Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Failing presidents & hypocrisy

I've heard the word "hypocrite" a lot lately, referring to Democrats who complained about Republicans who pledged to obstruct Obama at every opportunity and yet seem determined to do exactly the same thing with Donald Trump.  It isn't the same and here is why.

1.  In spite of what we heard on Right Wing Talk Radio & TV, Obama is not and never was a communist out to destroy our country.  He is a centrist, committed to working across the isle, many of whose ideas actually reflected Republican ideas.  Take the ACA.  It was a program very similar in its most important details to a health care proposal put forward by the right wing Heritage Foundation.  It was centered around the private sector and enfranchised the insurance industry.  Had he truly been a leftist, Obama would have argued for Medicare for all as Bernie Sanders has done.

Trump, on the other hand, seems to be poised to blow up the entire government.  He has already skirted many of the common practices of the past such as releasing his tax returns so we can all see whether his interests conflict with those of the American people.  He has chosen to avoid intelligence briefings, either because he truly believes there is nothing he needs to learn or because he doesn't trust the intelligence agencies.  His cabinet appointees so far seem almost all to fall into one of two categories... either they have no experience and no knowledge of the area they will be heading or they are committed to destroying the role of the very agency they will head.

2. Obama clearly fell in line with the general trajectory of history.  Whether we like what he dd or not, he didn't do anything that made people go, "What?"

Even before he is inaugurated, Trump is already breaking with policies and ideas that are foundational to our security both nationally and internationally.  His thoughtless actions regarding our treaties have already begun to push Asian allies towards China and he has unnecessarily provoked China by skirting the one China doctrine.  His relationship to Russia is troubling at best.  His calls for the US military to commit war crimes and his commitment to sidestepping accepted rules that have to do with nepotism and conflicts of interest are equally troubling. 

On the national level, he is either allowing or directing the dismantling of many of the social safety nets upon which many people depend. 

3. Obama knew what government is and what its role is.  Trump doesn't seem to understand that government is not a business and the rules by which it operates are not the same.  If his business fails, it can declare bankruptcy and at least Donald walks away unscathed.  It has happened multiple times.  If government fails... that is something altogether different.

4. Obama knows that when the president speaks, things happen, so he is careful about what he says.  Trump has no such wisdom or he enjoys the chaos that happens when he says something unwise.  In either case... it is not good.

5. Obama has a heart to leave the world a better place.  You may not agree with his vision of that, but you cannot argue the point.  Nothing that Trump has ever done in his entire life would indicate that he has any concerns beyond himself.  There is nothing beyond his skin that he seems to truly care about beyond the way that it impacts him.

6.  The best you could say about the Republican obstructionists might be that some were acting consistently with their values - that they hate the federal government and literally want it to fail so by obstructing a president as thoughtful and charismatic as Obama who began his presidency with a real mandate, they were working to that end.  And now they find a kindred soul in Trump, who wants to see government curtailed not out of some political ideology but because it constrains his personal behavior.

Democratic obstructionists will be working to preserve the rights and safety nets, some of which have been in place for decades and upon which many people depend.  Without those safety nets, people will die.

So... are there areas where Dems should support Trump?  Say, like if he proposes working on infrastructure?  I have mixed feelings.  I should say that I believe he will only propose improving the infrastructure if he will personally benefit from it.  Still there clearly are areas where he may see his self-interests and those of the nations align... so yes, I would argue that we work on those issues with him.  But we must never allow those issues to cause us to lose sight of the other things he is doing or allowing to not be done.

If Trump and the Republicans in office work to tear apart Social Security, Medicare, and the ACA (all of which they propose to do), I will do what I can to obstruct them and call upon my representatives to do the same.  I want them to fail there.  If they want to tear up treaties and alliances with other nations and put the entire world at risk, I will work to obstruct them and call upon my representatives to do the same.  I want them to fail.  If they continue to enfranchise hate groups and normalize the kind of behavior I would punish my grandson for, I will do what I can to obstruct them and call upon my representatives to do the same.   I want them to fail.  If the Republicans continue their march to destroy our government by undermining trust in all facets of it, I will do what I can to obstruct them and call upon my representatives to do the same.  I want them to fail.  If the Trump administration actually becomes the kleptocracy I expect it will be, I will do what I can to obstruct them and call upon my representatives to do the same. I want them to fail.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


I don't know whether Russia interfered with the election in any substantive way.  I don't know whether anyone in the Trump organization colluded (if Russia did).  I don't know why Russia might have preferred Trump to win (although I can infer).  I don't know what might have happened had Russia not interfered (if they did) or whether the outcome would have been different.

I do know that information was released that likely damaged Hillary Clinton's campaign both by the FBI and via other avenues.   I know that information was not released on the Trump campaign including from the CIA who believed that Russia was helping out the Trump campaign...

Sooooo... an investigation seems critical.  If a foreign government is interfering in our elections, we need to know and it needs to be addressed.  As one former CIA chief has said, this is "the political equivalent of 9/11."

To those Republicans who investigated Bengazi 7 times, each time hoping for a different result but each time claiming that the American people deserve to know and who are now saying that an investigation into possible interference by Russia into the presidential election is not necessary... once again, you are showing that you have no real interest in the truth or in justice, but only in power.  Your hypocrisy is astounding and blatantly obvious.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016


I've been reading Father Gregory Boyle's wonderful book Tattoos on the Heart.  It is a collection of inspiring and heart-breaking stories from his years of ministry with gang members in LA.  A story from chapter six (and Father Boyle's interpretation of it) particularly resonated with me today and related to things I've been thinking about.

In the aftermath of the election I've been thinking a lot about community and about the way we relate to other folk, near and far.  One morning as he arrived at his office for work, Junior called out from his second story apartment window, "Love you G dog!"

Father Boyle answered back, "Thank you Junior.  That was a very nice thing to say."

Boyle goes on, "He waves me on as if papally blessing me on my day. 'O come on now G, you know.  You're in my jurisdiction.'"

In the interpretation of the story, Boyle observes that the gang members have very limited jurisdictions, areas and communities they know and for which they care.  He doesn't outright say but implies that the barriers at the edge of those jurisdictions are as solid as they can be.  He goes on that our call as Christians is to widen our jurisdictions.

As I've been watching the aftermath of the election both in the larger world and in my heart this call speaks loudly.  We all have a variety of concentric jurisdictions, with each further one getting a little less commitment and caring.  The primary jurisdiction is always the one that gets our deepest commitment.  Sometimes the barriers are porous.  Sometimes they are as solid as they can be.  We all have a point at which the jurisdictions end. 

Personally, before the election I would have felt that my primary jurisdiction was pretty big... or at least my second one was.  Afterwards, I see it was not nearly as large as I thought, but that the barrier between it and the next level was extremely porous.  After the election, everything in my heart, which had been deeply hurt and disappointed, wanted to shore up that barrier and close up any openings shutting out those beyond my closest jurisdictions.

It is frightening to open those barriers and it is dangerous.  The more open you are, the more vulnerable you feel.  It could be argued that that fear is exactly what fueled the election... fear of the one outside of my jurisdiction taking something that is rightfully mine.  And so the walls go up both literal and figurative.  Our role is to risk... to tear down the walls and to see whoever is standing on the other side as "in my jurisdiction."

An observation... we would hope that our elected leaders are people who have wide jurisdictions that at the very least include everyone in the nation along with the ecosystem.  It is better yet when the barrier to their next level is porous and yearns for the very best not only for the US but the rest of the world.

Sometimes we have had leaders like that.  More often they fall short.  Unfortunately there is something about the role of elected leader that calls to the narcissist. The narcissist's jurisdiction is as narrow as it can possibly be... it ends at their own skin.  The only time they care about anyone or anything else is when it impacts them.  A talented narcissist can be charming and even effective... but it is all about ME... ALWAYS. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Election 2016 #6 - my fantasy

From everything I can see, I do not believe that Donald Trump ever actually wanted or expected to be president.  I truly think he was just screwing with us all.  Now that he has won and we see the amazing disarray and ineptitude of his transition team, I have to wonder whether he is looking for a way out.

OK, this is a fantasy and I have zero expectation that it will happen... but it could happen.  Indeed, I believe there are really good reasons to make it happen.  So, maybe we should float this idea out there in hopes it gets Trump's ear.  If it catches your imagination, share it far and wide.

So... first some factual observations.

Trump's presidency will be a failure.  He cannot possibly meet the expectations of those who voted for him and they will come after him with pitchforks and torches in 2 and then 4 years.  His brand will be destroyed.  History will dismiss him.  As a narcissist, this is the worst possible outcome for Trump.

The electors of the electoral college can vote for whoever they want.  Even in states where they are legally required to vote for the winner of their state, the penalty for not doing so is very small.

If Trump were to become president and then resign, that would make Pence president... and from everything I can see, Trump does not share any ideological beliefs with Pence so Trump would not want that outcome.  Plus resigning would be embarrassing. 

Here's the fantasy... Trump could send his minions to privately see the electors and encourage them to switch their votes and put Hillary in.  We're still not sure how many electors he actually has but likely a switch of about 25 would do the trick, maybe a few more.  They could justify their switch as trying both to fulfill the original intent of the electoral college to keep unfit candidates from winning AND as honoring the will of the majority.  As of this writing, HRC has won the popular vote by over 1 million votes.  Alexander Hamilton saw the role of the electors to ensure that  “the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”  Duh!

So what does Trump get in my fantasy?  He doesn't have to fail at president.  He can yell all he wants that the election was rigged against him and become not only the leader of his base but also a martyr for their cause.  His dream of a media empire will take off like wildfire.  He could become the true leader of a new political movement and perhaps even a new political party.  None of his shady dealings with foreign governments need ever come out.  If, and I do mean if, he has any degree of patriotism in him, he gets to save the US from a disaster he has to know is coming if he becomes president.

So, Donald, are you up for this?

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Election 2016 #5 - now what?

Like many other folk, I found myself reeling at the results of the presidential election.  I had difficulty understanding why anyone would vote for Donald Trump.  I was (and am) afraid of what the future might bring.  I posted a statement on Facebook - "I wonder whether this is a country in can live in."  By that I meant that I was considering emigrating somewhere.  I did play some of those scenarios out and indeed, depending on what happens with medical insurance, I may have to.  Since last Wednesday I've thought differently... it most definitely is not a country in which I want to live, so I am committing myself to work harder to make it the country in which I do want to live.  OK, now what?  What do we do?

None of these thoughts are original.  I've listened a lot to Van Jones recently.  Some of what he has said is reflected here.  I also found an article by Masha Gessen on how to live under an autocratic ruler that I found extremely helpful. 

There is a phrase that's going around (from Salena Zito?) in a number of slightly different variations, "Trump's supporters take him seriously but not literally while his detractors take him literally but not seriously."  I will take him seriously now and I will continue to take him literally.  Gessen's first rule is to believe what the autocrat says.  When Trump says he wants to make Muslims register, believe him.  When Trump says he will repeal the ACA, believe him.  When he says he wants to deport 11 million people, believe him.  When he says that women who have abortions should be prosecuted, believe him.  Now it is possible that he didn't mean what he said in at least a few instances but I would rather be prepared for the worst than be surprised when he follows up.  It is possible that even the Republicans will stand against some of his excesses (although I doubt that) and he won't be able to accomplish some of his plans.  Be vigilant and be ready.

Be aware of what he actually said but also how he has followed up in action.  He spoke out against racists (rather softly) but then turned around and hired Steve Bannon.

Watch those behind the scenes.  Trump does not seem to have any real ideology.  Those behind him do.  

Work to build relationships and community so we can stand against the damages his administrations wants to do.  Be a part of a religious body that takes seriously the calls of faith.  If you can't do religion, get together with a bunch of other people regularly an build something that is working towards being the Blessed Community.  You can't change the world alone but together...

And be persistent.  Wilburforce took 13 years to get his anti-slavery bill passed.  As Hillary quoted in her concession speech, "So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time if we do not give up. (Gal. 6:9, NRSV)

Listen to those who voted for Trump and keep the truth in front of them.  I truly believe we have a lot in common.  I was not happy with the direction of the nation either and felt disappointed that Obama did not push more aggressively.  I think we have at least some common goals.  Let's find them and hold them up.  Then, remind them when Trump fails to meet their expectations, as he will, and continue to point out the evils there.  Most importantly, build relationships across lines.

Be outraged.  It is tempting to look for ways to find the good in Trump.  There may indeed be some areas where he does some good things.  Do not allow that to dim your vision.  See what is outrageous and call it out. 

In two years we have the midterm elections.  Throw the Republicans out.  OK, I know it isn't that simple but those of us standing against the goals of this administration must organize and work to turn things around.  A Democratic House and Senate would make things soooooo much easier.  More Democratic legislatures and executives at the state level would make standing for what is right and good so much easier.  Let us put everything we can into making that happen.

Work hard on the issues that are critical.  We must stand with our Muslim friends.  If they do try to register Muslims, be registered as a Muslim.  I commit to do so.  Work with Democratic legislators to guard the SCOTUS.  Work to do all we can to meet the challenges of climate change.

Work to provide a safe place for those communities most threatened by this political change.

Finally, remember that time is on our side.  The arc of history is long but it always bends towards justice.  The fears that motivated the alt-right in this election are based in reality.  The nation is becoming more diverse in every way.  That cannot be stopped.  Millenials didn't show up nearly as much as they needed to, but the election map of those under 25 is almost completely blue.  Yes, the map that went around immediately following the election was not accurate and reflected polling from a few weeks before the election but the real one still looks like this

Time is on our side.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Election 2016 #4 more personal

I thought this was one of the most important comments on Tuesday evening as election results came in.  It is a real and deeply important question - what does the elction of Donald Trump say to our children and grandchildren?  In electing him we have legitimized his behavior - after all we chose him to be the leader of the USA.  We have legitimized bullying.  We have legitimized sexual predation.  We have legitimized bigotry.  We have legitimized racism.  Racism, bigotry, predation, and bullying were a part of the American experience but before Tuesday we worked against them all.  People were embarrassed to be bigoted and careful to express those kinds of thoughts.  Now even those who previously called themselves "morals voters" have put their stamp of approval on all of the above.

I do not want my grandson to see Donald Trump as a man whose behavior he is to emulate.  I don't want him to see a world where a man like that is rewarded with the highest office in the land.  I don't want him to believe that any of those things are OK.  Ever.

I do not want my granddaughter to grow up in a country where the leader brags about committing sexual battery and churches lift him up as their choice.  I don't want her to ever experience being touched by any man without first giving her consent.

I don't want my Muslim, immigrant, gay friends to live in a nation where they must live in fear.

Yet, we are already seeing a multitude of reports of all of these kinds of behaviors on the rise.

On Tuesday I posted a comment on Facebook - I wonder whether this is a country in which I can live...  I was pondering the possibility of moving somewhere else... Today, my answer is still "no," but my path is not to leave.  I was too complacent before.  No longer.  I will work harder and harder to make this the country in which I want to live.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Election Results 2016 - let's get personal #1

OK... one of the issues we hear about most regarding the Obama years is the ACA and more than once I heard people say that "Hillary will double down on Obamacare."  Trump has said that on day 1 he will repeal the ACA.  I'm not sure how that is possible but... From what I can see the closest that the GOP has come to a proposed alternative is Paul Ryans 37 pages of talking points (it lists goals but doesn't really say how we get to any of them... and as the ACA has shown, the proof really is in the implimentation) or Trump's promise of something better with no details and as far as anyone from the outside can see, no work having been done on what would be a tremendously complex issue.  Of course, the option of just repealing the ACA without replacing it with any legislative alternative is a real possibility... with all of the attendant chaos that would bring.

This one is very personal for me.  I have an hereditary condition called heterozygous familial hyperlipidemia.  What that means is that my liver doesn't fully function with regards to processing cholesterol and I end up with crazy high numbers of the bad kind (when I was first tested, my overall cholesterol was 613).  That results in severe artery disease.  Most of the men in my biological family died of heart attacks in their thirties (my father at 31).  That means that on the private market I am simply uninsurable.

When it was discovered that I have this condition, my arteries were in very bad shape to the point that surgical intervention would do no good.  I had not had a heart attack though.  The medications (expensive) work very well for me and my cholesterol has been under control for nearly 30 years.  I still have not had a heart attack and some of the arterial damage has healed itself.

Under the old system, health insurance differed dramatically from one state to another.  In New York, I got excellent insurance at a reasonable price through the local council of churches which acted as a group.  In California, I had to get it either through the denomination or as private insurance.  Private was not available to me.  Period.  The broker literally laughed when he saw the medical history portion of my application.  So we got it through the denomination which, because everyone who could get insurance cheaper had moved to another source, became a group of older individuals with more medical issues.  I got insurance... but the year prior to the ACA, it cost nearly $4000 a month for my spouse and I.  Yes.  That is the correct number of zeros.  When the ACA was implemented, that program disappeared because nobody was able for it to continue.  Even under the ACA, our insurance started at $2000 a month... but that still was a savings of over $24000 a year.

Long story short... if the ACA is repealed without a replacement that provides insurance to people like me at a reasonable cost, I will likely die.  I'm not trying to be dramatic here... only stating a reasonable understanding of what will happen.

Before the ACA, 45,000 died each year from the results of lack of insurance.  20 million people who had been uninsured got health insurance under the ACA.  That number dropped significantly.  If the ACA is repealed without a suitable replacement, we'll be looking at those numbers again... and I will likely be one of them.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Election 2016 Results #2

A newspaper writer in Pittsburgh commented a few weeks ago that those who opposed Trump took him literally but not seriously while those who supported his candidacy took him seriously but not literally.

Today we see they were both wrong.  Trump is as serious as a heart attack (I choose that metaphor purposefully) and that is precisely because of his plans... plans that will likely be unimpeded since he'll have a Republican congress and, at least theoretically, a partisan judiciary.

11 million people deported... imagine what that does to our economy.  And then imagine what that does to the places to which they are sent.

The ACA repealed... Perhaps as many as 20 million people who had been uninsured, who got insurance under the ACA, now uninsured again.  45,000 annual deaths in the US due to lack of insurance before the ACA and we'll be back there again.  I have a very good chance of being one of them... more in a later post.

Fundamental threats to the freedom of the press and to the civilized transfer of the political process ("lock her up," or worse, "execute her").

Trade agreements torn up.

Social safety net shredded and replaced with privatized schemes.

Bigotry being enshrined under the cloak of religious freedom

Any desire to address the biggest issue we face today - climate change - in a substantive way is simply discarded.

People of color and LGBTQ folk being completely disenfranchised.

No checks or balances.

election 2016 results #1

I believed the polls.  I did expect that there would be some folk who came out and voted for Trump who were ashamed to tell anyone that was their plan, but I expected that number to be relatively small.  So I believed the polls.  I expected a Hillary win yesterday, perhaps even a landslide.

Here's why... I believed in the general goodness of the American people.  I believed that as a nation we are moving beyond sexism, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and toward a new community.  Yes, I knew all of those things are still very real but I also believe they are fundamentally at odds with who and what we claim to be as a people.  I believe in generosity,  in community, in compassion... I simply could not believe that a person like Donald Trump could be elected to the presidency of the USA.

I am in shock now.  I don't know what to do next but I am sure that the task before us is harder than I ever imagined and the work more urgent.  But today... I just can't

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Politics and the Problem of Truth

A clergy friend of mine recently posted a question on Facebook regarding the minefield of clergy or churches making political endorsements.  I responded that I have no respect (or fear) of the law that says that churches, like other 501 C 3's risk losing their tax exempt status if they make an endorsement.  I would argue that the 1st amendment says that churches can do what they feel they need to do without fear of reprisal from government agencies... but that is another discussion.  I went on to say that churches still should not make endorsements.  Here's why.

First off, even the most homogeneous of congregations still have some diversity of thought.  To endorse a candidate will certainly disenfranchise anyone who supports another candidate or even those who are questioning. 

Most importantly though, every candidate will at times make stands or statements that fly in the face of commitments that we must make as followers of Jesus.  If we have endorsed a candidate, it can be very difficult to stand against those actions.  That will damage any claims of credibility we have in the world.

I was particularly struck by this in the recent VP debate.  Mike Pence calls himself an evangelical Christian and is the darling of the conservative Christian political movement, often being touted as a future presidential candidate.  Again and again, he responded to challenges from Kaine with "that isn't true" or "we never said that" when there evidence is right there on the web for all to see. 
We expect politicians to exaggerate and even to make promises that they have little intention of keeping... but to flat out deny reality, to lie bold faced, is another matter.  For people who call themselves followers of the one who is The Truth to so readily abandon that commitment to truth telling only tells us that they are not really so committed to The Truth as they claim.

We can argue whether one candidate is less truthful than another.  There are websites that track such things, as biased as they may be.  In any case, that only supports my argument that churches need to avoid endorsements.  If facing the truth makes us squirm at our chosen candidate... then maybe we need a different one.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

mini book review The Sex Lives of Cannibals

I listen to books in my car as I commute back and forth to work and have listened to some wonderful books.  Today I finished The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost, read by Simon Vance.  It is a wonderful book that I highly recommend.  It is hilarious but also plants some questions underneath your skin that you'll think seriously about.  And Simon Vance does an astoundingly good job of reading the book.  I'm sure it would be wonderful as a book book, but as an audio book it is really, really worth your time.  I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Book Review - Live Like you Give a Damn

I listen to books in my car as I commute back and forth to work.  I had just started through This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein for the second time when I received notice about Tom Sine's book Live Like You Give a Damn.  I was really excited.  Klein in her book tells us that the current economic system is not sustainable without destroying the earth (rightly I think) and talks a lot about what a new system might look like if we abandoned the kind of capitalist system we currently have.  The spiritual implications where everywhere.  I listened and kept thinking that her message fits so well with the demands of the gospel.  This Changes Everything is, I think, one of the most important books I've read in a long time.  I hoped that Sine would do a similar exegesis of the problems we face while providing that faith based understanding of what new directions we as followers of Jesus might pursue.  I was disappointed.

If I was to try to give you a condensed version of Live Like You Give a Damn, it would be this: "The world needs to change. We older folk in the church have stunted imaginations. Millenials want to make a difference.  Millenials have good ideas if we listen.  We should follow their lead.  Here are some examples of churches and/or millenials who are making a difference."  All well and good but what I was hoping to read was a diagnoses of those problems from a faith standpoint and some idea of what the big picture changes might be that we see manifested in those various examples.  I didn't get what I hoped and as I read Sine's book, I wasn't able to divorce myself from Klein's excellent analysis... and I was left wanting more... a lot more.

I don't want to be unfair to Sine.  He does provide some challenging analysis... but I wanted more.  He does call us to question the values of our culture in a personal way but I wanted that plus the corporate questioning as well.  He calls us to use our imaginations as foundations for faith as we devise a new narrative that leads us to our best tomorrows.  He does remind us that the gospel is always contextual but I still wonder whether there must be a larger narrative under which, those contextual ones fit.  It felt to me though as if he wanted the church to become a city on the hill kind of Anabaptist example for all to see while I wanted the Mustard Seed conspiracy that invades and changes everything.  Perhaps if I had read Sines first and then Klein, the book would have sat better for me and Klein would have helped to fill in the blanks.  Should you chose to read it, I'd recommend you do that.  If you only have time/energy for one or the other, I'd recommend Klein's book given the caveat that while I think the implications of her work have a lot to say for people of faith, she does not frame any of her challenges in spiritual terms.  In either case, you'll need to do some work... and that I guess, is a good thing.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

The Destruction of the Evangelical Witness

I wouldn't call myself an Evangelical these days... at least not in the conventional sense of that term but that movement plays a significant role in my background.  There was a long time when I would have identified myself as such.  My tradition - the Baptist movement - and my denomination - The American Baptist churches, USA - both include significant proportions of folk who would call themselves "evangelical."  I know the theology and have good friends who are evangelicals.  While it is a branch of the Christian Church that I no longer call home, I do have deep appreciation for the best parts of that movement and often tell my church and my more liberal friends that I and we have much to learn from our evangelical brothers and sisters.

All that said, I am very worried that the evangelical church is in serious danger of destroying its witness and damaging the Church perhaps permanently.  At the very least, they are convincing a lot of unchurched folk that they do not really believe what they say they believe and that they are more concerned about cultural influence and power than about following Jesus.  How so?  By endorsing Donald Trump and clothing it their faith.

I have no right to judge Donald Trump's faith or lack thereof, but if, as many evangelicals are saying, he has recently had a conversion experience, then somebody out to be helping him figure out what following Jesus looks like.  All of these big name evangelical preachers like Jerry Falwell Jr. ought to be sitting him down and telling him that a follower of Jesus ought not be making fun of differently abled folk, ought not to be lying almost as often as he opens his mouth, ought to think more carefully before denigrating women and/or treating them as sex objects, should not be inciting his followers to violence... the list goes on and on.  Of course, there is the problem of his past which seems to fly in the face of every value these evangelical leaders claim to hold... bad enough in itself, but he hasn't said a single word that shows any repentance from any of it.  Indeed, he said that he does not need any forgiveness.  These folk should be coaching him at the least or calling him out.  For years they questioned Barack Obama's faith and are doing the same to Hillary Clinton when both of them were/are good members of local congregations and speak squarely from the Christian tradition.  It is true that both Obama and Clinton are pro-choice... but as more than one person has argued, they both present policies that are more effective at lowering the rate of abortion than any recent Republican candidate.  See here and here.

Instead of calling him out, some very visable prominent evangelicals have doubled down arguing that voting Trump is the only moral option, that his behavior regarding the Khan family was appropriate, and even comparisons between Trump and Ronald Reagan (as close as conservatives have to a saint).  It is true that many evangelical leaders have spoken out in opposition to these leaders, it is these who have gotten the most press and the polls seem to indicate that white evangelicals are among the most faithful supporters of Donald Trump.

So... to my evangelical friends, distance yourself from Trump and from those evangelical leaders who are supporting him or at least call him on his behavior or forever be resigned to the fact that you have abandoned your values and sullied the cause of Christ.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Jill Stein and Gary Johnson Are Trying to Make Donald Trump President

Ok... the title is click bait... but it is pretty close to accurate.

Here's the deal, in order to win the presidency, a candidate must get 51% of the electoral votes, i.e. 270 electoral votes.  The presidency does not go to the candidate with the most electoral votes if none get to that threshold.  The House of Representatives chooses the next president.  Let me say that one more time... in caps... so that everyone gets it. IF NO CANDIDATE GETS 270 ELECTORAL VOTES THE HOUSE DECIDES THE NEXT PRESIDENT.  They have to choose from among the top three of electoral college vote receivers but they make the decision with each state delegation getting one vote.  This has happened twice in the history of the US - 1800 & 1824.  AND FWIW, no 3rd party candidate has ever won the presidency.

Now, if you believe that Gary Johnson or Jill Stein can get 270 electoral votes... then... don't bother reading this because there is no way to get through your bubble.

If you believe that voting your conscience regardless of any possible outcomes is morally superior, again don't bother reading this because one can't reason with fundamentalists (and that simply is what you are).

Let's play out some scenarios... Here's a ridiculous one but say Gary Johnson unbelievably gets 49% of the electoral votes, Hillary gets 20%, Trump gets 25% and Jill Stein gets the last 6%... Trump likely wins.  The House won't give the presidency to a Democrat and that means they'll need to come together.  They'd never get all of their states to vote for a libertarian or a Green which leaves Trump.  Oh, and by the way, if they can't make a decision, the current Vice President acts as President... giving the office to a Democrat.

Second scenario... Hillary gets 49%, Trump gets 45% and Johnson & Stein split the additional 6... Trump wins for the above reasons.   2/3's of Stein's 3% would have given the election to HRC.  It only takes a very small percentage for the third party candidates to be spoilers while at the same time, it is virtually impossible for them to actually win.

You might say, "But the Democrats will get a majority in the House and it is safe then even if the election goes to the House." Well... maybe.  Maybe not.  Remember, it isn't the membership of the House that votes, it is the delegations and each state gets one vote.  So... if the majority of states send a Republican delegation, regardless of the overall balance of the House members, Trump wins.  There is no way that a Republican House will elect anyone from another party as president and they have shown they have neither the ability or the patience to thoughtfully compromise.  Add that while they're deliberating, Joe Biden is acting president and they will want to put Trump in as quickly as possible.

Just a fun side piece... the Senate chooses the Vice President... so they don't even have to be from the same party.

You might also say, "I live in a safe state so I can vote my conscience without worrying."  Again... maybe... maybe not.  This is a crazy election.  NPR recently had a show where they interviewed a bunch of blue collar Democrats from Monessen, PA who said they were voting for Trump even though they didn't expect he can do any of the things he is promising.  Frankly, I don't know what to expect.  Hillary could win in a landslide... or Trump might beat her outright.  Or the 3rd party spoilers might do just that and the election goes to the House and Donald Trump becomes president.  I don't know what will happen and no state feels safe to me at this point.   Voting for a third party candidate anywhere just seems too risky to me.

So here's the question... if no third party candidate has a snowball's chance in Phoenix of winning what in the world are Gary Johnson and Jill Stein doing?  They have zero influence in the two major parties regardless of how many votes they get. (The people who will have influence in the parties are the ones who do the hard work of organizing within the parties.  That is why the Tea Party was so effective in the Republican Party.)  They cannot win.  They'll never get 270 electoral votes and would never be chosen by the House as it is or will be in 2017.  In Jill Stein's case, is she just trying to punish the Democrats for not being pure enough?   Is this just some narcissistic game where they can demonstrate their purity and encourage others to do the same, damn the consequences?  Or do they really not understand how the process works?  Or are they really just plants working for Donald Trump to make him president?  Regardless of their intent, if they get enough votes, that is exactly the result of their campaigns.

And of course, this is all just the electoral college stuff... there is the closer to the bone results like Florida in 2000 where if just 30% of those who voted for Ralph Nader had voted for Gore, there would have been no questions regarding who won the state, the SCOTUS mess would never have happened and W would not have been president.  You play out the results of that.  It is more likely that a third party candidate will simply influence who wins a given state.  Remember, every state but two is winner take all in the electoral college so Johnson or Stein could receive 30% of the popular vote and get no electoral votes... but they would influence who wins the various states as per Nader in 2000.

So what does all of this add up to?  A vote for anyone other than Hillary is a vote for Trump.  He doesn't need to get a majority of the popular vote or even a majority of the electoral college to be the next president.  All he needs is to keep Hillary from getting 270 electoral votes... and Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, and all those who vote for either are trying to help him accomplish just that.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

fundamentalism and the voting booth

I know about fundamentalists.  I'm a Baptist pastor and if any groups is known for harboring fundamentalists it is us.  (It isn't fair or accurate to label all Baptists as fundamentalists... duh look at me... but there is something about this movement that at least allows room for them to develop).

This post is not about religious fundamentalists and their politics (though it may be).  Instead it is about a new brand of political fundamentalists.

Back when Gore vs. Bush happened and Ralph Nader stuck his head into the fray, he spoke at my church in upstate NY.  As I remember it, one of the things Nader said was that voters should choose a candidate purely from their ideas.  If the candidate had no chance of winning... irrelevant.  Idealogical purity was/is the only criteria.  When pressed whether his candidacy might cause Bush to win, Nader refused to even consider any culpability.  Indeed, when after the election Nader was presented with the numbers... if only 30% of those who had voted for him in Florida had gone for Gore, the questions that eventually took the election to the SCOTUS would never have materialized and Gore would have been the clear winner, Nader basically responded that had the Dems presented a better candidate, that would not have been an issue.  Of course, if everyone voted simply on ideological purity, nobody would ever get enough votes to be elected.  Had the Dems presented Nader, Bush still would have won and likely by a much, much wider margin.

This year, we're presented with an interesting political quandary.  Neither of the major candidates is generating a lot of love from their prospective parties.  I can't tell you how many leftist folk I've encountered who have said that it doesn't matter that HRC and Bernie come out the same on about 93% of the issues... it is the other 7% that they cannot abide by and so will never vote for HRC.  (OK the percentages were pulled out of thin air, but HRC and Bernie aren't very far apart on most issues.)   It is easier for me to understand a real conservative saying that he/she would never vote for Trump as at best he has been amazingly inconsistent regarding his stand on just about everything other than the size of his... hands.  On that side of the isle I'm fascinated at the number of folk who are willing to overlook basically everything about him in order to vote Republican.

So the question is at what point does one step away from fundamentalism... and ideological purity?  Anyone who knows me knows that I was a Bernie supporter although he was not my perfect candidate.  I've long ago abandoned any semblance of political fundamentalism as my perfect candidate wouldn't have a snowball's chance in Phoenix of ever getting elected so I have long wrestled with the questions of incremental change and the possibility of winning vs. losing because I backed a horse without a chance and getting nothing I hope for. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

More Guns?

In the aftermath of the horrors of Orlando, the chorus has begun.  "We need more guns."  "If only someone in that nightclub had had a gun..."  "The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."  And on it goes.

The cynic in me wants to completely dismiss all of those speakers but I know there are some folk, probably even most, who say those things actually believe they are offering a real solution.  We have a cultural myth that violence can actually solve problems and that responding with violence is the strong, manly, and usually appropriate response to serious problems.

I don't want to address that myth here although it is central to the discussion and challenging it is key to real solutions to the violence in our society.  Instead, I want to look at the practicality of more guns and imagine just what that might have looked like at Pulse.

First, for mass shooters, the possibility of being killed is not a deterrent.  Most end up dead anyway and go into the situation planning exactly that.  In the case of religious crazies, there is often an overlay of martyrdom.  The fear of death simply is irrelevant in those situations or may even be a motivation of the shooter.

So let's play this out in our imaginations - more guns.  The nightclub is going full bore.  There is loud music, flashing lights, and lots of people dancing.  The room is tightly packed and the crowd is moving.  Multiple people present have guns...  They have been drinking and dancing and enjoying themselves.  Suddenly people hear gunshots.  The first reaction is confusion.  Is it the music?  What is going on? Then the crowd panics and is running in every direction.  Joe Smith pulls his gun and in the craziness shoots at what he thinks is the shooter.   Across the club, Bob Doe pulls his gun.  Through the crowd, he sees two people shooting.  He can guess the one with the AR15 is the person who started shooting first but is the 2nd one an accomplice or a good guy with a gun?  He starts shooting as well just as the crowd closes in front of him... and the crowd is panicking even more, running in every direction.  The first person to draw their gun hears shots coming from another direction and turns.  Is that person another good guy or an accomplice?  At whom do I shoot? Third, fourth, fifth guns are drawn and more people are shooting.  None are trained to use a weapon under the stress of a situation like that.  All are making life and death decisions in seconds.  Most have been drinking.  All the while the crowd is panicking and people are moving in and out of the lines of fire.  someone hits the mass shooter and he goes down... but the bullets continue to fly.  Multiple people have been shot... by whom?  Ten minutes after the first shot,  the police arrive at a scene that looks like the OK Corral.  They see guns drawn, bodies on the floor, and people still shooting.  How are they to know who is a good guy and who is not?  Do they respond by shooting as well?

Were lives saved in this scenario?  It certainly doesn't sound that way to me.  Even in a situation where the people are trained for that kind of situation and someone is in charge, mistakes still happen.  Soldiers talk about the fog of war where reason and training go out the window to be taken over by random instinct.  Indeed, part of the design of assault weapons is meant to compensate for the lessened ability to aim, choose targets, and be completely intentional in battle.  The weapon is designed to spray large numbers of bullets in a general direction in the hopes of hitting as many people as possible.  They have a term for soldiers killed by their own in such circumstances - "friendly fire."  We've also seen recent videos of police shootings where multiple trained police officers shoot scores of bullets at a suspect and at least a significant number of the bullets miss the target.  In a setting like Pulse, where would those bullets end up?

No... I can't see a situation where having more guns would lead to a better outcome.  I can come up with scores of situations where it would make things worse.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

a suspension of disbelief & Donald redux redux

Twice before I've blogged about the folk who attend our local megachurches yet tell me that they do not believe what they believe in those churches... here and here.  I wrote about folk who walk into a church and suspend their disbelief... that is they basically acted as if they believed what was being said for that hour in church and then wrote it off as they walked out the door.  Or perhaps they simply don't listen to what is being said.

I've been thinking about this in regards to the Donald Trump phenomenon.  I think that is going on there as well... the folk who are endorsing him are not really listening to what he is saying.  It does go further than that - and perhaps this is true in those church folk as well.  Not only are they not hearing what is said, they are projecting what they want to hear.  For example, Donald has made "Make America Great Again" his slogan.  Not once has he given even the slightest idea how he would do that and even more important, he has not defined what that means.  What are the characteristics that we have lost?  When was the time that we were great?  Those listening can fill in whatever answers work for them... and they do.

That "morals" voters would choose Donald Trump over anyone except Hugh Hefner is almost unbelievable.  That neo-cons would back his economic policies makes me scratch my head.  I guess some folk find his bull in the china shop persona attractive after Obama's measured, cautious, and thoughtful presentation on the world stage but for the life of me, I can't figure out why.  I'm sure there are some who feel so disenfranchised that they want to blow up this entire project called American democracy and replace it with... who knows what... and they aren't presenting a picture any more well formed than Somalia.  And finally there are those Republicans who have decided that since Trump will get the nomination, he must be a real Republican and is therefore worthy of their vote over any Democrat... even one whose policies are well to his right in almost every single way.  And those same Republicans continue to ignore... here is the list from that liberal bastion the Washington Post.   I get that there are folk who really don't like Hillary, the Dems likely nominee and hope that by electing Donald, they'll at least retain control over the SCOTUS and the legislative branches.  That, of course presupposes that anyone can predict what Donald would do with judicial nominees and that there are enough folk out there drinking the Kool Aid to provide shirt tails for Republican candidates down the ballot. 

And the rest of the world looks on in wonder as we Americans continue to suspend our disbelief, project our hopes and dreams, and ignore what is blatantly in front of us.  And they are realistically afraid.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Feelin' the Bern... now what?

Once again... I'm feelin' the Bern.  Bernie Sanders is the first truly progressive Democratic candidate for president in memory (Obama, the Clintons, etc. are essentially center/right politicians - look at their policies).  His views fit with mine more than any other candidate I've had the opportunity to vote for.  And come the California primary, I will vote for him assuming he is still in the race.  And I'm not willing to concede there is no hoe for him to get the nomination at this point. 

But... it does seem pretty likely that Hillary will get the nomination.  Hillary is not my candidate.  She is too cozy with the monied elite for me.  She is too hawkish.  Her economic policies are too far to the right for me.  There are areas where we agree or at least she is much closer to my hopes than not and even on those areas where we are far apart, she is still closer to my dreams than any of the Republican possible choices.  So... if she is the Democratic nominee I will vote for her.  There re two basic arguments why...

First, I think Bernie has begun something important within the Democratic party.  He has re-energized a real progressive movement there that has the seeds of real change in the party.  Since Carter, the Dems have been turning away from working people, worrying more about practicality than what is right, and far too willing to play the role of military strongman in the world.  I felt some hope with the Occupy movement but all too quickly it fizzled out.  This movement has challenged the seat of power in the Democratic party.  Over the next few years, the demographics have shown that the Republicans will have virtually no chance of national offices.  Given that they have doubled down o racism and xenophobia with Donald Trump, this is even more true.  This election will be the last gasp for the Republicans on a national level, we have the opportunity to reshape the only party that will have a chance of electing presidents.  If we pull out of the party, we will lose our leverage.

At the same time, if we remain faithful to the party, Bernie will go into the convention with significant power.  He has already changed the conversation... at the convention and afterwards, he will have power to impact the platform and the agenda the Democrats set for the next few years.  If we stay involved and engaged, which means supporting the Democratic candidate, we have the opportunity to begin significant change in the institution.  If we step back, then like children who've taken their ball and left the playground because we didn't get our way, what happens on the playground will be completely out of our control and we will have squandered the influence this movement has built.

There is a second argument that is equally important: the possibility of a Trump presidency along with a Republican legislative branch and consequently a "conservative" judiciary for another generation.  Trump has built his campaign on racism, xenophobia, sexism, and jingoism.  That is attractive to too large a swath of the American electorate and has energized a group of folk who have been sitting out elections for some time.  If we progressives sit out because we're unhappy with Hillary, Trump just might win.  Let me say that again... if we progressives sit out because we're unhappy with Hillary, Trump just might win.  The same is likely true if we write in Bernie.

Now, I don't think that Trump was the worst Republican possibility... but I still don't think we could characterize a Trump presidency as anything other than a disaster for our country and for the world.  On a personal level, I was embarrassed that George Bush was my president.  I will be mortified if Donald Trump is. He personifies all of the worst things in our culture and I honestly do not see anything of value that he would bring to the job.  Nothing.  Zero.  Nada.

I have heard progressives argue that a Donald Trump is just what we need to push things over the edge and bring about the real revolution.  I find that the most cynical and offensive argument I have heard.  Indeed, it is only an argument that could be made by someone who has life too easy and won't have to endure either the direct fallout of a terrible presidency or the real pains of a revolution.  It is an argument made by a secure middle class white person... not someone whose family is split apart by a president who sends the parents back to El Salvador, a Korean family who are sent off to interment camps because of something done by North Korea, a poor family whose children no longer have school lunches, a woman who cannot make decisions about her own body, a military person sent off to one more unnecessary war only to return home (if he/she returns home) to find inadequate supports provided for their long term needs brought about by participating in war, an individual with a pre-existing condition who suddenly finds themselves without medical insurance,  a retired person who loses medicare AND social security... you get the point.

Like Bernie, I am a Democratic Socialist.  He is my candidate as long as he is a real choice.  If Hillary gets the nomination, I will support her.  I will vote for her.  I will argue for her election.  This election is simply too important to waste with a protest vote or to sit out and allow the Republicans to tear part the social fabric progressives have worked so hard to weave.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Israel & Foreign Aid

Let me begin by saying that I believe in foreign aid.  I think properly used, foreign aid can be a significant tool in our national security in addition to making the world a generally better place. 

We give a significant amount to Israel each year - $3 Billion.  It is the largest recipient of US government aid.  That equals a little more than 1% of their entire GDP and almost 4% of the government budget.  It essentially goes there with no strings attached.  A group of legislators have proposed that we raise that amount to about $3.7 Billion and Israel is hoping to see it raised to between $4 & $4.5 Billion.

To put those numbers in context.  The population of Israel is roughly the same as either New Jersey or Virginia.  New Jersey is the state with the lowest return on its federal tax dollars in the US and actually ends up with roughly a negative $23 Million each year.  That is, NJ sends $23 million more to the federal government than comes back to the state.  Virgnia is the state with the highest amount of return from the federal government.  It receives about $97 million more than it sends in in federal taxes.  Look at those numbers for a second and realize that the state with the highest return on its federal tax dollars gets back less than 1/3 of what we sent to Israel this year... and there are obviously strings on much or most of that money.  Israel, on the other hand, continues to break international law with the building of settlements.  Additionally, 1 of 3 Israeli families receive some kind of government welfare including large numbers of ultra-orthodox Jews who live on state subsidies for religious study.  Some studies show that 65% of ultra-orthodox men do not work but instead spend their time being paid by the government to study torah and scripture. The ultra-orthodox are also the fastest growing Jewish segment of the Israeli population.

Some economists are arguing that the Israeli economy will collapse under the weight of its welfare system.  It is no wonder that they are hoping for a significant increase in our aid... On top of those who are paid to not work, Israeli citizens receive other benefits that US citizens do not.  All universities are subsidized by the state and students pay only a small percentage of the actual costs.  Health insurance is universal and looks to me roughly like Medicare for All.  One could easily argue that we subsidize all of these benefits.

So what do I think we should do?  I think that aid should be tied to real actions that reflect our values.  Should we dictate to Israel how they should live?  No.  But neither should we subsidize their choices when they conflict with our own.   Here are two examples.  We refuse welfare to criminals in the US... tie our aid to the dismantling of settlements and to better treatment of the Palestinians.  We hold as one of our deepest values separation of church and state... tie some aid to the removal of special perks for ultra-orthodox sects.

Friday, April 08, 2016

An Imagined Reality

Folk who know me know that I'm feelin' the Bern.  I've had some good conversations with friends who definitely don't feel the same and some have raised interesting critiques of Bernie Sanders.  One friend said that Bernie should not be president because he simply doesn't understand how the world works.  I disagreed and responded that perhaps it is not that he doesn't understand how the world works but instead he is offering a different paradigm as to how it should or could work.

Recently I read a really fascinating book called Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.  Of all of the ideas in the book, the one that really caught my imagination is that everything works because of our unique ability to imagine a paradigm and then agree upon it.  Those imagined realities enable large groups of humans to work together, to trade with one another, to form societies.  Basically the author, Yuval Noah Harari, says that there is nothing in human society that does not depend upon those imagined realities upon which we have agreed to agree.  And those imagined realities can be changed.

I was thinking about one of those imagined realities the other day when an editorial in our local paper complained that the problems with the dollar began when its value was cut off from anything real - i.e. gold.  But, the value of gold is also tied to nothing "real."  The book uses gold as an illustration of imagined realities.  While the metal does have some iteresting properties, there is no reason beyond a cultural agreement that it should hold any more value than some other metal, many of which are significantly more useful.  Ineed, when the Spaniards arrived in the new world, searching for gold,  the native people were confused.  Gold is pretty, they thought, but too soft for any important uses.  They imagined much lower value for that soft yellow metal.

Back to Bernie... there is no reason beyond the fact that we have all imagined the world as it is that it should remain that way.  We have decided that some people should be incredibly wealthy while others struggle and even die from want.  We have decided that a freakishly tall, athletic man should make tons of money for entertaining us with incredible feats that we cannot accomplish while the one who picks our food, bent over in the hot sun in a field day after day, struggles.  Why?  The list could go on.

Now Bernie is not calling for crazy changes.  Indeed, many of the changes he envisioned are already part of the imagined reality in much of the world but it is a different reality than the one we've adopted together in the US at this point.  That is why he is revolutionary.  That is why he challenges the powers that be.  That is why I'm feelin' the Bern.  I want to see a new paradigm and the one he is offering is a lot more like the one I believe that God imagines for us than the one we currently have.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016


My spouse becomes eligible for Medicare this year so we've been paying attention.  We've had to pay attention to insurance for a number of years as I have a genetic condition that causes a chronic disease.  It has been under control for me since 1987 but that is irrelevant.  On the open market, I was not insurable at any price.  I had medical insurance available through our denomination but it was nearly $4K a month and was no longer affordable by my employer or my family.  The ACA saved us... me... literally. (This is not about the ACA and I see serious problems there which I have addressed before a number of times).  So paying attention to Medicare didn't feel unusual.

I noticed quickly that while some folk have complaints, few of them are the elderly folk on Medicare... and the complaints that population does have are no different than the general population dealing with any insurance company - costs, restricted access, complexity...  I do hear younger folk who say that Medicare is proof that the government can't run a healthcare insurance system.  They say it is nearly bankrupt and doesn't work anyway.

So, with those thoughts in mind, we went to a two hour seminar yesterday to get a basic understanding of Medicare presented by a non-profit that advocates for the elderly and helps them with issues around Medicare.  I came away with some impressions... Medicare is too complicated.  Negotiating part D and supplemental plans is difficult and clearly a lot to ask of some seniors.  $300-400 a month for a newly retired person in California for part B, a reasonable part D, and an F class supplemental plan is a lot of money, especially for someone on a fixed income... and it will only go up.  The "free market" alternative - Medicare Advantage - may work somewhere, but it requires a population density that we don't have where we live so the choices here are thinning rapidly (there are only three plans available in Santa Barbara county now and only one that covers the entire county) as the companies can't make the level of profits they desire.  Even where it might work, it still has the significant limitations commonly associated with HMO's.  The donut hole is scary for someone with a chronic condition but the way that the ACA is filling in the hole is at least a little heartening.

It seems that making Medicare a single payer system, eliminating the need for Part D and supplemental plans would go a long way to simplifying the system.  Both pieces feel to me like compromises made with the private sector so they can continue to get some portion of income from this group of high consumers of medical care.  We are worried about the realities of paying that much money a month for insurance after having employer provided insurance our entire lives but I am more than glad to know that I will at least have coverage.  I anticipate that at least one of my meds (which is stupidly expensive) may not be covered but that will be what it is.  I have 3+ more years until I become eligible and another year beyond that until retirement so some of those worries are meaningless.  A Republican president and congress could make the entire program go away.  A Democratic one of each might strengthen the programs... time will tell there.

Of course there are the big public policy questions that continue... Is healthcare a right that everyone should be provided regardless of their economic condition? For me as a theologian, what are the theological implications of that question?  How do we control costs while at the same time insuring good care?  And for me a central question, what role should the profit motive have in healthcare?  (I would argue none)

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

End of Life Choices

Last October, after my state passed a law allowing physician assisted suicide, I posted a blog about the issue.  I struggled and continue to struggle with the question.  Here's a paragraph from that post.

I saw images on 9/11 that made me think differently.

We also saw people jump from the towers to their deaths, knowing that they were committing suicide.  At the same time, death was imminent as the flames came towards them.  The choice was clearly between dying a painful death of burning or a quick one from the impact of a fall from the towers.  I don't know what I would have done if faced with that choice but I do know how I feel about burning and it is not a way that I would choose to die.  So, I asked myself, was the decision to jump an immoral one?  Did I have the right to condemn those who would choose one way to die over another, knowing that death was clearly coming?
 My thinking was prodded forward by the situation of Brittany Maynard, who suffered with a terrible form of brain cancer and chose to move to Oregon so that she could take her own life rather than go through the process of the cancer.  I watched a friend die of that same cancer so I knew a bit of what she was facing...

The other side of my equation is that my spouse is a hospice chaplain.  During Cheryl's years of work in that challenging setting, I have learned that those final days can truly be holy time and that in spite of (perhaps sometimes because of) the pain, relationships are healed, grace is poured out, and that life is enriched in ways that could not be imagined under normal circumstances.  In his book, The Four Things that Matter Most, Ira Byock tells story after story of families who look back at the last days with a loved one as some of the most positive time they shared together.   I also know that sometimes even the most dire prognosis can be wrong and that individuals who really should die, simply don't.  Cheryl has had more than one client who was supposed to have a prognosis of 6 months or less but instead lived for years.

All of that is to say that I fear by making it easy to avoid the difficult times, we will also see many families missing out on the wonderful times that are enabled by the nearness of death.  I also fear insurance companies pushing "a good death" because it costs much less than the protracted experience of dying well.

I really do understand the reason why some folk may want to end their own lives as a way of avoiding terrible suffering and I do think the law is probably a good thing.  Still, I hope that we find a way to open other options that truly can be filled with grace.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Free College?

Why do we have public education?  Seriously.  Why?  And why provide it essentially from age 5-18?  Again, it is a serious question.  Obviously, it is not free.  We provide teachers who incur salaries and benefits in buildings that are particularly expensive.  Then there are books and supplies.  All of which cost serious money (even if less than one might reasonably expect)... money that comes from the general public in the form of taxes.  We don't tax only those who are parents... why?  Why should I pay taxes to send someone else's children to school?  I'm finished raising children.  I paid for mine (and my own extended education).

I pay taxes to support education because I want to live in a society wherein the citizens are educated at least enough to be contributing members of society.  We provide education for our children because we require at least a minimally educated population or things get very ugly very fast.  So why through age 18?  I would argue that education has historically been provided in the amount required for an individual to be a productive member of society.  For a long time - during the agricultural age, 8th grade was enough.  That meant an individual could read and do enough math to be sure they weren't getting cheated when they sold a cow at market and that they could make reasonably informed decisions at the ballot box after making judgments regarding the claims of politicians.  We provided that for every child in every family and the broader society absorbed the costs.  An individual family that wanted to send their child further could do so on their own dime but the minimum was provided "free."  A child with an 8th grade education could become a fully functional and contributing member of society.  He or she could have a family, a home, and make a contribution.

When the industrial age took hold and life became more and more technical, 8th grade was no longer enough.  More complicated math was often required.  The world was becoming smaller so citizens needed to be able to reason a bit more to understand international issues.  One needed to read better to be able to understand manuals for complicated machinery.  As a society we added 4 years to what was provided "free."  It was clear that 8 grades was not enough but 12 seemed to meet the requirements.  A high school diploma was enough.  Again, a family that wanted to send their children to college or technical school could do so, but society both required and funded through high school.  An individual with a high school diploma could make a good living, raise a family, be a part of society...

A high school diploma is no longer enough.  The vast majority of jobs available to an individual with only a high school diploma could just as easily be done by a machine and it takes more training than just high school to run those machines.  We also live in a world that is becoming more and more complicated and ignorant populations do not make wise decisions.  Either college or technical education after high school is required for an individual to become a fully functional member of society.  If we as a nation do not provide those educational requirements, we run the risk of having a larger and larger underclass without any ability or hope of ever becoming a fully functioning member of the society.  That is a recipe for disaster.

So... Bernie Sander's call for "free" public education is not a pie in the sky dream.  It is a requirement for a healthy society.  "But it is so expensive.  Where will we get the money to pay for it?"  We get the money to pay for the things we think are important.  When the government decided we needed to go to war in Iraq & Afghanistan, almost nobody asked how we would pay for it.  When my county decided they needed a new county jail, questions of money came up but almost nobody seriously said, "let's leave the criminals on the streets."  So where do we get the money?  Raise taxes?  Perhaps.  Cut the military?  Perhaps.  Make it happen one way or another?  Absolutely.

Now how about the folk who incurred huge debts at exorbitant interest rates in order to become fully functioning members of society - taking on costs that the broader society took on in the past?  I would argue that at the very least, the government should take over the private loans and convert all student loans to 0% interest.  They aren't charging that much more than that to big banks that borrow money from the government... why not free a generation of young adults from that burden, allowing them to truly become fully functioning?

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Church Values

Two pieces came together this week to have me thinking about church values.  First, I listened to an interview with the pastor of a megachurch in the south who talked about the core values of his congregation.  While the wording might get under my skin a bit, I found myself more or less agreeing with the values he stated.  The part that hooked me was the clarity with which they were spoken.  The church has five very clear, short (the longest is 5 words) statements that give shape to their ministry.  The second piece is a blog post written by my daughter, "What are you doing?"  In it she raises the question of whether or not one's actions are furthering their primary path or taking them down rabbit holes. 

So I was thinking about the churches I've been a part of... I've been blessed to have been part of great churches doing significant ministry in their various settings.  While the values of those congregations have often been implied by their actions, none of them have been nearly so clear as to have 5 short clear statements which could be recited by anyone in the congregation or used as yardsticks to evaluate the direction of their ministries.  Of course, articulating values doesn't mean a specific church really holds them.  Nor does a list necessarily include all or even the most deeply held values of any given church.  For example, few churches would say they value the status quo above all else but many clearly do.  And while many churches might put evangelism as a core value - perhaps even their top one - few really live as if that is the case.  Still, at least trying to articulate them can only be a good thing.

So what are the values of Cambridge Drive Community Church where I currently serve? To what degree are they reflected in the shape of our ministries and our life together?  Are our resources allocated to support the things we value most or are institutional needs draining them more than the values would indicate?  We haven't clarified those issues as well as we could and should.  For example, I would say that one of our core values is that our buildings and land should serve the community.   In a typical month we have between 500 and 1000 individual people who use our property who are not directly affiliated with the church via concerts, recitals, 12 step programs, educational programs, and just enjoying the grounds.  Many of them are on the property multiple times in a month, some more often than even our most committed members.  While we charge for many of the uses, none are market rate and for many the church is essentially subsidizing the use.   We often wrestle with those costs and struggle with the difficulties of other folk using our "stuff."  If we had more clarity around those uses as a core value, the questions may be easier to address...

All of that gives me and us something to work on...

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Better Living through Chemistry

When I was younger, Dupont Chemicals used the tagline - "Better living through chemistry." I'm a case study that indeed, at least sometimes it is true.

I have an hereditary condition called heterozygous familial hyperlipidemia. Basically there are two genes that regulate the way the body deals with cholesterol.  In my disorder, one of those genes does not work correctly.  This results in extremely high cholesterol numbers - my total count when it was first diagnosed was 613 (normal is under 200).  There are some folk in whom neither gene works correctly - homozygous familial hyperlipidemia - whose total cholesterol counts are often above 1000. 

You are probably aware that elevated cholesterol is associated with coronary artery disease.  These crazy high numbers result in severe disease at earlier ages.  My biological farther died at age 31 from the artery disease associated with his hyperlipidemia.  An autopsy after his death revealed major blockages in every coronary artery.

Due to dysfunctional family issues, I was not aware of my problem until I had chest pains in my mid 30's.  By the time my disorder was discovered, there were a number of drugs available to treat my cholesterol problem - niacin in large quantities, bile acid sequestrants, and statins - the first of which was released to the market about 1 month before my diagnosis.  I began a regimen of all three classes of drugs.  My blockages were too numerous and too severe to do stents or bypass so even with the lower cholesterol, my prognosis was unclear.  Animal studies had shown that if the cholesterol could be brought to normal levels, the blockages may recede. The cardiologist told me that he didn't know whether the drugs would drop my cholesterol enough and that even if they did, the blockages may remain unchanged.  He advised me to get my affairs in order just in case. 

The drugs worked well and my cholesterol dropped more than anyone ever expected.  The side effects were/are manageable.  That hoped for result that hadn't really been observed in humans took place - my blockages began to recede.  Still, some of my numbers never really got to "normal."  My HDL's were still lower than they should be and my LDL's were still higher.  I had a friend who was diagnosed with the same disorder as me about the same time.  The drugs did not work for him and he died less than a year later.

Recently another new class of drugs have made their way to the market - PCSK9 inhibitors.  They are aimed at folk like me with genetic causes for their high cholesterol.  They are crazy expensive (about $14K per year).  My cardiologist started me on one (Repatha) about 3 months ago in addition to my current regimen.  The company - Amgen - is subsidizing some folk in using the drug and I fall into that category.  For the first time in my life, my HDL's are crazy low, my HDL's are normal, and my overall cholesterol is insanely low - 97!!!  If my blockages receded some before, they could recede even more now.

Assuming there are no terrible side effects, this bodes really well for me and for other folk like me... except... the price.  What about the folk who will be excluded because they cannot afford the drug?  I think of my friend for whom the earlier drugs did not work.  Perhaps these new drugs would have been the miracle that saved his life... if his insurance would cover them with a copay he could afford or if he fell into the proper category to be subsidized.  If not... 

Again we see the reality in our culture with regards to medical care.  Those with resources will live and those without... will die.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Courageous Conservative?

Yesterday was the Iowa Caucuses and Ted Cruz won the Republican nod.  In his speech, he referred
to a win for courageous conservatives all across the nation and implied that he is the last best hope for true conservatives.  I guess I see where some of his support comes from as he massages the fears of folk who feel as if "their country" is melting away or already has.

I don't like him and would never vote for him under any circumstances... but for those who are considering him, let me make a few observations.

Ted Cruz is not a conservative.  The root of the word comes from "conserve."  There is nothing that Ted Cruz wants to conserve.  He has shown again and again that he does not believe in government (except when it interferes in individuals' lives around the "hot" sins he rails against) and his sole agenda is to destroy not conserve.  The values upon which this nation was founded seem to hold little attraction to him - equal justice for all, opportunity for all, the right to have the government stay out of one's personal life, true freedom of religion, etc. etc.

He is no brand of Christian that I recognize as following Jesus.  He comes from a strain called dominionism where "the Church" is called to take over the institutions of society and establish what can only be seen as the Christian equivalent of the radical Muslim vision of the Caliphate.  The movement (and Ted Cruz) obviously has either not read or not understood John 18:36 "Jesus said, 'My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.'"  While Ted Cruz has been careful not to say these kinds of things directly, his father is a prominent preacher of this theology and a number of other prominent dominionist preachers have said that God is advancing Ted Cruz as part of the plan to take over the seven mountains of society.  Terry Gross has a wonderful interview regarding this brand of theology.

While Ted Cruz is certainly not a traditional political insider... he is Princeton and Harvard educated.  His wife is a Managing Director at Goldman Sachs and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.  His career includes stints on the Federal Trade Commission, as an assistant deputy attorney general of the Department of Justice, Solicitor General of the state of Texas, and of course, the junior senator from Texas.  You can't get much closer to the center of power than that.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Insurrectionists? Terrorists? in Oregon

I have to admit that I have really mixed feelings about the mess in South Eastern Oregon... My first reaction was that if a group of heavily armed black folk took over a government building, we'd have the National Guard with armored personnel carriers and there would be blood shed.  If it was a group of unarmed Muslims, even if the group was primarily women and children, we'd have the same reaction. 

And that is exactly what the folk who took the building want.  They have said they want the public lands to be returned to local control - i.e. they want to be able to use public lands for their benefit at no cost and with no restrictions and they'll stay there "as long as it takes."  As long as what takes?  Do they really believe that federal land use policies will be changed because a group of somewhere between 20 and 150 heavily armed idiots are sitting in a building way out in the middle of nowhere?  No, the "what" they're waiting for is for someone at the federal level to get impatient and come in with guns blazing so they can be martyrs for their cause (sound anything like the fundamentalists of Da'esh?).

I have to admit that my gut first said that the government should give them what they want.  Treat them the same way a group of black men or Muslims would be treated.  Responses that I routinely condemn by the way...  No... it seem to me that the government is responding in a reasonable way so far in avoiding violence. 

So what do I think they should do from here?  First, this group should be defined officially as terrorists.  That is what they are.  They are using violence and the fear of violence to influence political outcomes.  They are clearly seeing themselves as fighting against the federal government as they embrace that crazy reading of the 2nd Amendment that says the reason we have guns is so we can fight against a tyrannical federal government.  "Tyrannical" means whenever the federal government does something they don't like.  Their intent is to use violence in order to get their way.

Then, all power should be cut off and a perimeter set up around them to keep anything - food, water, information, whatever - from going in or out.  Then wait.  If some go out to hunt, arrest them, and try them for terrorism.  They say they'll stay as long as it takes... let them.  Arrest them as it becomes possible.  Continually offer a non-violent resolution which results in their arrest.  If they begin a violent confrontation, do the best possible to keep it from escalating but do not allow them out except as prisoners.

At the same time, it does seem that our federal government has taken a hands off approach to right wing insurrectionist groups.  They cannot be allowed to flout the law without serious consequences.  Armed insurrection while threatening to kill law enforcement and military personnel must result in significant prison terms.

What do you think?