Friday, April 30, 2010

Border Wars

Calhoun’s Can(n)ons for April 30, 2010

If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.
                         Thomas Pynchon

Well, it’s now official. Arizona has lost its marbles. First, due to budget considerations, they closed highway rest stops so if you’re driving through Arizona and you have to pee, you’d better bring a can. Then they passed a new law that could effectively result in making it illegal to Walk While Mexican. So, Mexico – Mexico? – yes, Mexico, the same travel destination that is regularly the target of American travel advisories due to drug war shootouts and kidnappings and murders – has issued its own travel advisory warning Mexican tourists heading for Arizona that they may well get stopped and harassed, so they’d better keep their passports handy. Especially if they actually look, er, “illegal.”

Then other American organizations, city councils and various other politicos piled on, calling for a boycott of Arizona, which could cause real damage in a state whose current shaky economic health relies heavily on tourist dollars. (And all those “illegals” working in the tourist hotel/restaurant industry.) All of which was accompanied by the usual Maximum Righteous Outrage, which plays so well on TV and talk radio. And, naturally, the whole insane mess will head directly for the courts since it appears to violate some of our most cherished myths and mixes up state and federal authority concerning immigration laws.

All of which came about because this country refuses to get honest about what it’s been doing for years – which is running businesses on the backs of illegal immigrants because its cheaper to do so – no union wages, no health insurance, no pesky disability insurance, no income tax – just work “off the books” with unverified workers as much as possible. Higher profits for the business, cheaper products for the consumer, and the well-to-do get a Don’t Ask/ Don’t Tell gardener and nanny without having to worry about paying SSI taxes. So, everybody’s happy, right?

Well, no. When you live a lie, it’s impossible not to keep running into problems. Unless you reinstate a system of slavery or keep your illegal, off-the-books workers hooked into chain gangs housed in guarded compounds, each illegal worker will be joined by family. Now, instead of one single employee, your community suddenly has a wife and children. And children need educating, paid for by taxpayers. And families need health care which, if not covered by the employer, has to come from the taxpayers as well.

Multiply that a few million times and concentrate the numbers into a small geographical area (like Arizona) and you’ve got problems. It’s no coincidence that it was Arizona that passed this law, not North Dakota. North Dakota does not have a large influx of “illegal Canadians” putting a strain on public coffers and social services.

Toss in good old basic racism, which only complicates the issue further by making it an issue nearly impossible to discuss honestly without an ugly subtext, and you end up with a mess. And there’s nothing politicos love more than a mess they can demagogue.

Over the years our congresspeople have earnestly asserted that “Something Must Be Done,” while quickly tabling the “Something” because our dirty little secret is this: Our economy needs and wants and hires and relies on the very people we scapegoat and demagogue when times get tough or when politicians need an “issue” to stir up voters.

So, before any of this can be fixed, this country has to get honest about the role “illegal immigrants” play in keeping this country’s economy afloat. We could certainly try some version of the funny movie, “A Day Without Mexicans,” and see what happens. In an aging country filled with Baby Boomers who are rapidly losing the ability to pick their own lettuce, slaughter and dress their own chickens, mow their lawns, bus their own dishes or get services in a nursing home, the results of such a boycott would be interesting.

Or we could pass a federal law making it mandatory for every citizen to carry tamper-proof “papers” at all times. Then spend gazillions to beef up INS agents and start raiding businesses all over the country to frog march all the CEO’s who are employing these illegals right to prison and all the illegals right to the border. That’d solve the problem, but would empty out our farms and factories and slaughterhouses and hotels and restaurants and nursing homes and hospitals and gardens and construction sites.

Or we can get honest and admit that we need and like the benefits “illegal” low-wage workers bring to our way of life, then sit down to honestly figure out a fair and just way to deal with the liabilities such a wink-nudge system brings with it.

Or we can all just drive to Phoenix and get out of our car and walk around wearing “illegal-looking shoes” and a big sombrero and see what happens.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Your Sunday Reading

Spent a few days in Fresno visting my sister, with plans to visit Yosemite, which didn't happen on account of rain, rain, rain, rain, and all the dogs had to hang around in her laundry room grumbling and staring out at the wet yard, "It's wet, it's wet, I'm bored, can we go home now?"  So, o.k, I'm now home, the dogs can run around in the back yard until Tuesday when it's supposed to rain some more, and I'm trying to play catch up. 

In the meantime, over at the Four Story site's doing a whole section on Cuba.  Very interesting.  The site has a gaggle of really great writers, (who are actually paid for their work -- unhead of on the Web), including my friend from Jr. High, Donna Schoenkopf and her daughter, Rebecca, who is a seriously funny writer (the "Commie Girl" column for the OC (Orange County) Weekly and LA Citybeat, whose work has been gathered into a seriously funny  book, "Commie Girl in the OC.")  So, check it out.  You can sign up at the site ( for updates as they're posted, which is very helpful since you'll then get an email saying there's a new piece posted and can toodle over to the site to read it.  Lots of great writers, lots of good reading.  I've also linked the site if you'll check my links in the sidebar to the right.

And starting at 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. if you're mooning around with nothing on the schedule, come down to Santa Rosa Park (on Santa Rosa Ave - Hwy 1 near Sierra Vista Hopsital) in SLOTown for SLO Dog's annual "Dog Days in the Park," featuring all kinds of events like flyball, GCG, Junior Handling exhibitons, booths and etc.  The Mighty Finn McCool and another greyhound will be at the GAC (Greyhound Adoption Center) booth as the "poster children" of the racing set.  Finn loves these gigs.  He's convinced that everyone in the park came out just to see him.  As well they should.  After all, he's The Mighty Finn McCool!  What's not to love?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Your Sunday Musing

There is no pleasure in having nothing to do; the fun is in having lots to do and not doing it.
Mary Wilson Little, quoted in The Toronto Star

Friday, April 16, 2010

War Zone

Calhoun’s Can(n)ons for April 16, 2010

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.
Thornton Wilder

Yes, it’s a teaspoon. And there’s the ocean. Or in this case, an ocean of sand. In the backyard. After the heavy winter rains. And flooding. And not only an ocean of sand but huge berms and trenches running higgly-piggedly across the yard, all earthworks hastily thrown up during a particularly long series of winter downpours to channel the growing flood waters away from the house. And pavers to move and a breezeway to re-grade, and piles of faux concrete cobblestones to re-arrange.

And now that the ground’s dried a bit and the shrubs and bushes are waking up and insisting their way up into the sky, it’s time to set the yard right again. With a small shovel that’s looking more and more like a teaspoon. And with fine powder sand – for every shovel-full taken out of the ground, half a shovel-full falls back in -- it’s a task that even Sisyphus wouldn’t want. “Hunh, this job’s like carrying milk in a sieve. Gimme my rock back.”

The dogs are no help. Amidst the hastily thrown up lumps and humps and trenches and berms, they’ve added their own gleeful Big Stupid Useless Holes Dug For No Reason, except the sheer joy of digging vast useless holes. And the path of one of the trenches parallels the serpentine, banked running track pounded into the sand by the dogs completing their morning and evening Zoomies – a race in and out and around the raised flower beds with thundering paws pounding out a banked racing track. A mini- Indianapolis 500, canine style. Smoothing and flattening the Zoomie track would be as useless as King Canute commanding the ocean to retreat. Two or three evening gallops later and it would be back in place. No use running counter when you have dogs operating as landscape architects.

After a few hours, the worst of the mess has been put right. The largest trenches are smoothed to swales, the sneaky weeds are pulled and the general disorder has been neatened up. And it becomes clearer than ever, I am no longer 40. Aw, who am I kidding? I’m not even 60 any more, as the back knows. Knees, too.

Time to head for the yellow Adirondack chair for a sit-down. To my right, the shaggy rough trunks of the great grape vine serpentine along the fence above the concrete retaining wall, soft green fuzzy buds popping out along its waving vines. Soon the fence will be canopied with a thick profusion of leaves. Under the vines the relentless giant Four O’Clocks have once again poked their green snouts above the sand. Nothing short of a direct nuclear strike can stop those plants. But best of all, the vitex trifolia purpurea, the lovely Arabian Lilac bushes that I thought had been killed by the winter frosts are alive and awake and busy refilling their branches with those lovely olive-green and lavender leaves.

In a winter war zone, it’s a heartening sign that once again spring is here and the race for summer can begin. With luck, the bees will return again to hum among the lavender plants. Already I see crows flying overhead with long strings of nesting material in their beaks. And at least one battling hummingbird has returned to check out the feeder and look around for a mate. Even the dogs are starting to laze around on the now warming sand, flopping down with huge sighs as if their long legs suddenly could no longer support them.

No doubt resting up so they can undo all my work. But I guess it’s a fair deal: They get their exercise digging great big useless holes in the ground and I get my exercise filling them back in. On a nice spring day, even Sisyphus might say, “Good enough. Gimme a shovel.”

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Welcome to SLO (Lifetime Employment) County?

Tribune headline: "Wilcox hired by SLO County Employees Association," noting that Gail Wilcox who, you will recall, was fired as Assistant County Administrator for canoodling with her negotiating opposite during contract negotiations, and other general "dumbth" carryings on with her Supervisor, County CEO Dave Edge. The same Wilcox who then sued Edge and the County for sexual harassment. And now she's hired by SLOCEA, the county's largest employee association on a contract basis (at will, one hopes?), to "conduct a job classification and compensation survey." Notes the Tribune, quoting Kim Daniels, general manager of the San Luis Obispo County Employees Association, "Who better?" . . . " adding that they got Wilcox for a good price in 'a steal of a deal.'"

A steal of a deal. What is it with SLO County, anyway? Has this place turned into the County where screw-ups are guaranteed lifetime employment? I can think of more than several former county mucky-mucks who were fired for a variety of Walking While Stupid violations, only to see them recycled into CSD jobs or other public employments.

Maybe that's it. SLOTown is "green" and heavily into recycling? Get fired for stupidities in one government job but instead of putting a paper bag on the head and skulking out of town, here in SLO County, your particular screw-up is NOT an employment problem. A little shuffling here and there and some other (lower level) government job will snap you up as a "steal of a deal."

Eternal employment. Yep, it's heaven here, alright.

Oh, NOW You Figure It Out?

The New York Times reports that the Vatican has finally gotten around to spelling out "for the first time that it now strongly urges bishops to report abuse cases to civil authorities if required by local law."

Urges? Strongly urges? Not demands? Requires? Directs? Mandates? Just "strongly urges?" Well, O.K. But then the guideline states that "civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed." "Should?" How's about "must." Or something like, "All Catholic priests will now be considered -- like doctors and teachers -- mandatory reporters of suspected abuse?"

And what's with only having to report abuse if required by local law? Does anyone know of a place where local law allows child abuse to go unreported?

Well, maybe the new ruling will make things more clear, even if the new rules are a dollar short and about 100 years too short.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Your Sunday Poem

This from "Delights & Shadows," by Ted Kooser

On the Road

By the toe of my boot,
a pebble of quartz,
one drop of earth's milk,
dirty and cold.
I held it to the light
and could almost see through it
into the grand explanation.
Put it back, something told me,
put it back and keep walking.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Must Read

My friend Patrck O’Hannigan, former Los Ososian/SLOTown resident, former New Times contributor, now living in the wilds of beautiful North Carolina and contributing to various online conservative publications, sent this along. It’s Peggy Noonan is back in wicked, wicked form. I’ve cc’d the text and link to the Wall Street Journal, in case the link doesn’t work. This piece should be on the front page of every newspaper and be read from the teleprompters of every TV newscast. But it won’t be. And in 10 – 15 years, it’ll be wash, rinse, repeat. Read it and weep. Nice tie.

After the Crash, a Crashing Bore
The men behind the bailout take refuge in impenetrable jargon.
by Peggy Noonan

Like all Americans, I continue to seek to understand exactly what moods, facts, assumptions, dynamics, agendas and structures underlay and made possible the crash and the great recession.
We do this so that we will be able to bring our gained wisdom into the future and keep another crash from happening, should we ever have another bubble to precede it. We also do it so that we know who to hate.

That's why this week's Financial Industry Inquiry Commission hearings were so exciting, such a public service. The testimony of Charles Prince, former CEO of Citigroup, a too-big-to-fail bank that received $45 billion in bailouts and $300 billion in taxpayer guarantees, was riveting.

You've seen it on the news, but if you were watching it live on C-Span, the stark power of his brutal candor was breathtaking. This, as you know, is what he said:

"Let's be real. This is what happened the past 10 years. You, for political reasons, both Republicans and Democrats, finagled the mortgage system so that people who make, like, zero dollars a year were given mortgages for $600,000 houses. You got to run around and crow about how under your watch everyone became a homeowner. You shook down the taxpayer and hoped for the best.

"Democrats did it because they thought it would make everyone Democrats: 'Look what I give you!' Republicans did it because they thought it would make everyone Republicans: 'I'm a homeowner, I've got a stake, don't raise my property taxes, get off my lawn!' And Wall Street? We went to town, baby. We bundled the mortgages and sold them to fools, or we held them, called them assets, and made believe everyone would pay their mortgage. As if we cared. We invented financial instruments so complicated no one, even the people who sold them, understood what they were.

"You're finaglers and we're finaglers. I play for dollars, you play for votes. In our own ways we're all thieves. We would be called desperadoes if we weren't so boring, so utterly banal in our soft-jawed, full-jowled selfishness. If there were any justice, we'd be forced to duel, with the peasants of America holding our cloaks. Only we'd both make sure we missed, wouldn't we?"

OK, Charles Prince didn't say that. Just wanted to get your blood going. Mr. Prince would never say something so dramatic and intemperate. I made it up. It wasn't on the news because it didn't happen.

It would be kind of a breath of fresh air though, wouldn't it?

In fact, the hearings weren't dramatic but a tepid affair, gentle and genteel. The commission members—economists, lawyers, former officeholders—actually made me miss congressmen, who can at least be relied on to emote and act out the indignation of the citizenry as they understand the citizenry. As an investigative style this isn't pretty and usually isn't even sincere, but it can jar witnesses into revealing, either deliberately or by accident, who they really are and what they really think.

At this week's hearings, the questioners often spoke the impenetrable financial language of the witnesses. The leveraged capital arbitrage of the lowest CDOs were subject to the supersenior subprime exposure, as opposed to the triple-A seniors, right? The witnesses—former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan on Wednesday, Mr. Prince and former Treasury secretary and Citigroup chairman Robert Rubin on Thursday—were, in their testimony, obviously anxious not to be the evening's soundbite. Nobody wants to be the face of a bailout. This is where famous and important people being grilled hide now: in boringness, in an opacity of language so thick that following them is actually impossible. The testimony reminded me of an observation in Michael Lewis's "The Big Short," his study of what happened on Wall Street and why:

"Language served a different purpose inside the bond market than it did in the outside world. Bond market terminology was designed less to convey meaning than to bewilder outsiders. . . . The floors of subprime mortgage bonds were not called floors—or anything else that might lead the bond buyer to form any sort of concrete image in his mind—but tranches. The bottom tranche—the risky ground floor—was not called the ground floor but the mezzanine . . . which made it sound less like a dangerous investment and more like a highly prized seat in a domed stadium." In short, "The subprime mortgage market had a special talent for obscuring what needed to be clarified."

Which is what the hearings were like.

By Thursday afternoon I couldn't figure out why they'd been held. They couldn't have been aimed at informing the citizenry. Even the tone was strange, marked by a kind of weird delicacy, a daintiness of approach, a courtesy so elaborate I thought at some points commission members were spoofing each other. "Thank you so much for appearing," "I'm so grateful for that insight." Guys, there's a war on.

I want to pick out some memorable moments, but I can't really quote them because they resist quotation.

So I'll translate.

On Wednesday, Mr. Greenspan said it's easy to look back and see your mistakes, but what is to be gained by endless self-examination? It's tempting to be self-critical, but self-criticism can become self-indulgence. Systems are complex; human decision-making is shaped by the endless fact of human fallibility. I didn't do anything wrong, and neither did Ayn Rand by the way, but next time you might try more regulation.

On Thursday Chairman Phil Angelides to Messrs. Prince and Rubin: I like you, do you like me? But we don't like undersecuritized trilevel tranches, do we?

At one point commissioner Bill Thomas, a Republican former congressman from California, almost got an intelligent question out. It started as: How did you guys get to the top and run the show and not know what was going on below you? But Mr. Thomas got stuck in the muck of synthetic product securitized assets and then lost his thread, to the extent he had a thread. He began to ask Mr. Prince about his famous dancing quote: "As long as the music is playing, you've got to get up and dance," Mr. Prince had said in 2007. But Mr. Thomas asked his question so meekly—it was an "alleged quote" and maybe it was misunderstood by the press, which is always misunderstanding things. Then Mr. Thomas suddenly wasn't asking that, but asking if it would be nice if in the future bankers "have a structure," a stronger federal regulatory structure, though we probably shouldn't have one if we don't need it, but maybe we do, to sort of stop people like you, not that people like you should be stopped in any way.

Mr. Prince seized on this to say the dancing quote was taken out of context: He'd been talking about liquidity. Ah. Well, that takes the sting out of that one.

From a commission member: The American people have experienced a 30% fall in housing values. Do you know why?

Mr. Prince: Yes, we haven't had such a decline "since the Great Depression." The reason is before the crash there was "a bubble." There was too much "easy money." Then the bubble popped.

Thank you, Sherlock.

The takeaway, as they say, of the whole event, was more or less this:
Citigroup testifiers: We didn't do anything particularly wrong, and what happened is all so sad, isn't it? Sad, subprimed and tranched.

Commission: Yes, all so sad and tragic. Somebody's head should roll. I like your tie.

Can't we do better than this?

Copyright 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Finally, THE Question. Still waiting for the Answer

In a nutshell, Ron Crawford at has asked THE question about the Hideous Sewer project that still remains unanswered. Well, actually ONE of the questions.

The second would be, "Did the citizens of Los Osos know they were voting for a PARK with a more expensive sewer attached and located downtown, because the primary driving force was a PARK? Or did they think (and believe their pre-recall CSD) that this was a sewer project that, by mere coincidence, or mere happy happenstance, just happened to have a park attached, but was a sewer project, first and foremost, that could ONLY be located in the center of town, even if there were no park elements attached, just a plain old sewer plant?

And did they believe their pre-recall CSD when it told them that there were NO other options, that other options (i.e. out of town) would be waaaaayyy more expensive, that the sewer plant HAD to be centrally located because, well, it just had to be centrally located. In short, just what was really driving the location and, as Ron asks, Why on earth did the CCC vote for it?

I'm with Ron in thinking the community really deserves an honest answer to that question (from -- please -- people with no self-serving dogs in this fight, if there even is such a thing?), but knowing the history of this whole project -- one series of linked misleading missteps after another -- I won't hold my breath.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Holy Wars, Batman

Well, now it’s gone from tragedy to deja vuish farce. Last October, when the Anglican church was being roiled and divided over the question of ordination of gays and women, Pope Benedict IVI, in yet another tin-eared move, offered “dissatisfied Anglicans . . . fast-track conversion to Roman Catholicism.” Reports the New York Times, “ . . the pope, intervening in a crisis over gay rights and women’s rights in the Anglican Communion, announced that a special section of the Catholic Church would be established to allow former Anglicans to convert to Catholicism while keeping some of the their traditions and services, and even being led by former Anglican bishops, some of them married.” In other words, “Hey, unhappy with your church? C’mon over to us. We’ll build you this little room over her and you can play at being catholic, without any worry about those scary gay and women priests. ”

Naturally, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, was NOT amused by the pope’s attempt at soul-poaching.

And, turn about being fair play, the Most Reverend Williams, in a recent BBC radio interview, “described the abuse scandal as a ‘colossal trauma’ for Ireland in particular,” and noted, “I was speaking to an Irish friend recently who said that it’s quite difficult in some parts of Ireland to go down the street wearing a clerical collar now.” As well observing, “And an institution so deeply bound into the life of a society suddenly becoming, suddenly losing all credibility – that’s not just a problem for the church, it’s a problem for everybody in Ireland.”

Well, THAT ticked off both Irish Catholics and the Anglican Churches in Ireland, so the Most Reverend quickly apologized, both groups ignoring James Joyce’s too apt description of Ireland being both “priest ridden” and a “sow who eats her own farrow.” (Joyce, now gleefully and proudly proclaimed by the Irish, was not happy with his homeland nor it with him, and so he spent the bulk of his life in Switzerland.)

Then, into this sad, terrible affair, more tin ears as various Catholic officials started playing the victim card, claiming the church was being picked on by the media and alluding to the church being akin to the Jews in being persecuted.

Really? Playing the victim card from the people who brought you . . . THE SPANISH INQUISITION? (Cue Monty Python music.)

Then, more buried secrets popped up, this from Martin Kimani from The Guardian (U.K.) reported in the April 9 The Week, asking where is the Pope’s apology for “the horrific perversion of the Catholic Church in Rwanda, where priests actually took part in genocide. Rwandan priests had stoked racial hatred between rival groups for decades. It was a Rwandan archbishop who first launched the racists Hutu Power movement in the 1950s, as ‘a strategy to maintain the church’s powerful political position’ by appealing to the majority Hutus. Then in 1994, when machete-wielding Hutu hordes were killing hundreds of thousands of Tutsis, priests egged them on. Terrified families took refuge in Catholic churches, only to be hacked to death inside. Sometimes priests and nuns even ‘led the slaughter.’ Yet many of the nuns and priests accused of genocide ‘enjoyed refuge in Catholic churches in Europe while on the run from prosecutors.’”

Mr. Kimani notes with sarcasm and sorrow that apparently the Vatican “can’t afford to ignore the sexual abuse of white Europen parishioners. But ‘it can let those African bodies remain buried, dehumanized, and unexamined.’”

All of which means that a whole lot of somebodies have a lot of ‘splaining to do. And it’s no good playing the victim or pretending that all of this is just the result of a few bad apples. What’s becoming clear is there’s a major system failure here and unless that’s addressed in a serious way, these horror stories will simply keep on repeating themselves because authoritarian systems (personal, social, political, or religious) without strong checks, balances and powerful and effective feed-back mechanisms, are always prone to wretched excess.

It’s simply the nature of authoritarian systems since they’re being run by authoritarian fallible human beings. And the authoritarian nature is, well, the authoritarian nature. And when we forget that, when we turn our children over, or turn our own power and souls over to "other people," we do so at our own peril.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Your Sunday Photos

I played hooky Thursday and headed out to the Carrizo Plains. Had heard the wildflowers were running amok, so friends and I packed a picnic lunch and drove east to the wildflower preserve on Shell Creek Rd, then cut back to Hwy 46, over to Cholame, then right again on Bitterwater Creek road and tooled on down into the Carrizo through the back entrance, which is a nice way to go since the creek road is wonderfully twisty and quite beautiful. Lots of lupine clumps out there.

I think the poppies were still asleep, but the tidy tips and goldfields and fiddleheads and that yellow flower and that other yellow flower and those baby blue whatevers and that purple thingee and that white thingee were all blooming all over the place.

And the local cows were most obliging, making sure visitors would have no trouble identifying what kind of animal they were by standing next to the informative roadsigns.

The painted rock is often is closed for nesting falcons, so I’d check their website ( before going, if that’s what you specifically wanted to see. Otherwise, the visitor center’s open Thurs –Sun, I think, and that’s worth a visit. And, sign up and join The Friends of the Carrizo Plain. They publish a very nice, informative bulletin and keep you informed of various events out there. For example, April 10th the BLM is planning a National Landscape Conservation System’s, 10th Anniversary Celebration and Spring Gala, with BBQ lunch, speakers, displays and tours, which should bring you up to speed on the restoration efforts out there. I’ve been to some of those events and they’re really informative and fun. And with this one you could combine flower peeping with the anniversary celebration.

It’s hard to capture the vastness of the place, or its singular beauty. But it’s worth a trip out there, the sooner the better. Once a heat wave hits, the flowers will all be blasted and gone for another year. Although there’s something to be said for visiting the Carrizo in its more brutish form during the non-spring months. Having that tough vision in your memory bank makes reveling in the soft flower-times even more special.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Mea Culpa. O.K. Just Kidding

Calhoun’s Can(n)on for April 2, 2010

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.
Upton Sinclair

In 1517, Martin Luther presented his Ninety Five Theses to the local indulgences seller and thereby transformed Europe and the world. He was a priest and theology professor who felt the Catholic Church had gone astray, had grown corrupt and needed changing. Instead of change, he was excommunicated and declared an outlaw. Like so many profound historical changes, this one started when one man came to a personal crossroads and made a choice.

Once again, the Catholic Church is in the news as final investigative reports out of Ireland finally exposed the Emerald Isle’s long-hidden secrets: years of abuse of children under official church control, whippings, torture, rape, all under color of God’s Will, all tolerated and kept quiet in order to protect Holy Mother The Church at all costs. No Ninety Five Theses for Ireland or Ireland’s children.

In Germany, more abuse cases, more excuses, more exposure, but now the paper trail of child abuse, child rape, cover-up and official silence leads directly to the door of a cardinal who would one day become pope: Ratzinger.

And so it goes. Not indulgences for sale, but children, although indulgences for the abusing priests did arrive with stunning regularity – not arrest and trial and conviction for their crimes, but perhaps “therapy,” or being moved to another parish to prey again. And of course, quiet payoffs to the few families who hired lawyers. The rest was cover-up and silence.

According to a recent New York Times story, “The Vatican’s inaction [in the most recent cases] is not unusual. Only 20 percent of the 3,000 accused priests whose cases went to the church’s doctrinal office between 2001 and 2010 were given full church trials, and only some of those were defrocked, according to a recent interview in an Italian newspaper with Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna, the chief internal prosecutor at the office. An additional 10 percent were defrocked immediately. Ten percent left voluntarily. But a majority – 60 percent – faced other “administrative and disciplinary provisions,” Monsignor Scicluna said, like being prohibited from celebrating Mass.”

In addition, notes the Times,” Even as the pope himself in a recent letter to Irish Catholics has emphasized the need to cooperate with civil justice in abuse cases, the correspondence seems to indicate that the Vatican’s insistence on secrecy has often impeded such cooperation. At the same time, the official’s reluctance to defrock a sex abuser shows that on a doctrinal level, the Vatican has tended to view the matter in terms of sin and repentance more than crime and punishment.”

Sin and repentance, secrecy, and above all, The Passive Voice operating in an institutional culture of concealment and complicity: Mistakes were made. Errors in judgment were made. We don’t know how it happened. Magic, perhaps, in the dead of night when nobody was around. But a little repentance here and there and then it’s time to move on to a future in which, of course, little will be done and few will be held accountable.

What remains a huge puzzle to me is this: Where is Martin Luther now? Surely institutionally protected, systematic child rape and abuse would rate at least one thesis from an outraged theologian? Or, following the example of Luther’s namesake, Martin Luther King, Jr., where’s a world-wide Catholic boycott of their own churches akin to the civil rights boycotts of the 60’s? No more masses, no more coins in the donation basket, until the pope steps down, along with all others implicated in these years-long massive cover ups? Followed by a complete house-cleaning and thorough review and revamping of church policy and doctrines that have hidden and supported or even fostered pedophiles? Or even a mass exodus of new “reformation” Catholics who have finally decided that a church that repeatedly chose its own power and wealth over justice for its children no longer deserves their allegiance?

But so far, it seems business as usual; polite, discrete silence and a turning away. Which seems odd to me since if I were asked which I would choose –a child or a religious institution –my answer would be simple and immediate.