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

Stephen Colbert
(b.1964)

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The Election Chronicles, Volume 22: More Winnowing

February 10th, 2016

We woke up this morning to find the winners in New Hampshire. It was a good night for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders and the end of the road for Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina who both suspended their campaigns.

By any metric this campaign is one for the books. Trump and Sanders are sucking up most of the interest and neither are faithful members of the parties whose nominations they seek. I wrote about this in a previous post: Trump has bounced around to several parties and Bernie describes himself as a Socialist while caucusing with the Democrats.

Despite reams of articles who claim that these are signs of the apocalypse, I don’t believe that either of them will ever be President. It’s become fashionable to decide that government is broken and needs new people or new ideas or whatever.

But at the end of the day we have a large and complex government. We expect our government to protect us from foreign invaders (and even the Libertarians believe this). But we also demand that our government embody our basic values.

Our government was born on September 17, 1787 when the delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the final document. To this day, 229 years later, we all look to this document (and the amendments that followed) as the blueprint of how our nation runs.

Today the role of President demands a skill set that would have bewildered our founders. We live in a nation and a world much more complex and nuanced than ever before. The idea of a “gentleman farmer” who leads for a few years and returns to his farm is quaint but obsolete.

Politicians in the 21st Century demand an understanding of how to get things done. We will elect a President in nine months who will lead our nation from 2017 to 2021 and perhaps to 2025.

I’m not telling anyone how to vote but I pray we Americans vote for someone who possesses the skills to respect where we’ve been and envisions where we should go.

The Election Chronicles, Volume 21: The GOP Field Continues to Winnow

February 3rd, 2016

The Iowa caucuses gave us our first snapshot in the 2016 campaign, and also gave a few of the GOP candidates the news they didn’t want to admit: they were done. Today we learned that Rand Paul and Rick Santorum have both suspended their campaigns.

This means that there are only 10 viable candidates for the Republican nomination. In a few days we’ll have the results of the New Hampshire. Let’s see who drops out after that.

I’ve updated my Presidential 2016 page.

The Election Chronicles, Volume 20: An Iowa Surprise

February 2nd, 2016

We woke up this morning to some surprises in Iowa.

For the past several months America’s attention has focused on Iowa and the practice of caucuses instead of primaries. Only Iowa, Nevada, Alaska, and American Samoa caucus.

Caucuses present a nightmare to pollsters. Simply put it’s hard to predict who will actually show up and participate. Two days ago the Des Moines Register reported that Republican Donald Trump led with 28% and Ted Cruz followed with 24%. Marco Rubio commanded only 15%.

That’s not what happened. Today we learned that Ted leads with 28%, Don follows with 24%, and (most surprisingly) Marco surprised everyone with 23%.

On the Democrat side of the isle Hillary Clinton feared a defeat, given that Bernie Sanders is heavily favored in New Hampshire and losing the first two states bodes ill in the long run. It was close, but it appears Hillary won by a razor thin margin. To quote her campaign: a win’s a win.

Not surprisingly these results did winnow the field, even if a little. On the Republican side Mike Huckabee, and on the Democratic side Martin O’Malley, both suspended their campaigns. They made good choices. Neither were viable candidates and needed to leave.

This makes the Democratic nomination a two person race. On the Republican side, several candidates need to do the same thing. Right now Marco Rubio is the candidate of the “mainstream” wing, Ted Cruz is the candidate of the “Tea Party/Evangelical” wing, and Donald Trump is the candidate of….geez I can’t even describe this.

In any case the ultimate nomination lies in one of these three people. If you’re an Abraham Lincoln or a Teddy Roosevelt or a Dwight Eisenhower or a Ronald Reagan Republican, you need to come together and support Marco Rubio.

As a Democrat I hope you’ll ignore my advice but I have to confess a fear: there’s always a chance that the Republican nominee will win. If that happens I think we can survive a Rubio Presidency. Indeed we survived (but paid the price for) the Presidency of George W. Bush. But a Ted Cruz Presidency would lead us to a Christian Caliphate where our laws won’t lead us to freedom but instead to a nation that cares only for those who look like Ted and believe in his homophobic and exclusionary agenda. A Donald Trump Presidency would make us so xenophobic that our collective fear would drive all of us into poverty.

Here’s my plea to Republicans: Don’t nominate someone who will destroy us.

The Election Chronicles, Volume 19: Where Do We Go With Our Anger?

January 30th, 2016

Most of us who are following the Presidential election find ourselves puzzled at the numbers. We elect a President every four years and by this time in the campaign we expect to know that our next leader will be found among a half dozen of the candidates. We also expect that we will choose from politicians we’ve known for a long time.

Last year at this time most of expected that the primaries would present us with a clear choice: Hillary Clinton vs. Jeb Bush.

It made some sense. Both come from families familiar to us and their resumes are well known. The 2016 campaign was supposed to be fairly predictable.

But it’s not. Turns out large segments of us are tired of “the same old thing” and “the same old politicians,” and they are looking to outsiders. Many of us honestly believe we need to look outside those with political skill sets and choose leaders who have different skill sets.

For many, Donald Trump speaks to their frustrations. His father succeeded in real estate and Donald joined him after graduating from college. Given a fair amount of seed money, Donald parlayed it into the millions he now enjoys.

So here’s the problem: Don touts his own success because he is a “self made man.” Except he isn’t. His father’s wealth gave him a headstart and now he runs on a platform that claims that as President he can give all of us his same success.

He can’t. For better or for worse we’re all going to learn a lesson from junior high school: if you elect the class bully to be class president, all he knows how to do is to bully. Don’s success comes from telling us that he will “stand up” to our enemies but he doesn’t understanding that he needs to negotiate with our enemies and partner with our allies.

We need to use our entire skill set in our negotiations, and power is only one of those skills. We need to convince our allies and our adversaries that their advantage lies in following our lead.

But that never works when we lead with our ability to bully.

Bullying gives us enemies and negotiation gives us allies. The “better angels of our natures” rises when we convert our enemies into allies instead of converting our allies into enemies.

Donald Trump, simply put, is a bully. I wrote about this in a previous post where he said this about Mexican immigrants:

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

On July 18th he said this about Senator John McCain who was a prisoner of war from 1967 to 1973: “.. He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured, okay? I hate to tell you that.”

Last month he called for a ban of all Muslims entering the United States.

So why is he polling so well? Simply put, he is tapping into a deep anger in many Americans who feel that their American Dream has passed them by.

And their anger comes from a reasonable place. The Washington Post published an article in 2014 that explains that economic growth in the last few decades has disproportionally favored those who were already wealthy while leaving behind the poor and middle class.

Many listen to Don and believe his lies that he will “make America great again.” He won’t. In moments of candor all politicians will admit to a limited ability to grow the economy and basic equality does not come from unfettered capitalism. A Trump America looks xenophobic, isolationist, and much poorer. Wage equality achieved through making everyone poorer is nobody’s dream.

Frankly put, the best route to a better America for all lies with the Democrats. Bill Clinton served from 1992 to 2000 and was the last President to offer a balanced budget. By all accounts his 2 terms made everyone’s lives better. When he left office we were operating at a surplus of $307,000,000,000. Eight years later, when George Bush left office we operated at a deficit of $458,600,000. Seven years into the Presidency of Barack Obama we carry a deficit of $439,000,000.

But it’s not that simple. President Bush passed the keys to the President Obama on January 20, 2009 and the deficit grew to $1,413,000,000 as he was forced to increase spending to end the Great Recession.

Simply put, Presidents Clinton and Obama made America great by growing our economy for everyone, not just the wealthiest. Republican mantras of less government and keeping out people who we fear will not make us great, it will make us poor and weak. It’s always done that before.

Yosemite 2016: At Last It’s the Yosemite We Love (and Pray Doesn’t Change)

January 24th, 2016

As long time readers of this blog know all too well, Nancy and I make a pilgrimage to Yosemite National Park each year.

The last few years we’ve been concerned because it’s been too warm and too dry. California has been suffering a drought for a few years and we’ve noticed it in warm temperatures and diminished falls. This year we were more hopeful because this winter is turning into an El Nino year. Yosemite had several snowfalls before our visit and we were optimistic, and we were justified in being so.

We hit rain for most of the drive from Fresno to our destination and when we got to the valley floor the snow was not the fluffy, new snow that we like, but hard crusty snow and ice. That said, it was nice to see snow.

Over the next 2 days we hiked like crazy and (truth be told) I had two epic falls, both times on my right elbow. Ice is not forgiving. That said, it was magical to be surrounded by snow and the air was cold enough to make it feel like winter (OK, I get that many of you are digging out from 2 or 3 feet of snow and I don’t envy that, but living in San Diego robs you of a few experiences).

We also enjoyed being there for the Chef’s Holidays even if our chefs this year are from New York and we’re unlikely to have the pleasure of visiting them. But if you have a chance to visit Annisa or Dirt Candy, don’t pass it up.

For as long as we’ve been going to Yosemite, many of the employees we have interacted with have been employed by Delaware North. We’ve had some issues with them, but the employees have been second to none. This year we learned that the National Park Service ended their relationship with Delaware North and chose instead Aramark. The Park Service may have made this choice for economic reasons, and we understand this. But we fear that their choice may make customer service a lesser priority and that next year (and the years after that) will provide us with inferior service and lesser paid employees.

We are committed to Chef’s Holidays 2017 and we pray we won’t be disappointed.

Happy 97th Birthday, Al Graff

January 23rd, 2016

Fr. Joe and Al Graff November 2001

Today my father in law, Al Graff, celebrates his 97th birthday. Here he is seen with Fr. Joe Carroll.

Al’s life celebrates the best of the 20th Century, the best of our immigration policy, and the best of what it means to be Catholic. Do you think I exaggerate? Let me give you some of the high points of Al’s life (so far).

His parents, Paul Graff (1882-1967) and Theresa Sailer Graff (1892-1977) were born in Austria-Hungary, now Austria. They both made their way to the United States in the early 1900s because their parents wanted a better life for them and their descendants. They were successful.

They met in Mandan, North Dakota and married on September 8, 1917. I have a copy of their marriage certificate. According to the laws of North Dakota at the time they had to swear that neither of them had more than 1/8th Negro blood; additionally a doctor found that neither was an “idiot, epileptic, imbecile, feeble minded person, common drunkard, insane person, or person who has been afflicted with hereditary insanity, or afflicted with pulmonary tuberculosis in its advanced stages, or afflicted with any contagious venereal disease.”

Al was born on January 23, 1919. He, his parents and extended family moved to Los Angeles in the early 1920s where he grew up. His cousin (Bob) grew up next door and they lived more as siblings than cousins. As parishioners of Our Lady of Sorrows Church, their pastor (Fr. Ford), recognized Al’s and Bob’s potential. He promised their parents that if they cleaned the church on Saturdays they would have their tuitions paid for at Loyola High School.

They did and it launched Al into Berkeley where he graduated in 1942. During World War II he worked for General Electric in Schenectady, New York. He worked on the jet engine.

After his time there he returned to Los Angeles where he courted and married Marion Goetz in 1947. They had five children: Greg (1948), Mary Kay (1950), David (1952), Leandra (1954), and Nancy (1960), who I married.

They moved from Los Angeles to Rancho Santa Fe, north of San Diego in 1958.

As Al’s career began to unwind he increased his work with his parish, St. James and St. Leo Catholic Church in Solana Beach. This culminated in his ordination as a permanent deacon in 1983. To this day he feels his vocation as a deacon informs this part of his life.

In 1991 he and his best friend, Dr. Dick Wheelock founded a medical clinic at St. Leo’s to treat those who had no other choice for medical care. Dick died in 2014 but the clinic continues.

As we talk with Al, he looks back on his first 97 years with gratitude. His humble early life fills him, not with pride, but with an awareness of his good fortune. His greatest hope is not only that his children do well, but that they continue his ministry of generosity. He hopes that we all live our lives convinced that our gifts ensure that the generations after us prosper better than us.

Because his parents did the same thing. And they did.

The Election Chronicles, Volume 18: Can Anyone Ask Donald Trump These Questions?

January 6th, 2016

I’m certain I’m not alone in this, but I’m weary of listening to Donald Trump making outrageous statements with no follow up. I get that he makes speeches to friendly audiences without taking questions from reporters, but really? Is there nobody who will call him on his statements?

I’m not a reporter but here are the questions I want to ask him:

  • You want to ban Muslims entering this country until “our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” What does this mean? Does that include Muslims who are American citizens who went to the Bahamas on vacation want to return home? Does it mean that Muslims from Europe who travel here on business can’t come here for business? And, by the way, how do you know who is Muslim? I just checked my passport and my religion is not listed. I often get mistaken for being Jewish and no government issued ID shows that I’m Christian.
  • A few months ago you promised to bomb the shit out of Isis. Exactly how do you propose to do this? They occupy a large swath of Iraq and Syria and live side by side with civilians who cower in fear of them. Do you plan to bomb both Isis and the men, women, and children they hold hostage? I hope not. I hope you don’t think that everyone who lives in these areas are members of Isis, or people not worthy of mercy. I condemn Isis for using innocent civilians as “human shields” but I don’t think killing these civilians is the answer.
  • I live in Southern California, about 30 miles from the border with Mexico. You have promised to build a wall between the United States and Mexico. Further you’ve stated that you will make Mexico pay for the wall. I can’t even count how many questions I have for this, but let me get started: What plan to do you have when Mexico refuses your demand? Oh, and this: when you say “a wall” does that mean you will block all traffic between the United States and Mexico? Does that include American citizens who live in Mexico because it’s cheaper to live on the beach there? Does that include Mexicans who work here legally and cross the border every day? Does it include truckers who move commerce across the border and enrich the lives of both countries? If not, are you prepared for the economic downturn we will face when we can no longer trade goods and people with Mexico? If so, how do you prevent immigration that sneaks over a porous border (much as we have today).

Well, Mr. Trump, I’m waiting for your answer.

The Election Chronicles, Volume 17: George Pataki Drops Out

December 30th, 2015

Yesterday we heard from the latest Republican casualty: George Pataki.

He decided to suspend his campaign for President. When I told this to my wife she expressed surprise that he was still running. Yeah, it just doesn’t pay to be one of the “undercard Republicans” who never made it to the national stage. He shared the stage with so many Republicans who sought the 2016 nomination that the debates were split into two: those who did well in the polls and those who didn’t.

He came to the race with some credentials. He was governor of New York from 1995 to 2006, including the morning of 9/11.

He attempted to place himself as a candidate on the mainstream. He opposed the Affordable Care Act but sought an alternative. He described himself as socially liberal on abortion and gay rights and he may well have been the best Republican candidate for millennials, those born after 1980.

But, and I’ve said before, the Republican source of funding and votes are mutually exclusive. He just couldn’t get traction among his own party and his own party just refused to see how valuable he could have been in the general election.

Can I say this? It’s a good for the Democrats. As a Democrat I’m pleased.

The Election Chronicles, Volume 16: Lindsey Graham Drops Out

December 22nd, 2015

Many of us expect that some of the Republican candidates will soon see the handwriting on the wall and withdraw from the campaign. Yesterday that candidate was Lindsey Graham.

He suspended his campaign, recognizing that he has no path to the White House. He is an honorable man and he does this for no other reason than to increase the chances of a Republican successor to President Obama.

But it’s been an uphill battle. He clearly staked out a place for himself as a hawk, calling for boots on the ground against ISIS but just couldn’t gain any traction.

Donald Trump continues to consume most of the oxygen of the Republican campaign and it’s made it nearly impossible for serious candidates to have serious discussions.

Lindsey is much too hawkish for me and I never would have voted for him, but I do respect him for the conviction of his beliefs. We will be well served if he continues his work in the Senate.

The Election Chronicles, Volume 15: The GOP Confronts Trump and Have Only Themselves to Blame

December 14th, 2015

The Republican Party has been absent from the White House since 2008 and they’ve not been happy.

They see 2016 as their opportunity to regain the Presidency but they’ve run into a problem: Donald Trump. It’s no secret that Trump thinks of himself capable of doing whatever he wants and he now thinks he can be our next President.

Most of the Republican establishment incorrectly assumed he was doing this as a way to gain publicity for his reality show The Apprentice. Somewhere along this path Don decided he could win and the polls seem to back this up, at least for the Republican nomination.

So what’s the problem? Well, Don appears to be run on a platform of lies. He claims that Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the destruction of the Twin Towers. He claims that he witnessed people falling from the Twin Towers even though he was four miles away.

There are more examples, but many Republicans can’t understand why his numbers are strong while he continues to lie.

They shouldn’t be puzzled: they should be ashamed. They gave him the playbook.

The Republican party overflows with experiences where they have encouraged their supporters to ignore the facts and embrace their fears.

Let me give a few examples:

  • On 9/11/2001 we were all united in our grief and fear. We knew almost immediately that Osama bin Laden was behind it. And yet instead of concentrating exclusively on Afghanistan (who harbored bin Laden) the Bush administration claimed that our bigger threat was from Iraq. In 2003 we invaded Iraq, falsely claiming that weapons of mass destruction were poised in our direction. They weren’t and we now know that the Bush administration believed the information not because it was correct, but because it was useful to their beliefs.
  • Despite overwhelming evidence, the GOP continues to deny our role in Global Warming. They continue to insist there is no real evidence that climate change is related to the burning of fossil fuels.
  • During the Bush administration the bookstore at the Grand Canyon was directed to sell the book Grand Canyon a Different View by Tom Vail. Vail claims that the Grand Canyon was formed not by millions of years of erosion by the Colorado River, but by the Noah’s Ark Flood.

Simply put, the GOP spent the last 8 years telling their followers to ignore the facts and instead fear that President Obama and the Democrats are going to destroy America.

And now, much to their despair, Donald Trump has proven the master of their strategy. Don is a polarizing figure and his xenophobic platform virtually insures that he cannot be elected President. I wrote last month how the wheels are coming off on the Republican Party.

They have only themselves to blame.