The Thoughts and Musings of Tom Allain

If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it

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The Election Chronicles Volume 14: And Now There are Fourteen.

November 17th, 2015

Most of us who are following the Republican Primary believe the field should winnow. Today Bobby Jindal announced he is suspending his campaign. He’s had a hard time gaining traction. His popularity never broke above 2% and he never made the leap to the “adult table” in the Republican debates.

Nearly all the members of the Republican herd feel that the crown will eventually be placed on his (or her) head. They feel that their opponents will implode and the Democrats will self destruct and all Americans will see him or her as the only logical candidate.

Nobody can predict the next 11 months but I think Bobby’s exit doesn’t make much of a difference. I’m guessing that none of the remaining candidates will seek Bobby’s endorsement simply because he holds no power.

Bobby is a good man and a good American, but there is no way he would have made a good president.

The Election 2016 Chronicles Volume 13: Donald Trump’s Operation Wetback: He’s Still At It

November 16th, 2015

Ever since he began his presidential campaign Donald Trump has made xenophobia a cornerstone of his platform. He famously promised to build a wall along the entire US/Mexican border and send them the bill.

More recently he’s spoken about mass deportations of undocumented workers and families. Nobody knows how many there are, but most think it’s somewhere around 11 million men, women, and children. He justifies this by claiming it’s been done before, and done successfully.

As with many things Trump, he gets many of the details wrong and is vague on how he will accomplish it.

There was a program in 1954 called “Operation Wetback” that intended to deport large numbers of Mexicans in this country. Many of them came to the United States in the 1940s as part of the bracero program to fill agricultural jobs left vacant by U.S. forces fighting World War II. After the war ended the GI’s came back home and had to compete for jobs with the braceros.

It’s not hard to see where this went. The Mexicans, who were once needed, were now expendable and they were deported.

In an NPR interview, Alfonso Aguilar of the American Principles Project’s Latino Partnership provided some facts. He said this: “The Eisenhower mass deportation policy was tragic. Human rights were violated. People were removed to distant locations without food and water. There were many deaths, unnecessary deaths. Sometimes even U.S. citizens of Hispanic origin, of Mexican origin, were removed. It was a travesty. It was terrible. Immigrants were humiliated. So to say that’s a success story, it’s ridiculous. It shows that Mr. Trump doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

Even given this, he gives few details on how he will deport 11 million people. In a CNN article he explains that he will build a “deportation force” and they will do it humanely in 18 to 24 months. But NBC claims it will cost us between $100 and $200 billion dollars.

OK so assuming that he’s right, what’s the result? He and most of his fellow Republicans complain about the size of government and the national debt and yet he favors this expenditure. Interestingly enough we currently spend $76 billion on food stamps to ensure that nobody starves.

He also claims that deporting these 11 million will free up jobs for Americans. And so I ask you: how many of us are willing to pick crops, wash dishes, and mow lawns for minimum wage? I know I won’t.

I’ve spoken on this topic before but I’ll say it again: we all benefit because our ancestors did the jobs nobody else wanted. The people Donald wants to deport are the parents and grandparents of Americans who will lead our country in the last half of the 21st Century and the first half of the 22nd. They will make us proud.

The Election 2016 Chronicles Volume 12: My Attempt to Keep Up With the Candidates

November 4th, 2015

Every four years I attempt (with limited success) to provide a list of candidates for President. In previous years I’ve listed them on the left column of this page, but that has become unwieldy. You see, I don’t just want to list those candidates who make it to the TV debates. Our democratic system allows nearly anyone who is 35 years old and was born in this country to run.

I don’t want to list only those who “everyone believes” will win. This year I found so many candidates that I’ve created a page for all those I’ve found who are running. You can also access this page on the left column.

I have to confess that I do have some conditions for including candidates. If you (or someone you support) is running and is not listed, please let me know and I’ll consider including that person.

In the meantime let us celebrate the fact that we choose our leaders.

The Election 2016 Election Chronicles Volume 11: Are We Witnessing the End of the Republican Party?

October 22nd, 2015

I’m aware that I’ve just written possibly the most provocative subject line of this blog, but it’s been percolating in my head for a while now. At least give it a read before forming an opinion.

Currently in United States most partisan offices are held by members of the Republican or Democrat parties. Nearly everyone knows that there are minor parties (even if we can’t name them) but the 2 major parties really call the shots. And since it’s been that way for all of our memories, we can easily think that it’s always been that way.

It hasn’t. The GOP was formed in 1854 in opposition to slavery. But it didn’t form out of nothing: it rose from (some of) the ashes of the Whig party which was itself formed in opposition to President Andrew Jackson who they referred to as “King Andrew.” It can be reasonably said that President Jackson was the first President who identified as Democrat.

It’s telling that from the beginning the Whigs had only one purpose: opposition to the Democrats. That said they had some success. Members included Presidents William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, and Millard Fillmore. Influential non Presidents included Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and Winfield Scott. Oh yes, and a member of the Illinois House of Representatives, Abraham Lincoln.

Slavery was the issue that ultimately doomed them. For 21st Century Democrats like me, it’s hard to imagine this but Democrats of the 1840s and 1850s were united in their support of slavery. Not only did they demand that slavery continue in the South, but that it expand westward as territories in the Midwest and West became states. After Andrew Jackson, Democrat Presidents before the Civil War were James K. Polk from North Carolina, Franklin Pierce from New Hampshire, and James Buchanan from Pennsylvania. And while Pierce and Buchanan were from Northern states, they were pretty feckless. One could make the argument that while they didn’t cause the Civil War, their passivity only delayed it.

As the expansion of slavery continued to divide the nation, the Whig party continued to try to remain the party that opposed the Democrats, regardless of any other issue. That inevitably led to a split between the Whigs who opposed slavery and those who didn’t. Northern Whigs opposed the westward expansion of slavery and southern Whigs didn’t. The divide couldn’t be resolved and eventually the southern Whigs joined the Democrats and the northern Whigs formed a new party that opposed both the Democrats and slavery. They called themselves Republicans.

Since then both parties have changed dramatically. President Lincoln successfully kept us together and paved the way to abolish slavery before being assassinated. And while (male) former slaves were eligible to vote, few were able because of deep-seated discrimination for a hundred years. But most of those who were able to register to vote identified as Republicans. This lasted until the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt who they saw as more progressive on civil rights.

Enter today’s Republican Party. Like their Whig ancestors they unite against only this: the defeat of the Democrats. Nothing else matters.

So here’s their problem: there are factions that oppose each other in how they plan to govern and the only uniting factor (defeating the Democrats) won’t give them a path to victory. So let me give a few examples:

  • The Current Race for the Republican Nomination is a mess: For several election cycles the field of candidates has been full, but this time (and at this time) the front runners are Ben Carson and Donald Trump. They are united in this: neither has any political experience. Furthermore, both used to be Democrats. You can read about this here but Ben Carson was a Democrat until November 2014. Donald Trump, in a CNN interview three months ago, admitted he identified as a Democrat in 2004. His “party trail” is more complicated but you can read more about it here. In 1987 he registered as a Republican. In 1999 he changed to the Independence Party. In 2001 he changed to the Democrats. In 2009 he (again) registered as a Republican. Finally, in 2012 he declined to register as a member of any party. In other words, none of the other Republican candidates poll well against two guys who only professed their loyalty to the party in the last few years.
  • Their fights are getting more public and public and more ugly: Ronald Reagan famously proclaimed the Eleventh Commandment: Though Shalt Never Speak Ill of Another Republican. Republicans have famously fought in private while Democrats are often described as using a “circular firing squad” in their conflicts. But this is beginning to fall apart. My best, current example focuses on the Benghazi. The Congressional investigation’s Republican leader, Trey Gowdy recently told fellow Republicans to “shut up” after some of them admitted that the Benghazi investigation was nothing more than a political ploy to hurt Hillary Clinton.
  • They can’t seem to agree on a new Speaker of the House. In January, 2011 John Boehner rose to a position he’d sought for years: Speaker of the House of Representatives. Once there he learned that his tenure would be far from easy. Conservative members of his party (often called the Freedom Caucus) signaled early on that they felt no loyalty to Boehner or the House of Representatives. They’ve been nothing short of an ongoing migraine and finally, last month he’d had enough. He announced he was resigning his seat in Congress and his role as Speaker. He endorsed the majority leader, Kevin McCarthy to succeed him and fully expected that to happen. It didn’t. Rep. McCarthy recognized that he didn’t have the support of the Freedom Caucus and he withdrew earlier this month. As I write this Paul Ryan has agreed to run with the hope that the Freedom Caucus will allow him to lead. I doubt they will.
  • Since 1992 the Republican candidate for President has won the popular vote only once. Bill Clinton won in 1992 and 1996. In 2000 George W. Bush won the electoral vote but not the popular vote. In 2008 and 2012 Barack Obama won the popular vote. Only in 2004 did George Bush win the popular vote. Clearly history is not on the Republican side.
  • All the Republican demographics are decreasing. In the 2012 election 88% of Mitt Romney’s voters were white. For much of the last century white voters comprised enough of the voting population that minorities didn’t matter. They do now. Our population from south of our border has exploded. Some of them vote because they have become naturalized citizens, but most vote because they were born here, children of immigrants. There’s an excellent Pew Research Center article entitled: A Deep Dive Into Party Affiliation that was published last April. It identified groups that tilt Republican: Mormons, White Evangelical Protestants, White Southerners, White Men (some college or less), White, and the Silent Generation (those born 1929-1946). Groups that tilt Democrat include Blacks, Asian, Religiously Unaffiliated, Post-Graduate Women, Jewish, Hispanic, and Millenial Generation (those born 1982-1997).

    So what happens from here? Clearly this doesn’t mean that everyone will become Democrat. While I choose to be Democrat I fully understand good and honest people disagree with me on many issues. Perhaps the Republicans will be able to reform themselves into a new party that better reflects the changing values of our nation. Perhaps they will split into different parties: some Republicans don’t care about gay marriage but feel government is too big. Others fear that we are losing our identity as Americans because so many people come from other places with different values and have no trouble with government protecting our food supply or air quality.

    When the Whig party split, some became Democrats and some formed the Republican party. This gave the immediate advantage to the Democrats but Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860, six years after it was formed.

    My point in this blog entry is not to cheer the possible demise of the Republican Party, but just to point out that our nation is changing. Our demographics show that we are becoming a nation that embraces marriage equality, an openness to immigration, and wants health care to be available to all.

    There’s an opportunity to respond to this blog entry. If you do respond I will read it. But please don’t send me a response that claims President Obama is a Muslim terrorist or that Hillary Clinton has killed people. It only makes you look like an idiot.

  • The Election 2016 Chronicles Volume 10: Can the American Voters Win a Debate?

    October 17th, 2015

    The next Presidential election is 13 months away and the campaigns are in full swing. The idea of watching the candidates debate in the public forum goes back to 1858 when Stephen Douglas (1813-1861) ran against Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) for the Senate seat from Illinois.

    In the 1960 Presidential election, Vice President Richard Nixon and Senator John Kennedy gave us the first experience of a Presidential debate since the invention of the TV. Most people thought John Kennedy won the debate and this contributed to his victory.

    After 1960 there were no debates until 1976 when Gerald Ford agreed to debate Jimmy Carter and we’ve been saddled with these debates ever since.

    As someone who actually lettered for the debate team in high school it may seem like a betrayal to say this, but I think Presidential debates are a bad idea. Many years ago George F. Will famously described these debates as “parallel news conferences” and I think he’s right. But my concern goes much deeper.

    I don’t watch most of these debates because I don’t think the candidates use them to explain what they support and what they oppose. If I’m going to watch candidates on stage I want to learn which one best reflects my beliefs and values.

    Alas virtually all of the “analysis” of these debates devolve into reality TV: who won and who lost.

    In 1992 George H.W. Bush was famously seen looking at his watch against Bill Clinton. Regardless of his reason it was perceived as “why do I still have to be here?” and many believed it contributed to his defeat. Four years ago Rick Perry famously stumbled on how many cabinet positions he would eliminate and that essentially ended his candidacy.

    So far in the 2016 election cycle we’ve had 2 Republican and 1 Democratic debates. Virtually without exception the candidates don’t spend their time honing their views or explaining how they plan to govern. Instead they concentrate on “winning the debate.”

    I’m perfectly willing to vote for a candidate who doesn’t win the debate as long as he or she articulates a path to the America I think we’re called to.

    But I recognize that many of my fellow citizens want to “back the winner” and vote for the person who they think will win. And it makes me sad.

    I think that we are not well served by candidates who tell us (in different ways) that we should vote for them because they will be the next President. The fact that “everyone is voting for him or her” means nothing to me. I respect people who vote their values instead of their need to belong. I just wish there were more of us.

    Physician Assisted Suicide Comes to California: Why I’m Against It

    October 7th, 2015

    We received word today that California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that allows for physician assisted suicide.

    Not surprisingly feelings run high on both sides and I feel the need to add my input. I’m against it and fear this will lead to all sorts of problems.

    I should probably come clean and tell you that I have some skin in the game. For the past 17 years I’ve made my living as a hospice chaplain; I’ve spent these years walking with people (from 15 days to 102 years) through the last chapter of their lives. My wife Nancy is a physician, though as a pediatrician she won’t confront these issues.

    The idea of a person choosing to end his life is as old as King Saul in the Old Testament.

    Reasons for suicide are manifold. Saul killed himself to avoid capture in battle. Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) killed himself as a result of depression. In 1978, 909 people killed themselves in Jonestown on instructions from Jim Jones.

    The concept of suicide to accelerate a terminal disease is fairly recent. For most of our history illness and death followed so closely that nobody who was sick even entered the idea of hastening the process.

    That’s changed in the last century. Terminal events like pneumonia or appendicitis are now easily curable even when they present in people with terminal cancer, heart disease, or dementia. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken with family members who have chosen aggressive treatment for things we can fix and then told me that they favor assisted suicide because their loved ones “wouldn’t want to live like this.”

    I believe decisions about quality of life need to happen much before anyone says: “There’s nothing more we can do.” Physician assisted suicide has become an issue only because we wait much too late to have hard discussions about how we want the last chapter of our life to go.

    Anyone who receives a diagnosis of cancer or heart disease or Parkinson’s Disease or ALS (Lou Gerhig’s Disease) knows that death will eventually become much closer. But if the 20th Century gave us the false belief that we can control our lives through science, it appears that the 21st Century may well provide us with the false belief that we should be able to control our deaths.

    We can’t. For those of us who hold beliefs in a reality beyond our understanding, we need to embrace the humility to accept the possibility that we are here for reasons that elude even our wisdom. A chance encounter that leads us to a lifetime marriage. An abusive relationship, however brief, that provides us with a child that gives our life true meaning. A broken condom that gives birth to a Nobel award winner.

    I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met in the last two decades who announce to me that all the purpose of their lives have already passed. They’ve used the words “useless” and “waste” to describe their last days. I tell them this: “How can you tell that your days are useless and your life is a waste? How can you decide that the home health aide who comes to give you a shower today won’t be inspired by you? How can you decide that this isn’t the moment when he or she will decide to start working to be a doctor?”

    I recognize that this scenario is far fetched, but can you tell me it’s impossible? This surprises most people I know, but when I was a child I hated to go to church with a white hot passion. Sunday mornings became a battlefield between me and my parents, me arguing that church was boring and them arguing that as long as I lived in their house I would go to church with them. Out of desperation more than faith, I finally threw down the gauntlet and told them that if I had to go to church I may as well be an altar boy and at least have something to do to fill the time.

    Honestly, I expected my parents to squash that too, but they called my bluff. They told me that it would be fine with them, and they told me I should talk with the priest in charge of the altar boys after mass the next Sunday. My heart in my mouth, I approached him after mass and asked him about being an altar boy, praying he would tell me I couldn’t. He didn’t: instead he told me that a new class was starting soon and I was welcome to join.

    I joined, became an altar boy, got more involved, found a home in the church, studied for the priesthood, became a priest, and transitioned to a hospice chaplain. In my years in ministry I’ve changed the lives of countless people and none of it would have happened if my parents didn’t call my bluff or if the priest didn’t encourage me to become an altar boy.

    In the final analysis I oppose physician assisted suicide because I believe with all my heart that the last chapter of our lives may well inspire and change the first chapters of someone else’s life even if we don’t recognize it. An early exit, based on our fears instead of our hope or faith, might cheat someone we don’t even know now.

    I recognize that my terminal illness is ahead of me. The seeds of my death already exist in my body: maybe it’s a cell in my pancreas or colon that will someday begin to replicate out of control. Maybe it’s a weak spot in an artery in my heart, brain, or abdomen. Maybe it’s my own bad judgement that tells me it’s ok to cross against the red light.

    I pray that, at the end of my life, I still hold to the beliefs I profess now. My prayer is for courage. I pray that my faith gives me enough strength to allow me to trust that my hospice nurse can manage my pain, my hospice social worker will acknowledge my strength, my hospice chaplain will respect my beliefs, and my home health aide will care for me with the dignity I need.

    Mostly I pray that the end of my life will not call me to choose to kill myself.

    The Justice Chronicles, Volume 27: What’s the Ethical Answer Here?

    September 29th, 2015

    Nancy and I are currently on vacation in Boston and we’re staying in a nice hotel. When we arrived there was a tag on our door, much like the “do not disturb” sign we’re used to seeing. But this one told us that if we are willing to forego housekeeping service the next day we’d get a gift card for $5.00 in the hotel gift store.

    The catch is this: we have to hang it on the doorknob by 2AM. Clearly the early time gave the hotel management the opportunity to call off part of the housekeeping staff and not pay them. In a sense it makes the entire housekeeping staff per diem.

    But it also makes good environmental sense. They won’t use water to wash sheets and towels or electricity to vacuum the room.

    So as someone who cares about the earth and also cares about economic justice, I’m in a bit of a dilemna. The $5.00 doesn’t affect my decision but I am chewing on deciding between the earth and the housekeepers.

    Of course I’m aware that the hotel chain has created this dilemna.

    I’m open to feedback on what you think of this.

    The Election Chronicles Volume 9: We Should All Be Alarmed by Dr. Ben Carson’s Words

    September 23rd, 2015

    Last weekend presidential candidate Ben Carson appeared on the NBC program Meet the Press. This show has been a staple of Sunday morning news since 1947 and deserves all the respect it receives.

    In 1975 President Ford appeared as the first current President to appear but long before that we’ve recognized the importance of the show in our choice of the next President.

    This past weekend Ben Carson made news when he told Chuck Todd that No Muslim should be President. He explained that a Muslim can’t be trusted as his (or her) primary loyalty would be to his (or her) faith over his (or her) patriotism.

    This alarms me as a Catholic. It’s hard to believe but there was a time when a majority of Americans felt the same way about Catholics.

    Al Smith ran for President in 1928 and lost, in part because he was Catholic. In 1960 John F. Kennedy ran for President even though 25% of Americans believed they couldn’t vote for a Catholic because they felt that his first loyalty was in Rome and the Pope would tell him how to lead.

    We Catholics knew how silly this was. We knew the Pope had no desire to rule the United States and we liked the idea that “one of us” could lead our country. We were right.

    And as for Muslims? C’mon! Islam calls its followers to 5 pillars: to believe, to pray, to donate, to fast, and to travel to Mecca. It explicitly forbids violence against anyone.

    In the nine Presidential elections I’ve voted every time. I’ve voted my values each time. If a Muslim runs in my lifetime who professes a concern for the poor, a belief that our best days are ahead of us, and we can create a nation where our children are better off than we are, I’ll vote for him (or her).

    I call everyone who reads this to do the same.

    The Justice Chronicles, Volume 26: An Interesting Theological Questions

    September 18th, 2015

    My friend James wrote a fascinating question to Facebook and tagged me. I’ve been thinking about it since I read it but I feel my answer is too long to post to Facebook. I decided to answer James here.

    James is an incredibly kind and generous person and late last year he entered the world of fatherhood. Here is his post:

    Theological quandary I’ve had recently:

    I believe that God is all-loving. We sing “God is love” in church. And the Gospel of John says that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. That is a lot of love for God’s creation.

    But think about this from Jesus’ point of view: Was God showing love to him by sending him here to live, spread the word, die and be resurrected? Seems like a bit of a crappy thing to do: hey, I’m going to send you to some people who will put you to death, but it’s ok you’ll get better because as part of the Trinity, you’re eternal.

    There is a parallel to this in the story of Abraham being tested by God in the near-sacrifice of Isaac. In the end, God is satisfied with Abraham’s faith, and spares Isaac (who probably never wanted to go in the wilderness alone with his dad ever again), but with Jesus, where is God’s mercy? or justice? Is this the act of an all-loving God, a single dad to his son?

    Or is this a semantic thing? God the Father giving His Son is the same thing as Jesus the Son choosing to go because Trinity.

    EDIT: the main point I’m getting at here is whether God truly is all-loving or not, using the act of God giving Jesus to death from Jesus’ POV: Was God all loving to him?

    You ask several wonderful, puzzling, frustrating, and eventually faithful questions. Let me see if I can parse this out.

    I’m going to start with the Abraham/Isaac question. Nearly everyone who reads this passage from Genesis has the same reaction: horror. How can anyone, especially God, make this demand on a father? And what father would agree to this? I think we all agree that we would’ve had more respect for Abraham if he had told God to go bother someone else.

    Fair enough, but in that time the idea of human sacrifice was not unknown. Those who followed pagan gods often saw human sacrifice as something that was demanded of them. The best description I’ve found on this came in the first few pages of James Michener’s book Hawai’i.

    I’m not certain that I’m right about this, but I think God was telling Abraham that human sacrifice will no longer be a requirement of his faith. “The pagans do human sacrifice but those who follow me will not. Unlike the pagan gods I find human life to be sacred and will never demand that you kill as a sacrifice.”

    That said, I’m troubled by the idea that God let Abraham get that close to sacrificing his own son. Every time I read this passage I wonder if Isaac lived the rest of his life with PTSD.

    But I’m also heartened by the reality that the God of Genesis, the Old Testament, and the New Testament does not demand sacrifice. As a matter of fact, Jesus’ ultimate throw down centered on his cleansing of the Temple in Matthew 21:12.

    The phrase “throw down” is a modern term and it means this: someone “throws down” when he or she wants to make a point so badly that he (or she) makes a statement with no regard to the consequences. Jesus’ throw down is the last straw that leads to his arrest and execution.

    But James, your point is well taken. What do we say about an all loving God who allowed his Son to be killed (and killed in such a horrible way)? We all understand that Jesus couldn’t have been resurrected unless he died, and had he died of natural causes his resurrection would have meant little more than Lazarus’.

    The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us nothing about Jesus before his conception and if we had only those Gospels we could easily make the argument he didn’t exist before then. Only in John’s Gospel is Jesus described as being “in the beginning with God.” Perhaps Jesus “volunteered,” knowing what he was getting into. This doesn’t make his death any more horrible or painful, but it at least gives Jesus the advantage of knowing that it will turn out well in the end.

    The Election 2016 Chronciles Volume 8: Rick Perry Drops Out

    September 12th, 2015

    Yesterday we learned that Rick Perry has “suspended” his campaign for president. This allows him to continue to raise money even though nobody really believes he’ll be president: any money he collects is donated by wealthy people who feel badly for him and don’t want him to be responsible for debts collected during his delusional belief that anyone would vote to make him president.

    He’s the first of the GOP crowd to drop out and it doesn’t really surprise anyone. Rick did poorly four years ago in the last presidential race and many residents of Texas expressed embarrassment. When he declared his candidacy for 2016 most people hoped they could ignore him.

    Enough did. His poll numbers never really made him a serious candidate and his decision to wear eyeglasses didn’t make him look smarter.

    On August 10th his campaign admitted that they could no longer pay his campaign staffers. Some stayed, some left, but nobody could claim his campaign was viable.