Sep 01

It’s good news that people are asking.

Stalwarts who have been working with embattled and endangered communities all along are pleading for relief. Whether they’re clergy, other religious, or faith-based organizations, they’re spent and crying out for help.

One anguished priest wrote to Pope Francis, out of desperation. He got a response.

Pope Francis has telephoned an Iraqi priest who is ministering in a refugee camp, according to a Vatican Radio report.

“The situation of your sheep is miserable,” Father Behnam Benoka, until recently a seminary vice-rector near Mosul, said in his letter. “They die and they are hungry. Your little ones are scared and cannot do it anymore. We, priests, religious, are few and fear not being able to meet the physical and mental needs of your and our children.”

“Your Holiness, I’m afraid of losing your children, especially infants who every day struggle and weaken more,” he continued. “I’m afraid that death will snatch some away. Send us your blessing so that we may have the strength to go on, and maybe we can still resist.”

In response to the letter, the Pope called Father Benoka and “reiterated his full support and closeness to the persecuted Christians, promising that he will continue to do his best to bring relief to their suffering,” Vatican Radio reported.

The refugees and those caught up in the violence while trying to deliver aid are at the point of helping each other survive.

Christians and other religious minorities who have fled areas in Iraq that have fallen under Islamic State control are now helping one another to survive as refugees, an aid worker said.

“They themselves have been displaced and they’re going around caring for those who are in need, who are in situations like they are,” Todd Daniels, International Christian Concern regional manager for the Middle East, told CNA Aug. 27.

Last week, Daniels was in Iraq, where it is estimated that more than 1 million people have fled from their homes amid the invasion of the radical Islamic State, also known as ISIS. The militant group has taken control of numerous cities and ordered Christians and other religious minorities to convert, pay a tax known as a jizya, or be killed.

The fleeing Iraqis – including Christians and other religious minorities – have sought refuge in other areas, such as the northern city of Erbil.

Daniels said that while the situation is desperate, there is much hope in the way religious communities and refugees are working to improve life there.

“Probably one of the most striking impressions was just the activeness of the local churches,” he said. “From morning to night they’re out there providing aid, providing relief and actually, a lot of the man power, for the groups we were working with by people who themselves have been displaced.”…

Some refugees hope that international security forces will help create a safe haven for Christians and other religious minorities, while others are just trying to grasp the reality that they will most likely never return to their homes.

“There’s really a feeling of not knowing what to do,” Daniels said.

Though I cover this ongoing crisis just about every day on radio and in writing, bringing in experts and giving out information, it can’t be repeated often enough. Because some people are just beginning to learn, others just beginning to pay attention, and some who realize the reality is dire, the relief organizations are on the ground and delivering aid, and the need for support is urgent and critical. But they don’t quite catch where they can contribute to that effort.

I was caught off guard by a frustrated listener who said, frankly, that tuning in briefly at different times as he could, he caught some of the conversations but not the ways to help, and wanted that information to be repeated often, so people tuning in and out as time allowed would hear something that gave them access to the relief organizations doing the hard, firsthand work of sustaining people fleeing for their lives.

For everyone’s sake, here are some of the best.

Catholic Near East Welfare Association is a papal agency delivering humanitarian aid and pastoral support in many locations globally, most acutely in the Middle East right now. They’re lean on staff and support costs, so most of the contributed funds go straight to the people actually in greatest need.

Catholic Relief Services is another long established aid organization on the ground where needs are the greatest across the globe, especially in the Iraq crisis.

Aid to the Church in Need is similar, also under the guidance of the pope and with the mission of aiding persecuted Christians and other suffering minorities.

The Knights of Columbus launched a major fund to help Christians threatened with extinction in Iraq.

“The unprovoked and systematic persecution and violent elimination of Middle East Christians, as well as other minority groups, especially in Iraq, has created an enormous humanitarian crisis,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. “Pope Francis has asked the world for prayers and support for those affected by this terrible persecution, and we are asking our members, and all people of good will, to pray for those persecuted and support efforts to assist them by donating to this fund.”

Anderson added: “It has shocked the conscience of the world that people are systematically being purged from the region where their families have lived for millennia – simply for their faith. It is imperative that we stand in solidarity with them in defense of the freedom of conscience, and provide them with whatever relief we can.”

To that end, the US Bishops Conference has asked all parishes across the country to take up a special collection over the next two weekends to support immediate humanitarian and pastoral needs in the Middle East. Some began this past weekend. The USCCB site provides complete information on this initiative, including all the ways people can send aid and relief.

I was struck by a couple of different expert guests on radio last week saying the same thing, separately, on different days, about what was being lost in the elimination of Christians from the earliest birthplaces of Christianity. Besides the obvious.

They each said Catholics and other Christians have traditionally provided the hospitals, shelters, schools, homes, orphanages and distribution centers for basic needs in the areas they’re now being driven from, possibly at a point of no return. What will happen when they’re gone?

As Kathryn Lopez asks,

How many times have we heard: “Never again”?…

How often have we quoted: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”? And yet: Do we do nothing? What do we actually say in the face of evil?

We say those words over again, that quote from philosopher Edmund Burke, among other things that make us feel good to be aware and engaged, and feel like we’re alerting others to something grave that must be met with greater good and truth that can vanquish evil. But after saying those things, we too often go on to the next thing in our busy lives and tend to it.

This is a pivotal point in history.

“The spectacle of tragedy has always filled men, not with despair, but with a sense of hope and exaltation,” wrote Whittaker Chambers, whom National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr. described as “the most important American defector from Communism.” Chambers explained: “Crime, violence, infamy, are not tragedy. Tragedy occurs when a human soul awakes and seeks, in suffering and pain, to free itself from crime, violence, infamy, even at the cost of life. The struggle is the tragedy — not defeat or death.”

Is this a time of awakening?

At one point in his Witness, Chambers recounts how the daughter of a German Communist explained her father’s defection: He had been an unquestioning Communist, and then “one night — in Moscow — he heard screams. That’s all. Simply one night he heard screams.”

Do we hear the screams? Do we join with the persecuted in the prayers they have led us in? Will we join their witness to the truth about the dignity of every man and woman, of whatever faith or no faith? Will we never again be silent as evil is happening?

That is as unthinkable as the crimes against humanity that are happening daily.

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Aug 25

They came from near and far, for many reasons. Some for opportunism, some for possibilities.

Over the past two weeks, many people descended on Ferguson, Missouri mostly, it seemed, to stoke the fires of resentment and divisiveness. Anger and hostility escalated. Finally, some calm has settled and reason seems to have broken out, and it deserves some keen attention.

Over the weekend, people who represented different sides of the racial battle/political debate began saying sort of the same things. Or maybe someone on one side would see that both sides actually agreed on what they wanted, though they were going about it so differently, that fundamental plea wasn’t being heard.

One moment I recall this being crystallized was when Dr. Ben Carson said on one of his many appearances on Fox News that he would welcome a discussion with Al Sharpton, who had been agitating all over the media from Ferguson for racial and social justice causes using the usual slogans, and Carson calmly said he would ask Sharpton ‘what is it that you want?’ That struck me as a good and direct potential encounter. ‘What do you want to happen? What solution are you looking for? What do you want?’

Meanwhile, I saw this piece on National Review Online and thought it reasonable and clarifying.

I’m always looking for areas where the Left and the Right can agree on a policy reform, even if it is for different reasons. One has emerged from the tragedy of Ferguson, Mo. In the aftermath of Michael Brown’s shooting, many blamed some portion of the tension there on the striking racial gap between the police force, which is 94 percent white, and Ferguson’s African-American population, which makes up two-thirds of the city. Not only the police force but also the rest of the local power structure in Ferguson is dominated by whites.

Ferguson has seen enormous demographic change in the last 20 years, with the percentage of its black population growing from 25 percent to 67 percent. But five of its six city council members are still white, as is the mayor. The school board has six white members and one Hispanic.

One reason for the disparity is that, like many cities, Ferguson holds stand-alone elections for local offices in the spring of odd-numbered years when nothing else is on the ballot. Voter turnout is abysmal — 7 percent of black voters compared with 17 percent of white voters. By way of contrast, 54 percent of blacks and 55 percent of whites voted in the 2012 presidential election in Ferguson.

Existing power structures like this arrangement because it greatly favors incumbents, who can continue to dominate local bodies despite demographic change. Jeff Smith, a former Democratic state senator in Missouri who now teaches urban policy, writes that “overwhelmingly white-constituent unions (plumbers, pipe fitters, electrical workers, sprinkler fitters) have benefited from these arrangements” and that these unions operate potent voter-turnout machines that overwhelm black challengers. “The more municipal contracts an organization receives, the more generously it can fund reelection campaigns. Construction, waste, and other long-term contracts with private firms have traditionally excluded blacks from the ownership side, and, usually, the work force as well.”

Low voter turnout for off-year local elections is a problem nationwide. In Los Angeles, fewer than 12 percent of voters participated in the recent race for mayor. Policy reformers and racial minorities are among those hurt by the perpetuation of this incumbent-friendly status quo.

This is not a minor matter. It’s a major one. The disparity in representative government and positions of authority in the community that both are supposed to serve is a growing problem.

Liberals now have a reason to join conservatives in supporting a reformed election calendar. As Ian Millhiser of the liberal ThinkProgress website puts it: “Through a simple rescheduling measure, Ferguson’s black residents could permanently reshape their city’s electoral landscape so that its leaders are chosen by an electorate that more closely resembles Ferguson as a whole.”

Then on Sunday, on Fox News Sunday, Dr. Ben Carson had the chance for an encounter not with Al Sharpton, but his counterpart Jesse Jackson. I watched it, listened carefully, and was impressed with the power of persuasion of clarity with charity.

Chris Wallace pressed Jackson on his remarks that the shooting death was a “state execution.” Jackson said that the 18-year-old was shot six times and was unarmed.

But Wallace noted that reports say Brown was charging at the officer and may have hit him in the face.

“If we don’t know,” he asked, “why are we declaring a verdict?”

“It seems to me the police act as judge, jury and executioner,” Jackson said.

Carson stressed that the issues are much bigger and cannot be resolved in a short segment. Still, he said, “I’m not sure this is a police versus black community issue.”

Then an unexpected moment came, watch it if you can click on the exchange in the link.

Carson recalled his youth, during which he said he had anger issues and even tried to stab someone.

“If you take race out of the issue altogether and you take a group of young men and you raise them with no respect for authority, not learning to take on personal responsibility, having easy access to drugs and alcohol, they’re very likely to end up as victims of violence or incarceration. It has nothing to do with race,” he said. However, he noted that there are problems with race in America – yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Jackson maintained that there is a race dimension to the story.

“It seems to me that when blacks kill whites – which is rare – it’s swift justice. When whites kill blacks, it’s rebellion. When it’s black on black, there’s shrug of the shoulder, a kind of permissiveness,” he said.

Carson said people must get involved in the process and start voting.

Which gets back to the good point John Fund made in NRO, cited above. That’s moving the ball forward, that’s getting social stagnation somewhere, pointing to the process of resolution of social problems.

Carson went on in this pivotal moment.

He also said that what changed him 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 also wound up saying he believes that he and Jackson were, essentially, saying and wanting the same things. Which kindly and gently returned to the point Carson made, days before, about wanting to ask Al Sharpton what do you want to happen? In this exchange with Jackson, it sort of came out.

And then the funeral of Michael Brown brought together a lot of people calling for change, but calmly and reasonably. There were local residents, prominent celebrities, members of Congress, representatives of the White House, civil rights leaders.

And the often polarizing, agitating, angry and unreasonable Rev. Al Sharpton delivered a eulogy that surprised a lot of folks with its reasonableness and frankness.

After a demand for broad reforms in American policing, 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. And you decide it ain’t black no more to be successful. Now, you want to be a n—– and call your woman a ‘ho.’ You’ve lost where you’re coming from.”

The cameras cut to director Spike Lee, on his feet applauding enthusiastically. So were Martin Luther King III, radio host Tom Joyner, and, judging by video coverage, pretty much everyone else in the church. They kept applauding when Sharpton accused some blacks of having “ghetto pity parties.” And they applauded more when Sharpton finally declared: “We’ve got to clean up our community so we can clean up the United States of America!”

This was a different Al Sharpton. A new day. Not only a mention but a confrontation with problems blacks face but some refuse to face, and a calling out to everyone concerned to deal squarely with what’s wrong and what it would take to make it right.

I have addressed this time and again on radio, with respected authorities on social justice, inner city communities dealing with crime, violence, lack of educational resources, aid to families or barely subsisting relatives without intact families, legal experts, and heroic clergy and church organizations serving those communities. And will again this week.

Stay tuned.

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Aug 21

It worked, though maybe not as that murderous gang expected.

They wanted to cower the US into backing off the already limited air strikes, humanitarian relief drops and rescue missions of refugees from their brutality. Did the horror of beheading a captive American journalist intimidate the US into backing off those strikes, as intended? Did the president end his vacation and return to the White House to monitor all operations going forward? No. No to both questions.

First, the president’s press conference on the state of affairs after this intimidation tactic.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama addressed the nation regarding the brutal slaying of an American journalist by Islamic State militants. After conducting that gruesome deed, James Wright Foley’s assassin warned the president that his organization planned to kill yet another American unless the West surrenders Iraq and Syria to the Islamic State’s inhuman designs.

Many of the words Obama deployed in his rhetorical front in the war against ISIS were quite nice and even refreshingly blunt. “No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day,” Obama said after a brief list of the atrocities committed by ISIS militants. “ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt.”

“People like this ultimately fail,” the president added. “They fail because the future is won by those who build and not destroy.”

History is, indeed, replete with examples of barbaric forces bent on delivering the world back into darkness. Some have failed. Some did not. Those that did fail did so because they were resisted by the armies of civilization. None of history’s dark crusades ever failed in a vacuum.

That’s a critical point. They don’t just ‘fail’. They are defeated.

Obama expressed how “heartbroken” he was at the murder of an American, and he pledged to “extract this cancer so that it does not spread.” But this metastatic tumor has already been allowed to spread. And, even in a fashion that maintained a sufficient level of operational secrecy, the president failed to inform the American people how he planned to excise it…

Where was the status update on the ongoing airstrikes against ISIS positions in the north of Iraq which, judging only from press accounts, appear to be relatively effective? Why did the president fail to address rumors that his administration was aware of the threats to Foley’s life prior to his execution, or that unconfirmed reports have suggested that his killer may have been a former Guantanamo detainee?

For that matter, why did the president not address the fact that a significant number of westerners are apparently fighting alongside ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and Foley’s executioner may have been one of these western jihadists? It is, again, perfectly understandable for the president to not want to get ahead of the facts of this still developing event, but Obama is set to chair as United Nations Security Council meeting in September which is focused entirely on that very threat. He has yet to publicly address this forthcoming UNSC meeting, and this incident would have been a perfect time to broach that subject.

Instead, he leaves it up to his surrogates and the media to inform the public about how this war is being prosecuted. The latest development, breaking just minutes after Obama spoke, is an apparent proposal administration officials are considering to send 300 additional troops to Iraq. Even members of Obama’s own party are now strongly suggesting that the president come to Congress with a request to legally authorize this application of force in Iraq. When does the president plan to speak honestly about the scope of American involvement in the Middle East?

British Prime Minister David Cameron cut short his vacation to return to the urgent matters facing the West and the world with this extremist threat. He called the beheading of American journalist James Foley “shocking and depraved”, giving voice to the deeply rooted reactions of Westerners.

Look, this will all get analyzed and detailed to some extend in the days to come. I’m out of contact for the next couple of days myself, not for vacation but for personal matters. But an initial response must be swift and clear and strong. I hate that it ‘s always a ‘response’ these days, instead of a nation standing for freedom and protection and justice taking the lead in pro-actively leading the way on what the United Nations Charter called the ‘duty to protect.’

So for now, here are a couple of clear pieces of reporting and commentary that directly speak to what we’re confronting in Iraq.

Tod Worner was on my radio program the other day bringing his intellectual heft to the table about what we’re dealing with. And that was while we were dealing with inhumane atrocities unimaginable to the civilized mind, and before the video recorded beheading of an American journalist. Here’s an upshot.

ISIS [the Islamic State in Iraq & Syria, or the Islamic State in Iraq & the Levant (ISIL), or simply the Islamic State - hereafter called ISIS] is the most ruthless, brazen jihadist army the world may have ever seen. For further description, please see my previous posts here, here, and here. Khaled Sharrouf found ISIS compelling enough to leave Australia with his family to arrive in Syria and partake in particularly vicious bloodletting in the name of jihad and the cause of re-establishing the worldwide Islamic Caliphate. With a large cache of money and weaponry at their disposal, ISIS has unleashed a lightning speed butchery in Iraq and Syria unprecedented in scope, fury, and success (with the closest comparison being the 1940-41 National Socialist onslaught in Western Europe and against the Soviet Union). And their achievements are difficult to ignore.

Well over one million refugees have fled their homes and cities fearing certain death if they refused conversion to Islam. Thousands have been tortured, raped and murdered via gruesome means including beheadings, crucifixions, stonings and mass shootings. The culture being erected includes women and girls sold into sex slavery, female genital mutilation, and draconian rules outlawing tobacco, alcohol, and revealing attire. Absolute and fierce adherence to ISIS’ vision of Islam is the unbending law and a hair’s deviation earns pitiless punishment. And this is all being enacted by a group that is awash with money, oil reserves, territory, weapons and a rabid following.

Now the point of this post is not simply to reiterate the unparalleled viciousness unfolding before our eyes day after bloody day in Iraq and Syria – though this, unquestionably, would be reason enough. Rather it is to call attention to a crisis that is being forgotten or, more likely, conveniently ignored: The Crisis of Moral Relativism in the face of Naked Evil…

In the post-modern world, we have been led to believe that truth is relative to person, place, time and culture. This notion has led many to approach different faiths, cultures, nations and people with the exalted virtues of open-mindedness and tolerance…

With all relative and nothing absolute, there is no standard. There is no right or wrong, fair or unfair, good or evil – just gentlemanly differences of opinion. But in the end, absent a guide such as right, wrong, fair, unfair…what will guide the direction a person, a culture, or a society goes in? Power. So the unholy alliance in a morally relative world is between aggressive entities ruthlessly executing their will and their passive observers falling all over themselves asking “Who are we to judge?”….

Perhaps, then, we can agree on something. Perhaps we can agree that what ISIS is doing is…wrong? And is it possible, just possible, that we may find ourselves naming their untethered sadism…evil? You see, once we have moved from a cozy, theoretical, dispassionate, anthropologic interest in a human affair to a true understanding of what is happening, we find ourselves stirred by a deeper sense of inviolable (perhaps, even sacred) human dignity and justice. We have moved from the realm where all truth and morality is relative…to the realm where there is an absolute standard of truth and morality (where human life is dignified, ought to be respected and the violation of this dignity demands justice be served).

By calling the actions of ISIS unacceptable, we have shattered relativism for all time. Because we have invoked an absolute standard: Right and Wrong. How novel that we live in a world where this should be controversial? As Winston Churchill once said,

“It is an important thing to diagnose the evil…”

Yes. Indeed.

But first we must believe in evil.

And that’s where the other piece comes in, from the engaged and exercised and vocal and exquisitely spot on Elizabeth Scalia, who feels the pain and conveys it in a way we can feel.

Look at how she honored the life and death of James Foley, and his witness to the ‘subversive freedom of prayer‘.

A great deal has been written about the late James Foley, his beheading at the hands of a barbarous Islamic State: the moving response from this band of Syrians, the Jesuit education which, along with the example of his family kept him grounded in his faith; his own words on the power of prayer, written in previous captivity.

The story is tragic and infuriating — every bit as nation-stirring as the similar murder of Daniel Pearl, all those years ago, when bloody “war on terror” was still in its official infancy, though in truth, we have been trailing these tears and stains for many decades, now.

But I keep coming back to Foley’s own words on prayer, and how it sustained him:

It showed tremendous heart and was just a glimpse of the efforts and prayers people were pouring forth. If nothing else, prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom, an inner freedom first and later the miracle of being released during a war in which the regime had no real incentive to free us. It didn’t make sense, but faith did.

It’s something we’ve talked about a lot on this blog, but it bears repeating: prayer is a subversive means of freedom, at once consoling, engaging and efficacious throughout time and space. It has power, and that power holds, when everything else falls apart.

ISIL got the attention of the US and the Western World. That’s what it wanted. What comes next, God willing, is beyond their reach and grasp.

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Aug 18

Or another flash in the pan soon to be extinguished and forgotten?

So let’s parse that a bit further. If the sudden eruption of active protests, the descent of countless media crews, days and days of street demonstrations both peaceful and angry by both locals and outsiders, on the streets of Ferguson Missouri have collectively inflamed a national debate after the police action resulting in the shooting death of an 18 year old young black man, is it a confrontation with racism seething beneath the surface of our society still? Or is it something deeper? And if that, then what is it about, at root?

On the surface, a lot of news reporting has covered it as racial tension erupting yet again though ever present in communities like Ferguson, emblematic of small towns and communities and inner city neighborhoods across the country. I’ve been watching, listening, reading, following and closely considering it all as it has grown over the past week or more and especially as it’s developed into a national spectacle and standoff between angry citizens and their sympathizers on one side and law enforcement and state authorities on the other. Though everyone turning up in Ferguson doesn’t neatly fall into one of those categories, especially the whole media class adding to the confluence of events devolving there by the day and especially, at night. Every night but one, since it all began.

My default mode is the question ‘What’s the truth?’ And furthermore: ‘Who did what and why? What’s happening right now as a consequence? And who is authoritative enough to answer these questions honestly?’

There are layers of answers, and it will take a while to peel them off.

Here are two articles that capture some of that complexity.

NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote this for Time online, asserting that it’s not ultimately about race as much as social inequality.

By focusing on just the racial aspect, the discussion becomes about whether Michael Brown’s death—or that of the other three unarmed black men who were killed by police in the U.S. within that month—is about discrimination or about police justification. Then we’ll argue about whether there isn’t just as much black-against-white racism in the U.S. as there is white-against-black. (Yes, there is. But, in general, white-against-black economically impacts the future of the black community. Black-against-white has almost no measurable social impact.)…

This fist-shaking of everyone’s racial agenda distracts America from the larger issue that the targets of police overreaction are based less on skin color and more on an even worse Ebola-level affliction: being poor. Of course, to many in America, being a person of color is synonymous with being poor, and being poor is synonymous with being a criminal. Ironically, this misperception is true even among the poor…

That’s a statement worth exploring further, as most everything he says here is. Exploring at book length, frankly, because race and class warfare keeps flaring up in these flash points before settling back into an uneasy and dysfunctional coexistence, without addressing essential causes for social breakdown and advancing remedies.

And so it continues:

The middle class has to join the poor and whites have to join African-Americans in mass demonstrations, in ousting corrupt politicians, in boycotting exploitative businesses, in passing legislation that promotes economic equality and opportunity, and in punishing those who gamble with our financial future.

Otherwise, all we’re going to get is what we got out of Ferguson: a bunch of politicians and celebrities expressing sympathy and outrage. If we don’t have a specific agenda—a list of exactly what we want to change and how—we will be gathering over and over again beside the dead bodies of our murdered children, parents, and neighbors.

Exactly. My thoughts exactly a couple of years ago when a protest was organized in Chicago as an outcry against violence on the streets with homicides hitting new levels and young people killing young people and anybody caught in the crossfire of random shootings, including innocent little children. This is my town, and the politicians who have run it for so long are people in high places with power and influence, and where are they when these protests are held? Speaker after speaker takes the podium and calls out for help and resolution, community leaders deploring the violence and despair in their neighborhoods and working by all means to aid and protect the people they serve.

Church leaders across different faiths, denominations and congregations are working in coalition to build up those communities, provide services, safety, education, a way out of despair and violence. But where are the politicians?

That gets to the other article, one that addresses questions I’ve been asking. NRO’s Kevin Williamson asks ‘Who Lost the Cities?’

The Reverend Jesse Jackson is, to the surprise of all thinking people, right about something: “A spark has exploded,” he said, referring to the protests and violence in Ferguson, Mo. “When you look at what sparked riots in the Sixties, it has always been some combination of poverty, which was the fuel, and then some oppressive police tactic. It was the same in Newark, in Chicago, in Detroit, in Los Angeles. It’s symptomatic of a national crisis of urban abandonment and repression, seen in Chicago.”

A question for the Reverend Jackson: Who has been running the show in Newark, in Chicago, in Detroit, and in Los Angeles for a great long while now? The answer is: People who see the world in much the same way as does the Reverend Jackson, who take the same view of government, who support the same policies, and who suffer from the same biases.

…the more important and more fundamental question here is one of philosophy and policy. Newark, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles — and Philadelphia, Cleveland, and a dozen or more other cities — have a great deal in common: They are the places in which the progressive vision of government has reached its fullest expressions. They are the hopeless reality that results from wishful thinking.

Ferguson was hardly a happy suburban garden spot until the shooting of Michael Brown. Ferguson is about two-thirds black, and 28 percent of those black residents live below the poverty line. The median income is well below the Missouri average, and Missouri is hardly the nation’s runaway leader in economic matters. More than 60 percent of the births in the city of St. Louis (and about 40 percent in St. Louis County) are out of wedlock.

My reporting over the past few years has taken me to Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, St. Louis and the nearby community of East St. Louis, Ill., Philadelphia, Detroit, Stockton, San Francisco, and a great many other cities, and the Reverend Jackson is undoubtedly correct in identifying “a national crisis of urban abandonment and repression.” He neglects to point out that he is an important enabler of it.

This gets to core, root problems causing social dysfunction and the breakdown of societies basic foundation.

For years, our major cities were undermined by a confluence of four unhappy factors: 1. higher taxes; 2. defective schools; 3. crime; 4. declining economic opportunity. Together, these weighed much more heavily upon the middle class than upon the very wealthy and the very poor.

Though they weigh heavily upon the poor, and more of them are giving up on ‘the system’ they believed would take care of them, especially for the past many years.

Progressives spent a generation imposing taxes and other expenses on urban populations as though the taxpaying middle class would not relocate…They imposed policies that disincentivized stable family arrangements as though doing so would have no social cost.

And they did so while adhering to a political philosophy that holds that the state, not the family or the market, is the central actor in our lives, that the interests of private parties — be they taxpayers or businesses — can and indeed must be subordinated to the state’s interests, as though individuals and families were nothing more than gears in the great machine of politics. The philosophy of abusive eminent domain, government monopolies, and opportunistic taxation is also the philosophy of police brutality, the repression of free speech and other constitutional rights, and economic despair…When life is reduced to the terms in which it is lived in the poorest and most neglected parts of Chicago or Detroit, the welfare state is the police state. Why should we expect the agents of the government who carry guns and badges to be in general better behaved than those at the IRS or the National Labor Relations Board? We have city councils that conduct their affairs in convenient secrecy and put their own interests above those of the communities that they allege to serve, and yet we naïvely think that when that self-serving process is used to hire a police commissioner or to organize a police department, then we’ll get saints and Einsteins out of all that muck.

There’s convergence here between Williamson and Abdul-Jabbar, actually.

Our cities need economic growth and opportunity, functional education systems, and physical security.

Unless the Revs. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Jeremiah Wright, mayors and governors and former Chicago South Side community organizer Barack Obama  listen to the Reverends in the inner city churches taking care of the people most in need, knowing them by name, providing through their charities for the fatherless children who need classrooms and school books, doing outreach to the angry young men who have given up looking for jobs, Ferguson will fade from the front pages without causing social change. And meanwhile, Chicago’s shootings and those in Detroit and New York and other US cities will continue to be statistics.

The president says he is watching closely. So are we.

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Aug 14

What is its strategic goal?’ Does the president yet have one?

So asks the BBC, among other news outlets and voices in media punditry. It sounds trite, the ‘economy of the media’ in some ways. Because it’s a large, historic, confrontation with evil. But since that has to be carried out by world leaders, beyond the real ‘shoes on the ground’ of the heroic relief organizations who have been there far longer than the media have been paying attention, this is how the story is being reported.

All three of President Barack Obama’s predecessors in the White House were involved in one way or another with military conflicts in Iraq. Now, having set out his stall as the president who would end Washington’s foreign interventions, Mr Obama has a new Iraqi conflict of his own.

True, for now, the US role seems limited and circumscribed. Mr Obama has made it clear that it is up to the Iraqis to do the fighting. There will be no US “boots on the ground”, at least in terms of combat troops.

A further 130-strong US assessment team of military advisers has been despatched to Irbil – in addition to the US trainers and liaison people who are already there. But the aim is to bolster the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters to enable them to hold the line against the advancing Islamic State (IS) tide.

The humanitarian crisis afflicting Iraqi minorities – the Christians and the ancient Kurdish Yazidi sect – has formed the ostensible reason for American involvement. Accordingly the US action has been as much humanitarian as military.

Indeed the number of actual air strikes on IS vehicles and positions has been small – enough to send a clear warning that an advance on Irbil would bring much heavier US action.

For now, at least on this front, the US demonstration may have contained the pressure on the Peshmerga, though it has clearly done nothing to put the IS advance into reverse.

Fanned by factionalism
This, then, raises the most fundamental question about Mr Obama’s war: what is its strategic goal?

Is it to try to defeat IS – a group that holds a huge swathe of territory in both Syria and Iraq and one that is already being hailed as the next great strategic threat to the region and beyond ?

If so, then according to Mr Obama’s critics, US action has been both too little and too late.

But there are significant constraints on US action and Mr Obama’s caution may indeed be well advised.

The message coming from Washington is that Iraqis must do the heavy lifting here themselves.

This is complicated, but the president waited a long time to say or do anything, and then only when the Yazidis cried for help from the Sinjar mountaintop did this administration respond. Democratic pundit Kirsten Powers takes issue with that.

It wasn’t until Aug. 5 that the administration acknowledged the crisis in Iraq. It was done in the form of a statement, condemning attacks on religious minorities, by the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power.

By last Thursday, the largely Christian towns of Qaraqosh, Tal Kayf, Bartella and Karamlesh had fallen to the Islamic State.

Finally, later that night — and two full months after the crisis began — President Obama announced airstrikes in Iraq and for the first time acknowledged that Christians are being driven from the homeland of their faith. But the Christians garnered a passing mention, while the religious minority of Yazidis seems to be what moved the president to act.

An Iraqi Christian leader lamented to me that his people would have to convert to get the administration’s attention.

Homeless Christians

The Yazidis deserve protection and humanitarian aid, but so do the Christians who number in the hundreds of thousands in Iraq. While the Yazidis received air drops of food and water, nothing has been dropped to the Christians who are homeless and in dire need of food and water. Each day that passes is a matter of life and death.

Powers has been an Obama defender on many issues over the years of his two terms of administration. And though humanitarian crises should never be politicized, they are de facto in today’s world.

To world powers that are engaged (and many are not), political realities determine what else might be done.

The danger is that it will be the IS actions that determine the pace and scale of US intervention.

Mr Obama must also contend with the broader strategic picture.

IS is a transnational organisation in the sense that it is fighting in both Iraq and Syria. Indeed the geographical ambitions of its caliphate may be even broader. It has taken on the Lebanese army in the border region and potentially threatens Jordan too.

The US needs to establish a broader coalition in the region to contain the IS advance.

And in this light it cannot avoid thinking again about Syria.

Syria, after all, provided the launch pad for IS. And the failure to halt its growth there meant that it was able to export its violence across the border into Iraq.

Whatever the political realities, it prompted the US and UK governments to declare, suddenly, that the relief mission was over.

Christian leaders don’t see it that way. The Vatican has been outspoken on the need to meet this catastrophic crisis with international intervention. This document clearly enumerates the consequences.

This Pontifical Council, together with all those engaged in interreligious dialogue, followers of all religions, and all men and women of good will, can only unambiguously denounce and condemn these practices which bring shame on humanity..

No cause, and certainly no religion, can justify such barbarity. This constitutes an extremely serious offense to humanity and to God who is the Creator, as Pope Francis has often reminded us. We cannot forget, however, that Christians and Muslims have lived together – it is true with ups and downs – over the centuries, building a culture of peaceful coexistence and civilization of which they are proud. Moreover, it is on this basis that, in recent years, dialogue between Christians and Muslims has continued and intensified.

The dramatic plight of Christians, Yezidis and other religious communities and ethnic minorities in Iraq requires a clear and courageous stance on the part of religious leaders, especially Muslims, as well as those engaged in interreligious dialogue and all people of good will. All must be unanimous in condemning unequivocally these crimes and in denouncing the use of religion to justify them. If not, what credibility will religions, their followers and their leaders have? What credibility can the interreligious dialogue that we have patiently pursued over recent years have?

Religious leaders are also called to exercise their influence with the authorities to end these crimes, to punish those who commit them and to reestablish the rule of law throughout the land, ensuring the return home of those who have been displaced. While recalling the need for an ethical management of human societies, these same religious leaders must not fail to stress that the support, funding and arming of terrorism is morally reprehensible.

That said, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue is grateful to all those who have already raised their voices to denounce terrorism, especially that which uses religion to justify it.

Let us therefore unite our voices with that of Pope Francis: “May the God of peace stir up in each one of us a genuine desire for dialogue and reconciliation. Violence is never defeated by violence. Violence is defeated by peace. “

Francis urged the United Nations to intervene. It’s a reminder of the duty to protect stated in the UN’s founding Charter.

The Catholic Church for millennia has taught that war must be a last resort to resolve problems. But it continues to recognize the right of people to defend themselves and, particularly since the pontificate of St. John Paul II, the church has taught that the international community has an obligation to intervene — with force, if necessary — to defend the lives of innocent people at risk of genocide.

“When all other means have been exhausted, to save human beings the international community must act. This can include disarming the aggressor,” said Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva.

The duty to defend the innocent explains how Pope Francis can appeal for peace and, at the same time, his representative in Baghdad can welcome President Barack Obama’s decision to begin using military force against Islamic State positions in northeastern Iraq in early August.

Asked about the U.S. military airstrikes, Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, the Vatican nuncio to Iraq, told Vatican Radio Aug. 11, “This is something that had to be done, otherwise (the Islamic State) could not be stopped.”

The Islamic State, defined as a terrorist group by the international community and by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, has captured a wide swath of territory in Iraq and Syria, torturing and massacring civilians and forcing hundreds of thousands of people — particularly Christians, Yezidi and other minorities — from their homes.

Given the brutality of the terrorists, Archbishop Lingua’s comments were in line with papal statements and Catholic social teaching.

CNEWA, one of the many organizations doing the best on the ground relief operation at the local level, everywhere Christian and minority communities are threatened, reports that some Muslim leaders are speaking out against these crimes as well.

Faced with the unrelenting reports about the sufferings of Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria, even Christians who are friendly toward Muslims can be perplexed and ask, “Why aren’t Muslims speaking out against these atrocities?” The answer is: Muslims have been speaking out in the strongest terms, condemning the crimes against humanity committed by ISIS (or, as it is increasingly called, IS) and others in the name of Islam.

So, why do we not hear more of this?

The first reason is because Islam is not a structurally centralized religion. Unlike, for example, Catholicism, there is no one person or institution that can speak with authority for all Sunnis or even all Shiites — to say nothing of speaking for all Muslims around the world.

The second reason is that there is a huge number of newspapers in Muslim countries throughout the world. Many, if not most, of these newspapers appear in languages unfamiliar to people in the West. Sometimes, it is not a question of Muslims speaking out, but of others just not hearing. Often, the “not hearing” happens because people do not have access to sources or just do not speak the same language. But the voices are out there. And an important media monitoring group has turned up the volume, to make sure more hear them.

MEMRI (The Middle East Media Research Institute), which could never be accused of being apologetic to Islam or Muslims, has just published a “Special Dispatch,” in which it gives a platform to several significant editorials written by Muslims in important Middle Eastern newspapers — condemning the atrocities taking place in Syria and Iraq in no uncertain terms.

I’ve spoken with scholars waiting to hear this, and it’s good news that people of intellect and good will agree on how to live together with civil, respectful and humane treatment of each other.

Meanwhile, Princeton Professor Robert George is not waiting on the sidelines to see what happens. He has issued a plea on behalf of victims of barbarism in Iraq, and launched a campaign to join high level and grassroots voices to speak with the strength of numbers and influence and intent to help those in harm’s way.

Here’s the distinct site to sign on and join your voice to the plea for humanitarian relief.

President Obama was right to order airstrikes against ISIS/ISIL to stop its advance on key cities, as well as to provide humanitarian assistance to people fleeing their assaults. Much more needs to be done, however, and there is no time to waste.

We, the undersigned, are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. We are conservatives, liberals, and moderates. We represent various religious traditions and shades of belief. None of us glorifies war or underestimates the risks entailed by the use of military force. Where non-military means of resolving disputes and protecting human rights are available, we always and strongly favor those means. However, the evidence is overwhelming that such means will not be capable of protecting the victims of the genocide already unfolding at the hands of ISIS/ISIL. That is why Iraq’s Chaldean Patriarch Sako has requested military intervention.

Therefore we call upon the United States and the international community to do everything necessary to empower local forces fighting ISIS/ISIL in Iraq to protect their people. No options that are consistent with the principles of just war doctrine should be off the table. We further believe that the United States’ goal must be more comprehensive than simply clamping a short-term lid on the boiling violence that is threatening so many innocents in ISIS/ISIL’s path. Nothing short of the destruction of ISIS/ISIL as a fighting force will provide long-term protection of victims.

We call upon President Obama and the Congress of the United States to expand airstrikes against ISIS/ISIL with a view to eroding its military power, and to provide full air support for Kurdish and other forces fighting against ISIS/ISIL. Further, we endorse the Washington Post’s call for the United States to provide arms, ammunition, and equipment to Kurdish forces, Sunni tribesmen, and others who are currently hampered in their ability to fight ISIS/ISIL by a lack of sophisticated weapons and other resources. The U.S. should also assist with intelligence. We are hopeful that local forces, with adequate support and assistance from the U.S. and the international community, can defeat ISIS/ISIL.

The expansion of humanitarian aid to the displaced and fleeing is also urgent. Local churches and aid agencies are overwhelmed, and we have grave concerns about how these victims of violent religious persecution will be cared for this winter. The U.S. can and should take the lead in providing food, water, medicine, and other essential supplies.

We must be mindful that in addition to stopping the genocide, the U.S. and Europe have very concrete interests in disabling ISIS/ISIL. As the Washington Post has warned:

“The Islamic State forces, which have captured large numbers of U.S.-supplied heavy weapons, threaten not only the Iraqi and Kurdish governments, but also Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. With hundreds of Western recruits, they have the ambition and capability to launch attacks against targets in Europe and the United States.”

It is also worth bearing in mind that our own nation is not without responsibility for the plight of victims of ISIS/ISIL genocide. What is happening to these people now, and the further threats they face, would not be happening but for errors and failures of our nation’s own in Iraq. This can and should be acknowledged by all, despite disagreements we may have among ourselves as to precisely what these errors and failures were, and which political and military leaders are mainly responsible for them. The point is not to point fingers or apportion blame, but to recognize that justice as well as compassion demands that we take the steps necessary to end the ISIL/ISIS campaign of genocide and protect those who are its victims.

So well written. So let it be done.

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Aug 12

How fitting a legacy that would be for a genius at comic relief.

This is the third time in recent weeks that I’ve been startled by a confrontation with depression, mental illness, or emotional distress that wrought  havoc or brought death before such suffering could be successfully treated. And those were only three high profile cases that are emblematic of countless others, especially people on the margins of society with no one particularly paying attention to them.

With no other thread than that, here are my encounters, and each one had impact.

The July 7th issue of ESPN magazine featured an article titled ‘The Pursuit of Radical Acceptance.’ It was about Chicago Bears’ Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall, and his struggle with ‘borderline personality disorder’, a mental health condition so little understood or talked about that Marshall made it his mission to “make an off-limits subject commonplace.”

He’s reaching out to players who might need help, teaming with mental health organizations through his charity and raising awareness and cash for early-detection programs.

“Where we are now is where the HIV community was 25 years ago,” he says. “We can raise all the money in the world, but people might not go get help. They’re still going to see it as a taboo topic. So it’s important for us to get the conversation started.”

Mental health issues can’t be taboo. They still are though, which is why so much of the population, including high profile celebrities, suffer in silence or within a small circle of closest family and friends. This must change.

Over the years, I recall several cases of prominent professionals whose grown children had ended their own lives, and couldn’t imagine the dreadful horror of such an experience nor how one could live through it. Once you’re a parent, you just know that’s the worse thing that could happen. And it happens to anyone, even the unlikeliest of people and families.

Like beloved Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, American’s Pastor as many people see him, who couldn’t save the life of his own son. I encountered that story again over the weekend in a poignant interview with Raymond Arroyo in ‘The World Over’ on the EWTN network. It covered Pastor Warren’s initiative, ‘A Gathering On Mental Health and the Church’, and the tragic event that inspired him to focus on the issue of mental health, the death of his own son. It’s heart wrenching beyond words to see these parents go out publicly trying to save others from such unspeakable tragedy.

But the hope of saving them is greater if they can be reached, and going back to Brandon Marshall’s point of his mission, mental health is still a taboo subject, so people won’t talk about it the way they will about any range of other health issues for which there’s a support community and charitable organizations championing the cause. Again, that must change.

Now, for the third time in as many weeks, the tragedy of mental despair unresolved and maybe largely unaddressed has hit us all, like a sucker punch that knocked the wind out of everyone. New media preempted coverage of the crisis in Iraq, the Israel-Hamas war, the brink of war between Russia and Ukraine, and other major breaking and developing news stories, for blanket coverage of the suicide of Robin Williams. How terribly tragic.

The articles and television videos and remembrances are so vast, let them celebrate this one man’s life and life’s work that elevated the hearts and minds and spirits of countless people while his own were sinking into darkness. Here are only a couple I’d like to point out.

Friend Elizabeth Scalia posted this on the ‘Murderous Mendacity of Depression.”

Depression is a hissing false witness. It lies and tells someone there is no hope; it lies and declares, “you’re a fraud”; it lies when it warns you to hide your feelings, because people won’t love you if they know how terrified and alone and desperate you feel; it lies and sneers that you’re weak — that you can just snap out of it, anytime, if you really want to; it croons the lie that love is not real, and hope is for suckers; it whispers the most insidious of lies: that your pain will never ebb, cannot be transcended, and has no value at all.

After a while, the pain begins to feel like all you are and all there is: a worthless, pointless void. And when your life becomes just pain-without-end, suffering-without-meaning, tomorrow seems like less a promise than a prison.

When depression wins, it is such a damned tragedy, no matter whether it has carried off a big rich somebody, or an ordinary nobody, because it is the victory of an incessant liar.

Biblically, that refers to ‘the Accuser, who stands night and day accusing incessantly until you hear and start believing that voice, which is the voice of a liar. Who doesn’t hear that voice? But who has moral and mental and spiritual support behind them and who doesn’t? That’s so key to making this a subject and condition to talk about in the mainstream public discussion of health.

My friend Kathryn Lopez posted this poignant piece on her blog, refreshingly innocent and yet deeply knowing about the human condition.

What if every person of faith who ever laughed at a Robin Williams joke, prayed for him? And every day it happened? Could this be a new way for us to live?

On Sunday night I turned on Dead Poets Society, the 1989 movie where Robin Williams, teaching his students poetry, famously encourages them to give a nod to Walt Whitman and go ahead and address him as “O Captain, my Captain.”

I remember watching Dead Poets Society when it first came out and being so taken with the pain of a young man who lost all hope.

Young men, we pray, grow up to be men. And even then … the burdens of pain may grow, despite success.

God help them, God heal them from the pain of what they believe about themselves.

We see talent, they can’t see past fear.

Sunday night, I had turned on the TV to see if anyone was doing anything different given the Christian extermination — and then-some — in Iraq. Not really. So after a quick journey into the center of the Teen Choice Awards, I stopped inside a classroom with Robin Williams, a movie I hadn’t seen in years. The daughter of teachers -– and a schoolgirl who quite liked being a student — I remembered how grateful I was a teacher was portrayed in a good light.

I didn’t watch much of Dead Poets Society Sunday night but I felt prompted to pray for Robin Williams Sunday night. Perhaps simply in thanksgiving. Perhaps because we are — all the baptized — are the body of Christ, and I was called to hear a cry for help from a brother.

Perhaps because he needed prayers and God wanted me receptive to this, interceding for his pain. God looks out for His Creation and relies on His adopted sons and daughters to do the work of His graces, living sacramental lives as the Body of Christ.

I only prayed briefly for him.

What a world it might be if, every time someone made us laugh or otherwise entertained or informed us, we prayed for him? What if we always prayed in thanksgiving and with the knowledge that we don’t know what lies beneath? Anyone who followed Williams’ career knew he had his struggles. We often don’t know. But it’s so often there — no matter how clever or talented. We’re only human.

We must pray. And be alert — looking and listening for opportunities and promptings. Our lives must be ones of prayer and we must set aside time and plead with God on behalf of those who suffer most. In front of us and a world away.

To say “we must pray” is so counter-cultural, and yet Kathryn Lopez is an editor-at-large of a national secular news organization out of DC and New York who regularly blends the secular and the sacred, faith and life, God and man, applying eternal truths to cultural relativism. She does it so well.

One of the Patheos bloggers posted an interesting piece on the saints who suffered from depression.

With this topic very much in the news today, it seems a good time to remember that even the holiest of people have suffered from periods of despair.

It’s a comfort of sorts, a relief for those willing to engage it, and a resource for hope.

Pray if you will or don’t if you won’t. Kathryn Lopez and Deadon Kandra  just make a suggestion and a very good one for those who see the merit and the power of prayer. God only knows what a difference it may have made for Robin Williams.

And all the other individuals out there whose names we don’t know who are suffering as he did. God willing, it may save their lives.

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Jul 16

How you connect the dots determines the picture that emerges.

The recent chronology of events provides a startling snapshot of abortion extremism in this country.

The Supreme Court ruled on the Hobby Lobby lawsuit on June 30th, upholding free exercise rights established in the Constitution but more specifically, the bi-partisan Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

Then Democrats in Congress reacted with outrage. And a reactionary legislative bill.

“Women across the country and men are outraged by a decision by five Supreme Court justices that all of a sudden says your boss has an opportunity to decide for you what your health care choices are,” Sen. Patty Murray, the bill’s sponsor, told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Wednesday.

“That outrage is being transmitted to everyone, and I think we have a very good chance of rewriting the law so that the justices can’t take away women’s ability to make their own health care choices.”

So wait…what?

To reset, as politicians are fond of saying, it was “all of a sudden” that this administration announced in January 2012 that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandated certain drugs and procedures to be provided by employers in their health insurance coverage, decided by government with no choice for employers.

And now that such government overreach has been found excessive and in violation of RFRA, a Supreme Court decision is going to be rewritten in law? So “the justices can’t take away women’s ability to make their own health care choices”? When was the last time something so audacious was undertaken by politicians, even after the Supreme Court wrote abortion into law and swept away the separate and enumerated power to make laws for all 50 states in one fell swoop?

This is surreal. Even the liberal Washington Post did a fact check on congressional Democrats claims and found them demonstrably false, calling it all “overheated rhetoric.”

“Really, we should be afraid of this court. The five guys who start determining what contraceptions are legal. Let’s not even go there.”

That was House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, with what WaPo called “a very odd statement”, which her office tried to walk back, though foot dragging along the way.

Then the WaPo article cited this quote:

“The one thing we are going to do during this work period, sooner rather than later, is to ensure that women’s lives are not determined by virtue of five white men. This Hobby Lobby decision is outrageous, and we are going to do something about it.”

— Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), remarks to reporters, on July 8

Spoken by a white man who wields power in the Senate with potentially less considered reasoning on a daily basis than justices on the Supreme Court on occasion. And by the way…

The Hobby Lobby decision was written by Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. That’s certainly five men, but Thomas is African American.

Reid’s office said he realized the mistake after he made it, and reverted to citing this decision as having been made by five men.

And so on. The fact checking goes on at the WaPo site.

Into the fray comes legal scholar Helen Alvare with her calm, clarifying and poised voice.

Prior to the 2012 HHS Mandate, there were no “runs” on birth control suppliers, nor were there demonstrations in the streets by women demanding free birth control. Nowhere was there observed a dearth of women willing to work for businesses informed by a religious conscience on matters of contraception or abortion.

This should come as a shock to those predicting the end of women’s freedom as a result of the Supreme Court’s decisions in Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood. It should also shock those protesters screaming about women’s ovaries on the steps of the Supreme Court. It should even shock the president of the United States, who took time away from his deliberations concerning Ukraine, Iraq, and Syria, to tweet cleverly against this win for religious freedom. And perhaps it will deliver the biggest shock to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose dissent in Hobby Lobby spoke of the “harm,” the “havoc,” and the threat to women’s “ability to participate equally in the economic and social life of the nation” posed by the decision. Media reaction has been predictably similar.

Helen goes on to enumerate “myriad reasons that many women won’t be joining Justice Ginsburg in the panic room post-Hobby Lobby”, aptly describing the current environment.

One…

Justice Ginsburg, like so many feminist activists of her generation, has a tendency to claim to speak for all women when she frames a grievance on women’s behalf. But relatively few women are actually affected by the majority opinion in Hobby Lobby. Poor women, and even women at several times the poverty level, already have free or subsidized birth control available from the state. Since 1970, they have been served by the National Family Planning Program (“Title X”).

She lists other ways access to birth control has been widely available to women for low or no cost.

Also, generally speaking, the Centers for Disease Control report that cost does not even make the list of “frequently cited reasons for nonuse” among the 11 percent of sexually active women not using contraception. A Guttmacher source claimed that only 3.7 percent of the total sample of women seeking abortions listed cost as a barrier to contraceptive usage.

And then…

There is also a sizable cohort of women who dislike (or even hate) the side effects of some forms of contraception—especially those of hormonal methods such as the pill, Depo-Provera, and IUDs. Ironically, these are the more costly methods that Justice Ginsburg and other activists hope the mandate will most promote. You can find women hating hormonal birth control for decidedly nonreligious reasons in books like Holly Griggs Spall’s Sweetening the Pill, or in articles on popular news sites.

Then there is the significant group of women who have suffered some alarming health effects from their birth control. Think of the 10,000 women suing Bayer Pharmaceuticals for blood clots or strokes related to the Yaz pill (Bayer has paid more than $1.6 billion in settlements so far), or the 3,800 women suing Merck & Co. for the blood clots, strokes and heart attacks related to the Nuva-Ring. Even birth-control cheerleaders like Vanity Fair, the Washington Post, and the New York Times acknowledge the serious or fatal effects of some methods for some women, or their role in increasing AIDS/HIV transmission. Not to mention the World Health Organization or the American Cancer Society, organizations that label some forms of the pill carcinogenic to some parts of the body, while noting that some forms might mitigate the risk of cancer in others.

Click on the link to this article for all the links Helen Alvare provides for these references. It’s outstanding. Here’s more:

What about women who are just sick and tired of the obsession with contraception and abortion—women starving for concrete policies allowing them to manage the costs of education and the demands of work, and also to marry and have kids?

This adds up to a lot of women who are not nodding their heads in agreement over the “you can take my free contraception out of my cold, dead hands” tone of the Ginsburg dissent, or other frenzied post-Hobby Lobby laments.

Read the whole article. It’s brilliant. And in her professorial mind, she sums up well:

The all-too-brief summary is as follows: when birth control and abortion separate sex from kids, non-marital sexual encounters increase as the perceived “risks” (children) appear to decline. Sex easily becomes the “price” of obtaining a romantic relationship, and “shotgun weddings” following a pregnancy disappear because women have the right of access to abortion. But because there are so many more uncommitted sexual encounters, and because contraception regularly fails, and because of continuing aspirations for children and relationships, cohabitation skyrockets, nonmarital births and abortions increase, and marriage is delayed or forgone (despite women’s fertility patterns and persistent desire for children). Single parenthood by women (and therefore poverty) becomes far more common.

It wasn’t just the “technology shocks” of the pill and abortion that shaped this marketplace; the law cooperated. The feminist legal establishment of the latter part of the twentieth century argued (and the Supreme Court agreed) that children imposed serious disadvantages on women. Contraception and abortion were thus achieved as constitutional rights. At the same time, leading feminist voices glamorized paid work and failed to pursue policies harmonizing motherhood with work outside the home. They played down differences between women and men, allowed the “ideal male worker” model to dominate women’s work lives, and let birth control and abortion policy constitute nearly the entire “women’s agenda.”

In sum…

We must clearly draw attention to the nature and workings of the marketplace of relationships today. Ask women to honestly confront the question whether it is to their advantage to participate according to this market’s current terms. In particular, point out the good of renewing female solidarity toward relinking sex, commitment, and children for the benefit of women, children, and men as well. Finally, vocally offer to cooperate on public and private policies enabling women to manage the demands and costs of education and employment, in harmony with their aspirations to marry and have children.

How I wish this work were as simple as parroting the simplistic claim that Hobby Lobby harms women. It isn’t. But the alternative—allowing Ginsburg to stand unchallenged—is unacceptable if we are to be fair to women and to preserve religious freedom for both women and men.

However, the Senate stayed in the “panic room” and worked on some draconian legislation. One was a bill to overturn the Supreme Court ruling on Hobby Lobby, upholding religious freedom. That one was called the “Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act.” another was written to undo a host of state abortion laws, as many as 200 of them nationwide, laws that set common sense limits like sex-selective abortions, fetal pain limits at five months (extremely liberal even at that duration), abortion clinic health regulation ordinances for the safety of women, informed consent laws for the sake of truly informed choice, and so on. That bill was called the “Women’s Health Protection Act”, which stood for the opposite of what it was called. One was called the ‘Not My Boss’s Business Act’, which is more true than drafters realized. It’s not the business of the employer to provide no-cost birth control pills and morning-after pills and other drugs mandated by the HHS. Especially when they’re not mandated to provide essential vaccinations, or many other preventive health services.

National Review Online got it right in this editorial. Unfortunate for longtime purists, but true today.

Democrats hold one thing — and one thing only — sacred, and that is abortion. Our diplomats may be murdered abroad, the rule of law may be grossly violated at home, the First Amendment may be written off as just another roadblock on the freeway to utopia, but abortion will always have for them a uniquely holy status — even if that means employing unholy methods to facilitate it. Thus Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut has introduced a bill, cosponsored by a majority of Senate Democrats, that would purport to strip states of their ability to impose even the most basic of health and safety regulations on the grisly procedure, a bill that David French has rightly suggested should be titled the Kermit Gosnell Enabling Act of 2014.

How horrifying. But how aptly named.

Senator Blumenthal proposes to apply the Philadelphia model to the nation at large. Under his bill, states would have effectively no power even to ensure that abortions are performed by licensed physicians — surely the most minimal standard of medical responsibility that there is. Laws covering grisly late-term abortions would be forcibly overturned and fetal viability would be redefined according to the subjective whim of the abortionist. While the Democrats are bemoaning a fictitious war on women, their bill would provide federal protection to sex-selective abortions — the barbaric practice under which generations of girls have been decimated in such backward jurisdictions as China and Azerbaijan, a practice The Economist describes as “gendercide.” Laws restricting taxpayer funding of abortion would be overturned. Laws protecting the consciences of physicians who choose not to perform abortions would be overturned.

So here we are. The Senate voted on one of these bills Wednesday, and it failed in this first go-round.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid lamented that this pro-abortion bill only gained 56 of the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture (end debate), and promised another vote “before the year is out” (read: before the November elections). In other words, Sen. Reid is signaling to his pro-abortion allies that he will make the abortion-pill mandate a central issue of the fall elections.

That’s clarifying. That they had 56 votes today on something so draconian is a warning. More Americans are self-identifying as pro-life. But they and others may not realize how comprehensive this bill is in covering “extremism we’ve never seen before”, as an Alliance Defending Freedom legal counsel explained to me today. He said, flatly, that the bill covered even physician assisted suicide drugs under the terms of its wide and mandated coverage.

From the NRO piece:

Morally literate people, including those who generally support abortion rights, understand that abortion is fundamentally unlike anything else doctors are commonly called upon to do, and that it is morally significant in a way a tonsillectomy is not. People of good will may disagree to some extent about the moral significance of what is maturing in a woman’s womb — but it is not an ingrown toenail, and all the Senate proclamations in the world will not change that fact.

Right. Let’s be clear on the proclamations and the reality. Reactionaries are reaching for the ‘war on women’ declaration again, which denigrates and demeans women. Let them speak for themselves.

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Jun 30

Yes, the Obamacare HHS mandate does violate fundamental rights, said justices willing to state the obvious.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), signed into law under President Bill Clinton after near unanimous approval in the House and Senate in 1993, applied a two-pronged test to any attempt by government to impose a federal law that substantially burdens citizens’ free exercise of their religion. The first test requires the government to show it has a ‘compelling interest’ in enforcing such a sweeping law, and the second is that government was seeking the ‘least restrictive means’ possible to achieve its ends. There’s no way this federal fiat issued in January 2012 could possibly pass either of those tests.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty dubbed the HHS mandate ‘a contraception delivery scheme’, which describes it well. As the court cases piled up across the country and spectrum of employers from non-profit organizations to for-profit business owners, academic institutions to healthcare providers (see Little Sisters of the Poor v. Sebelius), government lawyers could not defend their claims coherently.

Here’s the breakdown of current cases against the federal government when those arguments have been heard in courts at all levels. Monday’s Supreme Court decision on Hobby Lobby will impact a great number of others, and certainly scored a victory for religious freedom.

The U.S. Supreme Court granted a landmark victory for religious liberty today, ruling in the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that individuals do not lose their religious freedom when they open a family business. The court ruled 5-4 in favor of David and Barbara Green and their family business, Hobby Lobby, ruling that they will not be required to violate their faith by including four potentially life-terminating drugs and devices in the company’s health insurance plan or pay severe fines.

“This is a landmark decision for religious freedom. The Supreme Court recognized that Americans do not lose their religious freedom when they run a family business,” said Lori Windham, Senior Counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and counsel for Hobby Lobby. “This ruling will protect people of all faiths. The Court’s reasoning was clear, and it should have been clear to the government. You can’t argue there are no alternative means when your agency is busy creating alternative means for other people.”

The decision also has important implications for over 50 pending lawsuits brought by non-profit religious organizations, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, which are also challenging the mandate. In two different respects, the Supreme Court strongly signaled that the mandate may be struck down in those cases too. First, it rejected the government’s argument that there was no burden on the Green’s religious exercise because only third parties use the drugs. Second, it held that the government could simply pay for contraception coverage with its own funds, rather than requiring private employers to do so.

“The handwriting is on the wall,” said Windham. “The Court has strongly signaled that the mandate is in trouble in the non-profit cases, too.”

The Court upheld a June 2013 ruling by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals protecting Hobby Lobby and the Green family from the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate. That mandate requires Hobby Lobby and co-founders David and Barbara Green to provide and facilitate, against their religious convictions, four potentially life-terminating drugs and devices in the company’s health insurance plan. The Greens argued that the mandate substantially burdened their religious beliefs in violation of a federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

In an opinion by Justice Alito, the Court stated:

The plain terms of RFRA make it perfectly clear that Congress did not discriminate . . . against men and women who wish to run their businesses as for-profit corporations in the manner required by their religious beliefs. . . . Our responsibility is to enforce RFRA as written, and under the standard that RFRA prescribes, the HHS contraceptive mandate is unlawful.”

Justice Kennedy’s concurrence added: “Among the reasons the United States is so open, so tolerant, and so free is that no person may be restricted or demeaned by government in exercising his or her religion.”

There will be plenty to cover and analyze on this in the days to come. But here’s some good background worth reading, artfully written with accurate citations by creative thinker Tod Worner, news coverage as a play in three acts. Written just over two months ago, after oral arguments were presented in the Supreme  Court by plaintiffs and government lawyers in the HHS mandate cases justices would decide later, it ended with this:

Plaintiffs and defendant would rest. The Court would adjourn. The verdict will come to us in June.

Who is this young, promising man – this main character in our play? Perhaps we can know by considering him in each act: The Speech, The Executive Order, The Court Case. Perhaps.

This play, in three acts, is far from finished. There is more to be said and done. Will it end as a comedy? Or a tragedy? How will it end? How, indeed? We shall see. We shall see.

We now see how the Supreme Court ruled on this day in this pivotal case. We’ll see what comes next. Stay tuned.

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Jun 16

Earth to Dad…did you get the message? That’s okay, here’s a backup…

On Father’s Day weekend in America, I couldn’t sign onto Facebook without an onslaught of the vast majority of postings from my ‘Friend’ world displaying a changed profile or timeline picture of their fathers, or them with their fathers. And in some cases, it was accompanied by stories about their fathers.

This is important. Men have been marginalized and trivialized and rendered irrelevant and worse, as in part of the problem of society. But it’s quite the opposite. A society of fatherless homes and children who grow up without the influence of a father deeply impacts society. For the worse.

There were many tributes to fatherhood over the holiday celebrated in America. But some contained within then’ the seeds of the future of the world’, as Josef Ratzinger put it many years ago.

Ethika Politka devoted this and another article to the topic.

Not one of us has been born without a biological father, and I knew that I was about to become one. I had as much certitude about this as I had that England was an island. But what I was not certain about, nor prepared for, was what came next. Suddenly, it was not an idea, or a sonogram, or a heartbeat, or even the feel of a foot pushing against the soft pulled flesh of his mother. Suddenly, the lightning fast presence of a beautifully formed human being was before me; not as a category, or an idea, or a possibility, but as a person whose presence poured over me. It was like the dawning of a new horizon, or a new aspect of the horizon I had always known, but not understood…

I can remember the exact moment when that distinction became evident to me. When we were preparing for the birth of our son, at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, England, I did not doubt that the child being born was my own. Not one of us has been born without a biological father, and I knew that I was about to become one. I had as much certitude about this as I had that England was an island. But what I was not certain about, nor prepared for, was what came next. Suddenly, it was not an idea, or a sonogram, or a heartbeat, or even the feel of a foot pushing against the soft pulled flesh of his mother. Suddenly, the lightning fast presence of a beautifully formed human being was before me; not as a category, or an idea, or a possibility, but as a person whose presence poured over me. It was like the dawning of a new horizon, or a new aspect of the horizon I had always known, but not understood…
I can remember the exact moment when that distinction became evident to me. When we were preparing for the birth of our son, at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, England, I did not doubt that the child being born was my own. Not one of us has been born without a biological father, and I knew that I was about to become one. I had as much certitude about this as I had that England was an island. But what I was not certain about, nor prepared for, was what came next. Suddenly, it was not an idea, or a sonogram, or a heartbeat, or even the feel of a foot pushing against the soft pulled flesh of his mother. Suddenly, the lightning fast presence of a beautifully formed human being was before me; not as a category, or an idea, or a possibility, but as a person whose presence poured over me. It was like the dawning of a new horizon, or a new aspect of the horizon I had always known, but not understood.

His eyes were wide open, and if he could see, I believe that my face was the first one he saw in this ebullient and miraculous world. At that moment, the midwives asked me to cut the cord. I declined not because I was squeamish, but because I was now in awe of something more ontologically present to me: my son.

They cut the cord, swaddled him, and settled him into my arms. I had seen illuminated on the big screen all those stock birthing room scenes, so I was reasonably certain that they would put him into his mother’s arms, at least initially. I thought there would be some continuation of the distance, that the hidden nature of my biological fatherhood would be extendable by the more obvious physical bond to his mother. But there was no differential, no slow transition, no easing into it. All of the sudden, something like an ontological conversion had taken place in a flash. I spontaneously began to sing a nursery tune that I remembered my grandfather singing. He was a revelation to me. A potency hidden in biology, a possibility, an idea, was now actually personal and real.

It is a story that my wife likes to recount partly because the singing itself was a sign of the joy we both felt, but it was also a sign that something had been born in me too. The singing was the sign that I was not only a biological father, but that I had become an ontological father as well. This had changed not my nature but who I was as a person. Suddenly I was not merely an external cause of the goodness of this life, but had entered into communion with him, and this revealed to me that fatherhood was not simply something that could be given, but also something to be received from another.

Then there was this message from a young mother.

When I first met my then boyfriend, Tyler, he was basically a kid. Tyler avoided responsibilities; he didn’t have a care in the world other than his own enjoyment. Tyler was careless and care-free because he could be. His life was a downward spiral, but he didn’t care—he was unstoppable.

Then I got pregnant.

You’ve got to read the rest for yourself. It’s a journey of discovery.

Becoming a father transformed Tyler the kid into Tyler the responsible man—from a person who didn’t care, to a caring person. Tyler came to understand that the way he was living before wasn’t living—it was existing. Now he strives to always do better for the sake of his family.

Fathers make a huge difference in their families. Tod Worner devoted this post to that fact.

In the last several years, there has been a debate (I would not say a robust debate) about whether or not fathers matter. The discussion seems to center around whether a household run by a single mother or grandparent or other alternative fatherless households can provide the same (or superior) child-rearing environment. The answer, it seems, is a foregone conclusion. “Of course”, it is answered. “How could you suggest otherwise?”, it is asked. And then the litany of abuses or errors that fathers have brought to their children’s lives is listed soon followed by the not subtle insinuation that it is bigotry to suggest otherwise. Thus, it would seem, endeth the debate.

Now, on this Father’s Day, I only want to offer three insights regarding this debate. First, there are plenty of extraordinary families that don’t have a father involved. Second, there are a number of fathers who have done terrible things to their children and are rightfully considered abominable. And third (and perhaps most importantly), quite simply, fathers matter.

Read the whole post, it matters to facilitate this discussion of fatherhood.

But my father – the product of an alcoholic upbringing – never missed one of my football games, baseball games, plays, choir concerts, solos, speeches or history presentations. Incredibly busy, he never flaunted what he did for me. He simply showed up, told me he loved me and how proud he was of me…

My dad taught me to pray, read me stories from the Bible and modeled a steady devotion not only to attending church, but giving the church time and treasure. He taught me how to engage in conversation, look a person in the eye and offer a firm handshake. He mentored me about character, virtue and truth. When I have gone through dark times in my life, he not only listens, but is one of the few people – ever – to give me consistently good advice. And, do you know what? I have never, ever, ever had the impression that my dad thought I was wasting his time (even when I knew he didn’t have much time to give). This is my dad. My friend, my counselor, my mentor, my hero.

Now…let us return to the original debate about whether or not fathers matter. And let me simply say this: Thank you for offering me statistics. I appreciate you providing expert psychological and sociological opinion. It is kind that you thoughtfully construct a point-by-point analysis and share this with me on this issue of great importance.

Thank you.

But I don’t need it.

I already know the answer. How do I know?

Because fathers matter, he realizes.

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Jun 09

The more time passes, the more we can appreciate the timelessness of that historic event.

Or series of events. Before it gets any further away on the calendar, I want to point out some striking memorials and they continued to come out even after June 6th, the day of the Normandy landings, the day that initiated the Western Allied effort to liberate mainland Europe from Nazi occupation during World War II.

Tributes to that day on the 70th anniversary were remarkable.

Hotair’s Ed Morrissey gave this tribute.

There is little to say or write about D-Day that hasn’t already been expressed over the past seventy years by those more eloquent than me, or especially by those who took part in the greatest invasion in human history, and for the noblest purpose. Some events challenge not just the imagination, but even language itself. Seventy years ago, the assault on the beaches of Normandy by the free men of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and units from the countries occupied by the Nazi horror remains perhaps the most stunning act of determination and defiance in history, as 160,000 men stormed Fortress Europe and sent evil reeling — thousands of whom would die that day for freedom.

And he gives video after tortured, treasured video testifying to the raw reality of that day.

They certainly gave everything they had — so that we might live free, and not just in Europe but in America as well. Many of them gave their lives for a freedom to which they knew they might never return, but those men gave us that precious gift. May we remember them, and the men who survived and kept fighting and then returned home to build their lives and families too. We owe them a debt that can only barely be imagined, but can be repaid with constant vigilance and dedication to the cause for which they fought.

Freedom.

Ronald Reagan’s commemorative Normandy speech concludes the post, every bit of it worth experiencing.

Tod Worner did something similar here on Patheos. Something poignant and eloquent and very human.

Now, it may be argued that the horrors discovered in Europe long after D-Day exceeded anything that could have been imagined when the invasion began. But Churchill, Roosevelt, Eisenhower and men and women of the military knew the Nazi worldview: Aggression, Fanaticism, Hatred, Ruthlessness, Greed. Values antithetical to human dignity and freedom. The Nazi creed taken to its extreme, yet logical, end would lead to the concentration camp. And it needed to be stopped.

So 70 years after D-Day…what have we learned? Were there doubts? Absolutely. Trepidation and uncertainty coursed through every individual from the grunt to the generals. Was there a duty recognized by leaders and soldiers alike to liberate the European peoples? Unquestionably. And what was the outcome?

Deliverance. Sweet deliverance at a very high price.

Doubt. Duty. Deliverance. To all veterans who have paid or been willing to pay that price, humbly, sincerely and endlessly…thank you.

For those who fully appreciate the cost and for those who never knew the price paid, The Atlantic provided a stunning visual montage, each photo worth time spent lingering.

How many countless people and nations are grateful for those who took some part, any part, in this historic and timeless event in the battle for human freedom.

The French still are, notes John Fund at NRO.

“We love you! Thank you for all you did!” 15-year-old Audrey Rigaud said with tears in her eyes as she embraced Bob Bedford, a 90-year-old veteran of D-Day, outside the banquet this small French town held in honor of their country’s liberation from Nazi occupation. The difference in their ages may have been three quarters of a century and their cultures a continent apart, but the message was clear: A surprising number of French haven’t forgotten America’s role in “the liberation.”

Audrey had come to Normandy all the way from Marseille — 700 miles away — with her classmates to commemorate D-Day for a school project. “Our feelings are so full, we want to make sure no one forgets the liberation,” Olivia Diddi, a fellow student of Audrey’s, told me. For his part, Bedford was overwhelmed by the reception he’s gotten. “It’s the first time I’ve been back since 1944,” the former Navy lieutenant told me. “If I’d only known how they felt.”

Fund was there, to capture this commemoration.

I heard a lot of things in Normandy this week that might sound trite or simplistic to someone who has never been in battle. But you quickly realize that the reason some truths are eternal and valuable is precisely because they can have such great meaning to people. Europe was occupied by a terrible tyranny and its people were slowly starving as the war ground on. America, Britain, Canada, and other countries that sent their young men and women overseas to take back Europe did a noble and courageous thing. It’s refreshing to learn that so many people in Europe who weren’t alive to witness the joy of liberation still do so much to commemorate it…

The message I take away from the windswept beaches of Normandy is that there are times when tyranny must be opposed with every fiber of our being — and that service comes in many forms, some dangerous and some just a matter of doing what even the weakest among us can. And finally, that even though it can’t be expected or wished for, the gratitude of people toward those who fought against tyranny can be long-lasting indeed. I learned that here in Normandy.

There’s a message flickering in some of these statements and memories and reports of commemorations. It’s a message that service is there today for all of us to take up and act on, and even if it seems mundane or simple, it is there in front of us to do. So that in our own way, we hold off modern day forces of tyranny against the weak and vulnerable and dependent, anywhere we encounter such threats. For the long-lasting effect such service may have.

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