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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Archive for January, 2016

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

Saturday, 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)

Sunday, 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

Saturday, 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?

Wednesday, 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.