The Dark Is With God

“Leave me here freely all alone, In cell where never sunlight shone.  Should no one ever speak to me, This golden silence makes me free!”  Blessed Titus Brandsma

Powerful words penned by a prisoner at Dachau, Titus Brandsma.  The Carmelite friar did indeed find his freedom while locked within the confines of that infamous Nazi concentration camp.  Far from breaking his spirit though, the forced solitude of a prison cell provided a luxury that had too often escaped the Dutch priest in the busyness of his life before arrest: more time for prayer and meditation. Through Faith, Father Brandsma slipped the bonds of captivity his jailers had sought to impose and soared on angels’ wings beyond their cruel reach. The dark was with God.

For Titus, the road to Dachau included a stay at the notorious Kamp Amersfoort in the Netherlands. The predatory and sadistic tendencies of the men charged with running this horrific facility earned it the reputation as one of the most inhumane of the Nazi internment camps. But ever true to his calling and the teachings of Jesus, Blessed Titus Brandsma prayed for his captors and urged his fellow prisoners to do the same. When they admitted finding it difficult to follow such guidance, given their present circumstances, the good priest clarified, “You don’t have to pray for them all day long.”

A philosopher by education and a writer and teacher by profession, Titus believed the way to happiness and productivity was to see God at the core of our existence. Once we plumb the depths of our nature and see The Divine within we can’t help but love Him in ourselves and all that is, he reasoned.

At age 60 Titus Brandsma found himself walking the path to martyrdom. By openly and eloquently writing against the Nazi’s rise to power,  protesting especially their persecution of the Jews – and urging the Catholic Church to do the same, Titus knew he was courting arrest and worse.  But what else could he do, he asked?  As a Catholic?  He must speak out.  And so, he did.  A man of God, he joyfully took up his cross and found his holy purpose behind the barbed wire of Nazi concentration camps.

On July 26, 1942, Father Titus Brandsma was injected with a deadly drug after being subjected to unimaginable medical experiments.  But even death could not extinguish the sacred light that burned within Brandsma’s breast.  The dark was with God.



I Know You Are But What Am I?

“I know you are but what am I?”  Snappy comeback if you’re a pre-adolescent…or a Trump supporter.  In fact, ever since their guy took office the default argument to accusations of all things unethical or even illegal has become the “I’m rubber your glue whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you!” defense. They get caught with their hands in the till?  Or their pants down?  Maybe they get called out on their failures, incompetency or hypocrisies?  Suddenly the tweets and allegations start flying…about Hillary or Obama or anyone else from ‘the other side’ who “did or is doing far worse, far more times”.  Proof and facts no longer matter – opinions, and innuendo rule the day!  After all, it’s only Democrats or people who hate this president who would believe their own “lying eyes” over what POTUS and the ruling class tells them.

The apologists advocate a three monkey’s approach to all things Trump and Party-related: “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”.  This is the GOP mantra (only as it applies to them, of course) as they focus on their partisan agenda.

Critical thinking has taken a back-seat to hyperbole and hype in today’s world. Our opinions no longer need to be rooted in fact or even reality.  Believe what you want…even if it means you must ignore the odd, inconvenient truth… or 5,000.

You Can’t Control Crazy

image credit cpg grey, Wikimedia commons

With ample evidence and myriad examples of wrong-doing within Donald J Trump’s Administration – even before POTUS took office – a lot of us have wondered at the deafening silence emanating from the GOP.  Why no outcry from Republican Leadership??  The hypocrisy of their collective speechlessness in the face of mounting evidence of unethical and even criminal behaviors is baffling…and conducive to rampant speculation.  “What does he have on them??  What does Putin have on him??”?  A lot of the prevailing theories for this party reticence hinge on some sort of blackmail scheme: Russia has something on Trump (i.e. pee tape? Damning tax info?) and Trump has something on a lot of members of Congress (e.g. proof of their own sexual peccadillos or maybe dark money contributions from Russia-sponsored entities like the NRA).

Perhaps the reason is far less imaginative, though.  Peel away the layers of explanation and it turns out that what is really responsible for muffling the voices of the usually loquacious grandstanders might just be plain old run-of-the-mill hubris.

As our president shows himself daily to be monumentally ill-fit for the job of Leader of the Free World it begs the question: how did this moron end up in office?  We know the numbers, he won through our “rigged” electoral college system but how did that happen, given the popular vote?  The simple answer was provided by an English historian, John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton, in a letter written in 1887.  Scrutinizing papal infallibility, Lord Acton stated, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority…”  There you have it.

McConnell, and Ryan, and Nunes and Gowdy and all the other Quiet Republicans are bad men. They let Trump happen to further their own agendas.  In this loudmouthed, crass, ignorant showman they saw a chance to cash in on the moment and they jumped on it.  Rather than view his mental incapacity as a hindrance, these oh-so-smart career politicians saw an opportunity.  They smirked behind closed doors and congratulated themselves for finding the perfect manageable candidate. They could con the conman,  they laughed.

But you can’t control crazy.  Trump isn’t just a con man – he’s a crazy con man. He’s got issues and the GOP charlatans underestimated the severity of his personality disorders.  He is uncontrollable even to himself. And now his would-be handlers on Capitol Hill are faced with not just turning a blind eye to ethical and garden-variety white-collar criminal malfeasance but aiding and abetting treason. President Trump is a traitor.  How do they like him now??

If they speak out, these enablers will have to admit their own culpability in putting an imposter in the White House. But keeping silent is a shameful legacy and History will name them turncoats.

Ugly American or God’s Chosen? You Decide…

Image Credit Charles Edward Miller creative commons via Wikimedia Commons

Image Credit Charles Edward Miller creative commons via Wikimedia Commons

It’s hard to keep up with all the consequential things happening during this presidency.  In Donald J Trump’s name, decisions have been made that significantly impact the lives of Americans and the world and will continue to do so – long after he’s gone. Be it law, climate, health, trade, immigration or safety, this man rules through the power of his gut and own self-interest.  Not Democracy or knowledge. What is going on at America’s southern border exemplifies this: in separating asylum-seeking parents from their children and relishing the ensuing turmoil and conflict, in hiding behind a veneer of law-abiding reasonableness while ignoring the Rule of Law and legal precedent, our president is reshaping America in his own image. And by letting him, our country is living up to the “Ugly American” pejorative.

As his henchmen scramble to defend a proclamation that further victimizes victims, some choose to cherry-pick biblical quotes for absolution or justification.  They turn to false teachers who preach unchristian behavior in the name of Trump: “He is God’s Chosen One”, they lie. And they promise damnation if you disagree.

Maybe they should read Timothy 4:3-4, “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”  To which I say, “Preach!”

Believers are squaring off – each to their own corner of interpretation – confident that they have been led there by the Holy Spirit. But the Golden Rule is easy to understand: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”, Matt 7:12.

Doesn’t take a genius or a biblical scholar to understand Mathew’s meaning: walk a mile in their shoes.

Graham-Cassidy is Not The Answer

image credit: Ted Eytan via Flickr

Hope springs eternal in the hard hearts of Republicans set on overturning Obamacare.  In yet another Hail Mary attempt to beat that dead-horse repeal and replace into life, hucksters …er senators, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana have written a partisan prescription potent enough they promise to cure all that ails our health-care system.  And if ridding us of the Affordable Care Act plague isn’t reason enough to back their plan?  They want us to do it for the American way of life. According to Graham, this latest iteration is “the only process left available to stop a march toward Socialism”!  Wow! Patriotism and Health-care reform?!  What??

Pre-ACA, insurance companies, and Big Pharma controlled the healthcare system purse strings.  They decided how it worked, who could get it and how much they would pay for it.  The industry cherry-picked which claims they would honor and how much they had to shell out.  The result was 46 million Americans were unable to afford medical care.  And then Barack Obama stepped in with the lofty goal of affordable healthcare for everyone!  No exceptions or pre-existing loopholes.  Talk about un-American!  Sadly, ‘round here all too often those who have get more and those who don’t get screwed.

A healthcare system that benefits the insurance companies and the healthy while leaving the poor and sick to fend for themselves or dependent upon the kindness and whim of individual states and those same insurance companies is not my idea of Democracy at work.  Considering how many times Republicans have tried and failed to overturn Obamacare (more than 60!) since it first became law waay back in 2010 ya gotta wonder when does party resolve become obdurate politics?  Or insanity?

And now, here we go again.  This sudden rush of action days before their self-imposed deadline to push through a bill, Graham-Cassidy, which will have no CBO score, is partisan and leaves way too much unsaid would be mind-boggling had we not been here before – so very many times!

Tying their plan to patriotism though, raising the specter of socialism for God’s sakes shows just how desperate they are this time around.  With fake news and fables, they are trying to conjure up a political bogeyman to scare us away from a single payer alternative.  We can’t fall for it.  Republicans, led by Donald Trump want us to relinquish the power of our voice.  They want us to acquiesce to their better judgment.  They want us to trust them.  Well, I don’t.  They lie.

We have until September 30 to stop the march back towards preexisting loopholes and lifetime caps. We have until September 30 to make our voices heard.

They Built This Country: Here’s to the American Worker – Happy Labor Day!

(I wrote this 5 years ago.  Pre-Trump.  Things seemed different then}

Labor Day then…

135 years ago, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and one of the founding members of the American Federation of Labor, Peter J. McGuire, described our country’s working men and women as those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.” Some folks say those words were uttered to encourage establishing a day of recognition for the delvers and carvers. Others credit machinist Mathew Maguire for the notion of a national holiday in honor of America’s workforce. No matter at whose behest, clearly such a celebration was an idea whose time had come.

On September 5th, 1882, the rank and file of New York’s labor movement joined together in raucous conviviality for what turned out to be the first Labor Day Celebration. Upwards of 20,000 people filled the streets of lower Manhattan that Tuesday morning, ready for a day of marching, music and all-around merrymaking! Dubbed “a day of the people” by newspapers and considered a triumph by organizers, it wasn’t long before it became an annual event celebrated coast to coast. President Grover Cleveland signed the bill that made it official in 1894. The first Monday (as was originally planned) in September was finally a federal holiday – Labor Day.

In an interesting (and oft repeated) aside – copious amounts of beer were consumed during that inaugural bash. Most ‘First Labor Day’ descriptions include references to the numerous kegs of lager placed throughout Wendel’s Elm Park – the designated site for after-parade festivities. (Those delvers and carvers knew how to party!)

Yesterday’s workforce (like today’s) was dependent on immigrant labor.  The flags of many nations decorated the park that day, reflecting the varied ancestry of the American Worker. Picnic-goers satiated their hunger with culinary specialties from around the world: Irish stew, German bratwurst… This was the America J. Hector St. John Crevecoeur had written about in “Letters from an American Farmer” more than a century earlier.

And now…

And more than a century later? The day is no longer dedicated to the wage-earners. Instead, it has morphed into a long weekend celebrating the end of summer. There are fewer parades, and Labor unions don’t play the part they once did in American life – but we still have picnics. And drink lots of beer. According to marketing charts compiled by Nielsen, we will quaff over 60 million cases of the malted grain beverage this weekend!

Source countries, taking a decidedly southerly turn, have changed both the complexion of the U.S. labor-pool and the flavor of our fetes. When the person next to you is of Hispanic or Asian descent you can expect some delicious menu changes at gatherings: Cuban black beans and rice, Mexican salsa, Asian sesame chicken wings… fiesta-fare guaranteed to make your mouth water!

The world may be a different place – but some things are still the same: we are still the melting pot society whose virtues were extolled long-ago by poets and playwrights. We are still the glorious sum of all our parts: America. The destination of dreamers the world over!

As we say goodbye to summer fun this weekend and turn our thoughts to fall, let’s raise a glass and give a toast to all the delvers and the carvers, past, and present, who gave us all this grandeur to behold.

Trump Is No Boy Scout

image by Sgt Anna-Marie Ward via Wikimedia Commons

That was some speech POTUS gave at the 2017 National Scout jamboree.  The quadrennial celebration of the Boy Scout brotherhood draws thousands of Scouts from across the country, all eager to mingle, swap patches, and indulge in 10-days of wholesome fun and entertainment.  They are Boy Scouts after all.  Starting with Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937, presidential incumbents have always spoken at these gatherings (Barack Obama videoed his message in 2010) – in a bipartisan manner.

But today Donald Trump is the president of these United States.  For the first time in eighty years The Commander-in-Chief eschewed tradition, and instead of speaking to these boys about Scout values and their power to affect positive change in our country and the world, this man focused his words entirely on himself.  And his business and political prowess.  He spoke about his White House win and his enemies.  He told them it was the responsibility of his subordinates to see that his plans succeeded. The buck does not make it to him.  He joked with these children about the punishments he would dole out if they failed.  “Tom you’re fired,” he said to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, evidently tasked with killing ObamaCare.

In a speech rife with partisanship and braggadocio our leader gave the boys a lesson in the importance of being loyal to Donald J Trump.  Working the crowd of one-day-voters like the con man he is, Donald whipped them into a patriotic frenzy that ended with them chanting “USA, USA!” by including them in the ‘grown-up’ conversation.  He thanked them for their votes?? by saying his election was “an unbelievable tribute to you and all of the other of millions and millions of people that came out and voted for ‘Make America Great Again.’”  He talked about another businessman’s travails – William Levitt – that included descriptions of a ‘fast life on a yacht.’   “You know Life,” he said conspiratorially, wink-wink to the Boy Scouts, “You’re Boy Scouts.”  The parable ended with its subject presumably in disgrace and at a cocktail party “where all the hottest people in New York were…”?!

The thing is, watching those kids laugh, and cheer…seeing their raucous response to Trump as he demeaned Hilary Clinton, Democrats and anyone else who dared to oppose his vision chilled me to the bone.  I remember seeing videos of similarly aged and moved crowds – cheering for a different man.  The red armbands those youngsters wore now make me think of red caps.