other beats the other party into submission.

This will not be good and I expect that the pain of what our political leaders inflict on us will be far greater than the physical pain that I feel now. God help us all.

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Be Careful…there is a point of no return and we may have crossed it

Be careful with your thoughts because they turn into words

Be careful with your words because they turn into actions

Be careful with your actions because they turn into habits

Be careful with your habits because they become your character

Be careful with your character because it defines you 

Ezra Taft Benson (former Secretary of Agriculture) quoted by Buck O’Neil

On Wednesday night I took a walk about our Nation’s Capitol.  It was a beautiful night and the buildings and monuments were illuminated in the most spectacular ways.  It was inspiring in a sense to see them, symbols of the greatness of the country and the people how sacrificed themselves to build it.  I can understand why so many millions of people have come to this country from all over the world to become Americans and be part of our dream.

In fact I became so engrossed I taking pictures that night that in the darkness I did not see an unilluminated ledge not far from theWashingtonMonument.  I fell from it onto the waiting sidewalk below and crunched my right leg pretty bad.  I had it checked out and x-rayed at the Naval Health Clinic at Joint Base Little Creek when I returned to Virginia. The doctor assumes that there is a good chance that I have a hairline fracture of either my tibia or fibula just below the knee and I am being referred for further tests when I return to Camp LeJeune Monday.  Until then I am on crutches and pain meds.

I fell over the ledge that I had no idea was where it was.  It was inadvertent and even when I got up and looked at it I had a hard time making it out.  However there are those in the country including many in the political leadership and media that seem to want us to go over a cliff because they perceive that it helps them and their agenda.  They see the ledge and they know the danger but they unfortunately enabled by “we” press on to the abyss.

For many years the political ideologues on the extremes of the Left and the Right in the United States have harbored the worst thoughts about those that do not match up with their ideologies. I have been writing for quite some time about how divided our body politic is and how dangerous the situation has become.

The contemptuous thoughts of the Left for the Right and Right for the Left first turned to words and those words became commonplace, so common that they became habitual.  In a sense they have become part of the political DNA of the most extreme among us.

The attitudes that we have formed and angry words which we now use so ubiquitously are reflective of a deep hatred that now is becoming what defines us as a people.  In fact the deep and abiding hatred which now permeates our society is now threatening the international standing and I would say the national security of the United States.  We have only ourselves to blame because through our actions and inactions of the past decade we have made our choice to be what we have become and there is no one group especially in our political, media and business elites that have served us well.  In fact we have as voters chosen this toxic mix of elected officials often more influenced by hate spewing pundits and our own self interests rather than that of the nation and future generations much as we would like to claim that we are looking out for the future.

We have chosen badly and we are paying for it.  We are being held hostage by those that we elected, men and women who supposedly know better than to destroy the country in order to save it as was about the village of Bien Tre in the Vietnam War… “we had to destroy the village in order to save it.” The Left and right have racked up massive debt over the past decade which has made previous debt pale in significance.  Each like to blame one another as “mostly to blame” but each has a major part of the responsibility for the mess that we are in.  However the amazing thing is that neither side nor we the electorate seems to be able to hold ourselves responsible.

Without going into the whole debt ceiling debacle which now has us on the edge of a default which we can only pray will not be as bad as real economists around the world say it will be; the fact is that we have made the mess and now our leaders are failing us. I have to say that all of them have used this made up crisis to some extent to further their goals and agendas at the expense of the country.  That is a shame and our elected leaders of all parties and factions are at fault and it comes back to character, theirs and ours.

You see it is about more than the budget or the debt ceiling. It is about hatred of fellow Americans which has been preached by hypocritical ideologues for decades on the radio, television and now the internet.  Much of it is as raw, hateful and disingenuous propaganda disguised as “news” as was Julius Streicher’s Nazi Der Sturmer and the Communist Party Die Rote Fahne were in Weimar Germany.  That poison has infected us and most of us line up on one side of the propaganda machine or the other.  We know what happened to the Weimar Republic, racked by bills it could not pay, massive unemployment brought on by the Great Depression and a desperate population led by politicians that intentionally used their misery to derail the efforts of government after government to try to manage the crisis.  They ended up with Hitler, the head of a large and vocal political movement which refused to compromise with anyone to bring down the Republic that they hated.

Whatever happens in regard to the debt ceiling and future budget negotiations the damage has been done.  The soul of our nation and our national character has been damaged perhaps irreparably.  Our leaders hate each other and the most influential media in the country, the talk radio and cable news pundits of all stripes throw gasoline on the fire every day. The social and political anarchy will reign until one side or the other has crushed their opposition.  Those in the middle lose either way as they will be crushed by whichever side wins unless they ally themselves with the winning side no matter who it is.

History teaches us that such times are at best tumultuous and at worst cataclysmic.  The consequences when great nations engage in such political fratricide it usually has grave consequences that effect it as well as nations and peoples far beyond its borders.

It is time for everyone to take a step back from the abyss before we plunge headlong into something that we will regret which will only benefit those that seek to benefit from it.  Or are we too stupid to see what is happening?

Thoughts, words, habits, character….be careful.

God help us all

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We won’t let this Happen again….Until the Next Time

“I am disgusted and worn out with the system that seems to prevail.” Brigadier General John Buford 

The news is abuzz tonight about the bi-partisan deal that has been agreed to by the President, the Speaker of the House and Majority Leader of the Senate.  The details will come out but certainly there will be those unhappy with the deal.  I don’t know what is in it and the devil is always in the details.

I am a realist and the details seldom bode well. Like John Buford a career Officer during the Civil War I have become disgusted and worn out watching the men and women that we have elected to public office work so hard to fracture this country that I hold so dear.

Tomorrow I expect that the deal will pass in the House and Senate unless the hard core right and left work together to embarrass their respective leaders. Since neither side had enough votes to do this on their own despite weeks of impassioned and often bitter argument with neither side listening to the other it has come down to this moment.  Personally in light of all that has transpired between the current Congress and the Obama administration even if this is passed Monday on Tuesday the death struggle will resume. Of course the deal may not pass and like Confederate General Robert E. Lee perhaps questioning his own rejection of  Union we might someday say  “the war… was an unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides.”  

That struggle has already begun as some Tea Party leader declared Congressman Allen West and three other Tea Party Supported House Members as “Tea Party defectors” for supporting Speaker of the House John Boehner’s plan over the weekend.  On July 27th Tea Party Nation leader Judson Phillips urged Boehner “to go” and be replaced by a “Tea Party Speaker of the House” while The Party Patriot co-founder Jenny Beth Martin suggested a similar thing.  Many Liberals are equally critical of the President and Majority Leader Harry Reid with a growing number stating that they believe that President Obama has betrayed their ideals one Democrat Congressman calling the deal a “sugar coated Satan sandwich.”

The battle lines are still drawn and the language except for the utilitarian language that compromise was necessary to stave off a default has not changed an iota.  The language of compromise does not sit well with the most vocal members of the Tea Party faction nor those on the hard Left.  Many Tea Party leaders and members continue to argue that their leadership to push the government into default to achieve their goals.

The default may not happen now but the crisis is not past.  No it will be with us for a long time with more division, more bitterness and more fuel being poured onto the flames of hatred that have consumed us.  Much like the various crises and compromises on the road to the Civil War nothing substantial has changed.  In fact William Gross the head of PIMCO one of the major global investment groups said that a downgrade was “inevitable” and that “Congress has basically proven itself to be dysfunctional and this will carry on for months even if the crisis is basically resolved in the next few days.”

We have crossed the Rubicon and unless an external and existential threat to our nation forces our leaders to work together I seriously doubt that this will end well.  The President failed to lead when he had a super-majority and his allies in Congress squandered the chance that they were given in 2008.  The Republicans after taking the House in 2010 are doing the same.  Neither side will admit to their behavior. Both will with good reason to point the finger of blame at their opponents while ignoring their own contributions to this sordid state of affairs.

I can see it as if has already happened. The Unholy Trinity of politicians, pundits and preachers will step up their rhetoric inciting their followers to adopt even more uncompromising positions.  The already fearful enmity will deepen and the center will disappear. Emotion in the form of hatred will drive the arguments that neither side will listen to even as the United States and the world economy worsens and the wars continue.  Young Americans will give their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan even as their political leaders on both sides of the aisle seek ways to reduce the force and even the pay and benefits that they have earned after 10 years of unending war that the rest of the nation while seemingly grateful does not understand nor share. “We few, we happy few…” William Shakespeare quotes Henry V before the Battle of Agincourt.

Tonight I have been watching the movie Gettysburg which I think is a fitting reminder of what happens when the Unholy Trinity finally achieves their goal of destroying the very fabric of the nation and pits brother against brother.  Hopefully cooler heads will prevail and somehow, some way we will get through this before we long for the day that makes what we are experiencing now look good.

Like General James Longstreet I wonder “Why do men fight who were born to be brothers?”

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The Deal is Done and are We? There are Always Results

“but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. it is hushed indeed for the moment. but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. a geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.” Thomas Jefferson on the Missouri Compromise

I believe that Thomas Jefferson in describing the results of the Missouri Compromise aptly describes the mood of our times and the consequences of politicians that lead us to the dark abyss of hatred and civil war.   There are times that I wish that I was not a historian or theologian for then I could simply be ignorant of the place that our elected leaders are leading us.

Yesterday and today I sat convalescing at home trying to stay off of my injured leg as the final actions were taken in the House and the Senate on the Debt Ceiling Compromise. I felt as if I was watching a national tragedy being marketed as by some as a triumph of cooperation.  I was amazed that talk which was paired with the opponents of the measure in both parties.  I felt that those praising their actions to pass the increase and related budgetary cuts were saying it all for show even as they sharpened their swords for the next battle even as the vast majority of Americans expressed anger and frustration with the behavior of their elected officials.  A Pew Research poll indicated “72 percent of American characterized the recent budget negotiations as “ridiculous, disgusting, stupid, and frustrating.”

But we have no one to blame but ourselves. We voted them all into office and we have encouraged their repugnant behavior with our votes which more often than not were purchased by the fear mongering engaged by each side and our desire to have our special interests and or ideology come out on top. We have been engaged in what conservative columnist Pat Buchanan declared a “culture war” for the past two decades and wars be they cultural, ideological, and economic or military have consequences.  The longer they go on the worse and more violent they become until one side finally loses and the landscape is destroyed. A conservative German newspaper noted “It is this war-like rhetoric that has so poisoned American politics.” The Germans should know something of this.  The “Kulturkrieg” and the violent hatred of their countrymen in the wake of the defeat of the First World War and humiliation of Versailles brought about civil war.  The pursuit of radical ideologies in the following years is what doomed the ill-fated Weimar Republic when the economic calamity of the Great Depression struck and led to the tragedy of the Nazi takeover and ultimately led to World War Two.

I believe that the actions of all parties in this forced crisis were a disservice to the citizens of this country, the memory of all who have gone before us and done more to damage our standing in the world than I could ever imagine.  It is as if the leaders of the country have forgotten why they are even in Washington.  There is no unity of purpose, only the language of war being used against fellow Americans.  A German newspaper wrote “No one can forget the Civil War atmosphere in which this debt fight has taken place. It weighs on America’s international reputation. From the point of view of financial markets, the dysfunctional nature of Washington is a risk factor that must be calculated for in the future.”

The sad thing is that there is so much work that has to be done and it is more than reducing Federal Government spending. Our industries have been shipped wholesale overseas using the treaties that business has foisted upon their willing accomplices in both parties in the name of “free trade.”  Our unemployment continues to rise and many economic experts believe that we are entering a “double dip” recession which some believe could easily become a depression. The infrastructure of the nation crumbling with the businesses that benefit from them refusing to contribute to their maintenance unless they receive government contracts and money in return.  We are committed to long term ground wars that have sapped the economy and worn out the military which now seem to serve little strategic purpose.   In fact the position of the Army in Afghanistan could be disastrous if Pakistan decides to stop cooperating and not allow us to supply the Army through it.

It is apparent to me that those that can afford it the least and the military will bear the brunt of the cuts that will come and that it will be a long time before this crisis passes.  No one seems to be addressing the major issue of unemployment or economic growth without which there is no recovery.  I heard the President and Senate Majority Leader McConnell repeat what they have said for years but no plans and no action.  As for the military we are worn to a nub, our equipment needs to be replaced and modernized and our troops still deserve the best that we can give them, but even this is on the chopping block, military retirement is called “an expensive entitlement program” by those advocating that the military adopt a private sector pay and benefit plan of little value especially to those that have spent 10 years at war paying with their minds, bodies and spirit fighting wars that the Wall Street bunch has benefited from, the same Wall Street leaders that now call for reductions in military pay and benefits.  It is obscene.

I would like to believe that this is a rough patch that we will get through, but right now with the terrible acrimony present in Washington and all the State Capitols I have a hard time believing that we will.  The President has failed to enunciate any kind of plan or vision and the Tea Party leadership is acting like the Jacobins in Revolutionary France.

I have no idea who will “win” this “culture war” and does it really matter? The result will be a Pyrrhic victory with the winners celebrating on the ruins of the country.  I only know that we all lose.

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