Jul 24

Who are they, and where do they stand?

In the course of the past week, we saw the entire Republican convention play out with the formal nomination of Donald Trump and his acceptance speech laying out his vision and plans if elected. And we’re about to see the Democratic convention unfold, as Hilary Clinton is officially nominated candidate and formally accepts on the final night. These are historic events, we’ve often been reminded in this election cycle. But while there’s a certain ‘first ever’ historic nature in the two candidates, the reality of their party platforms and their individual visions for America—what, at the end of the day, they actually stand for and they would actually do in the Oval Office—is what America must (or should) consider now that we’ve heard Trump and prepare to hear Clinton.

In the course of the last week, we also learned the running-mates of the two candidates. While neither Trump nor Clinton are, or ever were Catholic, the two running-mates have significant connections to the Catholic Church. Trump V.P. pick Mike Pence, Governor of Indiana, was raised as a Catholic, but is  now a devout Evangelical Christian. Clinton choice Tim Kaine, U.S. Senator from Virginia, is a Catholic who worked as a missionary with the Jesuits in Latin America and, according to his Pastor, still actively practices the faith.

However, it’s only on the actual position of a person—what they espouse and what they promise to do—that American citizens can make a choice. And while the Democratic ticket has the only Catholic in the race, and the Republic ticket has been called the most “anti-Catholic” in recent history (especially given Trump’s verbal spat with Pope Francis over his trademark promise to build a Wall, a promise the candidate repeated in his recent keynote speech at the Republic Convention), when it comes to life issues across the spectrum—from the womb to natural death—the platforms could not be more different.

The Democrats’ has never been more pro-abortion, (USA Today claims ‘anti-abortion’ Democrats are outraged over it) and the Republicans’ has never been more pro-life.

Divisions are clear in this particular election year. None, perhaps, more clearly so than here.

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Jul 19

In the words of a trauma surgeon on the triage and treatment of officers hit by a gunman in Dallas.

And Dallas was the first of three nearly back to back police targeted assassinations in the past week. It describes yet another national nightmare.

Adding to what Barbara Kay reports well here, I have to commend Dallas police chief David Brown for telling the press and the world that he believes officers in his city and nationwide are under too much strain. It deserves more focus of attention.

“We’re asking cops to do too much in this country,” Brown said at a briefing Monday. “We are. Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it. … Schools fail, let’s give it to the cops. … That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.”

As Brown spoke in Dallas, five officers had been killed, nine others injured from the gunfire.

Brown said he and other officers were frustrated by what police are being forced to do while lawmakers fail to seek solutions to the country’s violence…

He also said that if he were confronted with the same perceived problems that have prompted demonstrations across the country, “I probably wouldn’t protest or complain. I’d get involved and do something about it, by becoming part of the solution.”

Brown later leveled a direct challenge to demonstrators: “We’re hiring. Get off that protest line and put an application in.”

Over these tremendously difficult days, I watched and heard Gregory Thomas, President of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives on CNN and asked him to be my guest on radio. Our brief conversation was helpful in explaining what community policing is, and our role in it. Homeland Security has the well known and well worn saying ‘when you see something, say something.’ Too many people don’t, maybe mostly because of fear or political correctness. But after so many terrorist attacks, DHS has repeated lately that they certainly want us to, and police do as well. If we see suspicious characters and activity, or worse, and say nothing, we’re part of the problem.

We own this if we don’t speak up and don’t engage in community awareness and involvement. The officer patrolling your neighborhood represents the entire police force to you, just as the citizens he or she encounters there represent your community to the police force. Our failed community structures, broken families, and fatherless homes, leave the police strained with more of the consequences of social dysfunction and personal actions unmoored from choices taught with moral authority in the home and in churches. Black pastors have told this story for decades, more so in the past several years.

In the past several days, we’ve been rocked by targeted police assassinations, another one on Tuesday in Kansas City, Kansas. “Right now we just need to be in prayer”, for the officer’s family and the police department, said Mayor Mark Holland. “Not only in this department but everywhere in our country. And prayer for our communities. Our communities are broken right now. “My encouragement is we not go down a path of fear and conclusions and hatred, but we go down a path of thoughtful, prayerful reflection about what we can all do to make our communities safer.”

Something I wrote here after the Ferguson events came back to me while hearing authorities respond to these shootings of the past week.

Dr. Ben Carson said that what changed him from an angry and aggressive young man was that his mother made him read books, and he read about people of accomplishment. “What I came to understand is that the person who has the most to do with what happens to you in life, it’s you. It’s not the environment and it’s not somebody else. […] we must re-instill the can-do attitude in America not the ‘what can you do for me’ what ‘have you done for me’ attitude,” Carson said.

He challenged Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton to declare, calmly, what solution they’re looking for, what they want to happen.

…Sharpton changed course to address his black listeners directly. “We’ve got to be straight up in our community, too,” he said. “We have to be outraged at a 9-year-old girl killed in Chicago. We have got to be outraged by our disrespect for each other, our disregard for each other, our killing and shooting and running around gun-toting each other, so that they’re justified in trying to come at us because some of us act like the definition of blackness is how low you can go.”

“Blackness has never been about being a gangster or a thug,” Sharpton continued. “Blackness was, no matter how low we was pushed down, we rose up anyhow.”

Sharpton went on to describe blacks working to overcome discrimination, to build black colleges, to establish black churches, to succeed in life. “We never surrendered,” Sharpton said. “We never gave up. And now we get to the 21st century, we get to where we’ve got some positions of power.

Many are in the role of Police Chief.

This poignant account by Dallas Police chief David Brown has a power unto itself, and ended with this account of yet another funeral.

In front of the lectern sat families of the dead. Several wrapped their arms around young children and others swallowed back tears as emotional tributes were delivered by fellow police officers.

“My partner goes home before I do,” said Jaime Castro, the partner of Lorne Ahrens. “I know you’re listening, brother. And I want you to know that I was there outside the window by your side to see you take your final breath. You weren’t alone. I had your back, as you always had ours.

Which gets to the power of Commander in Chief. In an open letter to the nation’s law enforcement officers on Tuesday, President Obama, finally, issued a message of support for police under siege in a national crisis. He mourned the loss of life among the men and women in blue, thanked them for their service in the face of danger, and called for national unity.

“Every day, you confront danger so it does not find our families, carry burdens so they do not fall to us, and courageously meet test after test to keep us safe. Like Dallas officer Lorne Ahrens, who bought dinner for a homeless man the night before he died, you perform good deeds beyond the call of duty and out of the spotlight. Time and again, you make the split-second decisions that could mean life or death for you and many others in harm’s way. You endure the tense minutes and long hours over lifetimes of service.

“Every day, you accept this responsibility and you see your colleagues do their difficult, dangerous jobs with equal valor. I want you to know that the American people see it, too. We recognize it, we respect it, we appreciate it, and we depend on you. And just as your tight-knit law enforcement family feels the recent losses to your core, our Nation grieves alongside you. Any attack on police is an unjustified attack on all of us. …

“Even when some protest you, you protect them. What is more professional than that? What is more patriotic? What is a prouder example of our most basic freedoms—to speech, to assembly, to life, and to liberty? And at the end of the day, you have a right to go home to your family, just like anybody else.”‘

Obama finally acknowledged that law enforcement officers need backing, with both resources and “our full-throated support,” to do their jobs. And he said law enforcement shouldn’t be held responsible for solving “issues we refuse to address as a society.”

That was huge, for this president.

As was this call for unity:

“Some are trying to use this moment to divide police and the communities you serve. I reject those efforts, for they do not reflect the reality of our Nation.”

His letter ends:

“We are at our best when we recognize our common humanity, set an example for our children of trust and responsibility, and honor the sacrifices of our bravest by coming together to be better.

“Thank you for your courageous service. We have your backs.”

It’s about time. This is what our law enforcement community needs to hear from us. Because they certainly have ours, at all costs.

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Jul 14

Do we have race problems? Police problems? Both? What can be done?

Turn on the TV or open the newspaper in America today and you will see a dialogue—perhaps overdue—about social themes of the importance of human lives, racial equality, respect for the law, the rights of people to speak their voices, and whether or not we, as Americans, are as divided as we seem. These issues have come up with a certain strength today in America due to the confluence of at least three major events—two concerning a police-involved shooting, and one concerning a home-grown terrorist who sought to assassinate white police officers—within a few days. However, they are not new. In Chicago alone, the tension over police-related cases has resulted in the firing of the Chicago Police Chief and nearly cost the Mayor of Chicago his job.

However, while the discussion is over major social, cultural and political trends, Gregory Thomas, President of the (US) National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), reminds us that all policing is local, as he told me on radio Thursday.

It’s an unfortunate tide of events that have occurred in the past week, like getting hit in the gut three times. Shot on video, we had two police shootings, and the third event being the Dallas shooting of police officers. It doubled the nation over. So now we’re sitting here in pain, and it happened on consecutive days. We’re making it a national issue, but it’s a local issue.

While the reality is that about 95 percent of police are doing the right thing, that means five percent aren’t, and it’s all local. So if the cop on my block will stop me in my vehicle and harrass my kids, then that’s the whole police department to me. I don’t know what the other 99 are doing.

What a law enforcement officer is doing, and what a citizen is doing, in any given moment, is at the center of these terrible events.

It’s an important point lost in much of the rhetoric: each of these cases involve individual decisions of people in very different circumstances. It was the decision of an officer in Falcon Heights, Minnesota to pull over Philandro Castile. It was the decision of Mr. Castile and the decision of the Officer that led to the shooting. It was the decision of Mr. Castile’s girlfriend that led to the aftermath being filmed, uploaded on the internet, which led to a series—perhaps tens of thousands—of other decisions of how to react to that video. It was the decision of religious officials to honor his mother’s request to hold a funeral for him in the Catholic Cathedral of St. Paul, Minnesota, and it was the decision of the family not to invite the media to that funeral.

The current events, on the one hand, point out that there is significant tension under the surface in America over the relationship between members of certain racial groups and the police. This tension, however, cannot be simplified since the members of all those same groups are also members of the police. We cannot forget that an Asian and a Hispanic police officer were the victims of the shooting in New York last year. And we should not forget that an African-American mother was also injured in the shooting of the white police officers in Dallas last week.

On the other hand, the current events conceal the individual nature of these choices. The Dallas shooter, as President Obama pointed out, most certainly does not represent all Black Lives Matter protesters. The same must be said for the cases of police abuse of power. Those individuals who abuse their power, or who make wrong decisions, must be held accountable. What will not help on this front is when the decision of one, or some, is attributed to a broader group. And yet, the principle that all policing is local reminds us that people form opinions—and opinions are decisions in the mind—based on what they see and experience.

If the events recently in America teach us anything, they should first show us the great need for a serious dialogue that seeks to bring all people to equal treatment before the law, as well as reminding us that every decision we make in our individual lives—be it a police officer carrying out his beat, or a business person at his desk—carries ramifications well beyond that individual, and, in a way, impacts the social fabric of which we are all part.

We have to decide who we want to be, and what we’ll do to achieve that goal in our lives, homes, communities and nation.

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Jul 06

It’s what you can get away with that matters now.

That was proven, yet again, by FBI Director James Comey’s long-awaited remarks Tuesday summing up the bureau’s investigation into and findings on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s rogue email server operation.

Even the New York Times didn’t hold back.

Hillary Clinton may not be indicted on criminal charges over her handling of classified email, but the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, all but indicted her judgment and competence on Tuesday – two vital pillars of her presidential candidacy – and in the kind of terms that would be politically devastating in a normal election year.

The silver lining for Mrs. Clinton is that this is not a normal election year.

This is really some piece.

Mrs. Clinton’s campaign is built on the premise that she has the national security experience and well-honed instincts to keep Americans safe in the age of terrorism, and that Donald J. Trump does not. Nearly every day, she seeks to present herself as a more thoughtful and responsible leader.

She has spent months describing Mr. Trump as “reckless,” “unprepared” and “temperamentally unfit” to be president, and she has presented her four years as secretary of state and eight in the senate as unparalleled preparation for becoming commander in chief.

Yet in just a few minutes of remarks, Mr. Comey called into question Mrs. Clinton’s claims of superiority more memorably, mightily and effectively than Mr. Trump has over the past year. And with potentially lasting consequences.

This was a major indictment, without being quite an indictment, in official terms.

This NRO piece explains, with great clarity, restraint and unusual charity for political discourse.

There is no way of getting around this: According to Director James Comey (disclosure: a former colleague and longtime friend of mine), Hillary Clinton checked every box required for a felony violation of Section 793(f) of the federal penal code (Title 18): With lawful access to highly classified information she acted with gross negligence in removing and causing it to be removed it from its proper place of custody, and she transmitted it and caused it to be transmitted to others not authorized to have it, in patent violation of her trust. Director Comey even conceded that former Secretary Clinton was “extremely careless” and strongly suggested that her recklessness very likely led to communications (her own and those she corresponded with) being intercepted by foreign intelligence services. Yet, Director Comey recommended against prosecution of the law violations he clearly found on the ground that there was no intent to harm the United States.

Why? How did it come to this?

In essence, in order to give Mrs. Clinton a pass, the FBI rewrote the statute, inserting an intent element that Congress did not require. The added intent element, moreover, makes no sense: The point of having a statute that criminalizes gross negligence is to underscore that government officials have a special obligation to safeguard national defense secrets; when they fail to carry out that obligation due to gross negligence, they are guilty of serious wrongdoing. The lack of intent to harm our country is irrelevant.

Read this whole piece carefully, it captures the essence of what went on here.

It is a common tactic of defense lawyers in criminal trials to set up a straw-man for the jury: a crime the defendant has not committed. The idea is that by knocking down a crime the prosecution does not allege and cannot prove, the defense may confuse the jury into believing the defendant is not guilty of the crime charged. Judges generally do not allow such sleight-of-hand because innocence on an uncharged crime is irrelevant to the consideration of the crimes that actually have been charged. It seems to me that this is what the FBI has done today. It has told the public that because Mrs. Clinton did not have intent to harm the United States we should not prosecute her on a felony that does not require proof of intent to harm the United States. Meanwhile, although there may have been profound harm to national security caused by her grossly negligent mishandling of classified information, we’ve decided she shouldn’t be prosecuted for grossly negligent mishandling of classified information.

(Emphasis added.)

Yes, it’s as convoluted as it sounds. But read it for what it says, which is clear.

I have just returned from a two week family vacation in Europe, right smack at the time of the Brexit referendum and the start of the fallout from that. And also in the area when Austria and Italy have been going through political spasms along with more of the globe than one detects within the US borders.

But returning home just before Independence Day weekend, with celebrations of what freedom means and how hard fought it was won, promised to be fortifying. However, with back to back terrorist attacks happening abroad just after returning and the national search for a leader in the U.S. taking on increased gravity, only to have old school politicking carrying news cycles over the Fourth of July weekend involving the Clintons, the Justice Department and the FBI, followed by Comey’s backhanded exoneration of Mrs. Clinton, it was deflating.

Or, at least a reminder that the greatness, honor, leadership, strength and character we seek and need must come from us and not some candidate of a political party. It is a time of upheaval alright. Let’s focus on where our treasure really is – on our communities, our families, ourselves – to do what is right and good and true, and make a coalition to raise the bar on what is necessary for a just, virtuous and humane society.

And then hold politicians who seek higher office to rise to higher standards.

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Jun 13

Grand understatement.

But that’s what Former Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI Danny Coulson said when a news show anchor asked his initial thoughts during the ongoing reporting of the terror attack in Orlando, Florida early Sunday, as events continued to unfold there and the events were still very fluid.

‘A really tough day for America.’ In fact, it was the worst mass shooting in American history. It was the latest attack in the war jihadists have waged on us and the rest of the world that is not them. We need, our government and the international community needs, to understand this and not use other language and excuses for it.

A terrorist who pledged allegiance to ISIS went on a rampage at a gay nightclub in Orlando, targeting gays. Only a day later,  groups and spokespersons and leaders of organizations issued responses and statements to denounce and blame others – Christianity and ‘extreme masculinity’ among other target groups – without seeing the irony of targeting groups who were not them.

This provides us the opportunity crises usually do to pull together as a unified body of citizens, within a community and nation, and globally a union of people of goodwill, to stand for the good and resolve to remove the evil, which is at work everywhere to remove us in its path to power.

Profiles of the attacker continued to add details, including that someone who knew him said ‘he hated gays, women, blacks, Christians…’ Groups that use this attack to blame other groups in America only lend support to the terrorist group to which this attacker and the San Bernardino attackers and the Fort Hood attacker and others have done, by pledging allegiance to ISIS to destroy everyone who is not them.

The New York Times reports that

Influencing distant attackers to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State and then carry out mass murder has become a core part of the group’s propaganda over the past two years.

And how are they doing this, generating this propaganda? They are masterful at using social media to appeal to, recruit and indoctrinate young men (and women) to their ideology and militant cause.

So Charles Krauthammer has some sensible advice, directed at that fact, stated clearly and in brief:

There’s only one way to go after this, and that is the Osama bin Laden theory – and he knew about jihadism – of the strong horse and the weak horse.

I think…ultimately, the only way to decrease recruitment is not with logic, not with argument, not with really clever programmers who know how to do Twitter. It is by defeating the jihadists or showing them retreat.

These movements only grow when they have a sense of inevitability and growth. Once they’re in retreat, people stop recruiting. They’re not going to die in a suicide attack for a movement that is not advancing. And that means attacking ISIS where it is.

Showing them in retreat means changing policy to put them into retreat, then using social media to show that they’re not winning and not growing, anymore.

It’s time to make it a really tough day for the terrorists. Every attack in recent years was said to be a ‘game changer’. But it never was. It’s time for the end game now, before more mass casualties of innocent civilians, more genocide in other lands farther away, while there is new resolve.

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Jun 08

Fracture.

There are as many ways to say what this means for America as there are Americans, though most people are baffled and couldn’t answer the question of how the primary season of Election 2016 began and ended as it did.

To recall (it seems so long ago now), that long season started out with a wide field of Republican candidates of different strengths and weaknesses entering primary season many months ago, and wound up with perhaps the least likely one of all as the party nominee. And the Democratic Party’s two candidates were longtime Washington insiders in an anti-establishment climate, though Sen. Bernie Sanders convincingly represented himself as the oustsiders’ candidate.

On the final primary day of 2016, Hillary Clinton prevailed to become the Democratic nominee, and Donald Trump had already arrived as the Republican candidate weeks ago. This is about as unlikely as it gets.

Of all the commentaries and analyses out there to date, one of the most incisive and clarifying accounts comes from Yuval Levin and his new book The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism.

Some highlights from his book, and the conversation I had with him on radio this week…

One of his main themes and central points is that American party politics is stuck in nostalgia for an earlier time when each party believed things were good, or as they should be, and should be again now. For the Democrats, he says, it’s 1965, for Republicans, it’s 1981.

“There’s a sense that everything is breaking down, that America doesn’t work like it used to,” he told me. “The defining theme is that America is not what it used to be. The middle of the 20th Century is the time most people in politics are most nostalgic for now.”

I asked him about his book’s reversal of the perception that we’re in the start of a new phase of American politics, whereas he contends we’re experiencing the end of the last one. “It is the last gasp of an exhausted and nostalgic baby-boomer politics”, he claims.

“So now we have this political situation with two 70 year old candidates yelling at each other over the best way to go backward,” he told me. “And it’s very hard to imagine that as the beginning of the next phase of American politics. In this election we’re seeing the crashing of the baby-boomer centered approach to political life. The question is really what comes next.”

Well put.

Levin continues: “Our problems are distinct to this moment. We would do much better to empower problem solvers throughout the country instead of looking to one leader or a handful. Power has been flowing upward toward Washington. But we have a better chance of addressing problems if we allowed power to flow through communities and institutions. Family, community, church, school, civic institutions.”

Refreshing ideas, and proven to be true from the past, ironically. “The more public policy can be decentralized, the better the hope that it’s going to be more effective, more in line with our Constitution, more in line with what’s going to work better,” he continued. “Most people are persuaded that the way our government works now is not working.The way politics have been handled results in absurdities like the president of the United States deciding who should use which bathrooms in schools.”

Solving problems at the most local level is known, in social teaching, as subsidiarity, and Levin points to that as the ideal. “One thing we do now is embody this idea that the solutions are going to come from our communities,” he said. “Take care of our own problems directly, not wait for someone else. Take, embody and populate institutions that take on problems directly. There’s a great passage in Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville that says ’When there are problems to be solved, Americans don’t fold their arms and wait for an official to show up, they take it upon themselves’. That’s the spirit we need to have in this election.

Levin says the struggle for religious liberty is central for subsidiarity in this society. “There’s such resistance from the government to allow institutions that embody the moral impulse to take care of things in this country” he said. “This must be fought at the local level.”

However, a convincing pragmatism helps. “It’s important that we who think we have solutions need to make them attractive to political leaders and our fellow voters,” Levin added. “In order to make them politically powerful, you first have to make them attractive to your neighbors. And then your political leaders.”

Start now, if you haven’t already. There may be months left, but they’re going fast. And the year has proven that anything can happen. Even, and especially, the unforeseen.

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May 31

We needed the occasion, to remember in America, and with our friends abroad, what greatness is.

We needed it to celebrate honor, duty, service and sacrifice in such a year as this. It fell just about halfway through this contentious, dishonorable, politically charged and pivotal election year, so it would be nice if it were more of an opportunity to re-ground ourselves in what we just celebrated, than to let the day go by as a wonderful recall of noble heroism embodied in countless acts of virtue, of ‘grace under pressure’, impulsively carried out to serve or save another without hesitation or concern that it may be a final act in the life of that hero, who only thought they were doing the right thing.

‘The right thing’ has become a political calculus these days, ‘right’ being as redefined as so many other terms in our shared social life, as if there were no moral compass and objective natural law of what we ought to do and what we can’t not know, apart from the dictates of the culture of relativism as manifested in media, law and politics.

Everywhere I turned and looked on Memorial Day weekend seemed more filled than ever with witnesses to greatness in acts of goodness, displays of loving gratitude, celebrations of appreciation for the ultimate act of service for a single other person, groups of others, or countless populations of others, sometimes in a split-second decision to take that action, out of the impulse to protect and to save.

Here are two examples.

On my radio program, I had the opportunity to feature three individuals in two wars. Adam Makos told me about the story of Tom Hudner and Jesse Brown, two great friends and Navy pilots in the Korean War, a story that fills the pages of Makos’ book Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship and Sacrifice.

“On December 4th, 1950, the Korean War had turned very dire. We had 10,000 U.S. Marines surrounded by 100,000 Chinese communist troops at a place called the Chosin Reservoir, way up in northern North Korea. Men like Tom and Jesse would fly [from their nearby naval carrier ships] to give air support to the Marines. They would drop bombs and strafe, and that’s when Jesse Brown was shot down. He was hit by a bullet from the ground, from a Chinese soldier, and he crash-landed in the only place he could — on the side of a North Korean mountain.”

Brown’s wingman, Tom Hudner, witnessed what happened, and then saw smoke rising from the nose of Jesse’s plane, which lay 13 miles behind enemy lines. Hudner said, “I’m going in.” All the other pilots remained silent.

Makos continued, “Tom knew his friend was about to die, and he was willing to give his own life to try to change that. With his wheels up, Tom circled around and came to a skidding, screeching stop alongside of Jesse’s plane. Tom got out into that deep snow and set out to try to save his friend’s life. It had never happened before; it has never happened since.”

Among the many extraordinary lessons in this story is the transcendent nature of friendship, human dignity and faith. Discrimination in society over race, religion, background and economic class falls away in war, the great and terrible equalizer. It is life lived at its absolute essence, informed by a powerful transcendent belief, that emerges in all the accounts of war heroes.

That was personified in the service and witness of Fr. Vincent Capodanno, Marine Chaplain who served in the Vietnam War and lost his life in the most extraordinary acts of ministering to dying men during a firefight that exposed him to mortal danger. I featured his story on that Memorial Day program as well, but it barely scratched the surface of a profoundly deep belief in and dedication to the care of others, body and soul, who are in front of you in whatever circumstances you’re in, and theses were dire.

The whole account is in The Grunt Padre, the fuller account of Fr. Capodanno’s service and sacrifice in detail, during his time in Vietnam 1966-1967. Christ Stefanick does a good job summarizing it in this video.

Some snips:

He knew that where the fighting was thickest, is where a chaplain might be needed the most.

One marine said

“He just gave me a look like ‘don’t worry, it’s going to be okay’.” Then the gas started getting lobbed, and Fr. Capodanno refused to take the Marine’s gas mask. “He said ‘no, you need it more than I do’. At that moment, he was just gone from my view.”

A marine was hit with shrapnel. When Fr. Capdanno got to him, “a bubble of peace descended around him. All he heard was his voice: ‘God is with us all this day. Someone will be here soon to help you.’ Fr. Capodanno was always able to see the crisis of the moment from an eternal perspective…Capodanno didn’t survive that day. He was running to minister to a medic who was shot, just yards from the machine gunner who had targeted him. He was shot 27 times in the back. He died in a field in Vietnam with that medic.

The excerpt from The Grunt Padre about that final assault is profound. It’s what Corporal Ray Harton recalls in a powerful testimony of Fr. Capodanno’s final minutes. Harton was hit repeatedly in the battle after “the carnage started”.

I don’t know how long I lay there. I found myself getting weaker and could see the North Vietnamese soldiers moving in on us…I thought everyone else was dead. I prayed to God, for I knew I was bleeding to death…I expected a bullet or bayonet at any moment. As I closed my eyes, someone touched me. When I opened my eyes, he looked directly at me. It was Father Capodanno. Everything got still: no noise, no firing, no screaming. A peace came over me that is unexplainable to this day. In a quiet and calm voice, he cupped the back of my head and said, “Stay quiet, Marine. You will be OK. Someone will be here to help you soon. God is with us all this day.”

As Stefanick notes, Fr. Capodanno didn’t survive the day. But his service and witness are beyond extraordinary.

And so were those told by others throughout the Memorial Day weekend, in so many ways and places, from the Mall of Washington events honoring service members in different wars, to tributes published and broadcast in so many outlets. Many note that it’s a memorial held beyond US borders.

Like this one in Cambridge, England.

And this one in France.

Taking it all in, allowing ourselves to be filled with gratitude for so many individuals who so nobly gave everything they had for another human being, and inspiration that these countless stories are being continued in so many ways today in battles to save endangered populations from extinction, villages and towns and refugee camps from assault and violence, and the most vulnerable human beings from enslavement, trafficking, torture and death, we should be filled with hope.

And that each of us has the power of greatness within us to serve the common good, and the responsibility to do what’s in our reach each day, without looking for a savior in politics. The sooner we do, the less we’ll believe that making America great, or ‘getting’ hope and change, relies on a politician or someone running for political office.

It relies on each and all of us.

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May 25

At least a third of them turned against abortion.

What caused that?

This.

When faced with the reality of the abortion procedure, many people who are pro-choice change their minds instantly. A video put out by Live Action shows former abortionist Dr. Anthony Levantino describing and showing the process of a second-trimester (13-24 weeks of pregnancy) surgical abortion procedure. Dr. Levantino has preformed over 1,200 abortions and explains in detail how babies are ripped apart limb by limb in these procedures.

It’s a roughly 4 minute video, with the procedure part done in medical animation instead of graphic photos, plainly and simply stating the facts and showing what’s done in an abortion.

Live Action approached people on the street and asked them if they were pro-choice. To those that said yes, even up to the point of birth, they showed Dr. Levatino’s video of the procedure. After watching the video, the people who claimed to be pro-choice changed their minds on the spot. They admitted they were unaware of how developed babies are at this point in pregnancy and described the video as “inhumane.”

Live Action President Lila Rose told me on radio Wednesday that many people who identify as ‘pro-choice’ and accept the abortion movement’s language and rhetoric about rights and women’s health don’t really know what abortion is or does, they just don’t know what this is about. Until they see it so clearly explained. “It’s a medical narrative they see in the video, precisely accurate, done in medical animation, with Dr. Levatino explaining,” she told me. “They make the emotional and mental connection when they see the video.” A connection they never made before, never having had the opportunity or occasion to learn the truth.

“We’re strategically getting in front of people and showing them the truth, with authority and gravity, in a huge effort to educate people about abortion” Lila told me. The project assumes the best about people, that they believe what they do based on misconceptions about the topic and issues and realities. Giving them that benefit of the doubt, and the opportunity on a hand held video device to see a brief video for their consideration, the Live Action team found that most people took the occasion to watch it and respond. In the short time it’s been posted, over 43 million people have viewed it online, and over two hundred on the sidewalks of Los Angeles where the team showed people passing by. Which is why the link above shows both the video of the procedure, and the video of reactions to having seen it.

There have been almost a million views of that ‘man on the street’ video, Lila said.

“Abortionists have worked for decades to keep women in the dark about how developed their preborn children in the womb are and what abortion procedures actually entail for both the mother and the child,” said Lila Rose, president and founder of Live Action.  “The more people learn about abortion, the more they see how barbaric and inhumane it is — whether the abortion is committed by depriving a preborn child of nutrients for days until she dies, or by ripping her limbs apart while she’s still alive, or by injecting her with a drug to induce cardiac arrest.”

Almost half of the pro-choice women polled — 46 percent — felt that the medical animations should be shown to high school sex education classes, and 39 percent felt that pregnant women considering abortion should watch them.

This is extraordinary.

“Pro-choice women told us that young people and women considering abortion should have access to these facts about abortion, not just to the pro-abortion spin that seems to dominate media, entertainment, and politics today.  The Internet allows us to spread the truth about abortion faster and farther than ever before, and the fact that these videos have already been viewed over 42 million times to become the most-watched pro-life videos in history proves it,” said Rose.

Under the post of the ‘man on the street’ reaction video, NRO said

America’s views on life are changing for the better as science and technology reveal the fascinating stages of life babies progress through from the moment of conception. Videos like this one are helping to change the debate and show uninformed individuals what it is they actually profess to believe in when they say they support pro-choice policies.

This will be a major topic in the presidential election and other government seats up for election in November, and Lila Rose and others are working to meet with each of the candidates and their campaign staff to ask more specific questions than ‘Where do you stand on abortion?’ They and their organizations and followers are eager to hear the responses.

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May 19

Their lives depend on the West knowing their names, their plight.

As unimaginable as it is that a Christian mother of five has spent seven years in prison in Pakistan, charged with blasphemy for taking water from a well in a hot field while berry picking and considered an infidel, corrupting it…she remains imprisoned and in isolation, for her safety from threat of death inside the prison and certainly outside it, if she were to be released in the increasingly hostile environment there.

How bad is it? This bad. The American Center for Law and Justice, which drove a social media campaign along with the inside legal proceedings, to free Pastor Nadarkhani. ACLJ is now working on freeing Asia Bibi in a nearly impossibly complex Pakistani legal, cultural and religious-based penal system.

International human rights organizations have taken up her cause as a just one, and an emblematic case that puts a human face and name and humanity and dignity on the ‘issue’ of Christian persecution in the Middle East and elsewhere. The UN conference I recently attended on international religious freedom, genocide, and atrocities committed against Christians and other religious minorities, continued for two more days at a different venue where Asia Bibi’s daughter (who speaks no English) gave a very powerful testimony in her silent witness of tears and her very presence.

What can we do? Pray for Asia Bibi, her family, and the countless other victims of persecution and death for their faith. Support Aid the the Church in Need, which is supporting individuals, families and groups in dire need. They’re on the ground there, able to direct relief where it’s most desperately needed. Call on elected representatives who either ignore theses cases, or relegate them to lower priority status while they negotiate with nations that are or could be involved in the fate of these people.

Add the cause of Fr. Tom to those prayers and efforts. Despite rumors to the contrary, he is reportedly alive, well, and possibly soon to be released.

Father Tom was seized March 4 after a militant group stormed a home for the sick and elderly run by Bl. Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Aden in the country’s south west. Four sisters of the religious congregation and 12 lay people were killed in the attack on the facility.

According to an eyewitness report recounted by Aleteia, Father Tom was residing on campus because the church in town where he was based had been sacked and burned last September. The Salesian priest “heard the screaming and consumed all the Hosts,” the account noted. However, “he had no time to consume the large Host, so he threw the oil out of the sanctuary lamp and dissolved it in the water.” The letter reported that a neighbor saw the terrorists put the priest into their car. “They did not find any trace of Father anywhere.”

During Holy Week, unconfirmed stories began circulating in India claiming that the kidnappers planned to crucify the priest on Good Friday. Pope Francis appealed for Father Uzhunnalil’s release last month.

In its most recent statement, issued May 5, the Salesians said the situation was “still uncertain” but added there were “deep and heartfelt prayers” for Father Tom in the hope he could soon “continue the valuable service” he was carrying out at the Yemeni mission.

As we go about our daily work, business, leisure activities and distractions, these and countless other prisoners and hostages and victims of persecution are going through a martyrdom simply for their faith. Twitter campaigns and other social media activism have kept some of them alive, by keeping their names and stories before people in power who can do something for them and populations of people whose names we don’t know and faces we don’t see, whose stories are lost in the inhumanity of grabbing them from their homes, destroying their papers, seizing their properties, and sentencing them to anonymous torture and brutality. ‘The world must act’ said more than one of the UN conference participants. Being aware and committed is, at minimum, the beginning of an end to these crimes against humanity.

If #WeAreN2016 and #FreeAsiaBibi can do anything like the Twitter campaign for Pastor Nadarkhani, there’s more hope than those suffering now can imagine.

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May 16

Supreme Court Justices’ unanimous ruling favors the nuns.

It was sort of a non-decision, but all eight justices jointly agreed to vacate lower court rulings, call on both sides to work things out better (which was really a directive to government lawyers), and bring sanity to a long, unnecessary and costly ordeal that has run through the court system across the country over a federally mandated contraceptive delivery scheme that already exempted major corporations and millions of Americans.

Enough already. So said the ruling, in so many words.

The parties, the court said, should have another opportunity to work out a way to deliver contraceptives that doesn’t violate the religious objections of the Little Sisters and their co-plaintiffs.

Most important, the Supreme Court took away the administration’s tool for bullying: The government, it said, “may not impose taxes or penalties” on those who refuse to authorize their plans to provide the contested coverage.

It was so targeted against Catholic and other Christian groups, it had to be reconsidered.

“The Little Sisters won, but what this unanimous ruling shows is that there was never a need for anyone to lose,” said (Becket Fund for Religious Liberty legal counsel Mark) Rienzi. “The government will still be able to meet its goal of providing these free services to women who want them—not just for those with religious plans—but for the tens of millions in exempted corporate and government plans.”

The government always had that ability, was already doing it in those already exempted, and never needed to choose this controversial challenge to religious liberty in America.

…the opinion is an obvious rebuke to the Obama administration — and rightly so. The Obama administration has shown no compunction about using the full force of the federal government to coerce a group of nuns into violating their religious vows. But following oral arguments in March, the Court requested supplemental briefs from both parties addressing whether the government could provide contraception coverage without entangling religious nonprofits, and the government grudgingly admitted that it was possible. According to the Court, the “substantial clarification and refinement” of the parties’ positions suggests that a compromise satisfactory to both sides is possible.

If not for the government’s obstinacy, that would have been possible long ago. HHS had already exempted an enormous number of employers from the mandate, among them large corporations — Exxon, Pepsi, and Visa — and government entities, including New York City and the U.S. military. Tens of millions of American employees have insurance plans exempted from the mandate. Yet the Obama administration has insisted on foisting its fiat on nuns, archdioceses, Christian colleges, and the like. The liberals on the Court could have sanctioned this contemptible imposition. A 4–4 split would have left the lower courts’ rulings in place, and three of the four courts had ruled against the Little Sisters or their co-plaintiffs. The Court’s willingness to vacate those decisions suggests that, despite its left-leaning majority, this Court is not entirely hostile to religious liberty. This is, recall, largely the same Court that ruled unanimously against the Obama administration in Hosanna-Tabor when the federal government claimed for itself the power to determine who is and is not a “minister.” (Emphasis added)

Hosanna-Tabor was decided unanimously on January 11, 2012. Nine days before the federal government turned around and claimed for itself again the power to determine what a religious ministry, institution and employer was, and what it could and must do. It took four years and four months, and one fewer justice, for the Supreme Court unanimously to rule again in favor of this fundamental freedom protected by law.

In the nearly six months left before the presidential election, the parties’ and candidates’ views of religious freedom will play a more important role in debates, townhalls, and campaigns, as they should.

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