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October 9th, 2013
12:12 PM ET

Senate chaplain: Shutdown is 'madness'

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-editor

(CNN) - The federal shutdown has found its angry prophet.

Senate Chaplain Barry Black is usually a calm, pastoral presence on Capitol Hill, doling out spiritual wisdom and moral counsel to his high-powered flock.

But the Seventh-Day Adventist and former Navy rear admiral is mad as hell about the shutdown - and he's letting the Senate, and the Lord, know about it.

"Lord, when the federal shutdown delays payments of death benefits to the families of (soldiers) dying on far-away battlefields, it's time for our lawmakers to say enough is enough," Black said in his prayer opening the Senate on Wednesday.

"Cover our shame with the robe of your righteousness," Black continued, citing the Hebrew prophet Isaiah, who was no mean critic of government incompetence himself. "Forgive us. Reform us. And make us whole."

Black was referring to the withholding of death benefits for the families of U.S. soldiers because of the partial federal shutdown. Lawmakers are scheduled to vote Wednesday to reinstate them.

MORE ON CNN: 5 crazy side effects from the shutdown

That might not be soon enough for Black, whose opening prayers have grown increasingly harsh towards Congress.

"Save us from the madness," the chaplain said last week.  “Deliver us from the hypocrisy of attempting to sound reasonable while being unreasonable.”

Last Friday, he addressed the heavens on behalf of the Senate, asking God to  "remove from them that stubborn pride which imagines itself to be above and beyond criticism. Forgive them the blunders they have committed.”

Washington's inability to keep the government open affects not only Black's Bible but also his paycheck. He's not being paid during the shutdown.

The Senate elected its first chaplain in 1789, and a minister has opened the chamber with a prayer for the last 207 years, according to the chaplain's office. Most enter the annals of history unnoticed. The chaplain is supposed to be nonpartisan, nonsectarian and nonpolitical.

But as the shutdown enters its second week political reporters have begun to tune in to Black's opening prayers. The New York Times put the 65-year-old on the its front page on Monday under the headline "Give Us This Day, Our Daily Senate Scolding."

MORE ON CNN:  Shutdown day 9: What you need to know

Black, who was raised in a rough section of Baltimore, served in the Navy for 27 years and was appointed the Senate chaplain in 2003 by former Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee.

For the most part, he has avoided political debates, but he spoke out during the George Zimmerman trial, telling CNN in 2012 that Trayvon Martin, the teenager Zimmerman killed "could have been me."

Even when he doesn't take a public stand, Black said his private meetings with the 7,000 people who work in the Senate gives him an opportunity to discuss the moral implications of lawmaking.

"I don't think there is ever a major vote where I don't talk to a number of senators regarding the ethical dimensions of the issues they are debating," Black told CNN in 2010.

- CNN Belief Blog Editor

Filed under: Belief • Church and state • Ethics • Leaders

soundoff (411 Responses)
  1. AngryJew

    The country can't pay its bills but Israel will still get its welfare.

    October 14, 2013 at 3:59 am |
  2. Name*Greta Smith

    Well said Dr Barry Black. Thank you...

    October 10, 2013 at 9:54 pm |
  3. Jim P.

    "He's not being paid during the shutdown."
    I think we see the *real* source of his outrage. Losing some really easy money there.

    Let the Senators who want him pay for him, this is an establishment of religion and the taxpayers should not be footing the bill.

    Now if they want to hire an official Psychiatrist, I might join in as someone needs their head examined up there.

    October 10, 2013 at 9:35 pm |
    • barney

      Im with you and if you talk to any soldier , the best phycologist in the universe is GOD, and he dosen't cost anything

      October 13, 2013 at 11:33 pm |
  4. Todd

    What is a chaplin doing in senet? I thought there was supposed to be seporation between church and state?

    October 10, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Only applicable in cases where proper grammar occurs in public education.

      October 10, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
      • Max

        Pure snark from you? Why am I not surprised? Care to answer him in a civil way, or are you just being this way because this guy is Catholic?

        October 10, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
        • bootyfunk

          shut up dodo

          what a judgemental christian failure and swine

          October 10, 2013 at 8:12 pm |
      • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

        @Max,

        how do you get Catholic out of 7th day Adventist?

        Actually the 7th Day Adventists are the most virulently anti-Catholic Protestants out there.

        October 10, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
      • Bill Deacon

        GOPer, my understanding is that the House chaplain is Catholic so that's probably where Max drew his conclusion that I was defending a priest. I actuality, I'm making a sarcastic remark about the other guy's spelling because that tells me he doesn't have the capacity to have a dialogue about the separation clause.

        October 10, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
        • Max

          Yes, I did, and for that, I'm sorry...however, since you knew what the guy was talking about, your remarks about his spelling didn't add one iota to the conversation at all. It was being snarky just for the sake of getting a cheap laugh, and you of all people should know better, being the butt of many jokes yourself, BD.

          October 10, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
      • Doris

        Good grief. I'm with Bill on this one.

        October 10, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Per his detached memorandum, James Madison had very strong personal objections to there being chaplains for the House and Senate, and over prayer in Congress.

      Politically however his reaction was essentially 'pick your battles' and 'concentrate on more important issues'.

      He says in his 'detached memoranda':

      Rather than let this step beyond the landmarks of power have the effect of a legitimate precedent, it will be better to apply to it the legal aphorism de minimis non curat lex: or to class it cum "maculis quas aut incuria fudit, aut humana parum cavit natura."

      de minimus non curat lex: The law does not concern itself with trifles

      The second is part of a quote from Horace:
      non ego paucis, offendar maculis, quas aut incuria fudit, aut humana parum cavit natura: I shall not be offended with a few faults, ones that arise either from inadvertence or from the frailty of our nature

      October 10, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
      • Bill Deacon

        I like this. Hadn't heard it before from Madison. It resonates with what we are hearing from pope Francis these days about de-escalating the social conflicts and elevating the dialogue on more important issues.

        October 10, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
      • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

        The detached memorada is very interesting. It articulates James Madison's thinking on the political realities of the doctrine of separation and where he decided to draw the line.

        You can find it here:
        http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/amendI_religions64.html

        October 10, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
  5. lunchbreaker

    OK guys, no more 300 quotes.

    October 10, 2013 at 11:27 am |
  6. Reality # 2

    Once again some incentives to live a healthy life style and also ways to pay for universal health care.

    1. An added two dollar health insurance tax (or higher) on a pack of cigarettes. Ditto taxes on alcoholic beverages, the higher the alcohol content, the higher the tax. Ditto for any product shown to be unhealthy (e.g. guns, high caloric/fatty foods??)

    2. Physicals akin to those required for life insurance- the overly obese will pay signficantly more Medicare and universal health insurance (unless the obesity is caused by a medical condition).

    3. No universal health care coverage for drivers driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or using cell phones while driving.

    4. No universal health coverage for drug addicts or for those having self-inflicted STDs (e.g. not wearing a condom).

    5. No universal health coverage for abortions unless the life of the mother is at significant risk and judged to be so by at least two doctors.

    6. No universal health coverage for euthanasia.

    7. No foreign aid given to countries who abort females simply because they are female.

    The idea door is wide open for other suggestions.

    October 10, 2013 at 7:29 am |
    • USMC 1371

      So you want to use health coverage to take away people's rights/freedoms and replace them with your ideology?
      Socialist much?

      October 10, 2013 at 9:10 am |
      • Merrilee

        That's exactly what "Reality" wants to do. He wants to hold insurance hostage to his own "pure ideology".
        Yeah, good luck with the tax on guns, "Reality". We already have that. It's called 'sales tax'. Oh, that's right, we also have that on every other product you look down your patrician nose at, you socialist.

        October 10, 2013 at 11:25 am |
      • Doc Vestibule

        What happens again if the police pull you over and find that your car is uninsured?

        October 10, 2013 at 11:48 am |
      • Reality # 2

        Is not "Obamacare" socialized medicine? Of course it is. Regarding tax on guns etc., said tax of course would be added to the state's sales tax.

        And don't forget the idea door on how to improve health and reduce the cost of health care is still wide open. They are directly connected.

        October 10, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
    • HLN

      I disagree with your other posts, but not on this one.

      October 10, 2013 at 10:47 am |
      • Merrilee

        Hilarious how it's not "socialist" when you agree with something, isn't it?
        I've yet to agree with any one of unReality's posts. They're all garbage.

        October 10, 2013 at 11:28 am |
    • Ken Margo

      For a guy that calls himself reality you sure don't deal with it. Your anti abortion stand lacks one point. Are you you willing to help pay for the kids?

      To deny insurance for having STD's or other issues still doesn't account for who will pay for these individuals when they end up in the hospital.

      October 10, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
      • Reality # 2

        The Brutal Effects of Stupidity: (only for the new visitors to this blog)

        The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill (8.7% actual failure rate) and male con-dom (17.4% actual failure rate) have led to the large rate of abortions and S-TDs in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or co-ndoms properly and/or use safer methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.- Failure rate statistics provided by the Gut-tmacher Inst-itute. Unfortunately they do not give the statistics for doubling up i.e. using a combination of the Pill and a condom.

        Added information before making your next move:

        "Se-xually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States. While substantial progress has been made in preventing, diagnosing, and treating certain S-TDs in recent years, CDC estimates that approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.1 In addition to the physical and psy-ch-ological consequences of S-TDs, these diseases also exact a tremendous economic toll. Direct medical costs as-sociated with STDs in the United States are estimated at up to $14.7 billion annually in 2006 dollars."
        See also: http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/26/opinion/bolan-se-xual-health/index.html?hpt=hp_t4

        And from:
        "Adolescents don’t think or-al se-x is something to worry about (even though is becoming a major cause of throat cancer)," said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. "They view it as a way to have intimacy without having 's-ex.'" (Maybe it should be called the Bill Clinton Syndrome !!)

        Obviously, political leaders in both parties, Planned Parenthood, parents, the "stupid part of the USA" and the educational system have failed miserably on many fronts.

        The most effective forms of contraception, ranked by "Perfect use":

        - (Abstinence, 0% failure rate)
        - (Masturbation, mono or mutual, 0% failure rate)

        Followed by:

        One-month injectable and Implant (both at 0.05 percent)
        Vasectomy and IUD (Mirena) (both at 0.1 percent)
        The Pill, Three-month injectable, and the Patch (all at 0.3 percent)
        Tubal sterilization (at 0.5 percent)
        IUD (Copper-T) (0.6 percent)
        Periodic abstinence (Post-ovulation) (1.0 percent)
        Periodic abstinence (Symptothermal) and Male condom (both at 2.0 percent)
        Periodic abstinence (Ovulation method) (3.0 percent)

        Every other method ranks below these, including Withdrawal (4.0), Female condom (5.0), Diaphragm (6.0), Periodic abstinence (calendar) (9.0), the Sponge (9.0-20.0, depending on whether the woman using it has had a child in the past), Cervical cap (9.0-26.0, with the same caveat as the Sponge), and Spermicides (18.0).

        October 11, 2013 at 12:26 am |
        • Reality # 2

          See also: http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/25/health/bill-gates-condom-challenge, One million dollars for a better condom.

          October 11, 2013 at 12:37 am |
      • Ken Margo

        @Delusional reality........Ok now i see your angle. You're one of those religious whack jobs wanting people not to have s3x.
        So you quote stats as useful as the poll that said Mutt Romney would win. EVERYBODY needs health insurance no matter their morals. Uninsured people with good or bad morals cost taxpayers money when they can't pay the bill.

        October 11, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
        • Reality # 2

          Oops, forgot to add this to the beginning of my comments: "From an agnostic guy who enjoys intelligent se-x-"

          October 14, 2013 at 8:06 am |
  7. Kimberlee

    I am an Independent who votes issues and people, not parties. Though I've voted democratic more often, I did not vote for Pres Obama in the last 2 elections. Just as he himself had stated when he first came to the Senate, he didn't have the experience for the job, but was encouraged to run in 2008 because "he had no record to defend." I acknowledge his intelligence and good speaking ability (when he has a teleprompter), but he is not a good leader. That said, I don't side at all with those who immediately vowed to oppose him to cause his failure. Our Congressmen and Senators are being paid well to provide for the general welfare of the people; that should be their focus. That said, I did not support the House's position they would fund everything but Obamacare (I have my concerns about it, but it's been passed by the majority, so let it go and see if it can work), knowing full well the Senate and President would not agree. That said, I did not support the Senate and President's position they would not agree to fund the Gov't if Obamacare wasn't included. At that point, both sides were wrong in my opinion. Both were willing to see things go bad, rather than give on their point. I am most disappointed in Pres Obama, who was prepared to let a large portion of the federal workforce come to a stop. I am a retired federal worker, and was at a level just below the senior executive service. I was one of those essential employees who came to work when others were furloughed. You can't imagine the frustration for federal workers who have projects and programs to manage, meetings set up, deadlines in place, contracts in place, etc etc etc to be told to go home and sit without pay, because the Congress and the President are not doing their jobs but are still getting paid. These shutdowns cost money and resources. I am glad the Chaplain is trying to advocate for them to get some sense. One side or the other needs to put the people first and blink, rather than refusing to bend and careening over the cliff in destructive madness.

    October 10, 2013 at 12:55 am |
    • Ken Margo

      So depsite the FACT Obama won the election running on Obamacare, HE should give in. You are just as bad as the tea partiers pushing the anti Obamacare garbage. BOEHNER IS THE ONLY ONE THAT SHUTDOWN THE GOV'T. THE HOUSE CONTROLS THE MONEY. NOT THE PREZ.

      October 10, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
  8. Jim

    Madness?...THIS. IS. SPARTA!

    October 9, 2013 at 11:06 pm |
  9. CJ

    I appreciate the chaplain's presence and prayers. At a time like this we need a moral voice and all of our leaders need to be reminded that leadership is stewardship and they are accountable to a higher power.
    Keep up the good work Chappy!

    October 9, 2013 at 9:50 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      If a higher power existed he would have killed the tea party!

      October 9, 2013 at 10:30 pm |
      • USMC 1371

        Thats funny I was thinking that same thing towards Obama.

        October 10, 2013 at 4:12 am |
        • Merrilee

          Wishing death on a sitting POTUS? Treasonous much?

          October 10, 2013 at 11:33 am |
        • Ken Margo

          Are you mad sir orange skin (boehner) gave in today? Are you still licking your Mutt Romney wounds? Don't be bitter that you associate with losers because you are just as unimportant as they are.

          October 10, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
    • TommyG

      The Chaplain needs to heed the words of the Bible....a man cannot serve God and Mammon. Give unto Caesar what is Caesar's and give unto God what is God's. Chaplain needs to get out of politics, I wouldn't go to his church.

      October 10, 2013 at 9:19 am |
  10. Prairieson

    $155,000/year for this guy and his House counterpart to pray over our Congressman. Plus he has a staff and executive assistants.
    Who says the government can't create jobs........
    And with full lifetime benefits, pensions, etc.
    Absurd

    October 9, 2013 at 9:16 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Your jealousy is obvious. Maybe he does more than pray. He did serve in the military. He put HIS AZZ on the line. What about YOU?

      October 9, 2013 at 9:29 pm |
      • Prairieson

        At least wipe your chin when you're done.....

        October 9, 2013 at 9:34 pm |
        • Ken Margo

          Another witty thought from you. If you're mad now, wait until 2016 when another democrat wins the white house.

          October 9, 2013 at 10:29 pm |
        • USMC 1371

          He swallowed like a good little alter boy

          October 10, 2013 at 4:14 am |
        • Dippy

          Altar, not alter.

          October 10, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
    • John

      House Chaplain Fr. Conroy is a Roman Catholic priest. His paycheck goes to the Jesuits, whose main focus is education, or to the Catholic church. There's no way either Chaplain is receiving that money as a personal salary.

      October 10, 2013 at 2:13 am |
      • TommyG

        Can't serve God and the snake.

        October 10, 2013 at 9:20 am |
  11. Alias

    Fro all you people posting crap about the seperation of church and state, PLEASE open a history book sometime and maybe the true intentions of the founding fathers will be clear.
    The founding fathers were trying to ensure a theocracy did not take control of America.
    Do you know who was the head of the Church of England? The King.

    Without trying to give a full history lesson in this blog – Our founders were not worried about someone praying, or a church influencing the government. What they did not want was one religion to take control and force everyone to convert.
    They knew history better than people do today.

    October 9, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
  12. Mike

    Madness? THIS IS CONGRESS!!!!

    October 9, 2013 at 8:36 pm |
  13. Prairieson

    Senate Chaplain? Are you kidding me? Can him.
    It's just another Federal job that we don't need and can't afford = Federal wages, full bennies, lifetime pension that the private sector stiffs can only dream of.
    Get rid of these kinds of jobs in the Federal system !
    Did you know that the Congress still employees elevator operators? Yep, Federal employees with full benefits, health care, pensions – just to push the elevator butttons for the D's and R's.

    October 9, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Yep a true "Job creator" republican. Want to fire people left and right. I hope you vote out your repub friends (Boehner, Cantor, McConnell etc) They're getting the same benefits right now for NOT doing their jobs.

      October 9, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
      • Prairieson

        If you're OK with paying for a bunch of elevator operators to push the floor buttons for our Congressional members, then you deserve to be broke.
        Go ahead, pay up, why not give more than you're asked to pay?

        October 9, 2013 at 9:19 pm |
        • Ken Margo

          I noticed you don't seem to have any problem with repub members of congress who earn more, have the same benefits and are actually doing LESS.

          October 9, 2013 at 9:26 pm |
  14. Sonic10158

    Why does the senate even have a chaplain? I am a christian myself, but the government should be completely secular

    October 9, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
  15. UriNation

    It takes a chaplain to realize this?

    October 9, 2013 at 8:15 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      No, it takes a chaplain to say it.

      October 10, 2013 at 10:43 am |
  16. Renee Marie Jones

    Hey, Chaplain, what would Christ say about taking food away from starving children? Where in the bible does it say that war widows get paid before starving children get fed?

    October 9, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
    • malcat

      What starving children are not being fed.

      October 9, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
      • Ken Margo

        The repubs voted to cut 40 billion form SNAP (Welfare) over 10 years.

        October 9, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
        • USMC 1371

          It's called welfare to work retard. It limits how long leaches can stay on the system before they have to find a job. Something that should have been done long ago now if they would make them drug test it would be even better.

          October 10, 2013 at 4:23 am |
        • TommyG

          Why is cutting SNAP bad?

          October 10, 2013 at 9:21 am |
        • Merrilee

          You want 5 year olds to go to work? What kind of an asshole ARE you, freak?

          October 10, 2013 at 11:39 am |
        • Ken Margo

          @usmc..............You sound like a military man. Obviously too many bombs to the head. What do you think of your buddy repubs screwing relatives of soldiers killed in duty?

          October 10, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
        • Ken Margo

          @Tommy azzhole.........Be thankful you do not need assistance. But keep in mind your repub friends are pro life whack jobs. If you want them to be born, then you are obligated to help them.

          October 10, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
  17. oracle

    Madness?! No. THIS ... IS .... WASHINGTON .... D .... CCCCCCCCCCCC!

    October 9, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
    • kyle

      I was going to say the same thing except using Congress, but that works too.

      October 9, 2013 at 8:05 pm |
  18. dontbow

    maybe the chaplain can pay for it all then.

    October 9, 2013 at 7:34 pm |
  19. Stacy

    The madness is that we are almost 17 trillion in the hole and still digging a pit our kids–or you, perhaps– will not be able to climb out of. I'm afraid this sort of extremism is what it takes to make some of our leaders pay attention to this elephant in the room that we conveniently pretend is not there. However, no one will argue the fact that both parties put us here. Our government–a reflection of the lack of integrity which is overtaking this country–is a failure.

    October 9, 2013 at 7:31 pm |
    • oh

      A wholly manufactured crisis by the GOP. Restricting spending during a recession is how you create a depression. Maybe handing out tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans while waging two wars off the books had more to do with our present situation? Oh that's right, we can't look at the facts.

      October 9, 2013 at 7:43 pm |
      • janetmermaid

        Thank you for your voice of reason. The tea baggers and just plain id-iots refuse to see the truth.

        October 9, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
      • TommyG

        Maybe Clinton deregulating banks had more to do with it than anything else..hmmm? And any member of Congress that voted for that should lose their jobs and pensions too...Rep, Dem or otherwise.

        October 10, 2013 at 9:23 am |
    • Renee Marie Jones

      Stacy, the "hole" that we are in is entirely the fault of Republicans who insist on giving tax breaks to the wealthy and yet they still vote for corporate welfare.

      October 9, 2013 at 8:06 pm |
      • Renee Marie jones Oregon

        Hardly. Sounds like you get your facts off the net.

        December 17, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      @stacy..........You know how much the OIL companies get from us taxpayers? 5 billion. When you fill up your car, do you think oil companies need a subsidy?

      October 9, 2013 at 8:37 pm |
    • mbl

      So, which part of the $17 billion was bloated, wasted money? Would that be the $300 billion under Carter or the $4 trillion under Reagan-Bush? The $1 trillion under Clinton or the $5 trillion under George W. Bush? Or would you include Obama's deficit spent trying to finish off a war which was never funded by congress or GWB? Seems to me that the father-son Bush team was at the helm or "...a heartbeat away" for $9 trillion of this mess.

      October 9, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
  20. scientificpoetry

    Forgive my ignorance but... I wasn't even aware there was a senate chaplain. Is there a Senate Rabbi or Imam or Witch Doctor? The senate chaplain is clearly a position that should be eliminated. Sounds like a separation of church and state issue to me.

    October 9, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
    • Doris

      James Madison, father of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, including the 1st Amendment with its Establishment Clause, thought that the practice of employing Congressional chaplains via federal funds was unconstitutional toward the end of his career. (Library of Congress – James Madison Papers – Detached memorandum, ca. 1823.) Some point out that it is a non-denominational position, and therefore should not be considered harmful.

      October 9, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      According to a list on wiki this office appears to be reserved for christians but only one catholic has been selected so far, so it looks like the protestants have an inside track.

      October 9, 2013 at 7:38 pm |
      • Doris

        I hear ya, Ace, and the line that bothers me from the article from Chaplain Black is: "I don't think there is ever a major vote where I don't talk to a number of senators regarding the ethical dimensions of the issues they are debating."

        October 9, 2013 at 7:52 pm |
      • mcannata

        Protestants are Christians too

        October 9, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
      • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

        There are 'guest' speakers as well and this list is much more diverse than the list of chaplains for the House and the Senate.

        The official chaplains are overwhelmingly Protestant.

        The House did not even have a Catholic chaplain until 2000.

        The Senate had *one* back in 1832.

        October 10, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.