The Pied Piper 2018

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Children of my generation learned the story of the Pied Piper. It’s one of those Grimm fairy tales lodged in our brains.

The Pied Piper is a kind of public savior who, during the Bubonic Plague of the Middle Ages, was freeing the city of Hamlin of the source of the plague that was killing them: rats. Thousands of them followed the music of his flute. But when the city reneged on its agreement to pay him, the Pied Piper led the children out of the city, instead of the rats. Only the irresponsible adults … and the rats were left in the town.

The recent dream of brain surgery shared here on Views from the Edge in which the surgeon was removing a rat from my brain led me to ponder why such a dream would wait until 2018, so many years after I had been freed from the rat-infested house on Church Lane.

Then it occurred to me. Six decades later, I am living again in a rat-infested house. The President charged with protecting the people and its Constitution is a rat, and the rat’s not just out THERE; the rat has gotten inside our heads. Every day. Every night. America is living through a nightmare.

Where is the legitimate Pied Piper who will lead the rats out? More importantly, will the adults care more about their children and the constitutional republic than the rat they confuse with the Pied Piper?

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 6, 2018.

Helsinki Transcript Released

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The following verbatim transcript of President Trump’s and President Putin’s closed meeting in Helsinki was provided to MickeyLeaks by the English-Russian translator at the meeting. 

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Obama: “Get your planes off our border!.” Putin: “Try and stop us, Black Boy!”

Mr. Trump: It’s good to have this time together. Things are tightening up at home. It’s not been a good week.

Mr. Putin: Da! Mueller’s on it, Donald, and that’s not good for either of us. The twelve GRU indictments. Mike Flynn turning on you. I remember very fondly the dinner with Mike. He knew which side buttered his bread. He’s a lot like you, Mr. President.

Mr. Trump: I thought Mike would stay loyal even though I had to fire him.

Mr. Putin: Da! How many times do I have to tell you? Never trust anyone! If you want to be a leader, you have to trust yourself. No one else!

Mr. Trump: My father told me that same thing. Everyone is a potential enemy. We’re not enemies, right, Vladimir?

Mr Putin: Da! We’re very much alike. You speak English; I speak Russian. But we both speak the same language: “Deny, deny. deny; attack, attack, attack; deflect, deflect, deflect”.

Mr. Trump: Language is a funny thing, isn’t it? The media think life’s about reason and logic. That people are convinced by facts and rational arguments. They don’t understand human nature. People are simple. They want short sentences. They want strength. They want certainty, not doubt. That’s what we give them.

Mr. Putin: Da! In Russia it’s easier. We have a legislature but it’s a joke. It’s one thing on paper. It’s another thing in practice, but you’re making progress in the U. S., Donald. Congress has become your rubber stamp.

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Mr. Trump: I’m getting closer. Or I was. But did you see the television clip of Pompeo and Kelly in Brussels? They rolled their eyes and looked away when I yelled at the guy from NATO. Members of my own cabinet sometimes act like Democrats. They don’t speak up, but they don’t look loyal. I can’t fire everybody.

Mr. Putin: Da! Not a problem in Russia. And you have Mueller. In Russia, there wouldn’t be a problem. There’d just be an accident.

Mr. Trump: The CIA used to do that. Just like the KGB. You were KGB, and you have the GRU to do your dirty work. I only have the CIA and the FBI. And now I have Cohen and Roger Stone to worry about. If Michael and Roger flip, I’m toast, Vladimir.

Mr. Putin: Da! But not so much to worry, Donald. Julian’s already talked to Roger. He won’t flip. He knows Mother Russia will always welcome its friends. If you’re impeached, or if you resign because they’re getting too close to the truth, do not be anxious. Look what I did for Eric Snowden. If I did it for him, I can do it for you. I’ll grant you asylum…and then citizenship. There’ll be no extradition. The Russian people love you, Donald. You can build Trump Tower in Moscow. In the meantime, before Mueller releases his report, transfer all your personal wealth and business assets from the United States to Russian.

Mr. Trump: What about the press conference? We’re going out there in ten minutes. We have to get our stories straight. The press is waiting. They’re hungry for fake news. How do we handle the press conference?

Mr. Putin: Not to worry. You’re a showman. We’re friends. We show them we’re friends. You speak English. I’ll speak Russian. They think we need a translator. But you and I won’t need a translator. Only we will know we’re speaking the same language: “Deny, deny. deny; attack, attack, attack; deflect, deflect, deflect”. Remember, people love the strong man. People love friendship! People love FaceBook! Most people couldn’t care less about elections. They want us to be friends.

  • MickeyLeaks, Helsinki, Finland, July 18, 2018

 

To Preserve, Protect, and Defend

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The day a former Director of the CIA publicly declares that a U. S. president’s behavior constitutes “high crimes and misdemeanors” and calls it “treasonous” is not just another day in American politics. John Brennan’s tweet ended with the question for those who continue to support the president: “Where are you?” 

It is a question for every U. S. Senator and Congressional Representative who assumed their positions after taking the Congressional oath of office to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” The president’s oath is a bit different. I do solemnly swear…. to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.”

Although it seems unlikely that Thomas Jefferson or James Madison imagined a future president of the new constitutional republic acting as the nation’s domestic enemy, the framers of the U. S. Constitution were cautious about human nature. They were neither optimistic nor pessimistic. They were realists. They included provisions for Congress to remove a president from office. 

Which is why John Brennan asks members of Congress, “Where are you?” It’s one thing to wait for the report of the Special Counsel on Russian interference in a U. S. election; it’s another to ignore the president’s joint press conference with the leader of the country accused of interfering in the 2016 election. 

Following a private two hour one-on-one meeting with Vladimir Putin, Donald J. Trump preferred Mr. Putin’s denial of Russian interference to his own Department of Justice latest indictments of twelve Russian intelligence officers for covert operations to influence the 2016 election. The president who took the oath of office to defend and protect the U. S. Constitution from enemies, foreign and domestic, had chosen to take his stand against his own government.

For a former CIA director to take the spotlight runs counter to the low-profile culture of the CIA.  John Brennan is not a partisan. His question “Where are you?” will be answered in the weeks to come, as will the other questions: “What will you call it?” and “What — or whom — will you faithfully support and defend?”

Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Betsy Ross are listening.

  • Gordon C. Stewart on the wetland, July 17, 2018.

The Whopper at the Burger King

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A friendly young man at the Burger King — I don’t eat Whoppers; I drive to the Burger King in rural Minnesota for the free WiFi — draws my attention. “What’s going on?” he asks, staring at the television monitor behind me and my MacBook Air. I assume he is responding to the breaking news I’d heard moments before on the drive from the cabin to the Burger King — the shooting of journalists in the office of an Annapolis newspaper. He is. He shakes his head; I shake mine. Then the words spill out. “I guess this is what happens when the press is targeted as public enemy number one.” He shakes his head again and walks away.

MARYLAND NEWSPAPER SHOOTINGA few minutes later he returns to speak his support for the Second Amendment and the president. “All this gun stuff . . . we’ve always had guns in school and stuff, only now the media’s making a big deal of it. They’re blowing it up.”

We’re coming up on July 4th weekend. Celebrating the nation’s independence feels different this year. America is different. It’s the First Amendment that is at risk, not the Second.

The free press, sometimes called “The Fourth Estate” — the people’s independent watchdog of government — has saved us from our worst selves many times. It was the Fourth Estate that brought into our living rooms Edward R. Murrow’s report that stopped Senator Joseph McCarthy’s pernicious attacks on the integrity of American citizens whose political stripe wasn’t his. It was the Fourth Estate’s publishing of the Pentagon Papers that exposed the dirty secrets behind the Vietnam War, leading Lyndon Baines Johnson to become a one-term president. It was the Washington Post’s publication of Woodward and Burnstein’s investigative report on the Nixon administration’s break-in of Democratic headquarters at the Watergate Hotel that led to the impeachment and resignation of Richard Nixon.

CapTimesThe Fourth Estate exists as the instrument of the people to hold accountable those we elect, and the government agencies they are responsible to oversee on the people’s behalf. The First Estate (the executive branch) and the Second Estate (the legislative branch) have often been critical of the Fourth Estate. Because the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees freedom of the press from state control, the Third Estate (the judicial branch) has protected it from the other two branches of government. The Supreme Court has been the court of last resort to protect free speech from Presidents and other elected officials have been wary of it.

There is a world of difference between wariness and assault. The current occupant of the Oval Office has used the nation’s Bully Pulpit to stir up good people like the guy at the Burger King to believe the minority party, once referred to as the “loyal opposition,” is out to destroy their freedom under the Second Amendment. Public perception has been altered. The public enemy no longer is communism, as it was in the McCarthy period. The target is much more in clear public view: the Washington Post, the New York Times, CNN, NBC, CBS, PBS. Every member of the Fourth Estate except FOX News and — who would ever have imagined it? — The National Enquirer. Joe McCarthy is smiling.

Hope-Despair-Public-Domain

A civil society has quickly become less civil. The Bully Pulpit we once expected to give voice to the unity that underlies our pluralism (e pluribus unum); appeal to “the better angels of our nature” (Lincoln); respect the public and private institutions that make us who we are; and mourn tragic events such as today’s shooting in Annapolis, is used to create the public perception that the president’s critics are America’s enemies. This is an abrupt departure from the commonly accepted norms and expectations for civil discourse on which I remember being raised.

Increasingly, we tend to shout in anger or fall silent. Between the anger and the silence stands a chasm of despair. To some, America is becoming great again. To others, America in 2018, feels more like the aftermath of a coup d’état than a moment of celebration.

1*wH41mwA4_K9A6Zr26Pq6_wThe young man at the Burger King was an adolescent when Donald Trump funded the Birther movement alleging that Barack Obama, America’s first black president, was illegitimate, a charge not based in fact, “faux” news that stirred the latent fear of poor white Americans to believe President Obama was out to take away their rights. Long before the Electoral College elected him President, Donald Trump had a bully pulpit of his own, and he bullied many into believing the lies about the need to rescue the country from the alleged black Muslim socialist who wanted to take away our guns —until the day he suddenly declared, without apology for his error, that President Obama had been born in the U.S.A, as though the Oracle of truth had spoken definitively — years after his false claim movement had accomplished its aim.

Earlier today, before news of the shooting of journalists in Annapolis, the free press informed the American public of U. S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision to retire, leaving the vacancy on the Court for the President to nominate and the Republican Congress to give, or withhold, its consent and confirmation. The Founders’ intention of a nonpartisan, independent Third Estate — the necessary third leg of the stool of checks and balances that make for the American democratic republic — was idealistic, to be sure, but an independent judiciary is essential to the architecture of the U.S Constitution.

As we prepare for this Fourth of July observance, we do well to remember the architecture meant to preserve the nation by means of legislative and judicial boundaries that put constrain a bully from running away with the country. Doing my best to be hopeful, I still wonder: can a Whopper accomplish a coup d’état without bloodshed — within the architecture of the American democratic republic?

The Fourth of July 2018 celebration goes down hard. Hold the onions!

  • Gordon C. Stewart at the Burger King

A Clear and Present Danger

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We Americans are living in the face of evil. I do not speak easily of ‘evil’. Even now, I hesitate using the word.

But I can find no better word to describe what I hear in the tone of voice and the language that distorts truth, idolizes the nation, insults neighbors and allies, reveres the strong men of North Korea and Russia, presents himself as superior to all his predecessors, withdraws from multinational peacemaking and climate accords, divides the world into winners and losers, refuses to criticize white supremacists, separates poor children of color from their parents at the border, demonizes his adversaries, puts an anti-Semitic preacher from the farthest edge of the religious right on the world stage to represent the American people at the dedication of the U. S. embassy’s re-location to Jerusalem, and does it all in the name of making America secure and great again.

In Christian theology, evil has no standing of its own. It is the twisting of the good, the warping of truth, the abandonment of self-knowledge, the rebellion against accountability, the transfer of free-floating anxiety onto an object of fear that can be defeated, and the illusion of the power of the strong man’s to rescue the good.
Th strong man is the opposite of the preacher from Nazareth who lifted up the poor, the meek, the mourning, the leper, the alien, the foreigner, the religiously different (the ‘good’ Samaritan), declaring that the kingdom of God belongs to them, not to the rich, the proud, the well, the patriots, the people of his religion.

How a disciple of Jesus hears the voice of Jesus in the voice of the strong man is a puzzle whose pieces remain hidden until they are exposed for review. Promotion of the good includes the unmasking of evil, the wisdom to discern when the good is turned upside down, and when truth is twisted by the serpent’s trickery.

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” is the cry from the pews of most every Christian church across the world, the echo of the prayer the soon to be crucified Jesus taught his disciples. Tempted to surrender better selves into the hands of evil, how does a disciple of Jesus manage to salute the strong man in the Oval Office and the party that obeys his will? Every day, I scratch my head, but also try to remember.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

  • Gordon C. Stewart on the wetland, June 27, 2018.

Long before the children were separated

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He will look with favor on the prayers of the homeless;

he will not despise their plea. (Ps. 102:17)

It was the psalmist who said it (Psalm 102:17). Not the New York Times or the Washington Post. Long before the children were separated from their parents at the Mexican border.

I lie awake and groan:

I am like a sparrow, lonely on a house-top. (Ps. 102:7)

The loneliness is known. Expressed. Likened to a small bird alone on some else’s house-top. The plight is seen from the place above every house-top. The groans of the captive are heard on high.

The LORD looked down from his holy place on high;

from the heavens he beheld the earth;

that he might hear the groan of the captive,

and set free those condemned to die… (Ps. 102:19-20)

The voice from the holy place on high echoes among the people who had forgotten who they are. The partisan and the complacent hear the children crying in the Pit of cruelty. They remember their better selves. Because of a national outcry across party lines the separation policy that began six weeks ago comes to a sudden end with an overdue stroke of a pen.

He redeems your life from the Pit;

and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness. (Ps. 103:4)

The LORD is full of compassion and mercy,

slow to anger and of great mercy. (Ps. 103:8)

Families will no longer be separated at the Mexican border. But 2,300-plus children who have been separated from their parents remain at-large, their identities and whereabouts unknown. Their plight makes America less again.

Every day I turn to psalms for sanity.

Gordon C. Stewart, June 22, 2018

Four Tubes in a Wind Chime

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Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)

That’s how the light gets in

– Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”

Four old friends — we call ourselves the Old Dogs — descended last week on the Minnesota cabin by the wetland for our annual Gathering. The lyrics and recorded voice of Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” became the focal point for reflection one week ago tonight. 

We gave up the illusion of a perfect offering years ago, though a stifled striving for it continues just the same. The “perfect offering” has gone underground where the sirens of perfection hide when those they’ve beckoned plug their ears to block the torment of lost ideals and shattered aspirations. None of us occupies a pulpit any longer, and the folks whose hands we once shook at the church door are shaking other hands where we once stood. Any dream of a perfect offering was cracked a long time ago, and it was the crack in our respective egos that let the light come in. 

Old Dogs from Arizona, Indiana, Illinois, and Minnesota know there’s a crack in everything, and we know we never were what we were cracked up to be. We’re not so sure the bells still can ring. Much of the social progress we worked for during five decades of ministry is being overturned. The separation of children from their parents at the Mexican border; the insults of neighboring nations and traditional allies; the admiration for Vladimir Putin; the twisting of fact and disregard for truth; the “fake news” war of words against the American Fourth Estate; the blatant encouragement of white supremacist movements; the shifting of blame to the opposing party and past administrations for present policies and actions; the resurgence of the Christian right and American exceptionalism, and so much more gave worn us down, leaving us wondering whether it makes any difference to still ring the bell.

Leonard Cohen’s gravely voice fills the cabin by the wilderness wetland.

We asked for signs

The signs were sent

The birth betrayed

The marriage spent

Yeah the widowhood

Of every government

Signs for all to see

I can’t run no more

With the lawless crowd

While the killers in high places

Say their prayers out loud

But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up

A thundercloud

And they’re going to hear from me

Leonard Cohen’s’ “Anthem” brought a sliver of light into The Gathering of Old Dogs. Leonard’s gone, of course, without his suit — gone home without his burden behind the curtain without the costume that he wore — but we heard his voice deep and drear and true — like a wind chime rung by a breeze from the far side of the wetland. Then came the thundercloud summoning the weary to ring the bells again while the killers in high places say their prayers out loud.

I love to speak of Leonard

He’s a sportsman and a shepherd

He’s a lazy bastard

Living in a suit

But he does say what I tell him

Even though it isn’t welcome

He just doesn’t have the freedom

To refuse.

– Leonard Cohen, “Going Home”

Four lazy bastards depart for separate states to ring the bells anew — four tubes of a larger wind chime.

– Gordon C. Stewart on the Minnesota wetland, June 20, 2018

You’re reading from MY book!

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Six trumpeter swan cygnets (babies) have joined their parents on the pond next to the cabin by the wetland. Their family is intact. It’s as beautiful to behold as separating children is ugly. The swans are lucky. So am I.

IMG_9456The cabin by the wetland is a place of privilege. There are no other humans here. But the news has a way of following me to this natural sanctuary that invites a deeper silence. The world doesn’t need another political honker, I tell myself. But my head hurts keeping inside me the need to cry out against cruelty, dishonesty, and bad religion in the nation’s capitol.

I respond to Attorney General Sessions’ twisting of the Bible (Romans 13) the way Jewish comedian Lewis Black responded to Christian televangelists who pretend to know the Jewish Bible: “You’re reading from MY book! If you want to know about MY book, ask a Jew, and he will tell you! You Christians don’t see one of my guys reading YOUR book (i.e. the New Testament) and telling you what it means. Do you?”

Like Lewis Black, I’m not big on televangelists who misuse the Hebrew Bible. I’m even less fond of institutional powers and authorities that use MY book, the New Testament, to justify a policy that is beyond justification.

Romans 13 commends to its first century C.E. readers a proper respect for the civil order represented by the office of the emperor. But it is respect for the office, not its occupant, and not an endorsement of illegitimate uses of the office, nor of unjust laws promulgated by the civil authorities. To presume otherwise, as Mr. Sessions does, ignores the location from which the Letter to the Romans was written and why its author was there. Paul was in jail. Paul was a prisoner of conscience.

The current U.S. Administration’s abuse of Holy Scripture hurts my ears, even on the wetland. If you’re going to use Romans 13, continue to read beyond what you claim supports your argument. “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves the neighbor has fulfilled the law. … The commandments … are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13: 8-10). A thoughtful reader of the letter penned from a Roman jail cell might conclude that it was Saul of Tarsus (Paul), who gave Cornel West his definition of justice: “Justice is love made public”.

Love made public does not separate children from their parents. Love doesn’t do it anywhere in any century. Cruelty does. Fascism does. Hypocrisy does. White privilege does. National idolatry does. Willful religious ignorance does.

Before you site MY book as your authorization for cruelty, zoom in on the scene of Jesus’ rebuke of his mistaken disciples:

“When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took them in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them” (Gospel of Mark 10:14-16).

jesus-weptImagine Jesus taking the children on his knee again — the loving, crucified Jesus —in an ICE detention center on the Mexican border. Or buy yourself a ticket to the Minnesota wetland to spend a day with the trumpeter swans who do better than we at caring for children.

—  Gordon C. Stewart with the trumpeter swans on the wetland beyond our boundaries, June 20, 2018.

 

FEDERAL POLICY CAUSING ATTACHMENT DISORDER

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“Not only is it cruel and unAmerican – the federal policy of separating children from their immigrant, asylum seeking parents — it’s a basic cause of future mental disorders that affect not only the victim. It’s the perfect situation to create attachment disorder.

via FEDERAL POLICY CAUSING ATTACHMENT DISORDER

  • Thanks to Mona Gustafson Affinito, clinical psychiatrist; Professor Emerita, Southern Connecticut State University, for bringing this to light.

Memorial Day 2018

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Views from the Edge has been silent for awhile. Given my state of mind, it probably should stay quiet longer. But Memorial Day gives the dumb a hook on which to hang some of what’s been banging around my weary head.

Flags are everywhere today. American flags. They decorate the graves of the fallen in our national cemeteries and wave in front yards across America. But things are different this year.

While driving to the cabin by the wetland here in Minnesota, I see a different flag — a blue one with the name of the current president — waving from a homeowner’s flagpole where the red, white, and blue stars-and-stripes rippled stood before 2017. The dead we honor on Memorial Day didn’t die for this substitution. They fought against it.


Trump flagThe dead are unable to see the American flags posted at their graves or hear the sobering “Taps” that honors their sacrifice. Nor can they see the other flag that has taken its place on the flag pole where Old Glory once waved on Memorial Day. They didn’t die for this.

Like the dead, Memorial Day 2018 leaves me speechless.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 28 (Memorial Day), 2018.