Tag Archives: great depression

Sequester, Lent and Hope

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“As lousy as things are now, tomorrow they will be somebody’s good old days.” Gerald Barzan

Sequester is here and with it the era of mutual assured destruction by our political, economic and media elites continues in an unabated form.

At the same time sequester occurs during the season of Lent when Christians are called on to make voluntary sacrifices of things that are important to them in the forms of fasting and abstinence. Lent is a season of penitence which hopefully builds in the heart of the believer a new love for God and neighbor, a season that changes a person from a “me first” attitude to an attitude of thanksgiving, gratitude and service to those in distress. That being said, the season of Lent should be a season of hope.

However it is difficult at times to be hopeful when all around there is bad news. We seem to be living the ancient Chinese curse that says “May you live in interesting times.” The times are certainly interesting with lots going on of historic significance that may years from now be remembered as one of those tumultuous times where the world changed before our eyes.

History of course is replete with such times, the rise and fall of ancient empires, the age of exploration, the Reformation, the French and American Revolutions, the Napoleonic era, the American Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, the First and Second World War with the Great Depression sandwich, the 1960’s, the post Cold War era and the post-911 era just for a start.

I could go back further in history for other epochal periods, but I think that the reason that today’s crisis seem so much more dire is that we are both the beneficiaries and the victims of the instantaneous communication revolution in which common people have real time access to events that are impacting their lives.  This causes many a great deal of anxiety both real and imagined, anxiety which usually finds expression in a desire for the good old days as well as seeks solace and security from those who feverishly exploit that anxiety.  It does not matter if the security comes from religion, political ideology and matters neither if it comes from the left or the right so long as the call resonates with them they will follow it. They will faithfully follow even as the purveyors of the message drive up their worry and anxiety that they no longer can actually enjoy life or be thankful because they are so consumed with how “lousy” things are or “evil” their opponents are.

Thus even during the season of Lent it is hard for many people to grasp the meaning of it when all around them appears to be falling apart and in chaos.

It is in times like these that one has to take a deep breath, look around at all that they have to be thankful for and just really examine of the nostalgia that they feel for “better times” is that or an escape from an unpleasant present and fear of the future if the other side wins.

The fact is that we have seen such times before and somehow made it through.  I hear from friends and relatives who lived through the Great Depression and World War II that those were good times in spite of everything happening, much of which is present today but somehow things are worse now.  Even I fall into the trap about somehow thinking that the times that I grew up in were somehow better than the present, this may be true for music but overall things were not that good for a lot of people but somehow we made it through them.  Lent is a time to step back from the brink, take stock and renew our life with God and our neighbor.

When I returned from Iraq back in February 2008 I soon discovered that the bombardment of bad news and über-partisan political battles took its toll on me.  I was neither as resilient as I thought that I was nor as consumed by the need to continue to ratchet up rhetoric on one side or the other as the more extreme elements on the right or left were doing.  PTSD or not I realized that the purveyors of the 24/7 bad news cycle were driving people with legitimate ideological differences to extremes that I had never seen, but which I recognized from history have a lot of precedent and can lead to making things even worse.  One only has to look at Weimar Germany to realize how things can go so very wrong when extremes on both sides of the ideological spectrums squeeze out those in the middle or chance at mutually beneficial solutions and that was in the days before type of information overload that is the bedrock of the political and ideological landscape of today.

I am not attacking those who get caught up in this but I do question the politicians, pundits, “news-networks” and talk show hosts who continue to ratchet up rhetoric to the point that many feel that the only alternative is some kind of “revolution.”  Again those that call for “radical change” or revolt against those who are in favor of that kind of change are both calling for revolution when revolutionary talk reaches a point where one side or the other does not see a way to resolve things in a civil manner then the those alternatives slip away and the only recourse is violence.

It is not the fault of one side or the other as those that stoke this talk are found on both sides of the American as well as other nations political and ideological spectrum testify to daily.  In the United States we also have a long history of apocalyptic thought which presents the lousy state of current events in any generation as something that will certainly bring the end of life as we know it or the return of the Lord, the Great Tribulation or whatever you chalk it up to. There are those on both the religious and secular side of the spectrum who have apocalyptic visions related to their world view.  For some reason we Americans do the apocalyptic quite well whether we believe in God or not.

The thing that has been most on my mind this Lent, as it has been the past several years has been the idea of being reconciled both to God and to one another.  Lent is a season of self examination, repentance and forgiveness.  The call to “be reconciled to one another” is a never ending command and applies across the variety and spectrum of life.

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Lent reminds us that that “we are dust and to dust we shall return” but that we are also all made in the image of the God who created us, redeems us and sanctifies us who calls us to himself and reminds us that mercy triumphs over judgment and “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” I am afraid that in times like these even the best intentioned of people can find themselves pulled into the orbit of those that in less stressful or trying times that they would never be involved with.

The German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote: “Our enemies are those who harbor hostility against us, not those against whom we cherish hostility… As a Christian I am called to treat my enemy as a brother and to meet hostility with love. My behavior is thus determined not by the way others treat me, but by the treatment I receive from Jesus.”

I know for some that call themselves “Christians” this message is lost. However, I believe that it is not because they are consciously rejecting the message of the Gospel but because that have become so deeply involved in whatever cause they endorese that they have lost the ability at least temporarily to see the good that may rest in their opponents and their ideas.

As Bonhoeffer also wrote “Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others, we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as ourselves.”  Now of course Bonhoeffer knew the evil that was the Nazis and eventually gave his life by supporting the German resistance to Hitler.  Loving our enemies does not absolve us from public responsibility but in ensuring that we do not ensnare ourselves in ideology that restricts our ability to love them as Christ has commanded.

I think in the past few years that I have gained a new perspective on life that has changed the way that I look at the world.  I know that things are not good right now and that there are a lot of things to be legitimately concerned. That said I know too that somehow our country as well as much of humanity have weathered worse and like Barzan said that for some these will be the good old days someday.

That thought helps me to live in the present knowing that the future is not yet written and known only to God who in his grace condescends to love us and desires that we better love him and one another and not be conformed to any ideology that would prevent that. Sequestration and political division aside I do pray that we will both see better days as well as be reconciled to God and to one another.

It is in times like this that I think of Bonhoeffer’s words:

“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.”

That is my Lenten prayer.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, History, 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.

dscn0044

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?”

dscn0066

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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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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From the Sea: The Absolute Need of a Strong Navy, Merchant Marine, Coast Guard and Viable National Maritime Strategy

The USS Enterprise CV-6. Ordered in 1933 she was one of the most decorated and battle proven ships ever to fly the flag of the United States

“A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.” Theodore Roosevelt

“A powerful Navy we have always regarded as our proper and natural means of defense; and it has always been of defense that we have thought, never of aggression or of conquest. But who shall tell us now what sort of Navy to build? We shall take leave to be strong upon the seas, in the future as in the past; and there will be no thought of offense or provocation in that. Our ships are our natural bulwarks.” Woodrow Wilson

As the economic crisis continues to envelop the nation there is much talk about the certain reduction in the size and capabilities of the U.S. Military components.  At the present time it seems that politicians of both parties are more interested in the immediate savings that can be derived from cuts.  Regardless of how they are done each service will see force reductions but coming at a time when we are at war those responsible for the cuts must be conscious of the effects on the capabilities that the United States has to defend itself and its interests overseas and to influence world affairs.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistanhave been ground intensive requiring the strengthening of the Army and Marine Corps to conduct counter insurgency operations. After 9-11 the Navy voluntarily reduced its fleet and personal strength in relatively dramatic fashion intending the savings be used to rebuilt the fleet.  Personnel strength was reduced by nearly 40,000 sailors and many ships were retired well before their anticipated retirement dates.  Unfortunately the Defense Department under then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld shifted the savings to fund the ground campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Navy shipbuilding was cut and the Navy failed to help itself by investing much of the service’s budget to the development of three classes of ships and that are over budget, under performing and full of controversy, the Zumwalt Class Destroyers, the Freedom and Independence Class Littoral Combat Ships and the San Antonio Class Landing Ships.

Further cuts are already occurring or envisioned based on the planned cuts in Federal Government programs.  These cuts would reduce the Navy which is now smaller than at any time since the early 1930s following the 1922 Washington Naval Conference which limited the size of the Navies of the signatory countries.  From 1922-1932 the Republican Harding, Coolidge and Hoover administrations not only reduced the force but failed to lay down a single new ship to replace outdated ships and reduced maintenance funds to keep up the ships in service.  Budget cutting gutted the Navy during those years and it was only theRooseveltadministration which realized that a strong Navy was essential to national security began to rebuild the fleet in the 1930s and funded the development of the ships that would win World War Two.  The shipbuilding program had economic benefits as shipyards which had been inactive were able to employ skilled American workers which helped military preparedness, American business and American workers.  The ships that came out of that building program sustained us at the beginning of the war and those designed in the years just before the war served us for decades to come.  Even so the build up byRoosevelt, constrained by the dire economic crisis of the Great Depression could not add ships fast enough to have us fully ready for the Second World War and left us dangerously stretched by the demands of the Japanese advance in the Pacific and the German U-Boat campaign in theAtlantic.  Many good Americans died and the war was decidedly more difficult because of what was done to the Navy in the 1920s by successive short sighted Republican administrations.

The current ship production is at a level not seen in decades and bad surface ship designs and poor workmanship have hurt the Navy.  If the Navy is cut back significantly without a change in mission or corresponding shift in National Security Policy it will degrade the Navy’s ability to respond to emerging threats. Likewise if a coherent shipbuilding program is not undertaken that meets the projected threats American interests can and will be harmed as other nations gain local superiority in critical areas and sea lanes.   While the U.S. Navy currently enjoys a vast superiority over any current or potential adversary there are places that a cunning adversary could hurt American and allied interests simply because we are already spread very thin in regard to the number of ships available and the increasing number of missions and threat areas.

The challenge now is not to give in to the temptation to make indiscriminant cuts until we actually decide on a National Maritime Strategy that is not simply about the Navy but also the Coast Guard and Merchant Marine.  The strategy must include the interrelationship that we have with our allies and other nations and their navies.

The necessity for this goes beyond military preparedness it goes to our economic security since the vast majority of our commerce exports and imports are by sea.  If we take the time to think through a comprehensive maritime strategy it can go a long way to strengthen American industry, labor, commerce as well as national and economic security for us and the world.  A strong Navy, Merchant Marine and Coast Guard are far more important to the United Statesthan large ground forces.

An effective and judicious use of national power: USS Hue City CG-66 passing an impounded Iraqi smuggler in 2002

This is demonstrated in our history as well as that of Great Britain.  When we are strong at sea we are strong, when we commit to long wars of attrition overseas we cause ourselves untold problems. As our first President George Washington said:

“It follows than as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious.”

This is something that our politicians inWashingtonand those that populate the think tanks need to learn.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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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

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Putting the World back in Order: Baseball Movies Tonight

“Baseball is reassuring. It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.” Sharon Olds

“Don’t tell me about the world. Not today. It’s springtime and they’re knocking baseball around fields where the grass is damp and green in the morning and the kids are trying to hit the curve ball” Pete Hamill

“I see great things in baseball. It’s our game – the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.” Walt Whitman

At long last I have my DVD player hooked up and the news is not on in my island hermitage. The past few weeks we have seen the world going crazy. Earthquakes, tsunami, nuclear crises, wars and revolutions, political and economic instability are driving me fricking crazy.  I’m sorry but I don’t know about you but this constant torrent of bad news is really getting old fast and it probably isn’t going to get any better any time soon. That my friends is reality and reality can suck like a Hoover, or what the hell a Dyson or Kirby for all I care, it sucks.

But guess what friends we have seen times and events like this before, hell the 1920s, 30s and 40s were as bad or worse. That my friends is reality and it sucked then too. And you know something somehow we as a people got through it. We dealt with the collapse of Empires, revolutions, Communism, Fascism, Nazism, the Great Depression, World fricking Wars, natural disasters, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and Tojo and then to top it all off the beginning of the nuclear era and the Cold War with the ever present threat of Mutually Assured Destruction between the United States and the Soviet Union. But somehow the world survived, don’t ask me how but it did, not without a hell of a lot of pain, suffering and distress mostly brought on by people but occasionally nature but it still survived despite our best attempts to blow it all up.

Somehow as insanely sucky as things are right now with all the hate, turmoil and catastrophe unless the Cubs win the World Series in 2012 the apocalyptic asses prophesying doom and the end of the world in 2012 be it secular, religious or some convoluted theory about why the world will end because the Mayans ran out of rock for their calendar I don’t buy it. Now if the Cubbies win the 2012 World Series all bets are off and you better look to the east because there is a good chance that Jesus is coming. Now was that a hell of a run on sentence or what. That was almost as good as a German theologian.

So we are bombarded with bad news at a cyclic rate and yes it needs to be reported and it is probably good that we stay informed. However all that we do is tune in to the news 24 hours a day or giving three hours a day every day to some radio talk show host or for that matter never turn our radio dials away from them we will not have peace. If all we do is listen, read and watch what all of them stir up every day anxiety then it is no wonder that we are so anxiety ridden and hate each other so much.

I know what constant exposure to this can do for a person, because before Iraq I was consumed by this insanity. However, I came back from Iraq and reprioritized when I found that I could no longer do three hours a day every day or for that matter three minutes with any of these monsters of the airwaves.

Let’s face it Americans have come to loathe each other because all we focus on is how bad everything is and how it is someone else’s fault be they a liberal, a conservative, a Socialist, a Tea Party Patriot, a Christian, Moslem, Jew, Atheist, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or God forbid a Dodgers’ fan. We’ve divided ourselves in ways that haven’t been seen since the days before the Civil War, only now those visceral emotions are transmitted instantly through the television, radio and internet. Something has to draw us back to who we are as a people.

Unfortunately many can’t even find our peace in their faith because nutty extremists with all sorts of agendas from across the political spectrum have hijacked them so that preachers often have messages little different than pundits or politicians. As such we have become cynical, bitter and have lost faith in our political, social, economic and religious institutions and given them all into the hands of those whose chief desire is power.

So all that being said I am enjoying the hell out of two baseball movies tonight. The first was Mr. Baseball starring Tom Selleck as a New York Yankee slugger who is cut from the team and gets picked up by a Japanese team.  It’s a great flick and really shows some of the differences in the way Americans and Japanese approach this beloved game and how despite the different approaches how deeply it is ingrained in both cultures. Japan has suffered great calamity and we seem to teeter on the edge of our own calamities consumed in angst and for some anger.

The other movie that I am watching even as I write this little article is Field of Dreams a fantasy and allegory of baseball and life. It is a story that always gets me a story of redemption, second chances and hope, a hope that says “if you build it he will come.” We need to start building again; we have been tearing each other down for so long that we have left a tangled mess for our children.

I know for me that baseball is one constant that even when I experienced a loss of faith that left me a practical agnostic for two years after I returned from Iraq that brought peace to my troubled soul. The Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish was one of the only places that I could regain a sense of balance and life.

Yes there is a lot of tragedy and crisis in the world but in nine days it is opening day and the “Boys of Summer” will again step onto the lush green diamonds as the regular season begins. It is not a moment too soon. As Terrance Mann, played by James Earl Jones said so eloquently to Ray Kinsella played by Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams:

“Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.”

Things can be good again, we just need to pull together and persevere and believe again. I think that baseball, this wonderful game that has bridged the gap between East and West, this game that is timeless in an age of real and imagined deadlines, this game that still inspires millions around the world, this game that allows us to gain dip in the magic waters of hope and life can be as Walt Whitman said:

“I see great things in baseball. It’s our game – the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”

We need to “hear the voice” again see what can be, we need to find our Field of Dreams and make it real.

Well the movie is ending and I have tears in my eyes, tears of joy as I watch Ray Kinsella “have a catch” with his father John on that magical diamond and long for the day I can do so with my father who is somewhere in that cornfield waiting to come out and play ball.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, faith, History, movies, philosophy, Political Commentary, 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