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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Tom
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Tom's Homilies 2013

Tom's Homilies 2014

Tom's Homilies 2015

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Our Annual Pilgrimage to Yosemite Nation Park

January 21st, 2017

Each year since 2000 Nancy and I have driven to Yosemite National Park. Each year nearly 4 million people visit but most people come during the summer; they don’t know what they’re missing.

In addition to Yosemite being magical in the snow, we also attend a wonderful event. It used to be called “Chef’s Hoidays” but because of a trademark dispute the event is now called A Taste of Yosemite. Each year they bring in gourmet chefs from around the country. Anita Lo topped the bill for our session. Nancy attends cooking demonstrations while I hike and read (and we both hike).

A few years ago I bemoaned the fact that the weather was getting warmer and I feared it was getting worse. It was better last year, and fantastic this year. A few days before our arrival they received a nice coating of snow and it snowed while we were there. When we left yesterday morning we needed to leave by a different route because of the snow, but it was well worth it.

In addition to Anita, we also met another chef, Scott Youkilis, who with his brother Kevin have opened a restaurant, Loma Brewing Company in Los Gatos, California.

And finally, we had several wonderful conversations with Gayle Pirie and John Clark, the owners of Foreign Cinema in San Francisco. I’m not dropping these names to puff up my importance, but to encourage anyone who lives in or near New York, San Francisco, and Los Gatos, you should eat there.

The only blemish on this trip was something I foreshadowed last year. For the past 20 years or so, much of Yosemite Valley was contracted to Delaware North but starting last spring it changed to Aramark. We noticed a few differences, including the dinner package itself. The crowd was much smaller than we remembered, and we were told that Aramark did very little marketing and we found the web page much harder to navigate. Hopefully by next year they will have learned how to do this.

In any case, we’ll be back in 2018.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 27: OK, President Trump: We’re Keeping Score

January 20th, 2017

Dear President Trump:

Ok, today is your day. I’ve been following your campaign since you announced it. Three weeks later I first mentioned you in my blog.

Since then many of us have watched in horror as all our predictions of your demise didn’t happen. We’ve believed all along that your success in turning this presidential election into a reality program reflected the worst of who we are as Americans.

And yes, we’ve recognized that large numbers of us have found the American dream out of reach, but we believe the cause isn’t immigrants or President Obama but the greed exhibited by you and the other other 1%.

And so we’re going to keep score. Today, the first day of your administration, we’re marking where we are. I begin with an excellent article on National Public Radio.

So here goes:

If you follow your playbook up to now you’ll blame your troubles on “fake news” or nearly anyone other than yourself. But here’s the problem: after winning America’s ultimate reality show, you now have to govern.

But the clock starts now and you can’t deny these numbers.

Sincerly,
The American People

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 28: We Should All Be Concerned About the Holman Rule

January 19th, 2017

The last few months I’ve written extensively on President Elect Trump out of a concern over where our nation is heading. I’ve also wanted to chronicle his Presidency for future reference; I got the idea from James Fallows who wrote The Daily Trump.

But in the last few days I’ve come across something that concerns me and it comes from the House of Representatives, something called The Holman Rule.

In 1876 the House passed a resolution (the Holman Rule) that allows individual members of Congress to target individual federal employees and reduce their pay to $1.00 per year (effectively firing them). On January 3rd this Congress voted to bring it back. Proponents claim this will allow the firing of dishonest, ineffective or lazy federal workers.

My fear, and the fear of others is that individual members of Congress will use this rule as a way of settling scores.

Career federal employees are often tasked with delivering bad news to elected officials. In it’s January 10th edition, The Washington Post spoke about Arthur Katz, who worked for FEMA, testified before a Senate subcommittee. He said: “I testified before a Senate subcommittee regarding the gross mismanagement of FEMA, including our lack of preparedness for natural disasters. My bosses weren’t at all pleased, but my civil service and union protection meant that I couldn’t just be fired. A few months later, Hurricane Andrew hit Florida, and my warnings about FEMA’s problems were proved correct. I kept my job and continued in federal service until my retirement.” Imagine if his bosses at FEMA were able to ask Congress to have him fired?

The General Accountability Office (or GAO) is tasked with overseeing that federal monies are spent properly. Since their job is essentially telling Congress when money isn’t being spent properly, can we imagine any scenario where they will feel their job is secure?

Can anyone feel they can speak truth to power when power has shown its eagerness to stop them?

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 26: I Understand the Boycott

January 18th, 2017

I write this a few days before the Inauguration of Donald Trump.

And as I write this, 60 members of Congress will boycott the inauguration.

They explain their absence in several ways. Some are angry over previous statements about women or Mexicans or Muslims, or the real possibility that his victory depended on interference from the Russians, or, well you get the picture.

I’m grateful that I’m not a member of Congress, but if I were, I would boycott for a different reason. I would boycott out of a lack of respect for the office.

Even in the most contentious days of our nation most of us have recognized the value of the office even if you don’t respect the person who occupies it. As a matter of fact, when President Harry S Truman fired General Douglas MacArthur. At the time General MacArthur Supreme Commander in Korea. He disagreed with President Truman’s plans for a limited war and made the disagreement public even after told to knock it off. I wasn’t able to find much corroboration for this but President Truman’s response was: “You may not respect the man, but you will, by God, respect the office. You are fired.”

I don’t believe the Congressmen and Congresswomen who boycott are disrespecting the office of Presidency: I believe Mr. Trump is.

The role of President elect has historically been one of observing and learning. He has famously refused most intelligence briefings, he has broken protocol by speaking directly with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen (which he defended by claiming “she called me”).

In short, his disrespect for the office calls all of us to boycott as defenders of the office.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 25: We’re Going to Hold You To This

January 16th, 2017

For the past 6 1/2 years the cornerstone of the Republican Party centered on repealing the Affordable Care Act. As long as President Obama occupied the White House their words were meaningless and they didn’t have to worry about how to keep their promise.

But in four days the House of the Representatives, the Senate and the White House will all be in Republican hands and suddenly the spotlight is on them.

Yesterday I raised the alarm that “repeal and replace” would become “repeal and abandon.” At this point I assumed that they would begin to backtrack on these promises, but President Elect Trump continues to double down on promises I’m pretty certain he can’t keep.

Yesterday’s post included his promise that the ACA would keep provisions that allowed adult children to remain on their parents’ policy until age 26, and prevent insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Today we learned that he is promising “insurance for everyone.” This link is worth a read because he kept going.

He also said he could craft health care “in a much simplified form — much less expensive and much better.”

Truthfully, if he can pull this off, I’ll be the first to cheer. We Democrats want exactly that and that’s been our hope for the Affordable Care Act. Providing affordable, reasonably priced health care for all benefits us all.

The problem is this: The Republicans opposed Social Security in the 1930s. They opposed Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s. And they opposed the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Each time they predicted doom and despair. And now they find themselves saddled with a President Elect who makes broad promises with no plan to succeed.

I’m writing this because in the weeks and months to come he’ll claim he never promised to cover everyone. I’m writing this blog as a way to keep a record.

Mr. Trump, we’re paying attention.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 24: All Talk? Talk About the Need to Apologize

January 15th, 2017

It appears that President Elect Trump continues to brood, rant, and use Twitter to show us just how thin skinned he is.

A few days ago NBC reporter Chuck Todd spoke with U.S. Representative John Lewis. In a conversation about Russian interference in the election (that I wrote about here) Mr. Lewis called Mr. Trump’s election not legitimate.

In the hours before sunrise yesterday Mr Trump tweeted that Mr. Lewis is all talk and no action.

This is exactly why someone in the Trump camp needs to shut down his Twitter account. Had there been an adult in the room when Mr. Trump tweeted this deeply offensive remark, that would have better served the country. Mr Trump famously brags about not reading much and we can assume he has a limited understanding of our history.

I confess that I’m a ridiculous history buff and I try not to make fun of those who aren’t. But that said, how can it be that our next President doesn’t know Mr. Lewis’ biography? How can he not know that Mr. Lewis participated in Bloody Sunday in 1965?

Mr. Trump, I doubt you’ll read this, but if you do, here’s what I want to tell you: In 1964 Mr. Lewis was the chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee or SNCC. On March 7, 1965 he led a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. On the Edmond Pettus Bridge in Selma, the local police department attacked the protestors. Mr. Lewis suffered a skull fracture.

When Mr. Lewis nearly died, Mr. Trump, you were a freshman at Fordham University. I’m sorry you didn’t last there. The Jesuits have a long history of excellence in teaching. I wish you had a history of learning.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 23: We Are Afraid This Will Become Repeal and Abandon

January 15th, 2017

In the nearly seven years since the passage of the Affordable Care Act the Republican Party has made it clear that, given the opportunity, they would repeal it regardless of the cost.

At the time I assumed that by the end of President Obama’s 2nd term it would be so entrenched that even the Republicans wouldn’t try to repeal it.

There is a precedent here. On August 14, 1935 President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law the Social Security Act. I’m guessing everyone knows this, but during our working years we contribute part of our earnings into a fund that will provide us a retirement when we are too old to work.

Predictably, Republicans at the time opposed it and when President Roosevelt ran for re-election 1936 his opponent, Kansas Governor Alf Landon promised to repeal it. Governor Landon lost, and no serious presidential candidate has opposed it since (I’m aware that several current Republicans refer to Social Security as a ponzi scheme but nobody takes them seriously).

Simply put, the Republican Party provides us a history of not caring about poor people and those they don’t like. Under conditions of the ACA, the states had the opportunity to “buy in” to an expansion of Medicaid (also called MediCal in California) and have the federal government pay to nearly all of it. Many of us honestly believed that Republican states were more greedy than hateful and would accept the money the federal government offered them to implement it.

We were wrong. Their visceral hate of President Obama mattered more to them than the health of their poorest constituents. As of now 32 states (and the District of Columbia) accept the Medical option and 19 don’t. You can see the map here.

And now we have a President Elect who promises to “repeal and replace.” But it’s more complicated. On the day after his election Trump met with President Obama and came out of the meeting promising to keep two provisions. He promised to keep the provision that allowed children to stay on their parents’ policy until age 26 and he promised to keep the provision that prevented insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.

But here’s the problem: those who don’t like the ACA especially don’t like the individual mandate but insurance companies depend on it. They reasonably argue that if customers could purchase insurance after a serious diagnosis that nobody would buy health insurance before they needed it. It’s the equivalent of waiting until your house is on fire before buying fire insurance.

Insurance companies depend on a large pool of people who pay premiums for coverage they don’t need and the only way they can’t exclude sick people is by collecting the premiums of well people.

The Republican Congress (and in a few days the White House) pledge to repeal and replace but have no plan. They oppose the ACA but propose nothing. I’ve spoken about this here but many of us fear they will repeal and abandon the 20 million people who have health care because of President Obama.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 22: Accountability 101: You Work For Us

January 13th, 2017

Yesterday President Elect Donald Trump finally held the press conference he cancelled last year.

Since his election many of us have expressed concern over his conflicts of interest. He continues to refuse to release his tax returns and we have no idea whether or not his business interests might conflict with his role as President. Simply put, many of us want to know if he owes money to foreign governments. Is he in the pockets of foreign powers? His response: “Trust me.”

Speaking only for myself, I don’t. And I’m not alone. A week from today he will swear an oath to protect and defend the United States Constitution. I’m frightened that he will take the oath and not obey it.

He was born into wealth and spent his career spending (and losing) other peoples’ money. If you don’t believe me I challenge you to read Trump Revealed.

Mr. Trump spends much of his time falsely claiming his wealth has resulted from his brilliance. It hasn’t.

His career as a landlord and developer has depended on this truth: His wealth shielded him from needing to make his investments public. And it has shielded him from accountability.

Since none of his companies were publicly traded he’s never been accountable to anyone except himself and his father. Secrecy has served him well.

And now, for the first time in his life, he works for someone else: The American People. Suddenly we are not partners or employees but constituents. As a matter of fact, we are his boss and he is accountable to us.

But his press conference on Wednesday shows us much of what we need to know. When asked again to release his tax returns he said this: “Only reporters care about my tax returns. The American people don’t care. I won the election.”

The reality is that we do care. In a recent poll 74% of likely voters and 62% of Republicans reported that we do want to see his returns. He claims that if we really wanted to see them we wouldn’t have voted for him.

Here’s my answer: most of us didn’t vote for him and a significant number of those who did still feel uneasy that we don’t know as much as we should about his business interests.

In 2020 I look forward to saying this: You’re Fired.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 21: His Latest Target? Vaccines

January 11th, 2017

President Elect Trump famously avoids inconvenient truths by ignoring them. Previous targets have been climate change and conflicts of interest.

Most of the time he simply brushes them aside. But we read today that his anti-science, anti-truth campaign has taken a new turn: the crackpot belief that vaccines cause autism.

A little background: In 1998 Andrew Wakefield, a gastroenterologist in England, published an article in The Lancet that alarmed thousands of parents (The Lancet is a well respected, peer review medical journal in England). Mr. Wakefield (Dr. Wakefield at the time) claimed that the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine caused autism. His claim soon unraveled, the Lancet retracted the article, and Dr. Wakefield reverted back to Mr. Wakefield as he lost his license to practice medicine.

Unfortunately he unleashed, and continues to stoke, a firestorm of lies and victimization. People who should know better, people who should care more about truth than fear, have joined him, among them Jenny McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Yesterday we learned that Mr. Trump and Mr. Kennedy met. Mr. Kennedy came out of the meeting and stated that he had been asked to head a commission on vaccine safety and “scientific integrity.” Mr. Trump’s camp denied this claiming they were exploring the possibility of a commission.

I’ve said this before but Mr. Trump still doesn’t get that his words and actions matter. Parents of young children are bombarded by conflicting messages and I can’t imagine a false message that that resonates better than “this will harm your child.” The fact that Wakefield and his minions make money by lying to young parents places them beneath contempt.

Oh, and a shout out to one of the true heroes here, read everything you can from Dr. Paul Offit of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He’s written several books and he’s excellent. If you subscribe to the Wall Street Journal you can read an excellent article here.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 20: Meryl Streep Is Overrated? Seriously?

January 9th, 2017

Last night at the Golden Globes Awards, the award winning actress Meryl Streep earned the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award.

I can’t imagine anyone not supporting this. I first saw her genius in the movie The Deer Hunter and have never been disappointed in anything since. I’m not alone.

She has won 3 Academy Awards (nominated 19 times) and 8 Golden Globes (nominated 30 times). Additionally she has been nominated for a Tony and 5 Grammy’s. I loathe linking to Wikipedia, but you can find these awards here.

Cut to last night. As part of her acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille award she said this:

There was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good. There was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it. I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.

Clearly Ms. Streep referenced New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski who lives with Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita. On November 24, 2015 Mr. Trump mocked his disability over a dispute whether American Muslims celebrated the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Mr. Trump continues to deny his mockery and nobody can see the videotape and believe him.

And so last night when Ms. Streep called him out, he responded according to his thin skinned playbook. Hard to imagine but Mr. Trump called Ms. Streep “overrated.” You can read about it here.

It’s going to be a long four years.