‘Thoughts and prayers’ are now political

Of course. Everything else is these days.

I remember when tragedies brought even political opponents together in what seemed potentially like a learning moment about our shared humanity being larger than the differences of opinions, beliefs and ideas that divide us. Certainly that happened after 9/11, and it seemed that whatever renewed sense of unity and solidarity members of government shared with locked arms in appearances before the nation in those days soon after, and complete strangers shared with bowed heads and tear streamed cheeks on the steps of churches and cathedrals as the crowds poured out the doors for days after that horror, would last long enough to change our nation for the better. It didn’t last that long.

Nor did it when Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and eighteen others were shot in a Tuscon, Arizona supermarket parking lot in January 2011 during a routine gathering of citizens meeting their congressional representative. One of the six people who died in that shooting was a nine year old girl who was born on September 11, 2001. President Obama referred to her several times in his speech at the Together We Thrive: Tucson and America memorial on January 12, 2011.

Preparing for that speech, Obama conferred with a Pentecostal clergyman, the head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. White House staffers conferred with religious advisers about biblical passages the president might use in the speech to speak to a nation jarred to the core. But at the core there was still – at that point in our relatively recent history – the need to connect worldly events with spiritual aspirations.

Obama decided to quote from the Book of Job and Psalm 46.

And he did so to acknowledge and grieve the occasion when six people were killed and Rep. Giffords was shot in the head while “gathered outside a supermarket to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and free speech.” That is clearly close to the occasion of the Texas massacre last week when people were gathered inside a church to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and freedom of religion.

In his remarks after the tragedy in January 2011, Obama remarked that people were seeking to make sense out of the senseless by debating issues like gun safety laws and the breakdown of the mental health treatment system.

He urged that the polarized national debate be conducted “in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.” Quoting the Book of Job 30:26, Obama said “terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding.” Urging Americans to avoid using the tragedy as “one more occasion to turn on one another”, he called for a new civility in the nation and political and public discourse. He recommended humility, empathy and especially reflection, urging people to consider whether they have “shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives”.

Obama said “we are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this Earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame -– but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in making the lives of other people better.”

And he closed the speech with a blessing.

This is good to remember as we go through tragedy after mind-numbing tragedy, and political discourse is growing more unkind, uncharitable, accusatory, harsh, intolerant, divisive, and scornful of religion.

As Wall Street Journal columnist Bill McGurn sees it, for many politicians in President Obama’s party, and media sympathizers, GOP leaders offering ‘thoughts and prayers’ after the Texas massacre is ‘deplorable’.

“Thoughts & prayers are not enough, GOP,” wrote the Massachusetts Democrat. “We must end this violence. We must stop these tragedies. People are dying while you wait.” In short, if you are a Republican praying instead of passing gun control, you’ve got blood on your hands.

 

The Huffington Post devoted an entire piece to the phenomenon, under the headline “People Fed Up With ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ Demand Action After Texas Church Massacre.” It featured tweets from celebrities and gun-control advocates who believe they had discovered something big: Prayers aren’t always answered…

 

Surely it is possible to make the case for gun control without mocking prayer. But as with Mrs. Clinton and her infamous remarks about Trump voters—not only deplorable but irredeemable—those denouncing Messrs. Trump and Ryan’s offer of prayers don’t really want an argument. They want to express their feelings of moral superiority.

 

Michael Brendan Dougherty said something similar in his National Review Online piece, asserting that prayer is not a distraction. But the outrage expressed by progressive politicians is.

The effect is increasing the ambient background level of contempt and hatred in American society.

This is precisely what we need less of, especially right exactly now.

In the moments after a tragedy, the fact is we have no idea whether the killer would have been deterred by stricter gun-control laws, whether he broke existing ones, or whether he would have sought to circumvent them the way mass killers do in other countries. We often have no idea how any particular gun-control policies we would like to see implemented would have changed these events. And so attacking the prayers of politicians in fact substitutes for thought and reflection. It is a way for those who favor more gun control, as I do, to express a sentiment about gun violence, without actually putting forward a policy that addresses the issue at hand. If anyone is using “prayer” as a distraction in the wake of a mass shooting, it is those who want gun control but have no idea how their policy preferences could be implemented, and how those policies would have changed the events.

He zeroes in on the point.

The anti-prayer tweets aren’t encouraging a debate about gun control; they are discouraging expressions of shock, sympathy, and mourning. That is, they are discouraging statements about the inherent value of the lives lost that address the real grief of the bereaved. Often that is the only thing we can sensibly offer in the minutes after awful news breaks across our screens. By discouraging these expressions, they are also inadvertently boxing pro-gun-control politicians into talking about the victims of mass shootings in a purely instrumental way, a less human way — thereby reducing such deaths to having no other public meaning beyond another reason to pass legislation that these politicians already wanted to pass. Without being able to offer a plain expression of sorrow and anger, even pro-gun-control politicians are deprived of a means of offering human respect before engaging in politics. This opens them to the charge of disrespecting the dead by using their deaths to promote views to which the dead would object.

 

So even if you are frustrated with America’s permissive gun rights, it isn’t the prayers offered to the dead that are the problem. Let people mourn the dead. Let them say the human thing first. And then engage in vigorous political debate afterward.

Columnist Bill McGurn reminded us that

…Barack Obama offered his “thoughts and prayers” as often as any president, such as after a 2013 shooting in Washington when he said, “We send our thoughts and prayers to all at the Navy Yard who’ve been touched by this tragedy.” No one complained then, either because they were comfortable that Mr. Obama didn’t really believe in prayer or his faith in gun control was absolute.

 

Over the next few weeks, the surviving members of the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs will wrap their fallen in love and lay them to rest. What these survivors may individually believe about gun control is anyone’s guess. But it’s hard to believe that the way to their hearts is by mocking offers of prayer, even from Republicans.

For the most part, the right to life has become an extremely partisan issue over the past few decades. That battle will continue to be fought in the legislature, the courts and the arena of public ideas. In the Texas massacre, one of the victims authorities included among the dead was an unborn child, and naturally so.

Let prayers be offered in peace and goodwill, by all who claim to care the most for the true good of humanity. As President Obama urged, in a time of tragedy, conduct public debate “in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.” And Democrats would do well to remember his words” “we are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this Earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame -– but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in making the lives of other people better.”

Faith, hope and love are stronger than death

We need this reminder.

Lately, Pope Francis has been talking about death in messages like this one just over a week ago.

Noting that death is a reality that modern civilization “tends, more and more, to set aside” and not reflect upon, Pope Francis said that for believers death is actually “a door” and a call to live for something greater.

Christians endearingly celebrate All Souls Day and ‘Commemoration of the Faithful Departed’, remembering their deceased loved ones in special prayers and liturgies, for their ‘eternal rest’ and ‘life everlasting’. Some populations celebrate it as Día de los Muertos, a day when families create traditional altars in honor of their beloved departed, with photos, memorabilia, their favorite foods and traditional Pan de Muerto, or ‘bread of the dead’. These altars are set up at cemeteries throughout the world including Mexico, Central and South America and Europe, with processions and music taking the faithful from one to another.

In northern Romania, one of Europe’s last remaining peasant cultures still observes a similar centuries-old tradition on this occasion. Villagers decorate and light candles on graves, many with already lavishly carved wooden grave markers in the ‘Merry Cemetery’. It’s a celebration of life, faith and hope in resurrection.

They observe these traditions because they live what they believe, that life is sacred and eternal. It’s distinctly counter-cultural to prevailing forces pushing a utilitarian ideology of human existence that exalts abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide as a ‘choice’ to eliminate suffering and inconvenience when each diminishes us all.

Pope Francis told people to prepare for death, which had to be a startling message for the current culture. And on Wednesday, when he greets and addresses the large crowd assembled in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly address, he shared what he would be doing on All Souls Day, inviting anyone willing to join him.

Before concluding his address, the Pope reminded the faithful that he would be travelling to the American Cemetery of Nettuno, South of Rome and then to the Fosse Ardeatine National Monument on November 2nd to mark the feast on Feast of all Souls. Pope Francis, said,” I ask you to accompany me with prayer in these two stages of memory and suffrage for the victims of war and violence. Wars produce nothing but cemeteries and death: that is why I wanted to give this sign at a time when our humanity seems not to have learned the lesson or does not want to learn it.”

(Emphasis added.)

America’s abortion extremism

Hard to be the shining beacon of human rights and dignity with this record.

Somehow, Planned Parenthood has remained powerful, heavily funded and very influential among the power brokers of politics and culture: government, media, academia and Hollywood. Somehow, the abortion mentality has pervaded even believers in religion and absolute truth and moral order, convincing roughly half of them to accept the decades long, slick marketing slogans that it’s about empowering women and respecting women’s rights and protecting particularly their right to choose.

Choose what? Planned Parenthood gives women, particularly in minority neighborhoods, a lack of choice but easy access to abortion.

Having frequent conversations with expert guests on radio covering these issues –  especially lately with congressional efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, the abortion giant’s social media campaign in reaction and response to the possibility of losing federal funds, the recent vote in Congress to ban abortions of five month old babies in the womb, and the administration’s move last week to roll back the HHS mandate requiring birth control pill coverage in health insurance plans for Christian and particularly Catholic groups like Little Sisters of the Poor – the point has come up more than once that the U.S. is among the seven countries in the world with the most lax and extreme abortion laws.

The Washington Post editors must have found that hard to believe, and so submitted it to their well known ‘fact checker‘. This is how it opened:

Seven out of 198 nations allow elective abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.”
statement of Trump administration policy, Oct. 2, 2017

 

The House approved a ban on 20-week abortions this week, and this dramatic statistic caught our attention…

It’s about time. What brought it to WaPo’s attention now? That House of Representatives ban on the ‘Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act’, which prompted this response from the White House, which included the attention grabbing statistic contained in this fuller snip than WaPo led with:

The United States is currently out of the mainstream in the family of nations, in which only 7 out of 198 nations allow elective abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Worse still, the United States is in the top (or worst) four:

Here’s a look at the seven countries. We sorted them from the most liberal on gestational limits to the least:

 

North Korea and Vietnam: No specified gestational limit, though regulatory mechanisms vary.

 

China: “Abortion is virtually freely available in China, and there are no defined time limits for access to the procedure,” according to Pew Research Center. China now has a “two-child” policy, and human-rights advocates have criticized China’s population and family planning laws.

 

United States: No federal ban on gestational limit, but 43 states have prohibitions on gestational limits, from 20 to 24 weeks, or the point of “viability,” according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research group. There are some exceptions made, usually for the life or health of the mother.

Then come Canada, Netherlands and Singapore.

Only North Korea, Vietnam and China are ahead of the United States in abortion extremism.

“Our nation does not belong in that disgraceful club”, the Susan B. Anthony List declared in a statement after the House vote.

The 20 week abortion ban bill now goes to the Senate for a vote, and SBA List is running a grassroots campaign in states with vulnerable pro-abortion senators up for re-election in 2018 in states favorable to common sense restrictions to otherwise liberal abortion laws.

My home state of Illinois just got a major setback of unprecedented proportion when Governor Bruce Rauner broke his promise to pro-life leaders and voters, state clergy and even Chicago’s Cardinal Archbishop Blase Cupich and signed into law the first binding legislation passed by an elected state official, ensuring that abortion will remain legal in the state of Illinois even if Roe v. Wade is overturned, and that state taxpayers’ dollars will pay for abortion, violating consciences, and religious and other deeply held beliefs of citizens who have no say now.

At least, until the next election.

HHS mandate rolled back, Little Sisters exempted, government overreach revealed

“The new rule is a victory for common sense.”

Last Friday, the Trump administration issued new HHS mandate interim rules finally giving relief to the Little Sisters of the Poor and many other religious and faith based groups and institutions burdened by the Obama era mandate to provide contraception in their health care plans, or pay prohibitively heavy fines if they didn’t.

They have been in courts on all levels in many states and at the federal level for the past five years secure protection from coercion to violate their consciences over a ‘contraception delivery scheme’ made up under the guise of ‘women’s preventive health care’. The only thing it prevented was a healthy woman’s natural reproductive cycle.

Becket Law has represented many or most of those cases, and provided ‘HHS Central’ info updates for years. Friday’s new rule changes provided the latest welcomed victory in a string of many.

The rule aligns with the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling last year protecting the Little Sisters in Zubik v. Burwell protecting the Little Sisters, which says the government cannot fine the religious groups for following their faith. The contraceptive mandate issue went to the Supreme Court five times, and each time the Supreme Court ruled in favor of protecting religious groups.

 

“The new rule is a victory for common sense,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel with Becket. “The previous administration pursued a needless and divisive culture war. It was always ridiculous to claim you need nuns to give out contraceptives. This new rule shows that you don’t.”

That it took a government administrative rule to override a previous administrative rule to prove the obvious is a sign of how far the dictatorship of relativism has reached in its grasp of public consciousness, or at least the control of public opinion by government, media, social media and entertainment media, all of which work together often to advance based more on ideology than science and fact.

For facts, this is the best one stop source I’ve found so far, but I’m a footnote reader and you have to read the footnotes to appreciate the scope of research it covers.

In brief, it counters everything the Obama administration claimed in the original ‘federal fiat’ known as the HHS mandate, based on nothing demonstrable.

1) The HHS Mandate is ineffective, even counterproductive.

2) HHS has no meaningful data to support its claims that free contraception causes
improved women’s health.

3) The mandate is unconstitutional.

4) The Mandate is misleading and irresponsible regarding women’s health.

5) The Mandate is demeaning to women…

Each of those points has sub-points, deeply grounded in footnoted source documents, so everyone has access to the full truth to engage in robust public debate.

Becket Senior Counsel Mark Rienzi declared:

“It should be easy for the courts to finalize this issue now that the government admits it broke the law. For months, we have been waiting for Department of Justice lawyers to honestly admit that fact, like the President did in the Rose Garden five months ago,” said Rienzi. “Now that the agencies admit the mandate was illegal, we expect the leadership of the Department of Justice will cooperate in getting a final court resolution so the Little Sisters can stop thinking about lawyers and mandates and return to spending all their energies caring for the elderly.”

 

With an interim rule now in place, the ongoing court battles between religious groups and the federal government may be resolved soon. The interim rule acknowledges that the earlier mandate violated the Little Sisters’ religious liberty and that there are many other ways to obtain contraceptives.

And that’s another statement of the obvious. The Little Sisters of the Poor, and all the other groups defending their rights to religious liberty guaranteed under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, have not intended, nor tried, to take birth control away from women nor keep women from obtaining it in the myriad ways available to them before the Obama HHS mandate was issued 2011. (The fact sheet tells the fuller background story.)

That’s common sense. So is this comment from a woman following coverage I provided on radio Friday with a Becket Legal Counsel about the new HHS rules restoring religious freedom and conscience rights to the Little Sisters and others by exempting them from having to provide birth control and other potentially abortifacent drugs, under the guise of health care.

I’ll never understand why insurance companies want to pay for medication that is not used to treat a disease or disorder but is given to try to “fix” something that works perfectly! Most contraceptives are elective and should not be covered. Women take them because they want to, not because they are sick.

Another said this, echoing many such expressions over the past five to six years.

What about the struggling mother who needs blood pressure meds, antibiotics, or other medication? Why mandate free birth control and no other meds? It doesn’t treat illness, but is a carcinogen that thwarts nature. There were just two reasons for the HHS mandate: population control and the elimination of freedom of conscience.

As courts have ruled, and the administration has now agreed, government had no right to compel people, groups, organizations or institutions to provide those birth control and emergency birth control medications. And as Mark Rienzi echoed, the new interim rule was a victory for common sense.

Don’t use the flag and national anthem to protest

Tis the season to protest in America. The president and sports celebrities take it too far.

How this all started and how it escalated is less important than the weekend blowup that engulfed America, when average folks count on taking a break from tensions of the week at work and in the news and enjoy the diversion of sports events. Now it’s all blurring together and social tensions have invaded the sporting arena.

Sports have become more political for a long while now, but this is that on steroids (which is another story altogether).

The case of Donald Trump vs. the players of the National Football League is emblematic of our political moment: At its heart is a very serious issue, but that issue is wrapped in so many layers of celebrity, stupidity, opportunism, social-media hysteria, and crassness that it is nearly forgotten.

What is that issue? It’s embedded in the Pledge of Allegiance, a pledge to ‘one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all’. And in the National Anthem, focusing on the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ yet waving ‘O’er the land of the free’…

One very serious issue is how indivisible we really are, and how we use the freedom we have. But overarching that two-part concern is the thick-as-blood honor we pay to those who have fought for generations, paid a great price or the ultimate sacrifice, to preserve the rights and freedoms of the United States. And the flag and National Anthem represent that. The flag drapes the coffins of Members of the Military Services killed in action, it flies at half staff in memory of those who gave their lives in service, it famously was captured in an iconic photo as it was being raised at Iwo Jima by six Marines in World War II. Which turned into the Marine Corps War Memorial in Washington DC.

Most Americans probably don’t know how the National Anthem even came to be the opening of major sporting events. In fact, as a Chicagoan, I didn’t even know the Chicago Cubs were part of that history. It’s edifying to see a nation united in that respect for its shared history, rough as some of it had been. Rough as it is now.

So is it the flag athletes are disputing, or the anthem? No. But they’re using that ceremony at the start of major sporting events to protest other grievances and injustices, and that has all of a sudden become a national big deal. Because President Trump posted some jabbing tweets that baited both his opponents and his base into reactionary behavior that would play to visceral emotions already deeply felt. Alas,

This fad may have petered out naturally after a few more months; Trump’s all but guaranteed that we’ll get it through the 2020 election.

After the weekend of ‘national anthem protests’ across the nation and the National Football League, everyone was wondering how the nationally beloved Monday Night Football game would handle it. It was pretty amazing to see, when it played out. Just before the National Anthem, a gigantic American flag was unfurled from one side of the football field to the other, cover the whole playing field. Kind of hard to protest that. And the players and owners didn’t want to, after all.

“I made my mind up on this issue,” (Dallas Cowboys Owner and General Manager) Jerry Jones said…”that I wasn’t going to comment other than I am very proud of the fact that the Dallas Cowboys and our players have always stood for the flag and the recognition for the flag always. What is important is to figure out that to show the kind of respect and the perception of respect. How can (the team) in front of a national audience show unity and a statement of equality. (The team) wanted to do that. It evolved throughout the organization, particularly over the last two days, and it was executed.

 

“I can’t say enough about the understanding and the awareness of our team and these young men, if you will, that basically said, ‘You know, that makes sense.’ There’s no need for us to talk about unity and equality and have 60 percent of this country mad at you because you’re not being perceived as honoring the flag. And this was a way to do both.”

As NRO editors figured this…

Of course football players and other professional athletes should stand for the national anthem. Not, as the critics so often put it, because America has been good to them, but because America is good. That the American way of life generates so much prosperity that young men can grow vastly wealthy playing a children’s game is not the least of the nation’s virtues, but it is not the most important of them, either. The United States of America has been, and continues to be, a force for liberty, decency, justice, peace, and prosperity both within its own borders and around the world. “The Star-Spangled Banner” may be an infamously difficult song to sing, but the sight of the flag it celebrates has meant liberation — and life itself — to millions of people around the world, from those looking through the fence at Buchenwald to those looking over the railing of a ship at Ellis Island. That is why you stand for the national anthem…

 

We have no doubt that most of those kneeling in protest during the singing of the national anthem are sincere in their concerns, and that they mean to use their high-profile positions in the service of the public good as they perceive it. Goodness knows professional athletes have been in the news for worse reasons. But making a spectacle of themselves during the national anthem disrupts an all too rare moment of civic comity, a time to meditate on our blessings rather than our grievances. There are a dozen different ways athletes and other celebrities might be of good service and bring attention to the issue at the center of this controversy…

 

Of course athletes have the right to protest. Their employers also have the right to set standards of professional conduct, and football fans have the right to change the channel. The president has the right to tweet. This is not a question of rights but a question of judgment, which was, unhappily, in short supply over the weekend.

Let’s get back to the business at hand. The president needs to work on national issues and geopolitical affairs and North Korea especially. Celebrity athletes need to play sports to the best of their abilities. And the rest of us have our assorted family and work obligations to fulfill, and community and charitable needs to address, especially in the ongoing need for relief in disaster struck areas hit by back to back hurricanes and earthquakes.

It’s humbling – or should be – that for people who survived such devastation, who are subsisting on absolute basics, having lost most of what they had with little to sustain them until substantial relief arrives and relief workers help to rebuild their lives, homes and communities, the American flag on the arm patch of the Coast Guard or Army Corps of Engineers, on the helicopters and trucks delivering supplies and flagpoles left standing after the storms, represents hope. It’s up to the American people to deliver on that.

We are at our best in disaster relief

Nature keeps sending disasters. People keep sending relief.

We’re still learning the extent of the damage Hurricane Irma did to the homes, neighborhoods, communities and fundamentally the people of the state of Florida from the Keys to Jacksonville in the north, with access to some areas cut off for days, and therefore, delivery routes of relief. Irma devastated Barbuda.

Now, Hurricane Maria threatens destruction in Puerto Rico.

The Category 5 storm with sustained winds of 175 mph (281 kph) will smash into the Virgin Islands Tuesday night. It has already obliterated parts of Dominica and killed at least one person in Guadeloupe.

 

Puerto Rico will get hit hard Wednesday morning, the National Hurricane Center said, and the storm could be catastrophic…

 

Puerto Rico sheltered many of the evacuees who fled from other Caribbean Islands during Hurricane Irma earlier this month. Now those evacuees and native Puerto Ricans are bracing for devastation.

 

“This is an event that will be damaging to the infrastructure, that will be catastrophic,” (Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo) Rosselló said. “Our only focus right now should be to make sure we save lives.”

That has been the focus for weeks now of people across the United States. When Hurricane Harvey was still beating down on Houston, whatever had been dividing Americans politically or culturally dissolved or got sidelined by the force of nature and the ‘force more powerful‘ than destruction, love and charity impulsively and instinctively passing from person to person.

Numbers of people beyond counting have been showing up in this ‘army of compassion’ descending on sites of destruction even while they’re still being battered. Especially then, which shows the real magnanimity of regular Americans. Houston’s ‘Mattress Mack‘ is emblematic of this spirit of unity and generosity, and the humility that, to a person, seems to define the motivating impulse driving people from their comfort zones to the place they’d rather be in an emergency: with the people under siege. They have offered what they have to those who need anything.

Magdalena Marez, 27, and her fiancé Zachary Gasser, moved into their apartment a few months ago. They went furniture shopping at a handful of Houston-area stores, but they’d never stepped foot into a Gallery Furniture store until early Tuesday morning. They wandered in, soaking wet, just after evacuating from their apartment.

 

Floodwaters were ankle deep, and they struggled to make the drive.

 

When they arrived at the showroom volunteers handed them dry clothes, toothbrushes, soap, shoes — and a mattress still covered in plastic. Marez is moved by McIngvale’s generosity.

 

“We never stepped foot in (one of his stores) and now I’m just like, wow, I mean, they opened up the doors. Like nothing. He didn’t even second guess it,” she says. “He was just like, ‘Let me help you.'”

 

McIngvale is also paying for portable showers so evacuees can have their first hot shower in days.

 

Marchione, the employee, says his boss has opened the store to evacuees and is providing meals because it’s his way of giving back to a community that has brought him success over the past 36 years.

 

“This is Houston,” Marchione adds. “That’s how Houston rolls.”

Jim McIngvale was my guest on radio, because he answered my call with the generosity he shows to all calls on his time and attention. Media had descended on ‘Mattress Mack’, he agreed to brief exchanges with them while working, mainly to put the word out that all help for evacuees was needed and welcomed. He told me that a reporter for some big media outlet asked why he was doing all this work in his big company store, housing and feeding so many people. He said “because I have to”, but the reporter replied “no you don’t”. He quickly corrected “yes I do”. It’s what he knows, it’s what he lives.

“I was raised as a Catholic,” he told the local KENS5 news in Houston. “I continued my Catholic faith throughout my life, trying to do the right thing and hopefully, you do the right thing and help people along the way.”

His Gallery Furniture business is still helping, in the cleanup phase and beyond.

The Miami Herald editors published a fervent wish for such charitable goodwill for Floridians before Irma hit: “Be kind, send help, rebuild“.

 

Nerves are frayed, to say the very least. But South Floridians have always risen to the occasion during difficult times, extending a generous helping hand, with no hesitation, with no expectations of reciprocation.

It is one of the Editorial Board’s most fervent wishes — but only one — that in the pre-disaster hunt for plywood, water, gas, and hotel rooms, we remain civil, empathetic. Remember Connect Miami? April’s successful community-wide initiative to encourage residents to engage with people unlike them? To hear their stories? To find commonality? Irma will be put this initiative on steroids.

People from everywhere have been quick to step up, show up and reach out, not even knowing they’re part of a national rapid response team. They didn’t ask what identity group the afflicted belonged to, nor what political party,nor how they voted in the last election. The only questions they asked and are asking are ‘What do you need?‘ and ‘How can I help?

 

I’ve had several guests on radio these past two weeks somehow involved in disaster relief and recovery, charitable organizations and government aid, professionals, spiritual directors, people trying to help people and connect with the best ways to get things done.

Some of them said something I’ve been thinking, hoping, saying on my show, that we should be able to keep this going. See ‘the other’ as a person to engage, to serve, to share a vulnerable moment with and find ways that encounter can benefit both. And build or rebuild the nation that’s made up of people, known to be fiercely independent, but who are remembering how interdependent we truly are.

Toxic identity politics ‘in these tribal times’

Is what unites us still stronger than what divides us?

Where and how America is divided is far more evident these days than where and how we’re united, given the still growing public tensions over symbols, words, gestures and fundamental identities. And media coverage amplifying the worst of it all.

The ‘poison of identity politics‘ is not new.

The politics of white supremacy was a poison on the right for many decades, but the civil-rights movement rose to overcome it, and it finally did so in the mid-1960s with Martin Luther King Jr. ’s language of equal opportunity and color-blind justice.

 

That principle has since been abandoned, however, in favor of a new identity politics that again seeks to divide Americans by race, ethnicity, gender and even religion. “Diversity” is now the all-purpose justification for these divisions, and the irony is that America is more diverse and tolerant than ever.

 

The problem is that the identity obsessives want to boil down everything in American life to these categories. In practice this means allocating political power, contracts, jobs and now even salaries in the private economy based on the politics of skin color or gender rather than merit or performance. Down this road lies crude political tribalism, and James Damore’s recent Google dissent is best understood as a cri de coeur that we should aspire to something better. Yet he lost his job merely for raising the issue.

 

A politics fixated on indelible differences will inevitably lead to resentments that extremists can exploit in ugly ways on the right and left. The extremists were on the right in Charlottesville, but there have been examples on the left in Berkeley, Oakland and numerous college campuses. When Democratic politicians can’t even say “all lives matter” without being denounced as bigots, American politics has a problem.

Rod Dreher addressed this in a sobering look at opposing evils.

Looking and and listening to the neo-Nazis and right-wing radicals at the march is not the same as reading about them. Evil has a face, and a voice, and it is chilling….

 

But let’s not “excuse or diminish the real threat to our politics from the violent left-wing agitators of antifa (anti-fascists). You may be tempted to sympathize with them because they punch neo-Nazis…”

But not so fast, or reactionary, Dreher cautions

For a while, antifa has remained on the fringes of the Left, smashing up storefronts to protest globalism, and things like that…

And then, the money quote:

The legitimization by mainstream people of violent political action is a Rubicon. Mark my words, it will be followed by the same thing on the Right.

 

So here we are. And Dreher asks the big question core:

Where are the restraining forces against radicalization on both the Left and the Right?

Exactly. Lately, on radio and elsewhere in conversations, I’ve been calling for voices of authority on both center-left and center-right (or whoever could be a moderating force) to call out the fringes on both sides. But they aren’t on the same side, and conservatives have asked media to stop calling white supremacists and neo-Nazis ‘far right conservatives’, since they don’t share conservative values and principles.

Who speaks for America right now? With the ability to amplify one’s own voice through social media platforms and unprecedented access to the arena of ideas, the people have to speak up and speak out.

Dreher says:

The media should talk about every instance of people on the Left and the Right, especially authority figures (pastors, politicians, academics, and so on) legitimizing violence as a way to solve political disputes. And the rest of us should fight hard to make it taboo, to establish it as a line we as a society will not cross. We have to stop with whataboutism, the habit of responding to revolting things your own side does with “but the other side does it too!”

That’s a point for an examination of conscience for all the people who take recourse to that explanation for the ‘slingshot’ effect of unrest from devolving into 1968 type of riots and demonstrations, says Dreher,

…it is time for people in authority — whatever authority they have — to speak out forcefully and repeatedly. Not just people on the Right, but people on the Left. If we are going to stop this spiral into political violence, we have to start somewhere. It doesn’t matter who’s worse, antifa or the neo-Nazis. Both are capable of doing severe damage to our democracy, because they both hate the political order, and they both love violence.

Denounce it, all of it, civilly and with the counter love of people, community, the common good, human rights and dignity, freedom and justice for all.

Which sounds a lot like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s rousing talk ‘Our God Is Marching On!’ in 1965.

 

If the worst in American life lurked in its dark streets, the best of American instincts arose passionately from across the nation to overcome it. There never was a moment in American history more honorable and more inspiring than the pilgrimage of clergymen and laymen of every race and faith pouring into Selma to face danger…

For fellow countrymen.

The confrontation of good and evil compressed in the tiny community of Selma generated the massive power to turn the whole nation on a new course.

We need to redirect ourselves there now.

When family life bursts in on work life

Family prevails. And the video of it goes viral.
Sorry if you’ve seen this dozens and dozens of times. I posted it on my personal Facebook page as soon as I saw it last week, and stopped laughing long enough to “share” and add a personal note. Since then, so many media folks with a big following in social media have shared it as well, adding their personal comments to the tweet or post or other commentary, it’s grown into a phenomenon of the moment. And one with a message.

Mollie Hemingway does the best job of capturing what happened here.

The setup:

This morning the BBC interviewed Dr. Robert Kelly, an associate professor of international relations in the Department of Political Science and Diplomacy at Pusan National University in South Korea. The topic of the interview — the impeachment of Korean President Park Geun-hye — was interesting. But Kelly’s children stole the show.

It has to be watched first, then read about. Hemingway’s Federalist piece puts our universally shared reaction to this spontaneous moment in context.

She lists the 8 (updated from 7 initial) best things about the children taking all the attention from Dad during his BBC interview. There was a ‘marching toddler’ and a ‘rolling baby’, and viewers had their favorites. One tweeted

Enter every room like the kid who interrupts the BBC Skype interview.

Another

Y’all, the baby rolling in got me crying.

I actually laughed to that point of tears. Hearty, knowing, laughter.

Here’s another happy tweet

I legit can’t stop watching this.

Then there’s the mom who realizes what’s happening in real time, and she comes tearing around the doorway into the room, ducking to avoid the camera (or so she thinks) and grab the kids, and we can’t help but laugh with them, to the point of tears.

Mollie Hemingway and her husband frequently do media interviews and manage their family life at the same time.

By the time the mom rushes into the room, realizing the kids have gone rogue during their dad’s very important interview, the comedic value is unquestioned. She goes low — and speaking as someone who does these types of interviews and who is married to someone who does Skype interviews, I can assure you this is a natural instinct.

…having been interrupted by the chaos of life while on air, I know how stressful it is for children to enter the scene. I have never handled it as well as this guy, who keeps his composure as he tries to signal to his toddler to get out of the room. But he’s also totally laughing it off.

Which is refreshing, when we see the utter humanity of happy family chaos break in on structured, managed and reasonably controlled circumstances.

Television is so well-produced that we rarely see real life interrupt our broadcasts. When the toddler walks in, the interviewer is forced to acknowledge this, breaking down the wall we normally preserve between work and home life.

Or at least the perception of it. When one lives in their office and works in their home, this can happen. For all of us who do that, this provided huge comic relief.

The Wall Street Journal was among the major world media whose follow up coverage outdid the initial intended interview.

The buzz has even overshadowed the major news Mr. Kelly was on air to discuss: the impeachment of South Korea’s president.

“It’s a comedy of errors,” Mr. Kelly said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

He also said he and his wife “immediately feared the worst, assuming that he wouldn’t be contacted again to appear on TV.” This is easy to picture:

“We said to each other, ‘Wow, what just happened?’ ” Mr. Kelly, said, adding the blame was entirely on him for not locking the door….

“I made this minor mistake that turned my family into YouTube stars. It’s pretty ridiculous,” he said.

That’s right.

He immediately wrote to the BBC to apologize, but within 15 minutes the broadcaster asked if it could put a clip of the interview on the internet. The couple initially declined, feeling uncomfortable that people might laugh at their children. But they were eventually persuaded that the video would show they were just a regular family.

Within a couple of hours, it became clear to them that the video would disrupt their lives…

Yes, that’s because it “had been viewed over 84 million times on the BBC Facebook page as of Tuesday morning U.S. time. It has been covered by media from Uruguay to Nigeria to Australia, and dissected in thousands of news articles and social media posts around the world. Many have expressed warm feelings toward the family…”

Proving that this brief sequence of events in the life of a family doing what they do in their routine at home, spontaneous chaos and all, brought us together in ways punditry and social science brilliance never could.

Watch both videos, the one on The Federalist site, and aftermath family discussion with the Wall Street Journal here. They’re so human, so endearing.

Mr. Kelly describes his reaction (to the initial disruption) as a mixture of surprise, embarrassment and amusement but also love and affection. The couple says they weren’t mad and didn’t scold the children. “I mean it was terribly cute,” Mr. Kelly said. “I saw the video like everybody else. My wife did a great job cleaning up a really unanticipated situation as best she possibly could… It was funny. If you watch the tape I was sort of struggling to keep my own laughs down. They’re little kids and that’s how things are.”

The otherwise cool, calm, collected Dad laughs and says “This is my life, man!”

This is a life more of us can relate to, exactly, as we ‘do media’ in setting where family, or pets, or neighbors pets or lawn mowers or snowblowers just outside the door or window can cause significant distraction or interruption.

But that’s what made this more than another foreign affairs interview on a global network covering so many stories of the moment, we can’t keep up so most people don’t even try. This interview was supposed to be about the impeachment of South Korea’s president. But wound up in the Wall Street Journal as this: “When the Children Crash Dad’s BBC Interview: The Family Speaks”.

And that’s what the world needs to hear. And see.

When a man in a woman’s restroom is finally seen as wrong

And a proudly progressive mom calls for a reality check.

After opening the blog post she felt necessary to write by saying that she was reluctant to write it, as a tolerant person who would likely be labeled and derided as intolerant, ‘The Get Real Mom’ stated clearly: “This is a story about a biological man in the women’s restroom.”

Innate sensibility prevailed when a startled young mother was disturbed enough by her own experience at a Disneyland women’s restroom when a man walked in, and stayed, while women and children nervously looked for someone to say or do something. But…not…them.

First, she felt the need to establish liberal bona fides.

I’ve lived in Los Angeles for over a decade and have seen my fair share of transgender/gender fluid people. They in no way offend me. I’d consider myself pretty progressive and tolerant of most things…how transgender people feel, how they choose to dress or any surgeries they get, don’t infringe on any parts of my life, so I support their decision to live as they see fit. I’ve also seen my fair share of transgender women in the women’s restroom before. Not ALL the time. But over the past few years, I’d say 4-5 that I noticed. Men…who were in some stage of transition and making every attempt to be a woman from mascara to heels. Transgenders who certainly felt comfortable in the women’s room and probably frightened to go into the men’s. At these times, I smiled…I peed…and life went on. But 2 weeks ago something very different happened.

She and her friend took their young sons to the park for an outing, stopped for lunch and headed for the women’s restroom before the next adventure. They took turns, each watching the children for the other.

I was off to the side waiting with the two boys, when I noticed a man walk into the restroom…He took a few more steps, at which point he would’ve definitely noticed all the women lined up and still kept walking. My next thought was, “Maybe he’s looking for his wife…or child and they’ve been in here a while.” But he didn’t call out any names or look around. He just stood off to the side and leaned up against the wall. At this point I’m like, “…Am I the only one seeing this?” I surveyed the room and saw roughly 12 women, children in tow…staring at him with the exact same look on their faces. Everyone was visibly uncomfortable. We were all trading looks and motioning our eyes over to him…like “what is he doing in here?” Yet every single one of us was silent. And this is the reason I wrote this blog.

Somebody has to be willing to speak up, and they were all afraid. She realized that reality, as one who had been among the unwilling to be considered judgmental, or to call any behavior or boundary crossing wrong. Until clearly it was.

We had been culturally bullied into silenced. Women were mid-changing their baby’s diapers on the changing tables and I could see them shifting to block his view. But they remained silent. I stayed silent. We all did. Every woman who exited a stall and immediately zeroed right in on him…said nothing. And why? B/c I…and I’m sure all the others were scared of that “what if”. What if I say something and he says he “identifies as a woman” and then I come off as the intolerant ass… at the happiest place on earth? So we all stood there, shifting in our uncomfortableness…trading looks. I saw two women leave the line with their children. Still nothing was said. An older lady said to me outloud, “What is he doing in here?” I’m ashamed to admit I silently shrugged and mouthed, “I don’t know.” She immediately walked out…from a bathroom she had every right to use without fear.

This was more than a dawning awareness. It was sudden. “I’m ashamed to admit I silently shrugged…” shows the revelation this woman had in that moment that ‘the culture’ has ‘bullied us into silence’, but we still have our sensibilities, and they come alive in a moment when visceral reaction tells us what’s wrong is wrong, no matter what anybody calls it.

And let me be clear, my problem wasn’t JUST that there was a man in the restroom. Its that he wasn’t even peeing, washing his hands or doing anything else that you’d do in a restroom. He was just standing off to the side looking smug…untouchable… doing absolutely nothing. He had to of noticed that every woman in the long line was staring at him. He didn’t care. He then did a lap around the restroom walking by all the stalls. You know, the stalls that have 1 inch gaps by all the doors hinges so you can most definitely see everyone…

So yes… there were women and small children using the restroom and this man was walking around knowing no one would say anything.  So here I am…writing this blog, because honestly I need answers. We can’t leave this situation ambiguous any more. The gender debate needs to be addressed… and quickly. There have to be guidelines. It can’t just be a feeling… this notion that we’re shamed into silence b/c we might offend someone, has gone too far.

There are answers. People, experts and organizations and rights groups, have been engaging this debate for a long time, and she’s right in calling out those who have been trying to bully them and everyone into silence about saying what is true and right and good, and what is wrong.

There was a man who felt entitled to be in the woman restroom, because he knew no one would say anything. There were 20-25 people by the time I left, who were scared and uncomfortable by his ominous presence. And the only thing stopping us, was our fear of political correctness and that the media has told us we don’t know what gender is anymore. I never want to be in the position again. Im not asking for permission to tell transgender people to get out my bathroom. I need to know it’s ok to tell a man, who looks like a man, to get…out. Gender just can’t be a feeling. There has to be science to it. DNA, genitals, amount of Sephora make up on your face, pick your poison, but as a very progressive woman…I’m sorry it can’t just be a feeling when theres but a mere suggestion of a door with a peep hole separating your eyes from my…or my children’s genitals.

There is science to it. Here’s an exceptionally good and thorough report in The New Atlantis for anyone who didn’t encounter it before, and is willing to now, like ‘The Get Real Mom’. We don’t need to listen to or obey the media, or the culture, or prevailing forces in politically driven movements. We don’t need permission to tell a man hanging out in the women’s room to leave. It’s not about feelings. It’s about human truths and dignity, and the courage to stand for them.

‘A day without a woman’ is a slogan

It can never happen in the real world.

Women do it all, with seemingly more arms and legs and eyes and heart than the human body visibly reveals, more depth and emotion and intellect and drive and seems humanly possible. ‘That’s no brag, just fact’ goes a longtime folk saying. In fact, women not only don’t tend to brag, they don’t tend to realize the enormity of their value to the world and the individuals in their one on one relationships they have as daughters, sisters, friends, wives, mothers.

So when International Women’s Day came around on March 8th, planners of the largest, most publicized event in the US to mark the occasion made it a strike, to protest oppression, inequality, ‘reproductive rights’, defunding of Planned Parenthood, Donald Trump. Instead of being a day to celebrate and stand proudly for something, those organizers made it a protest against many things and people. They missed a big opportunity. And a lot of points about what really helps women and doesn’t hurt, or eliminate, them.

Here’s how it appeared to a lot of Americans otherwise occupied with daily work and concerns, women ‘going on strike to highlight their clout’. It was a strike carried out on social media to show the lengths to which they would go to spread their message. “Many of our national organizers have been arrested in an act of civil disobedience. We will not be silent.”

Who was trying to silence them? What did they stand for instead of against? What is ‘reproductive justice’? Who was minding the children while moms were taking ‘a day off’ of work and shopping and home life, to be out in the streets? Were there no women manning Planned Parenthood clinics, or did they find that work too necessary for women’t ’empowerment’? What did they say about the school districts that cancelled classes for lack of teachers, causing working single moms to scramble for childcare? Where did the lower income children who relied on school meals for their nutrition go when their schools closed because of the strike?

Are we more enlightened and encouraged now, or less? Since there’s a day set aside for the global recognition of the unique role and contribution of women in history, culture and society, how can we make the most and the best of that opportunity? The initiative raised more questions than it answered.

But some women have considered and answered these and other questions, and did us all a favor by their reflections.

Like Margot Cleveland’s Federalist piece about the millions of women the world would do without, not for a day but forever, because of enabling ideologies instead of protecting women.

And Pia de Solenni’s Crux piece about proudly being at work that day, representing the finest in women’s achievements and nobly holding to her responsibilities to serve an important role.

The contrast between the trailblazing women mathematicians chronicled in [the film] Hidden Figures and the women leading [Wednesday’s] protest, A Day Without Women, leaves me stunned. For generations, even centuries, women have sought equality in all aspects of life. Women in the U.S., where the present protest originates, enjoy rights and opportunities of which women in many parts of the world can scarcely dream.

It seems paradoxical, not to mention confusing, that women would absent themselves from paid work when it’s only recently in human history that so many of us can enjoy these opportunities.

Furthermore, she continues

As women, we have specific responsibilities whatever our states in life. Now we’re being asked to cast them aside, no matter how hard we’ve fought for them.

This sends a conflicting message. The organizers of this protest are saying to the world that women can’t be counted upon. They’re telling our male colleagues (paid and unpaid) that women won’t have their backs on this one day. In many ways, they’re reinforcing what I had hoped were unfair stereotypes.

I can’t even begin to imagine the women mathematicians from Hidden Figures deciding to stay home. They worked hard and made many sacrifices. In fact, they saw themselves advancing the cause of black Americans by showing up and doing work that most Americans, regardless of skin color or sex, couldn’t do. Not showing up for the job wasn’t part of the equation.

There’s more to this protest. For some, it’s a way to signal grievances against the current U.S. President, even though women voted for him. For others, it’s a slightly veiled demonstration to support abortion. All of these women have the right to express themselves and to protest.

But they don’t represent all women, and that’s the challenge for any women’s movement. It has to be diverse enough to include most women. That’s where this protest fails miserably.

Exactly. I’m a proud member of Women Speak for Themselves because of their intellectual honesty, their breadth and depth, their reach and grasp, their efforts to build up a grassroots movement of women across America who will be informed and get engaged at the local level to help communities find and build on resources to serve women, children, families and the social fabric that holds us together. It’s a group that says it’s not “pro-woman” to model outfits and images that reduce women to their bodies and think that’s a good idea. And says ‘No Melinda Gates, it’s not pro-woman to put contraception at the center of a woman’s agenda; its health effects on women and its broader harms to male-female relations and the sexual marketplace are too well-documented.’

This letter from a mother to her daughters, sincere and personal, bespeaks the ‘feminine genius’ John Paul II so eloquently wrote of, encouraging women to embrace a new feminism.

Being fully present, by listening, feeling, empathizing—always holding serious eye contact, and often the touch of a hand—builds trust. Trust builds confidence and confidence enables you to look forward, dream more and focus on others vs. yourself. Being present is the greatest gift you can give another person, and the greatest way to more closely connect with them. When you are present, you are living in the moment vs in your mind. You are seeing, hearing, and feeling another person, and together you are even more empowered to do great things. This is a gift that often comes more naturally to women.

This is true, and it is beautiful.

On International Women’s Day, I attended an event that brought together a wide cross-section of women and men of diverse demographics, backgrounds, age and experience, and I learned so much from the encounters there, brief as those couple of hours were, before heading back to my office and studio for a live radio show, half of which focused on comprehensive health care for women and their families, the health risks of birth control, and fertility awareness and how federal dollars could best serve women in community health centers.

At the event, one of the Little Sisters of the Poor engaged me in conversation, with the joy each and all of them embody, talking about the work they do to care for the elderly, sick and dying patients they love and enjoy serving. These are women who don’t want to, or have the luxury to, take a day off. Taking ‘a day without a woman’ and leaving their patients and residents without a Sister to care for them is unimaginable.

Women are never ‘off’, and are at their happiest with those they love and serve and share a relationship with, whether in family or social circle. The mother’s letter to her daughters urged this:

You are fully aware of how blessed you are, the incredible gifts you were born with that your brother doesn’t have and the gifts he has that you don’t possess. You know how happy you feel when you are doing what you love and that comes so easily and naturally to you.

Feminism and femininity go together when rightly ordered and embraced. There really is a complementarity of the sexes, this mother is helping her daughters understand the natural beauty of that phenomenon. And ultimately, “your family is your foundation, and also your greatest enabler. When it comes to your family, we should be with you everywhere you are, as you are always and forever with us.”

That mother embodies the feminine genius. And she does her daughters, and her son, a great, lifelong, never-ending service by imbuing them with such wisdom that transcends the ages.