Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Into The Jail

They come from many different backgrounds but they’re alike in certain ways. At least three out of four are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Many are “co-occurring” as well, meaning they also have a diagnosed mental illness of one kind or another. I never ask them what they did to get in there, but it often comes out in conversation. Every Thursday afternoon for the past eighteen months, I’ve been going into the Cumberland County Jail in Portland, Maine to lead a one-hour bible study.

The jail is divided into pods with about eighty-five inmates in each. Security cameras cover everything. After passing through a metal detector in the lobby and signing in, someone is always watching me walk through the corridors, each separated from the next by a heavy steel door which unlocks with a loud metallic click that echoes down the hallway as I approach. The fourth accesses my assigned pod.

Each oblong, six-sided pod is identical with twenty double cells below and twenty in the upper tier that are accessed by two staircases, one on each end. In the middle of a large open area below is a station for the Corrections Officer, or CO, on duty. That is surrounded by steel tables bolted to the floor and plastic chairs stacked nearby. When I come through the sally port the CO will press a button to unlock the little classroom I use, then announce the Bible Study to all the inmates. I stand by the classroom door watching dozens of men playing cards, watching television, or doing pull-ups on bare-bones gym equipment. There’s an outside basketball court surrounded by a very high cinderblock wall with coils of razor wire on top, but few go out there in cold weather.

Anywhere from four to sixteen men will saunter into the classroom, two or three carrying Bibles. Some have tattoos going up to their chins and occasionally beyond. They’re dressed in orange or blue — blue if they’re trustees who work in the kitchen, library, or on the grounds. For most, their times in jail are intermittent periods of sobriety in lives dominated by substance abuse. They’re in and out a lot and discuss that freely. I listen. 

Their accents reflect their origins: Sudan, Somalia, Tennessee, New York City, Maine, and so on. With a concrete floor and cinderblock walls, acoustics are terrible. My hearing aides don’t help and I have to struggle to understand them. None claim to be jailed unjustly; they own whatever they did. I tell them I’m a retired history teacher and not a Bible scholar, and I’m learning along with them. Some know scripture better than I do, and most of those are black and raised in the south. 

If they brought a Bible I’ll ask what they’ve been reading lately. Often it’s Proverbs in the Old Testament or the Book of James in the New. Sometimes it’s the Book of Job or Psalms. Whatever they tell about may morph into the lesson of the day. Others come in with zero knowledge and little conception of what the Bible might contain beyond a vague idea that it would probably be good for them. Occasionally someone will say they came in because there’s not much else to do in jail and I tell them they’re all welcome. I’m never sure who is going to walk through the door. Thats a challenge when preparing a lesson, but I always have something with which to begin. After that it goes wherever it goes.

Frequently one will say he’s going to be released soon and he’s scared. He’s afraid he won’t be able to control himself and he’ll go back to drinking or using drugs. He’ll disappoint his wife, his kids, his parents, or whomever, and he’ll end up back in there again. Others will nod as he talks because they too have done that over and over and a profound sadness permeates the room. As such times I search for something that will offer hope. Usually it’s Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians in which he says: “…[God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

Reverend Jeff McIlwain, Chaplain CCJ
Never sure what’s going to help and what isn’t, I go back in each week to see where it will go, remembering Matthew 18:20: “Wherever two or more of you are gathered in my name, I am there with them.” After the hour is up we re-stack the chairs. They thank me and we shake hands. I assure them that I get more by being there than I give.

And I do.

Monday, December 18, 2017

What Happens At 443 Congress Street?

A small demonstration was going on when my ten-year-old grandson and I were walking together on a Congress Street sidewalk last summer. I’d forgotten that the Planned Parenthood clinic had moved there from Forest Avenue a while ago. It was a Friday morning and that’s when they do abortions. One group of about eight people was holding pro-life signs and smaller group of older women had signs saying: “I stand with Planned Parenthood” and "PLANNED PARENTHOOD PROVIDES VITAL HEALTH CARE." Two more people in pink vests stood one on each side of the entrance to 443 Congress Street. A Portland cop leaned against a mailbox watching everything.

The older women didn’t try to engage my grandson but some of the younger pro-life demonstrators talked to him. As we walked on past he asked me what abortion was. I thought for a minute and said, “When some women get pregnant, they’re very happy and look forward to when the baby is born. Other women aren’t happy to be pregnant, so they come here to have the baby removed before it can be born.”

“They do?” he said.


He looked troubled, but at that moment we came upon a pickup truck parked next to the curb with multicolored splotches of paint all over it that looked like it had been applied by Jackson Pollack. It also had matchbox cars and skulls glued to the top edges of the truck bed and my grandson was fascinated. He walked all around it looking carefully at its many details. I told him I knew the truck’s owner, an artist named Zoo Cain. There were no more questions about abortion and we proceeded further up Congress Street toward the Maine Historical Society, our original destination.

They go on everywhere
The pro-life demonstrations were happening on the sidewalk at 443 Congress Street before our encounter that day and have continued afterward. Andrew March, pastor of a Lewiston, Maine church, has organized some of them and literally made a federal case out of them. Portland police confronted March telling him he may not raise his voice so it disturbs women coming there for abortions. Writers at the leftist magazine Slate call it, “religious invective.” Well, “invective is defined as “insulting, abusive, or highly critical language.” Was the Reverend March using insulting, abusive, or highly critical language? Or, was he simply telling the truth?

Portland Police were trying to enforce an order from Maine’s pro-abortion Attorney General and Democrat candidate for governor Janet Mills. She claimed that Maine Civil Rights law could restrain the volume of Reverend March’s voice. March asked the police how loud a voice he could use to get his points across, but they wouldn’t say.

March claimed there were much louder noises coming from climate-change marchers and others who had just gone by, so the real issue was what he was saying and not how loudly he was saying it. March sued in federal district court in Portland, Maine on First Amendment grounds and won. In May, 2016 U.S. District Judge Nancy Torresen ruled that Maine’s Civil Rights statute violated March’s 1st Amendment right to freedom of speech. Then Attorney General Mills appealed to the First US Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston which overturned Judge Torrensen’s ruling last August. According to Slate Magazine, Mills won by claiming that pro-life demonstrators were “so loud that [they] could be heard within the examination and counseling rooms of the building . . . [that it] jeopardize[d] the health of persons receiving health services within the building . . . [and that it] raised stress levels, respiratory rates, and blood pressure” of the women about to have abortions.

When my grandson asked me what abortion was, I could have used the Maine Attorney General’s and Planned Parenthood’s language. I could have told him that abortion is “women’s health care.” Would that have been truthful? I could have described what we had just witnessed as “women trying to get ‘medical care’ while people on the sidewalk were shouting ‘insulting, abusive, and critical language’ at them.” Would that have been truthful?

Instead, I used simple English to describe as truthfully as I could what happens at 443 Congress Street in Portland, Maine every Friday morning. My ten-year-old grandson deserved that. So would anyone else who may happen to pass by there and wonder what’s going on.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Left and Right Show December 13, 2017

Gino and I discuss the Alabama senatorial election, DOJ investigation of racial discrimination by Harvard in its admissions, civil lawsuits by Asian-Americans against Ivy League colleges about same, what racism is and isn't. Trump will move US Embassy to Jerusalem. DOJ will investigate Planned Parenthood for selling aborted baby parts. David Dalieden wins civil lawsuit against biotech firms in California which which purchased baby parts from Planned Parenthood for resale. Tom describes abortion on demand. Plus, Tom and Gino select Good news/bad news as well as winners and losers from the past two weeks.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Codes of Conduct And Lack Thereof

My mother didn’t like me hanging around with Jack. She sensed that he lacked a moral compass or control to check his impulses. It was about 1966 when my best friend Philip and I hitchhiked to Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, which was then the coolest place for fifteen-year-old Tewksbury, Massachusetts boys like us to hang out, and Jack somehow managed to tag along. We strolled along the boardwalk and met a trio of pretty girls our age.

We made introductions, paired off for walks along the beach, and made a plan to meet back at the boardwalk in two hours. Philip and I got on well with the girls we accompanied, but upon return we saw Jack being arrested. “You’re arresting me for swearing?” Jack said to the cop. “That’s against the law here?”

“Yup,” he said as he walked Jack toward the cruiser.

“He’s a garbage mouth!” said the girl who made the complaint. “Come on,” she said to the girls with us. “We don’t want to be with these guys.” Jack was actually arrested for making making lewd and lascivious remarks in public. Philip and I hitchhiked back to Tewksbury without him and with soiled reputations for being associated with him. It was my first exposure to what we now call sexual harassment.

The way some men act, they should be ashamed but they aren’t, and that’s the problem. When exposed they say they’re ashamed, but are they really? I don’t think so. Jack wasn’t. They regret their facade of respectability is gone, but that’s not shame. Sexual harassment has been around forever but fifty years ago it wasn’t tolerated in the company of good men. Then it was for decades. Now suddenly, it isn’t. Women are reporting it again like that poor girl who ended up with Jack.

The fathers in my neighborhood were role models for us and they treated females with respect — when we were around anyway. Jack’s father, a WWII vet like almost all of them, had died young of a heart attack before I met him and Jack’s widowed mother couldn’t handle him. The rest of us had fathers who enforced codes of conduct. We were interested in sex the way all fifteen-year-old boys are and we talked about it a lot with each other, but not in mixed company. I had older and younger sisters and treated all girls as I treated them. Jack would never have disrespected my sisters because he knew I would pound him. He acted like a gentleman because he had to.

That’s how it was in the mid sixties where I grew up, but the sexual revolution changed things. After a few years it was okay to “talk dirty” the way Jack did to that girl. Whatever the lyrics to “Louie Louie” actually were (and no one could really decipher them), high school boys and girls would sing whatever salacious versions they imagined while dancing. By the seventies and eighties, boundaries dissolved in the name of “liberation” from “oppressive sexual norms.” Sex wasn’t procreation, but recreation. There was birth control for everyone, and if that failed, abortion. It became item one on the list of “women’s rights.” Pregnancy was disease to be “treated” in “women’s health care clinics.”

Men who had been boys like Jack were delighted by these developments. Then one was elected president in 1992. He was a big supporter of abortion and when his sexcapades became public, feminists defended him. It didn’t matter that he was credibly accused of sexual harassment, groping, and even rape. Feminist and journalist Nina Burleigh who covered the White House for People and Time, said in 1998: “I would be happy to give him a ******* just to thank him for keeping abortion legal. I think American women should be lining up with their Presidential kneepads on to show their gratitude for keeping the theocracy off our backs.”

Defending her remarks nine years later in 2007 for the Huffington Post, Burleigh wrote: “The insidious use of sexual harassment laws to bring down a president for his pro-female politics was the context in which I spoke.” Pro-female politics? Clearly she meant abortion. If Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas supported abortion, would feminists have tried so hard to block his nomination nine years earlier?

Today Nina Burleigh teaches at the prestigious Columbia Journalism School. The so-called “Burleigh rule” prevailed for nineteen years until Harvey Weinstein’s sexcapades went public. He and a long list of other pro-abortion men in Hollywood and mainstream media have been brought low. What’s going on? Are things changing again?

My friends have not heard from Jack in decades. If he’s still out there I’ll bet he’s concerned.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Watergate Was Nothing Compared to This

First thing every morning I skipped down two flights of stairs to get the Boston Globe because I couldn’t wait to read the latest developments in the Watergate scandal then bringing down the Nixon Administration. Familiar as I still am with those details, they pale by comparison to abuses of power under the Obama Administration and its collusion with the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign recently coming to light.

President Nixon’s campaign had hired a group called “the plumbers” to plug leaks of information from his administration to the media. Their activities were legal up to the point when they broke into to a rented office of DNC Chairman Larry O’Brien in Washington, DC’s Watergate Hotel, hence the name of the infamous scandal. They were hoping to find embarrassing information to hurt Democrat presidential candidate George McGovern’s 1972 campaign against Nixon.

During the long investigation into this break-in, other illegal activities came to light including another break-in to the office of Daniel Ellsburg’s psychiatrist. Ellsburg had leaked the classified “Pentagon Papers,” which revealed that some of Nixon’s public statements about his conduct of the Vietnam War were erroneous, and the New York Times published them. Nixon was not aware of the Watergate break-in until the Washington Post began publishing stories about it. At that point he began using his executive power to thwart the investigation. That led to credible charges of “obstruction of justice,” for which he resigned to avoid impeachment.

Nixon had contemplated other abuses of his power like using the IRS to harass political enemies of which he had made an infamous list. He never did, but Americans were appalled that he considered it. The Obama Administration, however, did more than consider it. It actually used the IRS to harass political enemies, but The Washington Post and the rest of mainstream media were disinclined to investigate.

Conservative pundits claim most of the 62,979,879 Americans who voted for Trump last year believe Democrats, Republican leadership, and Mainstream Media all cooperate with each other against them. Variously called “Bitter Clingers” by Obama and “Deplorables” by Hillary Clinton, Trump supporters see their man as someone with the temperament necessary to kick all their a**es while he “drains the swamp” in which they all reside.

Denizens of the swamp went into a collective panic when Trump unexpectedly won. After the shock wore off, the lame-duck Obama Administration began laying traps for him using an obscure, never-enforced 1799 law called “The Logan Act” according to columnist Byron York. Using the Logan Act as justification, Obama officials cited the dodgy “Trump Dossier” constructed by an opposition research firm paid by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democrat National Committee (DNC). FBI agent Peter Strzok, whom Special Counsel Mueller recently dismissed from his investigation, used the dodgy dossier to obtain FISA warrants to wiretap both the Trump campaign and the Trump transition team.

Strzok and Mueller

It was Strzok, presumably under the direction of then-FBI Director Comey, who offered to pay $50,000 of taxpayer money to Christopher Steele, author of the dodgy dossier, to continue his research against Donald Trump during the campaign! Strzok also led the dubious FBI “investigation” of Hillary Clinton’s emails. Compared to these revelations, Nixon’s actions during Watergate seem trivial. Why aren’t Washington Post reporters looking into these developments?

Under dubious authority, other Obama officials including Susan Rice and Samantha Power requested hundreds of FISA transcripts including General Flynn’s December, 2016 contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak during Trump’s transition. They unmasked Flynn to set him up for FBI interrogation four days after Trump’s inauguration. ABC reporter Brian Ross breathlessly reported last Friday that Trump directed Flynn’s conversations during the campaign! Ross had to retract it hours later and was suspended by ABC, but not before his report caused the stock market to plunge.

Flynn and Kushner

According the Buzzfeed, it was Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner who instructed Flynn to contact Kislyak and discuss the then-upcoming UN Security Council vote against Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. According to Fox News, it was K.T. McFarland. Whoever it was, their instruction was during the transition after Trump had won — not during the campaign — and therefore not within the realm of Mueller’s original charge to investigate alleged Russia/Trump campaign collusion. It’s perfectly reasonable for a transition official like Flynn to contact foreign governments, yet Flynn evidently lied about them to the FBI. Why? We don’t know.

As of this writing, neither Mueller nor anyone else has yet found evidence of Trump/Russia campaign collusion despite a year-and-a-half of investigations by mainstream media and Congressional Democrats. Trump supporters see them all as part of “the swamp” conspiring to bring down the Trump Administration. For that, there’s plenty of evidence.

Watergate was nothing compared to what I’m seeing now.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Left And Right Episode 11-29-17

Gino Funicella on the left and me on the right. We discuss the Republican tax reform bill. The Alabama special election, A Muslim supermarket in Portland Maine that defrauded government, University of Connecticut students shouted down conservative speaker and rioted. Senator Franken, Congressman Conyers, Matt Lauer, etc. allegedly harassed women, Journalistic standards or lack thereof -- publishing stories from anonymous sources, due process in sexual harassment cases, media bias, Nina Burleigh statements on Bill Clinton's sexual harassment, winners and losers, flat tax benefits.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Threescore And Ten More Or Less

“The years of our life are threescore and ten,” wrote King David three thousand years ago in Psalm 90. People in their sixties who are approaching that milestone often review their past lives. That’s what a friend who is a psychotherapist told me recently. Thoughts, feelings, images, smells, sounds from our past all come unbidden into our consciousness — some pleasant, some painful. We can push them away or we can entertain them — watch them and feel them as they play out.

Ma's house in Lovell

Triggers include old songs or passing by places where something significant occurred long ago. Sometimes it’s just a smell. It’s all those for me but lately it’s old photographs too. I thought I was done sorting through boxes of old pictures from my mother’s house in Lovell. Two years ago “Ma,” as everyone calls her, decided to go into assisted living and my nephew was invited to take over her place. We moved only the contents of her bedroom into her new facility, then children and grandchildren were invited to take whatever was meaningful to them. That made only a small dent in the house’s contents and my nephew was told he could keep or dispose of whatever was left. Last month he dropped off still another box of old photos we had overlooked.

Tewksbury neighborhood 1959 or so

One envelope from the box contained wallet-sized photos of more than seventy children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Those little pictures used to cover the entire front and one side of Ma’s refrigerator because her thirty-plus grandchildren sent her school pictures for every grade. I sorted those into envelopes for myself and my siblings now that each of us heads a three-generation extended family of our own. Most live in Greater Boston and all came up to bucolic Lovell, Maine for summers and vacations with Ma. Widowed at 52, she bought an old farmhouse here and lived in it for more than thirty years. Back in the twenties and thirties, Ma’s own grandmother brought her grandchildren for extended stays “out in the country” of Cochituate, now part of a Boston suburb called Wayland. Ma had such fond memories of those days, she wanted to repeat the process.

Kate Carney, Ma's grandmother 1890?

Also in the box were more pictures of myself and my siblings as we were growing up in the forties, fifties and sixties, some of which I had never seen. There were also more shots of my mother and her siblings from nearly a hundred years ago. There were photos of her and my father after they had eloped during World War II and before all us children came along in the baby boom. Some of those I’d never seen either.

My mother and father 1940s

Then one of my daughters gave me a photo album she retrieved from my late mother-in-law’s condominium with shots my immediate family from thirty and forty years ago. I spent two days at my computer scanning hundreds of these formerly one-of-a-kind keepsakes. Now they’re re-produceable with only a keystroke thanks to the wonders of digital imaging.

Daughter Annie and wife Roseann 1978

I’d forgotten much of what I was seeing as I sorted through all this, including just how beautiful my wife looked as a young mother. She is still stunning as a grandmother and I have many, more recent images of her which I see regularly thanks to digital photo frames I bought for us and our children. They have motion detectors and turn on when someone walks by, then turn off after five or ten minutes. Now I’m compiling hundreds of selected family photos from 2017 and this year’s collection will contain extended-family shots from forty, fifty, and sixty years ago as well.

Some of the grandchildren around 1985

I also gave a digital frame to my mother who turned 93 in September. Soon I’ll bring her a thumb drive with our 2017 images so she can plug it in and see what my branch of the family has been up to. She has only a tiny refrigerator in her studio apartment at the facility but many of her grandchildren are still begatting great-grandchildren. Today each branch can bring her a thumb drive too. There are always new names to learn as more babies are born and she prays for all of them every day.

At fourscore and thirteen, Ma is the last of her generation. When she passes my siblings and I will be the elders and younger ones will look to us. Continuing what David wrote in Psalm 90:

The years of our life are threescore and ten,
    or even by reason of strength fourscore;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
    they are soon gone, and we fly away.

Ma in 1948?

But they’re not all toil and trouble. There’s plenty of happiness along the way too as Ma keeps reminding us before that day comes when she, too, flies away.