Category Archives: leadership

A View from Germany: The German Election and the Cloud Cuckoo Land of American Politics

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It really is amazing to observe the serious business of politics of another country during an election that matters and then observing how ridiculous the American President is making himself look from overseas. I commented to my German friends that it seems that the President lives in a Cloud Cuckoo Land of his own alternative reality.

Now let me put some perspective on this. In the summer of 1979 I was traveling across the United States and to Britain and the Netherlands. Back then the world was in crisis mode, the Iranian Revolution had shaken the status quo of the Middle East, the Soviets were on the march in Afghanistan, and the United States seemed moribund. The country was still reeling from Watergate, the Vietnam debacle, and a continuing economic crisis. Interest rates were over 20%, gas prices were high, the economy struggling, it seemed that the Japanese were buying up everything in the United States, and President Carter could not get along with his Democratic majority in Congress.

While I was in the U.K., President Carter gave his now infamous Malaise speech. The reaction overseas was hard to describe, people in the U.K., the Netherlands, and other Western European countries who still believed in the United States were aghast, they found his negativity almost incomprehensible. The dollar dropped in value overnight and having a very limited amount of money with me I found it most disheartening. In fact when I was asked about the speech by people that I stayed with in the U.K., I didn’t know what to say or how to defend it. I was embarrassed. Don’t get me wrong, now 38 years later I admire Jimmy Carter but still cannot understand why he said what he did back then, it didn’t help us at all.

So I have been in Germany the last 10 days. The German election was in its final week, and yesterday the Germans voted. It was a tough election, the “Grand Coalition” of the CDU/CSU and the Social Democratic Party had proved unable to meet the challenge of the refugee crisis coupled with economic fears, especially in states that made up the former East Germany. In that area, as well as in the traditionally conservative state of Bayern, with the exception of big cities like Munich, the new, Right Wing AfD, or Alternative for Germany Party did well. In the east it got over 21% of the vote, in Bayern close to 15%. In the rest of the country it didn’t do so well. The thing about the AfD is that while it initially began as an anti-European Union party, then became an anti-refugee party, which in time became much more racist, anti-Semitic, and pro-Nazi, even using many of the terms used by the Nazis as they climbed they way to power in the late 1920s and 1930s, and suggesting, quite wrongly that Germany should stop criticizing Hitler’s Third Reich. Also doing well in the east was the revitalized and rebadged Communist Party, now called “Die Linke” or “The Left.” Overall the AfD received 13% of the vote nationwide and became the first party of the far right to gain seats in the national parliament, or the Bundestag going back to when West Germany was founded during the Cold War.

I watched the election returns with our friends on two different German television networks, and was fascinated with the discussion and analysis, and I had read election coverage in different German newspapers of various political leanings since I arrived. Last night, from about six o’clock on I was immersed it the German political debate, and I found it to be much more serious and deeper than ours. The reporters asked hard questions to the leaders of all the parties and didn’t let any of them off the hook. Likewise all the parties signaled that they would not work with the AfD, even the SPD which appears to be choosing the political wilderness of being in the opposition along with the AfD and Die Linke.

There are no television and radio advertisements for any party allowed, though campaign posters, rallies, and debates between different political factions are quite common. By reading the literature of the parties, seeing news coverage or rallies, and seeing the campaign posters one easily could tell what the message of each party was. The remarkable thing was just how racist and fear mongering the AfD campaign was. Even on their campaign posters the basic message was the Islamists are coming for your women. They took advantage of the perceived failure of the Grand Coalition in dealing with the refugee crisis and by blaming immigrants and the EU for Germany’s problems.

So at the end of the day the Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU took a beating, many, almost 1.3 million of its voters chose the FDP, or the Free Democrats who are more socially progressive and business minded as a protest, while another million chose the AfD. The SPD, the Social Democratic Party’s losses, while fewer in number were catastrophic many of its voters migrated to Die Linke or the AfD, the SPD garnered just over 20% of the vote, an all time low for the party. Since no party has a majority of the Bundestag membership, it will be up to the CDU/CSU to form a coalition. Since their former Grand Coalition partners, the SPD are going to the opposition it appears that there will be a Schwarz, Gelb, Gruene Coalition of the CDU/CSU which had 33% of the vote, the FDP with almost 11%, and the Gruenen, or the Green Party, which got about 9% of the vote. The leaders of all three parties have vowed to work for democracy and fight against the extreme right of the AfD. It will be an interesting but complicated coalition and the parties will have to find ways to cooperate and a governing program while satisfying their base, which was something that the Grand Coalition could not do.

So what will matter in the next election in 2021 will be how this coalition works, and if the AfD which has no positive program can hold itself together in the Bundestag. Likewise the SPD, long a bastion of German center-left politics must recover what it lost as an opposition party, while not giving legitimacy to the AfD or their traditional nemesis on the left, the former Communists.

As for now Chancellor Merkel must now build a coalition and she has invited the SPD to participate. In one of the shows I watched tonight the leaders of the Free Democrats and the Greens appeared to be supporting a coalition with the CDU/CSU in order to halt the growth of the extreme right. We won’t know for a few days what the final outcome will be but it appears that most analysts are predicting a Black, Yellow, Green, or Jamaica coalition (the colors of the Jamaican flag) of the CDU/CSU, the FDP, and the Greens.

But turning to the United States and how ludicrous President Trump’s words and actions are, and how they are hurting us overseas with our long time allies, with the exception of the neo-Nazi AfD which has mimicked Trump’s anti-immigration, racial, and do-it alone rhetoric with building a wall, getting more border police, and deporting immigrants, even those determined not to be a threat. As far as the blatant racism of the AfD leaders, one has that while Thomas Botang, a member of the German Nation Football (soccer) team is a good player that he would not want to live next door to him because Botang is black. But I digress…

Since I have been here the President has made multiple new threats against North Korea which has only prompted them to respond in kind, and has spent much of his time insulting anyone who criticizes him. While he described Klansmen and neo-Nazis as “Good People” in the aftermath of Charlottesville, he has been quick to berate African American sports figures over their political protests regarding Black Lives matter, which by the way is still a constitutional right whether he likes it or not, and by disinviting Gold State Warriors basketball player Stephan Curry from the White House. His rambling speech in Alabama on Saturday in which he told NFL owners that they should fire the “sons of bitches” that protest during the national anthem and criticized the league for trying to make the game safer for players was met with more open protests from players and owners, and scoffed at over here.

I mean really, watching the political circus and train wreck that is the Trump administrative from afar is even more disconcerting when you are across the ocean and visiting sites made infamous by leaders who led their county to disaster in two world wars, one of who engineered the single most evil genocide in history. I am sorry but watching from over here, and discussing the matter with German friends and others, I am becoming more and more convinced that there is something seriously wrong with him. I do not know if he is a sociopath, if he is mentally ill, or if he in the early stages of some form of dementia, but something is not right with a world leader who acts this way. Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, Gerald Ford, Dwight Eisenhower, and Teddy Roosevelt all have to be spinning in their graves. Richard Nixon is probably joyful that Trump may end up making him look good by comparison.

Watching these events from overseas with less access and time to follow them as much as I would in the States has made me shake my head as I cannot believe that we have come to this. Likewise, not being as connected in the moment hasn’t been a bad thing, and I probably will cut back on some of my online activities and try not to get caught up in whatever crisis de jure the President. one of his family members, advisors, surrogates, or media advocates have cooked up to distract us from the Muller investigation.

But anyway it is late. We did have another good day in Germany yesterday, and since it is later here I am going to wish you a good night as we have plans tomorrow that will keep me offline much of the day.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Presidential Twitter Storms and the Absence of Empathy

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As residents of southeast Texas struggled against the unrelenting rain and floods of former Hurricane Harvey the President was on a Twitter spree recommending a book by Milwaukee Sheriff David Clark (his other favorite criminal Sheriff after Joe Arpaio) his determination to build a border wall, NAFTA, a visit to Missouri, the 2016 election, a slam against Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, and a few treats bragging about the great response to the hurricane.

It was a banal display of sordid narcissism by a man who shows not a bit of empathy for people, many of who voted for him. But then that should not surprise anyone because his tweets and his public statements have always had a mocking tone towards those most loyal to him.

Gustave Gilbert, who served as a psychologist to the major Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg noted that in his observation and discussions with them he had to deal with the nature of evil. He had to find the common thread among them that allowed them to take part in the most horrific crimes against humanity conducted by an allegedly civilians, western and Christian country. He noted that in his dealings with them they had one thing in common, they had no empathy for their victims. He said, “evil is the absence of empathy.” The common psychological term for a person who cannot empathize with other people is a sociopath. That is what are President is. It is a trait that he shares with the vilest criminals of the Twentieth Century. Yesterday was just another day in the life of our sociopath in chief.

I was have a beer with some friends this afternoon and a friend showed me some Facebook post of a mutual friend. They were posts and memes that belittled and mocked the people fighting the rain and floods caused by Hurricane Harvey. I could only shake my head when she asked me if he was a Trump supporter, because indeed he is, and he was belittling many people who like him voted for and continued unreservedly to support the President, at least until Harvey, we’ll see if they remain supporters. However, That being said, I do think that many of the President’s supporters are so far in the tank for he that he could shoot an kill one of their family members and they would continue to support him.

As I thought of these things last night I was reminded of the words of Hannah Arendt: “When evil is allowed to compete with good, evil has an emotional populist appeal that wins out unless good men and women stand as a vanguard against abuse.”

Now honestly I don’t think that the majority of Trump supporters are themselves evil or even bad people. But that being said I do believe that quite a few of the, perhaps a majority of them have surrendered to taking the path of least resistance and looking out for what they think are their interests first, even if the result of their decisions hurt people who are much like them.

As Arendt said, “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

That is what we are watching happen before our very eyes. Some might claim ignorance, or claim that they are non-political and are in no position to judge the morality of this President and his administration, but that is the refuge of the coward. Karl Popper noted “Ignorance is not a simple lack of knowledge but an active aversion to knowledge, the refusal to know, issuing from cowardice, pride, or laziness of mind.”

The fact is that today, like in Germany between 1933 and 1945 no one can claim ignorance about the nature and character of our President, but if they don’t know it is simply cause they do not want to know, and for those in positions of authority who turn a blind eye, what Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect and later armaments minister wrote “…being in a position to know and nevertheless shunning knowledge creates direct responsibility for the consequences…”

It is lack of empathy, an active aversion to truth, shunning knowledge, and perhaps worse, a refusal to know when in a position to know which allow people to look the other way in the face of evil and injustice.

Until tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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A Contempt for Facts and Defense of Nazis: the President’s Response to Charlottesville 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I feel like I now live in a alternate universe where everything looks like it is supposed to but at the same time everything is different. This has been particularly striking apparent to me some since the Nazi caused violence in Charlottesville and the President’s multiple responses, ending with yesterday’s news conference in which he deflected the blame for that violence onto what he called “the alt-left.”

Honestly I had a hard time believing this was real, but it is, and now I must continue to speak out. If I don’t I will be as guilty before the bar of justice and humanity as the President and his apologists. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: 

“If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.” 

The President is a Nationalist who by his words and actions seems to ally himself with the White Nationalists of the Alt-Right. He does his best not to criticize them and when he does he blames their (and his) opponents using a language of moral equivalence. Hannah Arendt wrote: 

“Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of the man who can fabricate it.” 

It is hard for me to imagine any leader in American history who fits Arendt’s description better than President Trump. 

I was aghast when I heard President Trump’s third set of remarks about the Nazi caused violence and death in Charlottesville this weekend. I hardly could believe my ears and just shook my heard when I read the complete transcript. I never believed that I would ever hear any American President do his utmost to deflect the blame off of Nazis and Nazi sympathizers than I heard today. At the same time I had no doubt that this would happen at some point as since the President first announced his candidacy in 2015 I have been saying it, even here on this website, but every time I wrote about it I wanted to be wrong. Sadly I wasn’t wrong and now the President has a news conference and blames everyone but the Nazis for the violence, insisting that there were some “very good people among them” even as he blame liberals of the fictional “alt-left” for what happened.

Yesterday the President held a news conference in which he said that the ideology of the Alt-Right, including the KKK and the Nazis was against American values. I watched it and it seemed forced as he read it from a teleprompter. It sounded so forced that Richard Spencer, one of the leading Alt-Right agitators said that he didn’t believe the President’s words were sincere. 

Today proved that the Nazi was absolutely right about the President. The press conference was a not only a public relations and political disaster for the President, but it covered him in disgrace and dishonor. It also embarrassed the country in the eyes of the world. It was unbelievable. 

The only people who seem to be happy are the Nazis of the Alt-Right who praised the President for his “honesty and courage.” 

The President and his Nazi like apologists have turned their words to reject and demonize legitimate opposition in order to deflect criticism from themselves. In his book On Tyranny Timothy Snyder wrote about how Hitler did this in Nazi Germany:

“Victor Klemperer, a literary scholar of Jewish origin, turned his philological training against Nazi propaganda. He noticed how Hitler’s language rejected legitimate opposition: The people always meant some people and not others (the president uses the word in this way), encounters were always struggles (the president says winning), and any attempt by free people to understand the world in a different way was defamation of the leader (or, as the president puts it, libel).”

As I said, the only people defending him are the Nazis of the Alt-Right and the Court Evangelicals who have been his most stalwart supports. There seems to be nothing that he can do to disappoint them and they quickly jump to his defense using the same arguments of moral equivalence that that the President does. The former are Nazis whether they assume the title or not, the latter are no better than the German church leaders who encouraged their flocks to support Hitler and refused to speak out against the crimes of the Nazis. 

Yesterday the President lost any remaining credibility he had in terms of upholding his office and defending the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. 

God help us,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Nuclear Giants and Ethical Infants


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a short couple of thoughts today since I was hoping that yesterday would see a ratcheting down of the war rhetoric coming out of President Trump, some of his advisers, and the Kim Jong Un regime in North Korea. But that has not been the case. On the American side the President upped the ante with his rhetoric even as some cabinet members seem to be trying to moderate those comments. Of course the North Koreans are upping the ante by threatening the American bases on Guam. 

With every new threat uttered by President Trump and the North Korean regime the stakes get higher and the chances of miscalculation that lead to war grow. Barbara Tuchman wrote in her book The March of Folly, From Troy to Vietnam, “To those who think them selves strong, force always seems the easiest solution.” That sums up the behavior of President Trump and Kim Jong Un, although the Korean despot is the one who is putting the American President on the defensive, in a sense allowing President Trump to back himself into a corner where if he doesn’t resort to force he will lose face. Both sides are playing with fire while standing in gasoline. North Korea would certainly be defeated, but the cost will be dreadful, especially to South Korea, and probably Japan, and yes, even to the United States, and we cannot assume that other nations will not become involved in a war should it occur. 

Over a decade before the first atomic bomb was used, Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler wrote about the cost of war: “What is the cost of war? what is the bill? This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all of its attendant miseries. Back -breaking taxation for generations and generations…” Those words have a greater significance in the nuclear age than when he wrote them. 

There have been many times in history where leaders of nations allowed their rhetoric to take them to war when other options we still viable, but not between nuclear armed powers. It is the incredible destructive power of nuclear weapons and the real possibility that their use would be not be limited to so-called surgical strikes. The destructive power of this technology and lack of impulse control of the American President and the North Korean dictator are a recipe for disaster. It is no wonder that over a half-century ago General of the Army Omar Bradley said: “Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war that we know about peace, more about killing that we know about living.” 

In writing about the 14th Century Tuchman wrote: “For belligerent purposes, the 14th century, like the 20th, commanded a technology more sophisticated than the mental and moral capacity that guided its use.” Things have changed very little in regard to the humanity involved and we can only hope that cooler heads prevail. 

Anyway, that is all for today.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Great Illusions and the Threat of War 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been reflecting on the words and actions of President Trump, Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and their sycophants over the past day and a half. I wrote some of my thoughts down yesterday before continuing to read and reflect. While I was doing so the words of William Shirer wrote in his forward to his book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, as well as some thought from Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August. While they deal with different eras, they also deal with the one constant in history, that of fallible human beings. I think that they are quite appropriate to reflect upon today. Shirer wrote: 

“In our new age of terrifying, lethal gadgets, which supplanted so swiftly the old one, the first great aggressive war, if it should come, will be launched by suicidal little madmen pressing an electronic button. Such a war will not last long and none will ever follow it. There will be no conquerors and no conquests, but only the charred bones of the dead on an uninhabited planet.”

There are some people who think that globalization and the interdependence of the economies of the world on international commerce and trade will ensure that nuclear war never occurs. They believe that realists will ensure that it never happens. That is a nice thought. During the Cold War the United States and the Soviet Union maintained a tenuous balance of terror that never resulted in a nuclear exchange, but they did come close, especially during the Cuban Missile Crisis. But we no longer live in that world where the leaders two heavily armed yet rational powers did not succumb to the temptation of using them. 

In 1914 the realists of the world believed that if a war broke out among the great powers of Europe that it would of necessity be short. Inspired by the writings of Norman Angell whose book The Great Ilusion drove home the message that war as no longer profitable and therefore capitalists would resist appeals to war and nationalist fervor, Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“By impressive examples and incontrovertible argument Angell showed that in the present financial and economic interdependence of nations, the victor would suffer equally with the vanquished; therefore war had become unprofitable; therefore no nation would be so foolish as to start one.” 

The book had a cult like following in Europe and when Europe went to war in August 1914 many people and governments believed that any war would have to be short, and as such none of them prepared for the long and catastrophic war that ensued. The Germans did not follow Angell, but Clausewitz who preached a dogma of short and decisive wars. Sadly, both authors were misunderstood by their most devoted disciples and as Tuchman wrote: “Clausewitz, a dead Prussian, and Norman Angell, a living if misunderstood professor, had combined to fasten the short-war concept upon the European mind. Quick, decisive victory was the German orthodoxy; the economic impossibility of a long war was everybody’s orthodoxy.” 

There are political, business, and military leaders around the world today who see the world much the same as the generation of leaders who took Europe to war in 1914. Now a chubby little madman in North Korea has his finger on the button and the American President seems to be goading him on and threatening preemptive war, and policy makers are scrambling. 

I don’t pretend to know what will happen in the coming days, weeks, or months, but I do know that this is a very dangerous time. 

Until tomorrow, 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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My Doctrine: “Give Every Other Human Being the Right You Claim for Yourself”


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Another day and another adventure in Trumpland. 

Theodore Roosevelt, the Republican that modern Republicans love to hate said: “I am an American; free born and free bred, where I acknowledge no man as my superior, except for his own worth, or as my inferior, except for his own demerit.” 

After Trump’s announcement in which he said that he was going to bar transgender men and women from military service, including combat vets, I am fighting back in every legal way that I can as an active duty officer. Thankfully I am senior enough that I don’t have to deal with the threats that a number of junior Army chaplain friends are dealing with from their fundamentalist Christian supervisory chaplains. 

I cannot believe who quickly these people will throw fellow servicemen and women under the bus for a President who despises them and what they believe all because he hates LGBTQ people more than them. 

Although I don’t need to I am going to start doing all the preparatory actions that I will need to do to retire from the military on my own terms with 36 or more years of service in peace and war so I don’t have to serve under what if left unchecked will become a fascist dictatorship, in large part due to fundamentalist Christians. I am not going to drop my retirement papers yet, just get things in place so that I can retire at any point that I chose. I will never surrender my honor to willingly prostitute myself to a regime that rejects the rule of law, the Constitution, and the principles of the Declaration of Independence that so many people have fought to preserve. 

Since I posted two articles yesterday this will,suffice for now. But for me the issue is liberty for all. As Robert Ingersoll, a Civil War hero and prominent atheist said: “This is my doctrine: Give every other human being every right you claim for yourself.”  If you can’t do then don’t claim to support the Constitution or revere the Declaration of Independence, because you are simply a liar. Enough said. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

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Baseball, the Federalists, and Freedom: The Interiorization of Public Rules


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Alexander Hamilton wrote:

“If it were to be asked, What is the most sacred duty and the greatest source of our security in a Republic? The answer would be, An inviolable respect for the Constitution and Laws – the first growing out of the last . . . . A sacred respect for the constitutional law is the vital principle, the sustaining energy of a free government.”

The late conservative political commentator Micheal Novak once wrote about baseball connecting it with the heart and soul of the American political system. What he wrote is important for we who live in this day and age to understand, and which all too tragically our President does not. Novak said:

“Baseball is as close a liturgical enactment of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant myth as the nation has. It is a cerebral game, designed as geometrically as the city of Washington itself, born out of the Enlightenment and the philosophies so beloved of Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton. It is to games what the Federalist Papers are to books; orderly, reasoned, judiciously balanced, incorporating segments of violence and collision in a larger plan of rationality, absolutely dependent on an interiorization of public rules.”

The American political system, like baseball is, to use the words of Novak, “absolutely dependent on an interiorization of public rules.” This is something that our founders understood as have the vast majority of America Presidents and other political statesman regardless of their political party or whether or not they were a conservative or liberal. The fact is, that the interiorization of public rules, or rather, how we incorporate public rules, norms of behavior, traditions, customs, and the unwritten yet imperative rules of our social contract into our lives and behavior. 

Our current President cannot fathom Novak’s meaning. The man flagrantly flaunts every norm of our American social and political contract that have existed since the days of the Continental Congress. That is why documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble of the Constitution of the United States, the Gettysburg Address, and the Four Freedoms are so important. None have the power of law, but all are essential to the functioning of the American political system. The American system is not a business contract, nor is it an Ayn Randish descent into a malstrom of hyper-individualistic social Darwinism. Instead it is about the enlightenment, it is about reason, it is about freedom and responsibility. 

In the past two weeks the President has continued his assault on that social and political contract drawn up by our founders. At the commissioning of the USS Geral Ford he urged active duty military personnel to lobby their congressional representatives for his agenda, and then on Sunday turned a Boy Scout Jamboree into a political rally. He did a similar thing when he addressed the CIA at the beginning of his Presidency. But these are not new. Since his campaign began the President has done everything that he can in order to subvert the American political system, and his words and actions show that he has no respect for the Constitution or laws for the land. 

I do not say this with any malice, nor do I say it for any gain. I only say it because the President has stepped so far out from the norms of the American political system that it is impossible to say what he will do next. Our system of government is resilient but at the same time fragile. Unless the GOP majorities in Congress stand up to him our system will not survive in the way that our founders intended. Sadly, I have little hope that they will do so now because for years most of them have fanned the flames of anti-government and anti-Federalist passions that there is no room in their hearts for the very thing that holds our system together, that is the interiorization of public rules, norms, traditions, and behaviors; that is, the interiorization of liberty. As Judge Learned Hand wrote:

“Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it.”

So anyway, until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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