Tag Archives: economic crisis

Europe on the Edge: France and Greece Point to Dangerous Times Ahead

New French President Francois Hollande

The people of France and Greece have repudiated the European Union’s austerity mandate and Europe stands on the edge of chaos.  Maybe not immediate chaos but chaos that will engulf the continent as country after country elects for its own history, culture, tradition and economic freedom.

This is nothing new. In fact the situation in Europe resembles the period of the early 1930s as the Great Depression brought about the rise of political extremist on the Right and Left in very new and fragile democracies, as well as more established democracies.  Parallels can be found in many European nations. In France the election of Francois Hollande of the Socialist Party over Nicolas Sarkozy sent a shiver through the EU. Combined with the implosion of the conservative and liberal coalition in Greece in and results of other European elections the reality is that the European Union could be on the verge of breaking up. The Greek situation is especially foreboding as any coalition government will have to deal with the election of both hard line Communists and Neo-Nazis to parliament.

Greek Neo-Nazis

Now how it breaks up is not pre-determined, however it is obvious that the most strident voices in many European countries are people and parties that in good times are relegated to the political fringe. However social crisis driven by long term economic problems, especially high unemployment and reductions in support to those displaced by the economy are things that have historically brought about revolutions and dictatorships.

The European Union: Can it Survive?

Despite the Socialist win in France the trajectory of Europe is toward anti-democratic, ultra-nationalist and Xenophobic regimes.  Such will bode ill for the world economy as well as peace and the treatment of ethnic and religious minorities. Europe’s long term record on these issues is dreadful and the ghosts of that record seem to rise up almost every time that you think it is safe to go out in the water.

Germany under Chancellor Merkel and her allies in Brussels are attempting to hold together a creation that can only hold together when times are good and money easy.  When the hard times come, nations as well as individuals return to their basest and most primal concerns, not any utopian ideal.

The Hitler apologist and radical conservative pundit Pat Buchanan seems to think that this is a good thing in his latest column. He seems to revel in the potential collapse of the European Union. But then for a man that defend’s Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939 and blames everybody but Hitler for the war this is not surprising.  While he may diagnose some of the problems inherent in the EU he also forgets that the EU held as its model the United States, the creation of a United States of Europe.

Nazi Election Poster

While I have always thought that the rush to admit nations to the EU in the 1990s and early 2000s was ill-conceived the threat posed by its break up is worse. This is simply because history shows us time and time again that such break ups are fraught with danger.

Likewise the same forces are at work in the United States. Long term economic difficulties are leading people to embrace extremes that in good times they would never consider.  We are not all that different from the Europeans in this. Looking back to the period before the Nazi takeover of Germany one observer told historian William Sheridan Allen that “Most of those that joined the Nazis did so because they wanted a radical answer to the economic problem. Then too, people wanted a hard, sharp, clear leadership- they were disgusted with the eternal political strife of parliamentary party politics.” (The Nazi Seizure of Power: The Experience of a Single German Town 1922-1945 Revised Edition, Franklin Watts Publishers, New York, London 1965, 1984 p.86)

These are dangerous times. It is not time to look to extremists of any stripe that promise simple and radical solutions to the solve the crisis. To do such is to make a deal with the devil.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Meditation for the First Sunday of Lent: Be Anxious for Nothing

“Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ” From the Mass

It seems that no matter where we turn today that there is a sense of terrible foreboding as events at home and around the world create a great sense of anxiety.  Of course people in every time have gone through such times and Abraham Lincoln once remarked “We live in the midst of alarms; anxiety beclouds the future; we expect some new disaster with each newspaper we read.” Of course in our media age we are reminded by the late journalist Eric Sevareid of a truth about America “The biggest big business in America is not steel, automobiles, or television. It is the manufacture, refinement and distribution of anxiety.” Since Sevareid died before the onslaught of our information overload age which is driven by insatiable need to have information now and is fed by our media conglomerates as well as individuals empowered by technology that puts raw information at their fingertips which is then spread by the same individuals that thrive on creating more anxiety.

I have to admit that with the cacophony of bad news which has enveloped us in the past number of years which seems to have increased in intensity over the past few months and days that people are anxious about tomorrow.  I can feel this anxiety in many of those around me and at times myself. It is easy to feel this way.  Since Iraq I feel anxiety much more than I once did and I have to fight it in order not to cycle down into depression or outright fear. Such is life with PTSD.

We have been bombarded by terrible news in Japan, a building tragedy in Libya as Muammar Gaddafi takes revenge on those that dared to challenge his rule, distressing economic news, paralysis in all levels of government and a rising hatred of each other by the political right and left in the United States.

This has the feel of the 1920s and 1930s as world economic crises, a massive earthquake in Japan, and the collapse of existing orders and great political division and radicalism. Of course that era included so many events similar to our times and those events coalesced in the rise of dictatorships and finally in a World War. While events do not need to play out in that way it just appears that they might, if not in a World War a series of devastating regional wars.

We live in a world where we are confronted by evil men who through force and violence commit atrocities against others while others impoverish nations while enriching themselves bringing untold suffering on many, a world where men and women who allegedly speak for God commit acts against God’s people that would make the inquisitors tremble.

Yet it is in this world that Christians are told not to be anxious. As Jesus so aptly put it “can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” In our present time many are very worried about their material security and their possessions. In a materialistic age where the economy has been battered and seems to be teetering on the brink we find that the material and financial security that we have built for ourselves is fleeting. Dietrich Bonhoeffer who lived in similar times noted “Earthly possessions dazzle our eyes and delude us into thinking that they can provide security and freedom from anxiety. Yet all the time they are the very source of anxiety.”

In Lent we are reminded of our mortality but also God’s love, grace and mercy. In fact we are reminded that we are “a new creation” and have been “set free from the law of sin and death.” We are reminded that God also cares about the world which “in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Bonhoeffer put this love for God of his people and creation well:

“God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.”

During the seven weeks of Lent I am trying to focus more on being less anxious in order that I can be free of worry and maintain a clear and present hope for today and the future even as the cacophony of chaos builds around the world. I hope that during this Lent I will understand this prayer of the Apostle Paul for the Church at Philippi:

“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7 NRSV)

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under christian life, film, Pastoral Care, philosophy, Religion

The Road to Totalitarianism is paved with Good Intentions

“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Benjamin Franklin

Hitler presides over the Reichstag during the passage of the Enabling Act

Sometimes in crisis nations enact laws that in the heat of the moment sound quite good. In fact the writers of such laws usually don’t have bad intentions, they react to a crisis enact laws to safeguard society from the events of the crisis which usually included widespread political, social and economic disruption.  In 1919 with the country engulfed in economic, social, political crisis that had evolved into what amounted to a civil war Germany added an article to the Weimar Constitution.  That article was Article 48 and read as follows:

Article 48 of the German Constitution of August 11, 1919:

If public safety and order in Germany are materially disturbed or endangered, the President may take the necessary measures to restore public safety and order, and, if necessary, to intervene with the help of the armed forces. To this end he may temporarily suspend, in whole or in part, the fundamental rights established in Articles 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124, and 153

During the turbulent history of Weimar Article 48 was used by the Socialist President Friedrich Ebert who had to guide the country through the collapse of the monarchy, the humiliation of Versailles, the period of hyperinflation as well as an attempted takeover by those who wanted to implement a Soviet government as well coup attempts from the political right.  After Ebert’s death in 1925 Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg was elected President and during the economic, political and social crisis brought about by the Great Depression invested the conservative Chancellor Heinrich Brüning with the powers of Article 48, something that he also granted to Brüning’s successors Franz von Papen, Kurt von Schleicher and Adolf Hitler.

Under Hitler it was invoked after the burning of the Reichstag, the German Parliament building an event which was very likely executed by the Nazis themselves while blaming the Communists.  It was issued in the following manner:

ARTICLE 1. In virtue of paragraph 2, article 48, of the German Constitution, the following is decreed as a defensive measure against communist acts of violence, endangering the state:

Sections 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124, and 153 of the Constitution of the German Reich are suspended until further notice. Thus, restrictions on personal liberty [114], on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press [118], on the right of assembly and the right of association [124], and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic, and telephonic communications [117], and warrants for house-searches [115], orders for confiscation as well as restrictions on property [153], are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.

Following this the Reichstag passed a law called the Enabling Act. This law gave the President unlimited power which Hindenburg ceded to Hitler.  When Hindenburg died in 1934 the offices of President and Chancellor were merged in the person of Adolf Hitler. This is the text of the Enabling Act legislation:

The Enabling Act of 1933

The Reichstag [the lower house of parliament] has passed the following law, which is, with the approval of the Reichsrat [the upper house], herewith promulgated, after it has been established that it satisfies the requirements for legislation altering the Constitution.

ARTICLE 1. In addition to the procedure for the passage of legislation outlined in the Constitution, the Reich Cabinet is also authorized to enact Laws referred to by Articles 85 Paragraph 2 and Article 87 of the constitution. (Article 85 outlined the process by which the Reichstag and Reichsrat approved the Reich budget. Article 87 restricted government borrowing.)

ARTICLE 2. The national laws enacted by the Reich Cabinet may deviate from the Constitution provided they do not affect the position of the Reichstag (low house of Parliament) and the Reichsrat (the Upper House). The powers of the President remain unaffected.

ARTICLE 3. The national laws enacted by the Reich Cabinet shall be prepared by the Chancellor and published in the official gazette. They come into effect, unless otherwise specified, upon the day following their publication unless they prescribe a different date. Articles 68 to 77 of the Constitution do not apply to laws enacted by the Reich government. (Articles 68 to 77 stipulated the procedures for enacting legislation in the Reichstag.)

ARTICLE 4. Treaties of the Reich with foreign states which concern matters of domestic legislation do not require the consent of the bodies participating in legislation. The Reich Cabinet is empowered to issue the necessary provisions for the implementing of these treaties.

ARTICLE 5. This law comes into effect on the day of its publication. It ceases to be valid on 1 April 1937 or if the present Reich government is replaced by another.

The Enabling Act was passed by a majority of the Reichstag by a vote of 441 to 96. The Communists had been banned and had no representation, the center and right cast aside their reservations and voted for it and only the Socialists led by their Chief Otto Wels voted against it.  For their trouble most of the Socialist deputies would be imprisoned, go into concentration camps or have to flee the country.

Some leaders of religious groups that initially supported the Nazis rapidly discovered that they had made a deal with the Devil. As Martin Niemöller said:

They came first for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
.

In times of crisis people seek security and stability and are often willing to sacrifice constitutional liberties to do so.  Unfortunately when a people and nation willing abrogate their constitutional rights and protections by legislative action or executive order in the name of security and safety they ensure that they will lose all. The German political parties that voted in favor of the Enabling Act included cultural and religious conservatives.  Most of these people feared a potential Communist takeover and continued political and economic instability more than surrendering their rights and freedoms.

Unfortunately it is my belief as well as that of many civil libertarians on both sides of the political divide that we have set the stage in this country for a totalitarian state.  Our legislature passes massive bills which none have read that are so Byzantine that no one can understand them which often give nearly unchecked power to unelected bureaucrats in government agencies and often serve to grant more power to the Executive Branch at the expense of Congress, the Courts and State governments.  Such legislation passed under conditions where people believe a crisis exists includes the Patriot Act of 2001, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Protection Act of 2004, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) of 2008 and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) of 2010.  Most of the people that voted for these laws certainly believed that they were doing the right thing, but all contain provisions that give unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats unheard of power over the daily lives of Americans and contain provisions that sacrifice individual rights and liberties. There are numerous other examples which in conjunction with Presidential Executive Orders and Directives, some public and many secret that provide the Executive Branch willing to use them almost unbridled power.  Under normal conditions no President would attempt take full advantage of such powers nor would most people accept such a power grab, but history shows that under emergency or crisis conditions people and legislatures willingly surrender liberty for supposed security.

In Weimar Germany the catalyst was the fear of Communist takeover in the midst of economic crisis that created the conditions by which non-Nazi citizens and political parties surrendered their liberties. In the wake of the attacks of September 11th 2001, continued terrorist threats, two wars, economic crisis, the collapse of the housing market and the ineffectiveness of government leaders at the Federal and State levels the United States in a place where many people may accept an authoritarian or totalitarian regime so long as we are safe and the economy gets back on track.  Instead of a Communist threat we have a Muslim extremist terrorist threat. Instead of the Great Depression we have a world economy on the brink of collapse. People are fearful; millions are going bankrupt or losing their homes and jobs and more seem to be willing to surrender freedom just to be safe and have some semblance of an orderly society again.  You really can’t blame people for wanting a return to an America where it is safe and the economy is doing well there is nothing evil in that desire. Unfortunately history shows that there are those that will exploit people’s fears and longings to gain unbridled power and once they have it will stop at nothing to keep it.

In 1933 the German people surrendered their rights and freedoms for the promise of safety, security, economic recovery and a return to national greatness.  The question that I have to ask is will the people of the United States of America do the same in the next few years?  I think the answer is obvious.  It will only take a successful terror attack on the United States Homeland, an economic collapse or a government shutdown to force the issue. People will demand results and will welcome whoever can deliver those results.  We have already shown what people will accept in order to travel by commercial air and from that it is but a small step to accepting such measures in the rest of life.  Get ready folks it will be a joy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under History, laws and legislation, national security, Political Commentary

Loose Thoughts: Can Somebody Tell Me What Sleep is and Why the Old Crap? Why not New Crap?

bean church 1 Mr Bean Trying to Stay Awake in Church.  I can Really Relate See the video at

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7178785146631188901&ei=UthpSvKcCpv-qAOCyJAd&q=mr+bean+in+church&hl=en

Tuesday and Wednesday were days where the old Crap both my own life and others kept rising to the top.  My current and crap, which in reality is my old crap move to the present are my PTSD related issues or maybe it’s the whole damned subscription.  My stuff came up, because as Elmer the Shrink says that they have been suppressed by my brain and get dredged up by stuff that triggers them.  Thus it is kind of involuntary, something that I hate.  I am a deliberate and logical person and I don’t like this stuff coming up and screwing with my life, which right now is pretty busy and stressful.

Tuesday night I had the “privilege” of getting two and a half hours of sleep after a great seminar on Caregiver Operational Stress management and intervention.  I was proud of myself.  I actually got through an entire daylong seminar without an immediate PTSD meltdown during the seminar.  That last three times I have attended classes or seminars dealing with things related to or that touch on my stuff it has been like a old pitcher who has seen better days getting chased from the mound at Yankee Stadium in the first inning giving up 7 runs without recording an out.   Tuesday it was hard but it was like getting a complete game and the win.  This was a big accomplishment for me as I have not been able to do this since before I went to Iraq.  However, the subject matter did kick up a bunch of my stuff from Iraq and getting to sleep was really; I mean really fun….not.   To use the old pitcher metaphor I may have got the win but my arm and body need some time to recover, only instead of the arm and body it is by pea-brain. So Tuesday I didn’t get to bed until 2:30 AM and was back up at 5:00 AM so I could come to work and take the duty for the house in addition to my regular duties.

Now I don’t mind having duty, especially at night when I get a chance to round through our hospital wards and spend time with staff, especially the folks in the various ICUs and units that are not part of my daily routine. Yesterday I had a couple of meetings today, a long one in the morning and a couple in the afternoon.  The last meeting was like one of those afternoon classes that I dreaded back in college and seminary;  the kind that I took because I was either working or wanted to sleep late, but which kicked my ass.  One time in seminary the “Z Monster” grabbed me after eating a big burger at lunch before going to class.  That afternoon in Philosophy of Religion the Professor, Dr. Yandall Woodfin, decided to enlighten us with a slide show of various art masterpieces and the religious and or philosophical meanings that could be ascribed to them, I think there were several slide trays of them as this was in the technological dark ages before Power Point poisoning.  I was sitting in the front row, my desk almost under Dr. Woodfin’s nose just slightly to the left of the slide carousel.  The lights were turned low so we could see the pictures better and the temperature was just warm enough in the classroom to  make me even more sleepy.  As all the blood in my body rushed from my brain to my burger locker I began to struggle to stay awake.  It was like Mr. Bean trying to stay awake in church http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7178785146631188901&ei=UthpSvKcCpv-qAOCyJAd&q=mr+bean+in+church&hl=en I was fighting hard but the “Z Monster” won.  I was doing the “bob, jerk and sleep” for about 20 minutes when finally catastrophe hit.  I flipped my desk; it was a rollover accident without a roll bar, but it was amazing that I did not hurt myself and just how fast I recovered.  I had that desk righted and had my ass back in it before anyone knew what hit them. My fellow students tried to restrain their laughter as the unflappable Dr Woodfin kept the lecture going without missing a beat.  I don’t know if it was years of training or the fact that he was in his “teaching zone” but his focus was amazing as he showed absolutely no distraction by my roll over.

I had similar experiences in other academic and military settings, but while I may have fallen out of my seat I never again flipped a desk.    However today was tough.  I had been pumping myself with caffeine all day long and evidently it was not having the desired effect. I got to the NOD (Nurse of the Day) meeting where the on call people meet with representatives of the nursing units to get an idea what is going on in the hospital at large.  Today I took my seat and the “Z Monster” showed his well disguised face and zapped me.  Pretty soon I was fighting to stay awake.  I was pinching myself, shrugging my shoulders, sucking down my Coke Zero just to stay awake, a couple of times I caught myself about to fall forward in my chair, thankfully I didn’t snore…yes I have done that in meetings or classes too.  When the meeting ended I was more than happy.  I slowly rose from my chair, shook myself out and downed the last of my Coke Zero.  When I got back onto the ICU I got second wind and was good the rest of the evening, made all of my rounds and finally feeling that things were okay for the night trundled off to the chaplain call room to try to sleep.  I got in the bed, pulled the threadbare hospital sheets and too small blankets over me, arranged the flat pillows so they resembled a real pillow turned off the lights and close my eyes.  Unfortunately though my body was toast my brain did not want to turn off, it was like the brain had a mind of its own and was going to keep my body up even though my body was saying “Oh God let me sleep.”  I was so tired that I couldn’t even write myself to sleep like I normally do. Even my entreaties to the Deity Herself seemed to go unanswered, so a laid there, turned on the television and surfed the paltry selection of channels that Mordoc the Preventer of Information contracted to get finally flipping between late night talk show hosts on the major networks other than Conan O’Brien I didn’t know who the majority of these guys were, one of them who followed Conan started kissing the camera in the middle of his monologue.  I rapidly changed channel as that was frightening.  Finally about 2:30, which must be the new 11:30 for me, I drifted off to sleep to be awakened by the 0600 test of our Code Blue response pager.  I did my duty turnover, pumped myself full of caffeine checked on the ICU and PICU, visited some patients, consulted the staff, answered some hot e-mail and calls regarding our incoming Pastoral Care Residents and realized that my body was starting to tell me that I was done.  I trudged down to our main office, sat down with the boss who asked why I was still at work, discussed a couple of issues with him and got sent home where I kissed Judy, pet the dog and threw my ass in bed.  I feel slightly more human now and pray that the sleep I got this afternoon does not mess up going to sleep tonight.

bean church two

While thinking about how my old crap was exhumed by the class, something that Elmer the Shrink says that my brain has been suppressing, I got an e-mail from a pastor who has syndicated opinion column for a number of newspapers here in the USA.  The guy used to write some pretty good stuff that was encouraging, inspiring and occasionally thought provoking.  But something has changed and his articles have become often become almost venomous.  I guess that he’s really angry about something, probably Obama and the Democrats.  I understand that that is his right as a citizen, there are a lot of people unhappy with the President and Congress, my mother is one of them.  I talk to my mother almost daily almost and for eight years she bitched about Bush and the Republicans and now she is bitching about Obama and the Democrats, but she represents herself, she is not a pastor, she holds no church or public office and thus can do whatever she wants.

Anyway this pastor chose to write an article full of anger and poisonous invective, but not at anything happening now.  He chose to dig up old crap with no relevance to the Gospel, or to anything that is happening now.  He chose to write about a doctoral seminar that he attended several years ago. He discussed a situation where a non-US citizen pastor of an American church in a graduate program was criticizing the USA as a major source of the world’s problems.  Now I might take offense if someone did that, I would defend my country and I might depending on the situation confront him during or after the class.  However, this chose to drag this up when it seems totally irrelevant to anything going on now.  I really don’t think that anyone is concerned about how a foreign pastor pissed this minister off years ago. People are scarred spitless of the Commie North Koreans, Iranian nukes, Pakistani nukes, the expanding war in Afghanistan, the price of gas, the economy and a hundred other very real crisis’s.  But this pastor decided to tell how a long time ago he responded in a class to a guy who dared to criticize the USA.  But this wasn’t the worst of it, this guy ended the column with a particularly acidic comment that was like cup of “America Love it or Leave It” with a shot of Drano.  There was no redemptive point to the article; there was no humor, no spiritual lesson, just a very angry and bitter screed about something that happened in a classroom among a bunch of doctoral students which happened four years ago at the height of the insurgency in Iraq.  I did not think that the article was befitting of him and hope that his ministry is not filled with stuff like this as it is poison.  Like Drano it will clean you out, but it will leave you empty inside.  If this were an isolated occurrence with this pastor I would chalk it up to him having a bad day, but he is trending this way and I’m afraid that if he continues to do so he will hurt his church and the broader Christian church by becoming identified more with a political message than his faith.  In fairness I don’t know what caused him to write the article, maybe something triggered him and caused this to kick in.  I do want to be fair to him.  I do plan on discussing the matter with him because I actually do care.

Now I’m sure that there are people who think that I’m full of crap too, and I’m okay with that, because I know that I have issues and rough edges and sometimes push the envelope.  At the same time I do try to find a point of contact in the present and write, even when I am critical of a person or institution.  I do not believe that anyone or any institution is totally bad or good, even people that I disagree with are like broken clocks, they are right twice a day.

I hope to sleep tonight and I hope none of my old Crap or anyone else’s old Crap shows up tonight. Unfortunately Crap tedns to rise to the surface.

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under iraq,afghanistan, leadership, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy, PTSD, Religion