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For Us or Against Us: The Politics of the Christian Right & the Shutdown

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Once again the United States stands on the verge of another potentially dangerous, and costly government shutdown led by the fanatical religious leaders of a political party. While it appears that a short –term stopgap bill will pass both houses, it will leave the country hanging for the next couple of months with another showdown in December.

Senator Mitch McConnell who the day President Obama took office in 2009 colluded with other GOP leaders to set a policies  to ensure Obama failed as president blamed Democrats for not passing various spending bills offered to by the GOP.  But he failed to note that the authors of the GOP bills, mainly from the Christian Right planted poisoned pills in each of them that ensured Democrat opposition. Truthfully those bills were not offered in good faith and gave Democrats no reason to vote for them. 

When I see this behavior I am reminded of the words of Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, who prosecuted the major Nazi War Criminals at Nuremberg; “[I]n our country are evangelists and zealots of many different political, economic and religious persuasions whose fanatical conviction is that all thought is divinely classified into two kinds — that which is their own and that which is false and dangerous.”

The leaders of this unabashedly shameless movement have no problem lying to, or deceiving their followers in order to accomplish their political goals. Sadly, almost all of them come from the supposedly Christian Right, and are determined to destroy the country in order to save it. They use the same kind of tactics used by extremists in other countries throughout history to destroy the political center and turn the government itself into an enemy, until they can take it over and use it for their purposes. Sadly, much of this is coming from a relatively small, but incredibly vocal and politically influential coalition of politically charged conservative Christians. The leaders of this movement have openly stated that their desire is to impose a Christian theocracy on the country, a theocracy where non-Christians, or non-believers of any kind would not have rights as citizens. The have taken up the mantle of the Emperor Constantine, who united the Roman Empire with the Church. George Truett, a great Southern Baptist champion of religious liberty noted:

“Constantine, the Emperor, saw something in the religion of Christ’s people which awakened his interest, and now we see him uniting religion to the state and marching up the marble steps of the Emperor’s palace, with the church robed in purple. Thus and there was begun the most baneful misalliance that ever fettered and cursed a suffering world…. When … Constantine crowned the union of church and state, the church was stamped with the spirit of the Caesars…. The long blighting record of the medieval ages is simply the working out of that idea.”

The late Senator Mark Hatfield, a strong evangelical Christian wrote “As a Christian, there is no other part of the New Right ideology that concerns me more than its self-serving misuse of religious faith. What is at stake here is the very integrity of biblical truth. The New Right, in many cases, is doing nothing less than placing a heretical claim on Christian faith that distorts, confuses, and destroys the opportunity for a biblical understanding of Jesus Christ and of his gospel for millions of people.” 

Since I have written about these supposedly Christian leaders numerous times and quoted them at length I am not going to go back into that; however, I will note the warning of colonial Baptist leader Roger Williams, who founded the Rhode Island Colony after fleeing the Massachusetts Bay Colony over the religious oppression of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which included killing heretics, conducting witch hunts and trials, and exterminating local Native Americans, especially those who had become Christians.

Williams wanted nothing of this and fled, swimming the Narraganset to reach Rhode Island. He wrote, “An enforced uniformity of religion throughout a nation or civil state, confounds the civil and religious, denies the principles of Christianity and civility, and that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.”

Another early colonial New England Baptist leader, Isaac Backus wrote, “God has appointed two kinds of government in the world, which are distinct in their nature, and ought never to be confounded together; one of which is called civil, the other ecclesiastical government.”

Both of these men, and those who followed them in the tradition of religious liberty realized the importance of the absolute separation of church and state. Well, the Christian Right now has control of the Republican Party. In their zeal to destroy their political and religious enemies they will also destroy that party. Likewise they will cause great harm to the church and the Christian faith in this country. From Williams and Backus, to John Leland, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, to George Truett, Robert Jackson, Mark Hatfield and Barry Goldwater; true champions of religious liberty have recognized the danger of what is happening today and fought against it.

But will American Christians be willing to stand against this before liberty is lost, and the Christian faith in this country, destroyed by the fanatics who are leading the charge to shut down the government once again? Sadly, I doubt it. We may yet avoid the shutdown, but until Christians police themselves and the political leaders that they have elected, this will continue until freedom is lost, the country damaged, and the church discredited and destroyed.

The leaders of this movement undermined and destroyed Speaker of the House John Boehner, a conservative pro-life Catholic because he was not extreme enough for them. They are currently working to destroy other conservative Christian leaders in the Republican Party, including Senator McConnell and other conservative Christians who do not completely submit to them. These supposedly Christian leaders who are bringing this about are not conservatives, they are revolutionaries who believe that they are on a mission from God which trumps all else. Barry Goldwater was right about them when he said, the late Senator Barry Goldwater said in 1994, “Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

But the leaders of this movement don’t care. In their apocalyptic worldview, it does not matter because they speak for God.  If they cannot win it all then they will leave scorched earth behind. The shutdown of 2013 and their actions this year show us that they would if need be, destroy the country in order to save it. That my friends is a scary thought.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, laws and legislation, leadership, Political Commentary, Religion

“They Won’t Get in Our Way…” to Armageddon

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“I know what America is. , move it in the right direction. They won’t get in our way…” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu 2001

Yesterday I watched the address of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as it occurred live. I watched as the majority of our elected Senators and Congressmen, seem to hang on every word and rise to give thunderous applause to Netanyahu’s blatant attempt to not just hijack but to commandeer U.S. foreign policy to serve Israel. If any other foreign leader had been invited by any other party to do the same at any point in our history there would be an outcry.

 Now please do not get me wrong. Iran is an enemy, they continually work against us in attempting to destabilize the Middle East and advance their Shia’ Moslem version of the Apocalypse. However, they are very pragmatic and with the major demographic shifts there could easily come a point when the young people of Iran, tired of the repression of the Mullah’s overthrow them. Likewise I do believe that the Iranian nuclear program must be monitored and if it looks as if they are about to produce a bomb that can be delivered by air or missile that could harm us or any ally that they will have to be stopped. I have written about this before so I will not go into that here. Likewise, before calling me anti-Semetic please look at the body of my writings which not only are supportive of Israel but those of a realist who understands that anything which involves the United States in yet another pre-emptive war is not in the interest of the United States or Israel. 

 At the same time the speech was insulting because the United States has given Israel everything that it ever has needed since its founding in 1948. American Presidents from Truman to Obama have bent over backwards to support Israel. In 1967 the Israeli Navy and Air Force launched a sustained coordinated attack on the USS Liberty during the Six Day War which killed 34 and wounded 171 United States Navy Sailors. The Israelis, despite evidence to the contrary, including the testimony of the crew of the Liberty claimed that they had mistaken the ship for an Egyptian destroyer. The Johnson administration accepted the Israeli version and quickly buried the incident.

In October 1973, if it had not been for the actions of Richard Nixon Israel very likely would have ceased to exist, Nixon rushed emergency supplies of tanks, aircraft and weapons aboard U.S. ships and cargo aircraft, and confronted the Soviets who were threatening to intervene. 

Since then we have provide Israel advanced weapons and weapons technology in abundance, we share intelligence with Israel that we share with no-one else, and we have always supported Israel in the United States every time there is an attempt to rebuke, condemn or sanction Israel. Even President Obama and his administration has done this with abandon. 

 And what credit do we get? We get a few meaningless platitudes from Netanyahu before he attempts to commandeer U.S. foreign policy with the active aid and support of John Speaker of the House Boehner, support that is in clear violation of one of the oldest laws dealing with foreign policy enacted by this country’s founders in 1799. 

 The speech and the reception of the Representatives and Senators who invited Netanyahu to give it and their wild adulation was not only insulting but flies in the face of what our every one founders believed reference foreign policy and relations and actually a clear violation of the Logan Act of 1799 that prohibits unauthorized citizens from negotiating with a foreign government.

The Logan Act reads:

“Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.” 

 And this my friends was exactly what happened here. While negotiating with members of the Israeli government as Speaker of the House, Boehner kept his efforts secret for over three weeks. Boehner only told the White House when he had secured a deal for the Israeli Prime Minister to address a Joint Session of Congress, which is in itself a highly unusual event. If fact Winston Churchill was the only foreign leader to receive such an invitation. I do not want to be cheeky, but Netanyahu is not a reincarnated Winston Churchill. Unlike Britain in late 1940 Israel has the capability of destroying every one of its enemies with its large stock of fully operational and deplorable nuclear weapons and delivery systems, most of the latter supplied by the United States and other Western Allies. 

Not only this, but the invitation coincided with the closing weeks of Mr. Netanyahu’s reelection campaign, and is a blatant attempt to sway Israel voters to vote for him.

What the Speaker did was unethical, illegal and against every founding principle of American foreign policy dating back to George Washington and John Adams.

The nearly orgasmic applause of the Republicans to every thing that Netanyahu said was sickening. Especially when Netanyahu demanded that  the United States walk away from the negotiation table, and especially when Netanyahu threatened to attack alone if necessary. Of course, knowing his audience, he said, he knows that would not happen. It was like watching them cheer on Armageddon. 

 Mr. Netanyahu knows that he can use fear to get Americans to do his bidding, as well as the beliefs of the militant Conservative Christians who pray for such a war in order for Jesus to return.

Netanyahu presented a very black and white image of the Middle East. It was as insulting as it was fear based, conflating Iran and the Islamic State competing “for the crown of militant Islam.” He said, “In this deadly game of thrones, there is no place for America or Israel…” and urged no middle ground short of destroying Iran. Netanyahu’s option was to walk away and offer Iran a deal that no nation with any self-respect would agree to, in fact walking away will usher in the war that Netanyahu says that the tactic will avoid. 

 The speech was eerily reminiscent of Netanyahu’s words to a Congressional committee in 2002 in the lead up to the Iraq War, which of course was such a success. Netanyahu has been using the same tactics to get the United States to do Israel’s bidding for two decades, capitalizing on America fears, and the underlying apocalyptic strain of American Evangelical Christianity which has found its way into the political mainstream. Back in 2002 Mr. Netanyahu said:

“There’s no question that [Saddam] has not given upon on his nuclear program, not [sic] whatsoever. There is also no question that he was not satisfied with the arsenal of chemical and biological weapons that he had and was trying to perfect them constantly…So I think, frankly, it is not serious to assume that this man, who 20 years ago was very close to producing an atomic bomb, spent the last 20 years sitting on his hands. He has not. And every indication we have is that he is pursuing, pursuing with abandon, pursuing with every ounce of effort, the establishment of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. If anyone makes an opposite assumption or cannot draw the lines connecting the dots, that is simply not an objective assessment of what has happened. Saddam is hell-bent on achieving atomic bombs, atomic capabilities, as soon as he can.”

“Today the United States must destroy the same regime because a nuclear-armed Saddam will place the security of our entire world at risk. And make no mistake about it — if and once Saddam has nuclear weapons, the terror networks will have nuclear weapons.” 

 
“If you take out Saddam’s regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region… The task and the great opportunity and challenge is not merely to effect the ouster of the regime, but also to transform the region.” 

 The scary thing is that when you look at the Americans who most strongly “support” Israel, they are men like fundamentalist Christian zealots like John Hagee, and Tim LaHaye, who have spent the better part of fifty years preaching a version of Bible prophecy which for Jesus to return and institute his “millennial kingdom” Israel must be devastated by a war that claims two-thirds of Israelis before the “remnant” accept Jesus as their Messiah. By the way this point of view is also held by top contenders for the GOP nomination in 2016 for the GOP nomination in 2016 and many House and Senate GOP leaders. But, my friends, if you disagree with them, some of their “Christian” pundits will call you a traitor who should “be hanged” in from of the Capital Building. 

 Now, be assured, Netanyahu doesn’t believe that for a second, he is a cunning politician, and he has no problem using the political power of the people who believe this to get his way with America. I believe that this will in the long run be bad thing both for the United States and Israel. I think that it is unbelievably unwise and may create an actual rift between our countries and fracture what has been throughout our history a bi-partisan support for Israel, and for what reason, short term political gain, both in Israel and the United States by those that brought it on. 

 My objection to what happened yesterday was not that Iran should not be opposed, nor the security of Israel be compromised. My objection is that what happened yesterday was against everything that our founders believed in and violated the law. Of our land. 

As an American my loyalty is to this country and our Constitution, not to an errant and heretic view of scripture that surrenders American rights to the whim of a particular warmongering Israeli politician. Netanyahu is a politician who has more than once stated his disdain for this country and sees us as a means to achieve his end, even if that means committing the United States to a war from which no good can come.

 Mr. Netanyahu and his American allies pushed us into a war in Iraq which was disastrous, not only for the human lives lost and devastated, the reputation and image of this country, and the economic burdens incurred, but also because it has unleashed turmoil in the region far greater than anyone imagined.

I am an American and my allegiance is not to Israel, it is to this country and our Constitution. I will be damned if allow myself to be silent while religious zealots, be they American, Iranian, the Islamic State, or Jewish try to bring about their version of Armageddon.

 Peace

Padre Steve+

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

Christian Dominionism and the Shutdown: Barry Goldwater and Robert Jackson Warned Us

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“[I]n our country are evangelists and zealots of many different political, economic and religious persuasions whose fanatical conviction is that all thought is divinely classified into two kinds — that which is their own and that which is false and dangerous.” — Justice Robert H Jackson, American Communications Assn. v. Douds, 339 US 382, 438; 70 SCt. 674, 704 (1950)

Well we are in day two of the government shutdown of 2013 with no end in sight. Sadly I have to say that the groups most responsible for this on the Tea Party and Republican Party side of the house are Evangelical Christians and ultra-conservative Catholics. The Evangelical are held in the thrall of Christian Dominionism, or Recontructionism while the conservative Catholics long for the days when their church owned the governments of Europe.

If the shutdown was about pragmatic budgetary considerations I might give the authors of the shutdown some consideration. However, it is not and their leaders have either said it openly or all but said this to be the case.

I am a Christian and a Priest in a small Old Catholic denomination. I am a graduate of a premier Evangelical Protestant Seminary where I came to appreciate and revere religious liberty. What I am going to write today may offend some but it has to be said. I believe that the cause of religious liberty, and for that matter the liberty of the Christian Church to be faithful to its call and unencumbered by unseemly political alliances is in danger due to the actions of people that in many cases honestly believe that they are defending religious liberty. Justice Robert Jackson prosecuted the major Nazi War criminals at Nuremberg and was able to view the results of what happened when churches that entered into such alliances.

I back in my days as a more “conservative” Evangelical Christian I attended and unlike conservative Christian TV icon and former governor of Arkansas actually graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth Texas. This was in the days just prior to the Fundamentalist takeover of the seminary and the denomination. It was at Southwestern that I gained a distinct appreciation of and love for the concept of the separation of church and state and the importance of the rights, both civil and religious of non-believers, members of minority religions and others not in the religious majority, or those without power, be it religious, social or economic.

I look at what is going on today, just two days after the shutdown and it appears to me that the most vitriolic bunch pushing the Republican Party and their hapless, soulless and clueless Speaker of the House John Boehner into this are the Tea-vangelicals led by the like of SenatorTed Cruz, whose father Rafael Cruz is a prominent Dominionist pastor who has long been part of the movement to establish what amounts to a Christian Theocracy in the United States.

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However, whether people realize it or not we were warned by no less than conservative icon Barry Goldwater about such people.

Yes, I said it. Barry Goldwater. Goldwater was not a fan of the influence of preachers and religious zealots. In fact he warned us about them in very clear words.

My liberal and conservative friends both might be dismayed by this but Barry Goldwater, the man who inspired Ronald Reagan to run for President and who was the conservative bulwark for many years in Washington DC warned us of what would happen when the Religious Right took over the Republican Party. Goldwater said of the types of people that currently dominate the conservative movement, if it can be still called that:

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.” November, 1994, in John Dean, Conservatives Without Conscience.

Billy Graham, a saint if there ever was one and a man who used his faith to build bridges even while being unabashedly evangelical warned back in 1981 about the current crop of religious conservatives and stand in sharp contrast to the words and actions of Franklin:

 “I don’t want to see religious bigotry in any form. It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.” Parade Magazine February 1, 1981, from Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom

What we are seeing today is the expressed manifestation of religious bigotry operating under the guise of defending religious freedom. Likewise it is little different (except in the religion involved) to the Wahhabi Taliban or the the Saudi Arabian state, the Shi’te Hezbollah government in Lebanon or the Mullah’s of Iran.

This ultra-religious intransigence of the Tea-vangelicals is being shown in its ugliness by the brazen acts of Evangelical political and religious leaders during this shutdown. And they wonder why more and more people want nothing to do with the faith that they espouse. If there is any way to lose religious freedom it is to follow this attempt to marry the Christian faith with the American government is not only short sighted but does great damage to the faith and our American liberties.

A host of influential of Evangelical leaders, politicians and even Roman Catholic Bishops have said what they believe religious liberty means to them and it has little in common with the understanding of our founders. It has nothing to do with limited government nor religious liberty. It is the imperial religion of Constantine, dressed up a bit to keep up with the times.  It is simply an attempt by these leaders to use the apparatus of the government to support themselves and to establish their specific religion as a state religion with the full legal means to subjugate non-believers or others who do not agree with them.

The whole debate over the Affordable Health Care Act in the shutdown is a red herring. The actual goal is to achieve a merger of church and state with the Dominionists leading it and dominating what they call the “Seven Mountains” of culture and society. Attempting to delegitimatize President Obama through the shutdown and the debt limit is only a tactic in a larger strategy to achieve “dominion” over the United States and the world.

George Truett, the great Southern Baptist Pastor who served as President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary wrote in his book Baptists and Religious Liberty in 1920 about the decidedly negative effect of when the Church became the State religion:

“Constantine, the Emperor, saw something in the religion of Christ’s people which awakened his interest, and now we see him uniting religion to the state and marching up the marble steps of the Emperor’s palace, with the church robed in purple. Thus and there was begun the most baneful misalliance that ever fettered and cursed a suffering world…. When … Constantine crowned the union of church and state, the church was stamped with the spirit of the Caesars…. The long blighting record of the medieval ages is simply the working out of that idea.”

The late Senator Mark Hatfield a strongly committed Evangelical Christian before it became popular in Washington made this comment concerning those that are now driving this spurious debate:

“As a Christian, there is no other part of the New Right ideology that concerns me more than its self-serving misuse of religious faith. What is at stake here is the very integrity of biblical truth. The New Right, in many cases, is doing nothing less than placing a heretical claim on Christian faith that distorts, confuses, and destroys the opportunity for a biblical understanding of Jesus Christ and of his gospel for millions of people.”  quoted in the pamphlet “Christian Reconstruction: God’s Glorious Millennium?” by Paul Thibodeau

The core of the current campaign in the shutdown is the imposition of Christian Dominionism onto the rest of the country. It may reference the Gospel and even certain Christian moral understandings even as it mocks other just as “Biblical” Christian teachings.

Back in 1981 Barry Goldwater said on the Senate Floor “The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent.” 

The leaders of this shutdown movement and their supporters are almost all self-proclaimed Evangelical Christians who represent gerrymandered congressional districts in which they only have to worry about being considered not extreme enough.

Like it or not Goldwater was right about this crowd. They will drive their churches and their political party into the abyss. The fractures in my former party, the Republican Party are becoming more and apparent and neither the Dominionist Preachers, or their allied politicians and pundits can see the end state of their party and for what they think they are fighting.

But then none are so blind as those who will not see. Please do not say that you were not warned.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Shutdown Dead Ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God help us.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Meditations on a Wednesday Night in Washington DC 

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

O beautiful for spacious skies,

For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties

Above the fruited plain!

America! America!

God shed His grace on thee,

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea!

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

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

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

O beautiful for pilgrim feet

Whose stern impassion’d stress

A thoroughfare for freedom beat

Across the wilderness.

America! America!

God mend thine ev’ry flaw,

Confirm thy soul in self-control,

Thy liberty in law.

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

O beautiful for heroes prov’d

In liberating strife,

Who more than self their country lov’d,

And mercy more than life.

America! America!

May God thy gold refine

Till all success be nobleness,

And ev’ry gain divine.

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

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

O beautiful for patriot dream

That sees beyond the years

Thine alabaster cities gleam

Undimmed by human tears.

America! America!

God shed His grace on thee,

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea.

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

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

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

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

Open my ears that I may hear their cries;

Open my heart that they need not be without succor;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be careful with your thoughts because they turn into words

Be careful with your words because they turn into actions

Be careful with your actions because they turn into habits

Be careful with your habits because they become your character

Be careful with your character because it defines you 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God help us all

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fiscal Cliff Notes: There are Always Results

Wile-E-Coyote_falling

I am not a fan of heights. I find cliffs, bridges and tall buildings frightening. As a result unless there is like a high wall that I cannot be thrown over I stay far away for the edge. I think the correct term for this is ohnosplataphobia. This is the fear of what you say when you realize that you are going over the cliff and the last words that you say before you hear the sickening sound your body makes when it reaches the bottom. “Oh no”…splat.  There are several derivatives of this, there is “Our Father which art in…” splataphobia, the “Oh shit”…splataphobia, the “Did I remember to lock the car door…” splataphobia and my favorite the “Fuck it all you assholes….” splataphobia.

When we visited New York a few years back we went to the top of the Empire State Building and 30 Rock. Both gave us very good views of the New York skyline and no I did not come even close to looking down.

Sometimes I watch movies where there are scenes where a character dives off a cliff or some other really tall place. We were watching the 3D version of Men In Black 3 the other night and the scene where Will Smith has to dive from the top of the Chrysler Building was enough for me to hold onto the couch for dear life.

But now our nation is at what everyone is calling the “Fiscal Cliff” which if you ask me would be a terrifying horror movie if it wasn’t real. In fact in term for the phobia of people like me to the Fiscal Cliff is the “Fuck it all assholes…” splat. Of course the assholes are all the idiots in Congress who a year and a half ago passed a law on the extension of the nation’s debt ceiling in 2011 to keep the nation from defaulting on its debts. It was called the Budget Control Act of 2011 and basically it was caused when the Republicans  decided, believing that anyone that they ran against Obama in 2012 would win, forced a showdown on the usually innocuous measure of extending the debt limit. So to get the deal done all parties joined together to pass this bill, which is such bad legislation that it will screw everyone in the country if our elected leaders don’t do something about it.

Back when it was passed people pretty much figured that with a year and a half before the big mandatory across the board cuts, quaintly called “sequestration” which I think is similar to what happens when you castrate the cast of Sea Quest, except that it happens to all of us.

Since we are not a dictatorship and Mussolini is still dead and magically make things happen we have to depend on both houses of Congress and the President to figure this out. Now in the past we did these things. Politicians frequently compromised to get things done for the benefit of the country even if they did not get everything that they, or their supporters wanted and for the most part we were all better for it.

What I think needs to be done now is drastic. I am really pissed off that the House of Representatives, led by the Orangeman himself John “I need a smoke” Boehner didn’t even show up to work today. I mean that is really responsible. I think that all the members of Congress, House Members and Senators of all parties need to be forced at bayonet point into chambers and not allowed off of the House or Senate floor until they get a deal done. No office visits, no runs to the coffee shop, no ordering pizza for everyone, no conjugal visits and no smoke breaks.

Now I am not completely inhuman. They would get to go to the shitter, except that instead of going to one of the nice ones that our tax dollars pay for we would bring shitters to them. Yes it would break up the decorum of the place but we could put an inadequate number port-a-johns around the wall of the chambers and not empty them until the deal was done. This would be kind of like what happens when KBR-Halliburton contractors run Forward Operating Bases.

We should give them MREs to eat and all the Pabst Blue Ribbon and Busch beer needed to get the deal done even if that means that the port-a-johns overflow. The C-SPAN cameras should be going live the whole time Then maybe these assholes would do something, and if they don’t they should be allowed to leave, at the point of a bayonet. This may seem rather harsh and undemocratic but these men and women, of both parties are failing the country and seem more attuned to those that through their massive campaign contributions help keep them in office.

Will this happen? Probably not, but back when the Budget Control Act of 2011 was passed I knew that it would come down to this. I remembered and wrote about this on August 2nd of 2011 (The Deal is Done and are We? There are Always Results )and I quoted Thomas Jefferson’s words about the Missouri Compromise:

“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.” 

God help us all.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Bishop Jenky’s Obama and Hitler, Stalin, Bismarck and Clemenceau Comparison: Bad History, Bad Theology and Bad Politics

Bishop Daniel Jenky 

History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.” Thomas Jefferson

I normally would not criticize a Roman Catholic Bishop for speaking out on he through were legitimate threats to the Catholic faith. However, when a fellow Christian cleric of any rank or denomination chooses to become a bad historian and use historical lies and distortions to demonize an opponent I as a clergyman and American must point it out. I have waited several days to publish this post and reworked it a number of times simply because I do, even if I disagree with them respect their office.

What sparked my ire was when Roman Catholic Bishop of the diocese of Peoria Illinois, Bishop Daniel Jenky wildly and stupidly overstepped his knowledge of history and American Religious Freedom. Bishop Jenky in his homily to a Catholic Men’s group during the Second Sunday of Easter Mass made this comment:

“In the late 19th century, Bismark (sic) waged his “Kulturkamf,” a culture war against the Roman Catholic Church, closing down every Catholic school and hospital, convent and monastery in Imperial Germany. Clemenceau, nicknamed “the priest eater,” tried the same thing in France in the first decade of the 20th Century. 

Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services, and health care. 

In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, President Obama – with his radical, pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda, now seems intent on following a similar path.

Now things have come to such a pass in our beloved country that this is a battle that we could lose, but before the awesome judgement seat of Almighty God this is not a war where any believing Catholic may remain neutral.”

I am a big defender of all religious freedom, even that of the prelates of the Roman Catholic Church to state the beliefs of their church clearly and without even the slightest fear of persecution. However I am not a fan of clerics using their pastoral role to become the partisan voice of any religious party. Bishop Jenky’s comments in his homily go well beyond voicing his disagreement with the Obama Administration, or for that matter with the policies of the Reagan and both Bush administrations who actually enunciated similar policies.  Likewise even more importantly he used the most vile of historical distortions to buttress his partisan opinion.

If President Obama was a Republican grousing for “pro-life” votes by giving lip-service to Evangelicals and Roman Catholics Jenky would never have said a word. However Obama’s problem is that he does not give the same deferential lip service to the anti-abortion groups in the Republican party that neither of the Bush’s or Reagan did. People forget that Ronald Reagan signed into law the most liberal abortion laws in the country prior to Roe v. Wade. George H.W. Bush was not only pro-choice but was a big backer of Planned Parenthood and despite some of his policies against abortion in the settings of military healthcare and in foreign aid programs did almost nothing other than to mouth empty platitudes in support of Pro-Life policies.

I find it fascinating to find the major Catholic figures in in conservative American politics, Paul Ryan and John Boehner are just as selective in their support of official Catholic teachings as are their Liberal counterparts that Bishop Jenky so roundly condemns.  It is what I call Conservative Cafeteria Catholicism. It was reported today that the American Council of Catholic Bishops wrote to express their concern about Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget plan. The believe that it contradicts church teaching regarding the responsibility of the Government to provide adequate services to the poor. Ryan claims that this budget based on his “Catholic Faith” but it stands in total opposition to Papal Encyclicals such as Renum Novarum (On Capital and Labor) issued by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 and the Second Vatican Council regarding the care for the poor. This was reiterated in 1991 on the 100th anniversary of Renum Novarum by Pope John Paul II. He called the church to advocate for the “preferential option for the poor.”  Today Speaker of the House John Boehner basically told the the Bishops to pound sand and that they, the Bishops “needed to see the big picture.” So I guess it really isn’t about defending the rights of the Church to such politicians just using selective parts of Church teaching to buttress their political support. But I don’t see Bishop Jenky calling either Boehner or Ryan “Judas.”

Bishop Jenky is a bad historian, but then that goes for the vast majority of clerics. He compares the Health Care Mandate in regard to contraception with the Kulturkampf  of Otto Von Bismarck.  In fact the the Kulturkampf was not just something that Bismarck and German philosophical and theological Liberals (Classic Liberalism) dreamed up simply because they opposed the theology of the Catholic Church.

What Jenky fails to mention is was the period of German Unification and Germany was opposed by Austria-Hungary which was a Catholic Empire hugely supported by the Vatican. The Catholic Church opposed the Protestant Kingdom of Prussia because it was weakening the power of Catholic Kingdoms throughout German speaking lands. It might be noted that at the same time the Vatican, which around the same time period was fighting the unification of Italy and the dissolution of the Vatican States.  It seems that throughout the 19th Century that the Popes, especially Pius IX and Pius X were constantly fighting the right of people to their own government and were willing to fund and support the Hapsburg Dynasty of Austria which was the direct descendant of the Holy Roman Empire.

Bishop Jenky’s comparison of President Obama with Hitler and Stalin is an act of demagoguery that other Bishops as well as politicians should condemn. They were dictators that launched wars of aggression on other nations as well as murdered millions of their own people. What Jenky condemns President Obama for is not in the same league.  The same is true about the comparisons to Clemenceau and Bismarck is also wrong headed and a selective and distorted use of history to demonize a political opponent. To compare President Obama to Hitler and Stalin is the tactic of the religious despots of Europe that our Founders so rightly rejected.

Our founders were quite right to push back hard against the church denominations of their day that strove to enhance their power and privilege by attempting to become state churches or become the privileged denominations.  Bishop Jenky seems to forget that the United States was not founded to be the vassal state of the Roman Catholic or for that matter any other Church denomination.  If we actually value religious liberty or for that matter the Gospel itself we need to remember little things like that no matter what men like Bishop Jenky say.

John Leland, the Baptist leader who fought for the separation of Church and State that both Jefferson and Madison enunciated said:

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. … Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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