Happy Birthday America

On this day 244 years ago something amazing happened. A 33 year old farmer and scholar, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), wrote an essay that declared that the 13 colonies were independent from England. King George III (1738-1820) looked on this as nothing more than a rebellion that his troops would crush.

But Mr. Jefferson and others like him put their lives on the line. They argued that human rights were not given at the pleasure of the king, but instead human rights are given by God to everyone.

It hasn’t been an easy 244 years. For our first 89 years our country claimed that we are all equal while we held displaced Africans as slaves. Even when they were freed from their chains their lives were far from equal and it’s a fight that continues to this day.

Our 244th birthday recognizes the fact that we are led by a racist President who enjoys the support of many Americans who justify their racism by claiming victimhood.

But the good news is that our core values as Americans remain the same. We work hard, we innovate, we welcome, and we celebrate.

It wasn’t easy to celebrate our birthday during the Civil War but we did because we knew that Mr. Jefferson’s vision would win out. We can do it today.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 37: Hail To the Redskins? Time for a Change

I grew up in Woodbridge Virginia, 25 miles south of Washington D.C. I inherited from my father a love of football and especially the Washington Redskins. As a teenager my bedroom was filled with Redskins posters, bedsheets, and clothes. I knew that the term referred to American Indians but I didn’t understand the racism.

To be fair Washington D.C. has a long history of racism. Until 1850 slaves were bought and sold on the National Mall.

The Redskins began in 1932 in Boston as the Boston Braves. The next year their owner George Preston Marshall changed the names to Redskins and moved the team to Washington D.C. in 1937.

Mr. Marshall envisioned his team as wholly white and refused to sign a player who was African American. By 1962 the Redskins were the only NFL team with no black players. Only when he was threatened did he sign Bobby Mitchell (1935-2020).

But integrating the team didn’t entirely eliminate racism. Native Americans have always found “Redskins” to be racist. George Preston Marshall and successive owners can be given a bye as most of us didn’t recognize the racism in the word Redskins. But in 1999 Dan Snyder purchased the Redskins. Soon after that he began to hear about how offensive Native Americans felt about the word Redskins. He responded by refusing to change the name.

It’s changed in the last week. FEDEX owns the rights to the Redskins stadium and they are pushing to change the name. Other sponsors have done the same.

I have to confess that I’ve had a hard time watching football because of chronic traumatic encephalopathy but I still support changing the name of the Washington Redskins.

Happy Juneteenth!

June is a good month for equal rights. On June 12th I celebrated the day when it was ruled that states can’t prevent people of different races from marrying. In 2013 the Supreme Court struck down prohibitions against gay marriage in Windsor v. Obergefell that I wrote about here. A few days ago later in the case of Bostock v. Clayton County the court ruled that you can’t be fired because of your orientation.

And today we celebrate Junteenth. I have to confess that I didn’t learn about this day until I was adult but I’m glad I know about it now. On January 1, 1863 President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. It stated that the slaves in all states in rebellion against the United States (ie, the Confederate States) were now free. To nobody’s surprise, slave owners in those states declined to inform their slaves. When the South surrendered on April 9, 1865 word did not get out right away.

Union troops then began to travel the South to liberate slaves. On June 19, 1965 word was proclaimed in Galveston, Texas. From that day forward, June 19th has been known as “Juneteenth.” since 1980.

Happy Loving Day!

Long time readers of my blog know how much I love June 12th. It was on this day in 1967 that the Supreme Court ruled that states could not criminalize marriages between people of different races. Richard Loving (1933-1975) wished to marry Mildred Jeter (1939-2008).

But they lived in the Commonwealth of Virginia where I grew up. Oh yes, Richard was white and Mildred was black. In 1958 they drove to Washington D.C. to get married. When the returned home they broke Virginia’s law and were arrested.

They soon got the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union who representative their appeals. Eventually their case made its way to the Supreme Court in the case (and I’m not kidding) of Loving v. Virginia.

On June 12, 1967 they ruled that Richard and Mildred could marry.

I know it’s been 53 years and it’s easy to see that people of different races should be able to marry but it wasn’t true then. But it wasn’t at the time. Most Americans opposed this because they felt that God didn’t want people of different races to marry.

Fast forward a few decades when most Americans thought God didn’t want people of the same sex should marry. The Supreme Court case of Obergenfell v. Hodges ruled that in the same way that states can’t prevent marriages between whites and blacks, they can’t prevent marriages between people of the same sex.

I admire Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter because they fired the opening salvo in the quest for marriage equality.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 148: Black Lives Matter (As Much As Ours Do)

The death of George Floyd continues to bring into focus how people of color face different scrutiny and that makes them more vulnerable to police violence.

I’ll be the first to say that I’m a 60 year old white man who lives with white privilege. I’m a hospice chaplain who (frankly) looks like a doctor and I’m able to take respect for granted.

But when I was about 14 I went on a bike ride with my next door neighbor Andy who is black. It was a hot day and we stopped at a convenience store to buy a soft drink. There was a sign on the door that stated that only one teenager at a time was allowed in the store but we ignored that and went into the store together. The woman behind the counter demanded that we stop immediately and one of us needed to leave and pointed to the sign.

Enraged, we both left. I couldn’t believe that this woman, who knew nothing of us, looked at us as possible thieves. She knew nothing about us. She didn’t know that we were both honor students with strong moral compasses who were guilty of nothing more than thirst. She didn’t know that my friend was a boy scout who, a few years later, would blast classical music when he worked on his car in the driveway.

I’ve thought about this a great deal in the last 46 years. As an adult I know that I can enter a store and not be followed by an employee who wants to make sure I’m not there to shoplift. I know that even if I do something suspicious they will assume I’m OK.

But here’s the thing: my black friend never had the luxury. My bike riding companion who became an Eagle Scout is now a 59 year old black man who now knows that if he tries to spend a $20 bill that turns out to be counterfeit he may die.

This is wrong. I haven’t seen him in nearly 40 years but I think of him whenever I hear about black men who are killed by law enforcement for actions that would have been different if they were white.

I pray he’s OK.

Two Years Out and I Still Love My Car

Two years ago I made the hard decision to donate my 2006 Toyota Prius. It served me well for 270,000 miles but a repair bill drastically outpriced the value of the car and we donated it to the San Diego Zoo.

Knowing that I would still need a car with good gas mileage I bought a Honda Clarity. Two years later the odometer tells me I’ve driven 35,966 miles. It’s essentially a Honda Accord with a plug in battery and I found a learning curve in driving a car that big.

But I drove my last car for 12 years and I hope this is my last car. If it lasts 12 years I’ll donate it in 2030 when I’m 70. But I hope to retire in the next few years and drop my annual mileage dramatically. I’m not sure when I’ll decide that I’m not safe to drive but I hope I’ll donate my Clarity.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 146: Are There Parallels Between COVID-19 and AIDS? I Think There Are

In the summer of 1981 many of us began to read about and hear of a troubling trend. Gay men in New York and San Francisco began to report cases of Karposi Sarcoma and Pneumoscystis Pneumonia. It was odd because the only people who suffered from these diseases were those with compromised immune systems. At the time this population had no reason to believe they were immune compromised. Eventually we learned that a previously unknown virus called HIV or human immunodeficiency virus caused these diseases. Within a few years we all called it AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).

In the next several years AIDS decimated not only the gay male population but also intravenous drug users. We found the presence of the virus in blood, seamen, and saliva. AIDS also devastated children with hemophilia, most famously Ryan White (1971-1990) and people who needed blood transfusions like Arthur Ashe (1943-1993).

Reactions varied. President Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) answered with silence and said nothing about AIDS until 1985. Others, like Rev. Jerry Falwell (1933-2007) saw AIDS as a self inflicted wound: God used AIDS to punish homosexual activity.

For years many people lived in fear of AIDS, particularly when we weren’t sure how it was spread, how to test for it, and how to treat it. Nearly everyone knew someone who contracted AIDS, including my godfather, Duane LaDeau (1935-1993). But there was also widespread fear among health care workers, EMT’s who were on the front lines of caring for very sick people.

But eventually we learned more about the virus. We learned how it was spread, how to protect ourselves, and how to best treat the virus. There’s still no cure but people with AIDS can live nearly normal lives and we who care for them know what to do to avoid infection.

As for COVID-19 we’re still in our earliest days. Every day we’re learning more about the virus, how to avoid infection, how to safely care for those infected, and how we can look to slowing and stopping the spread.

But here’s the problem: in the 1980s our President and leading “Christians” found ways to avoid dealing with AIDS (either by ignoring it or blaming the victim). We now have a President who encourages behavior that will increase both the infection rate and the death rate. Scientists like Dr. Anthony Fauci caution us to avoid direct contact in the hopes that the virus won’t spread. He advocates that we stay at home and in the last 2 months many have. It’s been hard on the economy as the current unemployment rate stands at 14.7% and may well be higher. Our only way past COVID-19 leads through a quarantine that lasts until it’s safe to return to normal even if it means many can’t return to work for months.

President Trump recognizes that a poor economy will likely ensure his defeat in November. And so he’s applying pressure to bring people back into dangerous contact. His calls to “Free Virgina” and other states show how far he is willing to go.

He’s gambling that people will go back to work, unemployment rates will go down, the economy will bounce back, and the virus will magically disappear. As I tell my hospice patients, you can hope for and pray for a miracle but you can’t plan for a miracle.

But that’s what he’s doing. I’m not sure he’s even aware of this, but if everyone goes back to work and the infection/death rate explodes he won’t win. And thousands of us will die. Of course he won’t as all those around him are masked and tested.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 145: President Trump, You and Your Minions Are Gambling With Our Lives

I’m not a politician. Frankly I lack the ambition, the desire to win above all else. I vividly remember the pressure on members of Congress in 2003 to authorize the Gulf War. I can’t read the hearts of all of them but I remember believing that many of them feared a vote against it would imperil their re-election. They didn’t vote their conscience, they voted their ambition.

I don’t respect that. Had I been a member of Congress I would have voted against this on the grounds that the Bush administration couldn’t convince me of their proof that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. History would have proven me right.

Fast forward to today. Whenever I speak to a Trump supporter (and I had this exact conversation a few months ago) they tell me they don’t care about his lies, or his tweets, or his xenophobia. In my last conversation with a coworker she said: “Have you looked at your 401(k)? How can you not support him?”

The last few months have been nothing but trouble for President Trump’s need to win a second term and crave the approval of the American people. Early on I think he recognized that COVID-19 would hurt the economy and therefore chances for a 2nd term. I’ve written about this before but he spent much of February and early March falsely claiming that the virus was mild and shouldn’t affect our behavior. He blamed the lack of preparedness of COVID-19 on President Obama.

Time and again we’ve seen him disregard science in his need for a positive narrative of his administration. Last month he suggested that we can use light and disinfectant to treat COVID-19.

Even President Trump recognizes that if the economy goes South he will have a hard time winning a second term. His only hope lies in the prayer that he will reopen the economy and the COVID-19 virus will magically go away. As I tell my patients, you can pray for a miracle but you can’t plan for one. If he’s wrong (and I pray he isn’t) the next several months will may well give us a horrific increase in COVIC-19 deaths and a cratering of the economy, making the Great Recession look small.

In fewer than six months Americans will go to the polls and decide if President Trump should serve another four years, or if Vice President Biden should replace him. I believe that President Trump knows that his re-election is in trouble. I believe he is desperate and the next six months will show how much damage he is willing to do to our nation and our world.

His call to roll back quarantines will cost lives and he knows it. And he doesn’t care. On November 3rd we can show how much we care.

Yom Hahshoah at 75

Earlier this week the Jewish community remembered Yom Hahshoah, the commemoration of the Holcaust. In the Jewish calendar it’s commemorated on the 27th day of the month of Nissan. We remember Yom Hashoah because every one of us needs to ensure this never happens again.

Here’s what we need to know:

  • It didn’t begin with Auschwitz. It began with blame.
  • It began with xenophobia.
  • It began when one man blamed others and abandoned the idea that we are all in this together.
  • It began when this one man saw he could advance himself by dividing others.
  • It began when he saw he could lie without abandon and be believed.
  • It ended with the deaths of 6,000,000 Jews and 4,000,000 others.
  • It ended when this one man killed himself and avoided taking responsibility for his actions.
  • It ended when the forces for Good spend billions of dollars and decades healing the world.

It began with blame. Let us not let it happen again.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 144: President Trump, Karma is Calling

Dear President Trump:

When you began your Presidential campaign in 2015 I feared that you were not up to the job. I argued that your lack of experience in governing and your penchant for bullying would make your presidency a disaster.

On the day of your inauguration I threw down and said I was keeping score.

In the last 3 years you’ve claimed victory for the progress of others and avoided responsibility for your own mistakes. Your tariffs have hurt farmers, your irresponsible promises have given coal minors false hope, and your attacks on honest journalists have given good, honest Americans doubt in those who strive to tell the truth.

All along your supporters have insisted that none of that matters because the stock market has done well. You and your supporters have argued that the bull market (stock market rise) began on January 20, 2017, the day you took office.

It didn’t. It started on March 9, 2009, six weeks into the administration of President Barack Obama. When he handed you the keys to the White House the stock market had grown 148.3% since his inauguration. You can see a fascinating graph here.

Your administration rode that wave well and at its peak grew 43.7% over President Obama.

But here’s the problem: anyone with a brain knew (knew) that it wouldn’t last. Markets go up (bull markets) and markets go down (bear market). A smart President wouldn’t have criticized the Federal Reserve demanding interest rate cuts in a bull market. A smart President would have know that if you cut interest rates during a bull market you worsen a bear market because there’s little or nothing left to cut. A smart President would know that if you claim credit for a good economy people will blame you for a bad one.

And if asked about the current market and skyrocketing unemployment statistics you and your supporters argue that this is entirely the result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Furthermore you and your supporters will claim there was no way to predict this would happen. In other words, absent COVID-19 the United States would have seen eight years of previously unknown prosperity during your two terms in office.

But here’s the thing: we all knew that a previously unknown virus was always lurking out there somewhere. I know you like to brag about how many times you made the cover of Time Magazine. The cover story on May 15, 2017 warned that we were not ready for the next pandemic.

In addition there was the question about whether or not you eliminated a “pandemic office” in 2017. It’s a complicated question and you can read about it here.

But it doesn’t really matter. You have a history of ignoring facts that don’t fit your world view and you’ve spent the last 3 years ensuring that nobody in your orbit will challenge you. You’ve gone through dozens of cabinet members and staff who proved that they loved either the truth or the American people (or both) more than they craved your support.

Looking forward I have to confess I fear the next seven months. You’ve also spent the last three years not understanding that there are limits on your power. Famously 2018 your xenophobia led you to claim you could repeal the 14th Amendment by executive order.

I predict that you will attempt to call a national emergency and suspend the 2020 election. I predict that you will call on your supporters (and their guns) to report to the White House while you hole up and refuse to leave on January 20, 2021.

I hope I’m wrong but I wish I had more confidence.