26 September 2013

Outrageous Obama Incivility

President Obama with Senior Advisor Dan Pfeiffer

As the new fiscal year looms without a budget passed, and the debt ceiling debate on the horizon, the Obama Administration ought to be building ad hoc coaltions to prevent the United States going off the fiscal cliff.  Yet when President Obama's Senior Advisor Dan Pfeiffer went on CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper", the White House pressed a bombastic bric-a-brac against Republicans.

Having an Obama  senior spokesman call Republican opponents "suicide bombers" is beyond the pale of civil political discourse coming  from the White House.  These verbal bomb throwing  through the auspices of the Oval Office neither builds Congressional coalitions vital for governing (as opposed to campaigning) and this infelicitous  and incindiary analogy shows a shocking lack of civility.  In the same day, Obama White House Press Secretary Jay Carney dredged up birther barbs to mock Republicans for wanting to defund Obamacare.

After the near assassination of former Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ 8th) in January, 2011, President Obama made a grandiose speech at the Together We Thrive rally  in Tucson which memorialized the fallen in  the atrocity where President Obama proclaimed:

But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized -– at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do -– it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.  

President Obama then rightfully noted that a "more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation."  So how do Dan Pfeiffer's inflamatory remarks against ideological opponents fit into this call for civility?

Perhaps President Obama gave himself a waiver on civility.  After all, President Obama's 2012 re-election campaign persisted on an unsubstantiated insuniation that Republican Presidential Nominee Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) was a felon for alleged misrepresentations when he was at Bain Capital.  Political campaigns ain't beanbag, so rough and tumble rhetoric is not out of the ordinary, particularly for a politician who can not win without smearing his opponent.  But governing is different than campaigning.

While Pfeiffer's smear of his opponents as suicide bombers is outrageous and unwise, it is not the only example of inflamatory accusations that have the imprimatur of Obama's Oval Office. Democrat Congressional leaders such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA 8th) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) have been wont to refer to uncooperative Conservative Republican legislators as "Arsonists".  Senior Obama White House Advisor Dan Pfeiffer echoed this arsonist accusation and kidnappers comparison against Republicans.  Or progressive radio host Thom Hartman who compared Senator Ted Cruz's  (R-TX) filibuster to "Taliban-styled suicide bombings".   Kind of sounds like the Obama White House talking points were passed out.

These slanderous characterizations from the Obama White House give Democrats surrogates in the Lamestream Media license to copy scurrilous phrases.  This was quickly spread by  MSNBC's Chris Matthews did when the former Democrat staffer turned broadcaster asked  Representative Scott Perry (R-PA 4th) why the Republicans want to hold the country "hostage".

The Obama Administration seems intent to demonize and try to delegitimize their opponents, ala Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals. But Pfeiffer, Pelosi and Reid are not alone in voicing vitrolic language against idelogical opponents.  Senator John McCain referred to Senator Cruz and Senator Rand Paul as "wacko birds", while Congressman Peter King  critiqued Senator Cruze as a crazy, fraudster and suicidal.  While these invectives abrogate Reagan's Eleventh Amendment, they are not as vial as a voice of the President of the United States in a time of real Islamist jihadi terrorism comparing Republicans to suicide bombers. 

It sounds like the White House communication staff need to take a crash course at the National Institute for Civil Discourse.   After all, the NICD launched a website "YourWordsCount.org" which reminds readers of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's word of wisdom: "Civility costs nothing and buys everything."   But that would also mean that they would be reminded of dear leader Obama's quote:

You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time – not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals. Let each of us now embrace, with solemn duty and awesome joy, what is our lasting birthright. With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history, and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.

So much for shaping the future in an uplifting way.

In the aftermath of the Tucson shooting, the elite Liberal media were quick to lambast Tea Party Conservatives, particularly former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, for  dangerous symbolism on  pamplets which "targeted" politcally vulnerable  Democrat districts like Giffords' with crosshairs.  Ironically, the Democrat Congressional Camapign Committee used bullseyes for their targeted districts.    But as Chris Plante would put it: "If it wasn't for double standards, liberals would have no standards at all."

From a partisan political perspective, the Obama Administration's beyond the pale references to Republicans clearly demonstrates that the Obama White House does not want to deal and is pushing to peg Republicans with any blame for a government shutdown.  They may be calculating their strategy premised on the 1995-1996 government shutdowns which allegedly hurt Republicans (even though that was not demonstrated at the ballot box).   But according to the latest Pew Poll, both Democrats and Republicans would be blamed for a government shutdown.

In the scheme of things, political blame is inconsequential compared to the quantum corsening of civil discourse that has been displayed by White House operatives Dan Pfeiffer and Press Spokesman Jay Carney. Such uncivil exchanges are unworthy of authority in this Constitutional Republic.

Reporting Limitations on the Freedom of Speech

Last spring, eporters in Chicagoland have been informed by police that “You (sic) first amendment rights can be terminated if you create a scene…Your first amendment rights have limitations.”

The Media covering the fatal  shooting of a six year old at Mount Sinai Hospital on the west side of Chicago.  WGN-TV reporter Dan Ponce and photographer Donte Williams were taken in handcuffs when they refused to move further away from the hospital for their coverage. 

The reporters were standing on the median sidewalk  halfway across the street from  Mount Sinai Hospital as they were doing their reporting.  The officer yelled at them to move further away and the journalistics refused to comply as they did their jobs.  It should be noted that the area was not a crime scene.  The officer exclaimed:  “F*** news affairs, I don’t care about news affairs. Forget news affairs.”.

According to the police, the reporters tried to enter the hospital and were removed at the request of hospital security, but their guards declined to press charges and the individuals were released.  However, the police maintain that the reporters very presence around grieving family members created a scene.   The official police statement proclaimed: Our members were attempting to protect and respect both the grieving family members of the child, and the memory of the child herself during a very stressful time for all parties involved.

While it might be the case that the aforementioned journalists pressed the edge within the hospital in pursuit of the story (which they deny),  the offending officer's ejaculations paired with the official police statement reveal a rationale that the authorities think it is OK to limit the First Amendment when they want.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
Recently, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) proposed an amendment to the Reporter Shield bill in the Senate Judiciary committee which limits coverage to journalists whom she describes as:  “real reporters.” Feinstein was worried that protections might apply to: “people who aren’t really reporters at all, who have no professional qualifications.” Feinstein's definition of a real reporter is “a salaried agent” of a media company such as a newspaper, broadcast news station, news website or another type of news service. Of course, powers authorizing "real reporter" licensure can sway coverage.

Curious that Congress thinks that it can regulate Free Speech, especially considering that the First Amendment starts with the phrase: "Congress shall make no law…"  But considering the age when Supreme Court majority opinions on Obamacare contort arguments to make it a tax to be constitutional, maybe a clarifyng amendment could be added to impose a tax for "real reporter" licenses presumably passing SCOTUS muster.

The First Amendment is the fundamental freedom which prohibits the federal governement from encroaching on natural right to the freedom of speech.  The Freedom of Speech clause prohibits thegovernment from  banning speech because it does not agree with its message.  In Federalist Paper no. 10, James Madison pointed to the Freedom of Speech as being a vital element of a healthy Republic. 

Considering the sentiment to censor in Chicagoland and the Feinstein's "real reporter" amendment, one may question if the United States is civically healthy, much less a Republic. 

25 September 2013

Giving a Flying Flip About Filibusters

Senator Ted Cruz (R-FL) took to the Senate floor at 2:41 PM yesterday to speak against voting for the cloture motion on the House Continuing Resolution legislation (House Res. 59) and did not finish his remarks until 12:00 noon the next day.  But detractors like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) are quick to insist that it was not a filibuster.  It is said that the Freshman Senator from Florida could not have a filibuster as his effort was not intended to delay or prevent legislative action.    

A broader understanding of filibuster is an effort to prevent action by making a long speech.  The 21 hours and 19 minutes of floor time certainly qualifies as a long speech.  Consider the aim of Senator Cruz’s effort.  He was speaking against a cloture motion.  Cloture is the procedure that a 60 vote majority in the Senate cuts off debate.  

Those who deny that Senator Cruz’s control of the Senate Floor for nearly a full day was not a filibuster are less interested in abiding by proper political parlance.  They know that the public generally considers a filibuster a noble effort of a Senator to abide his conscience and speak what he understands as the truth until he can stand no more.   Filibusters evoke memory’s of the Frank Capra film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939).

Mr Cruz Goes to Washington
[L] Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)  [R] Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) during filibuster 

But if Cruz just was giving a very long speech, then he can be framed as just wasting the Senate’s time, even though Majority Leader Reid was appraised and approved of the talkathon. 

All of this between-the-beltways trivialities about filibusters illustrates one of Senator Cruz’s concerns.  Early on in his filibuster, Senator Cruz alleged that most people don’t give a flying flip about a bunch of politicians in Washington, DC with cheap suits and haircuts. A filibuster may empty the Senate chamber, but it can generate considerable attention and audience via CSPAN as well as alternate media and the internet. 

But couching the Senate floor action as a non-filibuster against the cloture vote on the Continuing Resolution (House Res. 59) which it’s technically correct, it is smoke and mirrors to confuse the public of the real work. 

The Continuing Resolution is a budget matter.  The Senate had not passed a budget in four years, and so Continuing Resolutions which used prior spending levels as a metric for stop gap funding have been used.  For Fiscal Year 2014, the Senate had not passed any specific appropriation bills and the October 1st  fiscal new year loomed.  

So the House of Representatives passed a Continuing Resolution for two months of funding of all federal programs, save the yet to be implemented Obamacare.  The White House and Senate Democrats under the direction of Senate Majority Leader Reid want to strip the defund Obamacare provision, which many ayes in the House were premised.

The cloture motion was meant to cut off debate.  If passed, Senate rules for budget bills then only allow for 30 hours of debate.  Senator Cruz and other tea party sympathetic conservatives were concerned that Senator Reid would present a clean bill, which stripped the defund Obamacare provision and not allow for any amendments.  

Cruz’s filibuster sought to educate the public of the Senatorial shenanigans.  Cruz alleged that some Republicans wanted to vote for cloture and then vote against final passage.  This DC two step allows what detractors call RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) to say that they voted against the bill, but their vote was a purely symbolic measure and the Democrat majority gets its way to continue to impose an overarching takeover of the health care system (aside from Congress and Federal workers, who were extra juridically exempted by President Obama over specific legislative provisions). 

Progressive political hacks wrung their hands at Senator Cruz’s speechifying, noting that he was wasting valuable time.  Well, then they should be upset at the Majority Leader who blessed the stunt.  Perhaps these advocates of efficiency should focus like a laser beam on Senator Reid’s leadership, which has proven incapable of producing on time budgets for the last five years. 

Tx. State Sen. Wendy Davis during her filibuster June 2013
The same liberal voices who condemn Senator Cruz's "legislative logorrhea" are the same sources who praised Texas State Senator Wendy Davis (D- 10th Fort Worth) who engaged in a quixotic 11 hour filibuster to block the popular Texas SB 5 which restricted abortions after 20 weeks in Texas.   This filibuster ultimately was inconsequential, as the legislation eventually passed in another legislative session.  But Davis stood for what she believed in, educated the public and burnished her political credentials.  The elite liberal media showed Ms. Davis with praise and powder puff interviews.  Yet Senator Cruz will be scourged by the same media as being obstructionist and self interested.  

To echo Hillary Clinton, these Cruz critics decry the “faux" filibuster by effectively saying “What difference, at this point, does it make.”  Obamacare is the law of the land, there were not 40 votes to stop the measure and Cruz did not have control of support of the entirety of his own caucus.  Those sound like compelling talking points for politicos without principle who care more about being on the winning side than doing the right thing for the American people. 

In between renditions of Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham for the Cruz childrens’ storytime, there was probably more substantive debate about Obamacare’s adverse effect on the health care delivery system and retarding economic growth during Cruz’ s filibuster than what occurred when the so called Affordable Care Act was passed by the Senate on Christmas Eve, 2009. 

The filibuster drew more ordinary people outside of the District of Calamity (sic) to pay attention to detailed arguments against than the sweet lies put forth by the  White House and the lapdog Lamestream Media.

While procedurally Senator Cruz's efforts might not amount to much, this is not the only battle to be found in defunding Obamacare.  Even if Senator Reid is successful in passing a Continuing Resolution which strips the defund Obamacare provisions through the Senate, the House must act.  Either the Republican majority in House must acquiesce to Senator Reid's jam down  with a "clean" C.R., the Chambers must  conference or the House can pass another legislative vehicle which the Senate may not approve prior to October 1st.  There are suggestions that revised House legislation might include a one year delay in Obamacare, revoking the Congressional Obamacare exemption,  or approving  XL pipeline, which would be a tough pill for Senate Democrats to swallow. 

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington illustrated how people in the heartland became engaged in a filibuster by dumping an alluvia of telegrams on the Senate floor.  Senator Cruz is hoping that in the internet age, public opinion can be galvanized by social media.  C-SPAN allowed for internet 2.0 peer to peer engagement with Cruz reading Twitter messages on the Senate Floor.  Cruz is counting on alternate media and social media to work around the Lamestream Media and produce a groundswell of support which changes the static between the beltway certainty that an unpopular, flawed law like Obamare can be ramrodded into implementation. 

Senator Cruz's filibuster drew back the curtain on the complacency of the Cocktail Party in both parties between the beltways. The vitriolic reaction that senior Senator John McCain (R-AZ) unleashed against Cruz after stopped speaking reveals his true self. Freshman Senator John Boozman (R-AR) reportedly dressed Cruz down for all the out of state phone calls about Obamacare.   And Senate Minority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to support the renegade rhetoric.  This internecine sniping prompted former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) to note:  "We already have three parties: the Liberal Democrats, the RINO Republicans and 'the good guys.' ". 

Cruz's marathon speech in the Senate also showed some unity amongst the Young Turks.  Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) was instrumental in dissecting the deficiencies and questionable jurisprudential propriety of Obamacare implementation. But what was really impressive was to see how prospective rivals for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination, namely Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), worked together to get the message out about Obamacare and do something, rather than sit back and cast empty symbolic votes.

The nearly day long debate also had a couple of remarkable colloquies with "friends" on the other side of the aisle. A late night discourse between Senator Cruz and Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) showed collegiality and some measure of cooperation on solving Obamacare problems in the future. 

Majority Whip Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) tried two tactics.  In the evening, Durbin's disparaging dialog that a man educated at that nation's best school should know how to count to sixty (referring to the cloture mark) seemed aimed straight for MSNBC video "drop ins".   In the morning, Durbin returned to argue the same sob story using an airplane analogy. Even though Cruz had been on his feet for 18 hours, Cruz used the airplane analogy as a means to show that Congress gets first class medical care with their exemption while little people get less under Obamacare. 

As the Noon hour approached, Senator Cruz offered Majority Leader Reid several unanimous consent proposals to speed up the deliberation process. Majority Leader Reid tried to take Cruz's remaining time away from him by procedure.  Later Reid wanted to ask a question which was more of lambasting argument, which Cruz withdrew his time.  

Finally, Democrat Majority Leader urged Cruz to give up 15 minutes of time to Senator John McCain.  It's a good thing that Cruz did not accede to the latter demand to someone who called him a wacko-bird, as McCain inveighed on his "friend" Cruz

In trying to generate groundswell support in the grassroots, Senator Cruz's filibuster popularized the mantra "Make DC Listen".  This slogan may energize the Tea Party Caucus, possibly be the touchstone of a third party or a Presidential campaign.  Nevertheless, "Make DC Listen" taps into public discontent and shows social media savvy. 

So even though Senator Cruz was not successful in his immediate tactic to prevent cloture on the C.R., we ought to give a flying flip about his filibuster as it may be a harbinger for real change in the District of Calamity (sic). 

20 September 2013

Gauzy Gun Grab Gambits

After the Navy Yard shooting , many are troubled at another massacre in America.  This has inspired progressive politicos to renew efforts to “do something”. 

[L] Gabrielle Giffords [R] Mark Kelly testifying before Congress Feb. 2013
One such source for grabbing guns is the “Americans for Responsible Solutions”, the gun control pressure group created by former Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ 8th) and her husband Mark Kelly.  Giffords  who was critically shot in the head in an assassination attempt in Tuscon, Arizona in January 2011.  Since then the couple has sought to “support the Second Amendment” while “keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people like criminals, terrorists, and the mentally ill.”.

We have disturbing problems - gun crime, mental illness, and the easy access that dangerous people have to guns. But our public officials seem more interested in political theater and special interest threats than in leadership. Congress, you must lead. Come together, take a sober look at the problem, and pass laws that protect our families and communities. Please act. 

How could anyone oppose that?

But as Oscar Wilde observed: “It is always with the best of intentions that the worst work is done.”  Digging deeper into to discern the policy prescriptions,  one discovers that the Americans for Responsible Solutions advocate:

universal background checks
limiting the sale on “assault” weapons
limiting high capacity magazines
stopping gun trafficking

Thus the bromides from Gabby and Mark’s open letter were translated into policies which are political non-starters that are also gauzy gun grabbing forays. 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-CA)  scary gun show and tell
The Assault Weapons Ban bill  which Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) championed in the Senate this Spring included all of those elements to varying degrees.  But S-150 was defeated in the Senate by a 40 to 60 vote.  Even after the Navy Yard shooting, Feinstein is "iffy" on reintroducing the Assault Weapons Ban legislation.  Apparently, Feinstein  thinks that even stricter gun would past the muster.   Feinstein was just one of several pro gun control legislators who used the Navy Yard Massacre as a platform for their political ends.   Alas, several of them pushed their pro-gun control proposals as the Navy Yard incident was still underway. 

While a universal gun background checks  may sound benign, it has a couple of  real world problems, as it won’t work and these universal background checks would evolve into something more sinister. 

 Since 1998, Federal Law requires licensed  gun dealers to do instant background checks and prohibits firearm sales to  criminals, domestic abusers, the seriously mentally ill, and other dangerous people.  What gun control advocates seek is to close the private sale or gun show loophole.  Giffords and Kelly cite Federal statistics that claim that 80% of all inmates got their guns by private means. 

The Federal Government’s report “Firearm Use By Offenders” reveals that nearly 40% of all crime guns come from black market street gun dealers and criminals don’t feel the need to register to be street legal.  Around the same percentage of friends or family members of gun owners commit firearm crimes, similarly circumventing universal background checks.  The amount of guns used in crimes that stem from gun show transactions today is a staggeringly low 0.7%.   

The other problem is the reality that universal background checks will become universal gun  registration.   Obamacare now requires doctors to enquire about guns in a household for many medical check-ups.  As the recent Minnesota data snafu showed, we know how secure this health information is when it goes on your permanent electronic record.  

Attempts to curb prohibited persons such as felons and the mentally infirmed, like the California Armed and Prohibited Persons System (APPS) pilot program seem to have morphed into gun confiscation efforts on ordinary citizens without due process or preventing “scumbags” from possessing firearms.  

The APPS program pounced on people who had not been declared mentally infirmed by the courts, but do you want to argue the point when you have ten armed law enforcement officers unexpectedly at your front door?   Former soldiers are concerned that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder may be used as a justification for depriving them of their Second Amendment rights, even if it was not formally diagnosed or just used as a means to get more VA support when returning from the battlefield.  

Another category of prohibited persons from passing gun checks are “domestic abusers”. One wonders if the false 911 call from George Zimmerman’s estranged wife was a tactic to gain advantage in an unamicable separation thereby depriving her husband of his notorious firearm while ingratiating herself  with the media. 

The vibe from liberal social media circles after the Navy Yard shooting was “Not again” and “Do SOMETHING” which is typically translated to more gun control, because passing a law shows that one cares.  Of course, there is the inconvenient truth that of the 15,700 fugitives that tried to buy guns in 2010, the Obama Administration only prosecuted 44 cases.  If only we would utilize the laws currently in effect instead of pining for panaceas in new legislation.

Another Americans for Reasonable Solutions platitude is about grappling with guns in the hands of the mentally ill.  Instead of concentrating on the weapon, those who are fighting gun violence might focus on a prospective root cause–video games.   What do the mass shooters at the Navy Yards (2013), Sandy Hook (2012), Aurora (2012), Tucson (2011), Virginia Tech (2007) and Columbine (2000) have in common?  The answer is mentally unstable individuals hooked on playing violent video games. What can be done about it?  That’s a good question. 

 When Vice President Joe Biden met with Hollywood and Gaming representatives, he noted that the nexus of video games and gun violence  was a complex problem and there was no “silver bullet”. Considering the 23 initiatives the Obama Administration boasts about taking after Sandy Hook, none dealt with this issue. It’s less problematic to take away Second Amendment rights from law abiding Americans than a politically costly assault on the First Amendment rights of violent video games.  After all, Grand Theft Auto made $800 million on its first day of sales recently.

Even after the Supreme Court Heller decision (2008) , it is almost impossible for an ordinary citizen to own firearms even if one wishes.  Living in the midst of the District of Calamity (sic), one is exposed to shootings on a periodic basis close to home, despite it being a strict gun control jurisdiction.  Of course, it would be worse in Chicagoland.    The Navy Yard shootings were no abstraction as this author knows several people in the line of fire at NAVSEA. 

But in my estimation, clamoring to do just “Do SOMETHING” is imprudent.  While dialoguing with an Americans for Responsible Solutions proponent, I noted that the Remington 870 pump shotgun  which the Navy Yard shooter used was one that was exempted from Senator Feinstein’s "modest proposal" as it is a popular hunting rifle.  My interlocutor interjected “That proves my point–we need to do better”.  It seems that the Swiftian allusion was not well appreciated. But it seemed like no contrary opinions were acceptable for one so convicted.

If the government wanted to do something, then for starters this Administration (and future ones) could enforce the gun laws already on the books with due process not by showy tactical teams in low risk situations.  Alas, after that,  there are not easy answers.  So it is worth having real debate on causes and solutions.  However, Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN 9th) goes on MSNBC and slandered Second Amendment supporters as being "Murderers Row", this does not seem like respectful or introspective civic discourse.  And refusing to respond to point by point challenges on the root causes of mass shootings or the consequences of the “Do SOMETHING” impulse makes it seem like the issue is being cynically stoked to fire up bases for partisan wedge issue politics at the expense of innocents. 

h/t: Nate Beeler

19 September 2013

Celebrating International Talk Like a Pirate Day

Black Sam Bellamy

Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day.  This parodic holiday was dreamt up in 1995 during a racquetball game between John Baur (a.k.a. Ol Chumbucket) and Mark Summers (a.k.a. Cap'n Slappy)

One of us might have been reaching for a low shot that, by pure chance, might have come off the wall at an unusually high rate of speed, and strained something best left unstrained. 'Aaarrr' 

[L] Cap'n Slappy (a.k.a. Mark Summers) and [R] Ol' Chumbucket (John Baur)

In 2002, the pair sent a "message in a bottle"  letter to syndicated columnist Dave Barry who championed and promoted the idea.  Part of the reason that Talk Like a Pirate Day has grown virally is because the faux holiday has not been trademarked, even though Baur and Summers have a website to garner some booty.  John Baur's "pirate" family  also participated in an episode of "Wife Swap" in 2006.

Michigan State Sen. Roger Kahn (R-32 Saginaw Twshp.)
Funny how a farcical pain cry became a parodic holiday.  But believe it or not, the state of Michigan officially recognized Talk Like a Pirate Day as a holiday, with Michigan State Senator Roger Kahn (R- MI 32nd Saginaw Township) introducing the resolution wearing an eyepatch.  Better to pass resolutions for farcical holidays than plundering the taxpayers' pocketbooks or truly taking away their liberty.

If you want to scrawl your own electronic missive to the Talk Like a Pirate Day holiday sponsor, you can contact SenRKahn@senate.michigan.gov.  In the spirit of the holiday, it is suggested to put it in pirate argot. To quickly translate, try using Post Like a Pirate.

18 September 2013

An Uncomfortable Meditation on a Buddhist Killer

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting at the Navy Yards which killed twelve innocent NAVSEA employees and the shooter, people tried to make sense of the tragedy and instill a sense of calm.  Some chose prayer.  Others invoked the knee jerk reaction to grab guns.  It was also tempting to point to a sick society as manifest by violent video game, a societal devaluation of the worth of human life or the rash of untreated mental illness circulating throughout society.

As more details about gunman Aaron Alexis  became public, a contradictory character sketch emerged.  There were plenty of reports of the shooting having having a series of serious mental health and anger management issues.  But this mercurial mien was contrasted by the fact that Alexis allegedly also became a Buddhist.

The Washington Post published a provocative meditation on this intellectual congruity which sought to grapple with the notion of a Buddhist mass murderer.   Clark Strand, a former Buddhist monk, noted Buddhism can seem attractive to “mentally unbalanced people seeking to right the ship of their lives, to self-medicate, to curb their impulses, or to give them a firmer grip on reality.”

One can speculate that the nascent gunman turned to Buddhism for coping meditation techniques but did not delve deeper into the spirituality.   The Daily Beast reports that Alexis was into Buddhism for the Thai women.    Alexis was reportedly dumped by a Thai crush when he traveled to Thailand in April 2013 and asked for a woman's hand in marriage. 

Obviously, killing contravenes the Eightfold Path, but the acquaintances from the Buddhist Meditation Center in Fort, Worth, Texas noted that  Navy Yard killer also had issues with theft, drinking and having too much sex.  It would be safe to say that Alexis was a bad Buddhist. But short of seeing a manifesto from the shooter, we will never know the depths of his Buddhist religious journey. 

Buddhist Ethicist Julian Whitacker postulated that   the meditation opened up a deeper level of pain which had been effectively repressed. This state seems to mirror  the desolation phase of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. 

In the Catholic tradition, Jesuits have the Spiritual Exercises which traditionally involved a thirty  day silent retreat which one meditates by placing oneself with scriptural reflections and discerning what God is telling you.  These meditations are punctuated with daily meetings with a spiritual director.  It took a cannonball injury for St. Ignatius of Loyola to develop this form of meditation, which stemmed from his prolonged convalescence from wounds on the battlefield.  

After Vatican II, the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) heeded the call to rediscover their roots and shared the Spiritual Exercises more with the laity on Annotation 19 Retreats in Daily Life, which can occur over a week or over the course of a year.  St. Ignatius structured the Spiritual Exercises somewhat like a boot camp, so the first “week” breaks a spiritual solider down and really reminds them of their sinfulness.  This is why meditation along with a spiritual director in this tradition is key. Eventually, a retreatant learns to discern what gives desolation (takes one away from God) and consolation (what draws one towards God).   Many have proclaimed that these meditations transform their lives as they realize the depths of the Lord’s love for them and how they can put their revitalized faith into practice.

An anonymous member of the Wat Busaya Dhammavanaram Buddhist congregation in Fort Worth said in regards to Alexis after his killing spree: 

Wat Busaya Dhammavanarm congregation in Fort Worth Texas (photo: Tim Sharp/Reuters)

If it’s a person we knew and we loved, we pray. I have a sadness for what happened. But he wasn’t open enough. If he had talked more about [his problems], we could’ve helped him. The monks could have helped him.

The spokesperson from the Wat Busaya Dhammavanarm Buddhist Center underlines the point that making one's spiritual journey in conjunction with others, particularly when it is filled with suffering and agony, can help.

It will take time to discern the causes of the Navy Yard shooting and what courses of corrective action ought to be taken. The Washington Post meditation on a Buddhist killer is an interesting data point.  It is a reminder that religion is important touchstone for spirits in the material world, but it is not a panacea for mental illness.  Religion can lift spirits and help a soul to think beyond oneself, but it should not be a total substitute for mental health treatments.  

h/t: The Washington Post
  The Daily Beast 

The Devil's In the Details on the Choice Between Christ and the Government Cheese

[L] Kay Daly, Executive Director of Christian Family Ministry (photo: Suwaunee Valley Times)

Fox News Radio's Todd Starnes reported how Christian  Service Center of Lake City Florida is being forced between choosing Jesus or Government Cheese.  For 31 years, this north  Florida ministry had been providing food the the hungry without controversy.  But when a state government worker showed up to negotiate  an agreement , Christian Service Ministry Executive Director Kay Daley was told that a "slight change" in the contract.  Now the governmental guidelines about where USDA food is distributed, there can be no religious information under the premise of "the separation of church and state". 

The Executive Order for Equal Protection of Faith Based and Community Organizations is supposed to allow governmental assistance as long as the religious activity does not create a barrier to individuals receiving their governmental assistance.   Yet the Christian Service Center was told that they were prohibited from distributing Bibles but this ban religious information that included  religious decorations, like "Jesus is Lord" banners and a copy of the Ten Commandments, where ever  USDA food is distributed.  Hence Stern's characterization of choosing Jesus or government cheese.

The organization asked if they needed to change their name from the Christian Service Ministry to comply and they were told no, but no praying, mentioning of chapel, distributing Bibles or beign around religious decoration.  The Christian Service Ministry chose to forgo USDA assistance in their ministering to the hungry.  Kay Daly mused:

“If God can multiply fish and loaves for 10,000 people, he can certainly bring in food for our food pantry so we can continue to feed the hungry.”

The Christian Service Ministry decided that they were a Christian ministry, which included helping people in need by praying with them, providing the Good News, worshiping and providing physical nutrition without government "help" and interference.  Other churches are reportedly pitching in the fill the void from the governmental help in feeding the hungry was withdrawn.  

President George W. Bush
Media Matters sought to mollify this righteous indigation from the right by arguing that George W. Bush did it and provided links to the Executive Order.  While it is true that the original ExecutiveOrder 13279 from December 12, 2002 does provide some guidelines for faith based organizations receiving governmental aid, the progressive media "watchdog" failed to include a link to President Obama's extensiveamendment to the Executive Order in 2010.   The devil in the details is understanding what the streamlined new legislative language means

There were major changes in sections 2(e) which was the provision that mandated that faith based organizations must conducting religious activity at a separate time or place than the federallly funded social service program.  This clause reminded the governement that it had to abide by the Free Speech and Equal Protection Clause when administering Federal Programs. 

In the Obama Amended Section 2(e) the Federal government is tasked with monitoring and enforcing "standards regarding the relationship between religion and government in ways that avoid excessive entanglement between religious bodies and governmental entities.  So the emphasis is taken away from faith based organizations complying with the prohibition on proselizing to federal aid recipients to the Federal government acting as referee to ensure that
Excessive entanglements are avoided.  

So despite retaining the Free Speech and Equal Protection language, the avoiding excessive entanglement clause in the amended 2(e) makes moot a faith based organizations First Amendment rights, as a blanket prohibition of religious information treats all equally when operating as an agency of the government.

There were more significant changes in the amended 2(f) clause which originally prohibited faith base organizations from using federal funds for inherently religious activity.  The 2010 Executive Order re-write severed the connection with section 2(e) as well as dropping mentions of Free Speech and Equal Protection. While the revised section 2(f) is more concisely composed, it recasts the clause as a bright line rule for separate time or location, without  the clarifying examples or the intent to emphasis to protect the independent spiritual mission of faith based ministries which engage in social services. 

So the Christian Service Ministry was probably within their legal rights to conduct their social service ministry in their own space, but since a federal functionary did not probably interpret the lawcorrectly (and understands this Administration), it would cost big bucks to litigate to keep federal funds flowing to feed the hungry. No wonder why the Christian Service Ministry chose to forgo their cut of the Government Cheese.

Nevertheless, as Bob Dylan put it: "You don't need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows." The Obama Administration has been hostile for respecting the free exercise of religion, as has been seen in the HHS Qualified Health Plan(Contraception) Mandate arguing that the Freedom of Religion means the Freedom of Worship--so believe whatever you want in the pews but that respect ends at the church doors. Ministers are now routinely barred from mass casualtysituations like the Boston Marathon bombing, for fear of the separation of church and state.  This is a fundamental misunderstanding of Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Church of 1802 and is a reaction to aggressive atheism in small segments of the American polity.

11 September 2013

On Ministering in Tragedy

As America commemorates the 12th anniversary of the jihadist terror attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, one of the iconic images which personalized the atrocity was the photo of Father Mychal Judge, OFM.   Fr. Judge was a 68 year old Franciscan Friar who was the pastor at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Manhattan as well as being a chaplain for the New York Fire Department since 1994.

After the World Trade Center was burning from the plane bombs which were deliberately flown into the office towers, Fr. Judge rushed to the scene of the attacks to minister to those in need. [Editor's Note - Fr. Judge was not mortally wounded while administering last rites but from falling debris standing alongside his Firefighting Brothers on the World Trade Center grounds]


After administering last rites to an injured firefighter, Fr. Judge was struck by falling debris and killed.  Fr. Judge was the first recorded fatality following the terror attack. Some have dubbed the image of five emergency workers carrying the remains of the fallen Fr. Judge as the "American Pietà"

Fr. Judge's example of heroic ministry to those in their time of need is an excellent counter-example to the trend of barring clergy at mass casualty events.  After the Boston Bombing on Patriots Day 2013, priests in adjacent parishes rushed to the scene of the Boston Marathon Massacre to anoint the dying, but  police refused  them access to the bomb victims. As eight year old Martin Richard lay dying from shrapnel from the pressure cooker bomb, two priests were denied access to the scene, which may have prevented him from receiving Last Rites.

While Fr. Tom Curzon, OMV, who was one of the priests turned away from the Boston Marathon Bombing, later said that he understood that:

They [law enforcement] were trying to keep safe a very unstable, chaotic area. Even the police who were there on the perimeter, they had no idea what was behind them. All they knew was that they needed to clear out the area, and they had no idea how much they themselves were standing in harm's way.

The clergy who rushed to minister to the bombing casualties resorted to set up a table to distribute fruit and water to those who approached them.

While safely securing a perimeter by law enforcement makes sense, it is premised on the presumably unimpeachable "safety" provision.  This ignores decades of tradition where ministers worked side by side with what we would today call emergency workers to do their spiritual work. Asymmetrical warfare and terror  tactics may provoke some caution in emergencies, but priests and ministers have long heeded Christ's exhortation that: “No greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15: 13), especially in emergencies.

Sixty years after his death,  Fr. Emil Kapaun, an Army Chaplain was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery on the battlefield and in prison camp during the Korean War.  When his commanders ordered an evacuation of their position, Fr. Kapaun stayed with the wounded, comforting the injured and the dying.  In prison camp, his comfort and ministering, Fr. Kapaun's faith was instrumental.  As President Barack Obama put it during the presentation of the medal:

That faith -- that they might be delivered from evil, that they could make it home -- was perhaps the greatest gift to those men; that even amidst such hardship and despair, there could be hope; amid their misery in the temporal they could see those truths that are eternal; that even in such hell, there could be a touch of the divine. Looking back, one of them said that that is what “kept a lot of us alive.”

Even though Fr. Kapaun was ministering to the military on the battlefield, the virtues of giving hope to those in their time of despair and caring for the spiritual health of their souls at a time of trauma. 

 While there certainly is a security element in the impetus to bar ministers from mass casualty circumstances, it may also be an imposition of secular civics, either out of political correctness or atheist over-expansion of the "separation of church and state".

On September 10th, 2001, Fr. Judge gave what turned out to be his final homily to firefighters. Fr. Judge's  peroration  was focused on firemen, but his words ring true to ministers in a mass casualty situation:

What great people.  We love the job.  We all do.  What a blessing that is.  A difficult, difficult job and God calls you to it.  And then He gives you a love for it so that a difficult job will be well done.  Isn't He a wonderful God?  Isn't He good to you?  To each one of you?  And to me!  Turn to Him each day.  Put your faith and your trust and your hope and your life in His hands, and He'll take care of you and you'll have a good life.
Fr. Judge embodied that exhortation.  A prayer was found in the pocket of the fallen New York Fire Department's Chaplain which has been put on plaques and prayer cards and epitomizes the call of ministry.