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 Trump Chronicles, Volume 61: What Exactly Is Going On In Syria?

April 11th, 2017

Dear President Trump:

In my last post I suggested that your are learning that you have a hard job. It got me thinking that you might need to understand what’s going on there. Here is my analysis (you’re welcome):

In 2011 we witnessed the Arab Spring. It began in Tunisia and spread to Egypt, Lybia, Yemen, and Syria. They all attempted to overthrow dictators and return power to the people.

The Arab Spring has mixed results, but for our purpose let’s concentrate on Syria. The people of Syria certainly had motivation. Since 2000 they have lived under the oppression of President Bashar al-Assad; he succeeded his father Hafez al-Assad who ruled from 1970 until his death. By all accounts Bashar is a chip off the old block: Hafez was just as cruel as his son.

This might be a good place to talk about the role of religion in all this. The majority of Syrians are Muslim but like Christianity, there are divisions within Islam. For example, I am Catholic and you are Presbyterian, but we are both Christians.

Almost from its beginning, Muslims have divided into two groups: Sunni and Shia. Most Muslims are Sunni, but there are pockets of Shia, including Iran.

In Syria a small group of Shia Muslims branched off to a group called Alawites. Mr. Assad and his family are Alawite.

So what does this mean? If you hear nothing else from this post hear this: the war in Syria is a three way war. Three groups all battle for victory, and claim foreign sponsors. Let me try to explain this as best I can:

  • Mr Assad leads the first group. As I said he is an Alawite and claims Syria’s only future lies in a continuation of his regime. He believes everyone who opposes him wants to destroy Syria and his backing comes from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
  • Syrian resistance composes the second group. They viewed the Arab Spring and saw an opportunity to overthrow Mr. Assad. Three of four of them identify as Sunni Muslims and believe they have suffered from oppression at the hands of the Assad’s. The United States supports this group.
  • Finally, ISIS rounds out these groups. They are Shia and view both Alawites and Sunnis as infidels and want Syria to comprise part of a larger caliphate. They are backed by Iran.

Yes, Mr. Trump, this is complicated. Your fawning over Mr. Putin may well come back to haunt you as you have sent your Secretary of State to scold Mr. Putin. It likely won’t work. In any three way conflict, an alliance between two of them will almost certainly defeat the third. If Iran and Russia join forces, Syria may become a caliphate that none of us want.

Last September you told us you had a secret plan to destroy ISIS. At the time you refused to reveal it out of a fear that one of your opponents would appropriate it.

You no longer have opponents for your office. Maybe now is the time to reveal it.

Call me.

The Trump Chroncles, Volume 60: Here’s What’s Good and What’s Bad About The Syrian Bombing

April 10th, 2017

Let me being by saying this: no act of war is good. War is sometimes necessary but it’s never good. I write this blog post knowing that “good” means “the best of a series of bad choices.”

A few days ago I spoke about how President Trump is learning that his election propelled him into a tough job. He ran on a platform of America First, meaning that regardless of our history or our place in the world, we bear no responsibility for atrocities outside of our border.

But inventions in the 19th and 20th Centuries (telegraphs, telephones, cameras, radios, televisions, computers, the internet, social media, OK, you get the idea) provide us access to events thousands of miles from us within seconds. And this access brings with it a moral compass (religious or not) that commands that we care about people we don’t know and do what we can to defeat injustice and value human life regardless of where they live and what they look like.

In the 21st Century our recognition that we know what evil rulers are doing to their own people and it matters to us. As Americans who care about human rights we cannot ignore what is happening in Syria because if it can happen to them, it can happen to us. Their lives matter to us and once we learn of their plight we cannot look away or pretend it isn’t happening.

And so for of us who weep for those who died at the hand of President Bashar Al Assad we applaud last week’s airstrike. We applaud Mr. Trump’s decision to move away from his belief that we don’t care about what happens outside our borders.

But, at the same time, I worry about the path ahead of us. Both President Assad and Russian President Putin condemned these actions I’m not certain Mr. Trump has a plan for what happens next. I recognize that Mr. Trump was horrified by pictures of dead and dying children from Sarin attacks from Syria, but what does he do next?

Mr. Trump proclaimed last week that he is not the “president of the world.” On March 30th Secretary of State Rex Tillerson proclaimed that only the Syrian people should decide who leads them.

Let me state simply my concern: President Trump ordered the attack on Syria because he saw horrific pictures on Faux News. It’s likely more complex than this. Presidential advisor Steve Bannon argues against foreign intervention and almost certainly opposed the strike. On the other end of this issue, Presidential son in law Jared Kushner certainly argued in favor of it. The last few weeks have shown that Mr. Trump listens to his son in law more than his advisor and I’m certain this contributed to the strike.

That said, I’m not certain anyone in the White House has a 2nd step to a policy nobody seems to articulate. In the days since the strike Mr. Assad has continued to murder his own people.

A “first strike” is the easy part. Now comes the hard part: What do we do now?

The War That Didn’t End All Wars

April 6th, 2017

One hundred years ago today, April 6, 1917, House of Representatives voted 373 to 50 to accept President Woodrow Wilson’s request to declare war on Germany. This came four days after President Wilson formally requested a declaration of war and two days after the Senate voted 82 to 6.

Obviously it wasn’t called “World War I” because nobody expected that there would be a World War II 22 years after the end of this war. Some called it “The Great War” but others optimistically called it the War To End All Wars. It wasn’t.

Peace was declared on November 11, 1918. By that time 116,516 Americans were killed in battle, including the poet Joyce Kilmer.

May they all rest in peace.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 59: This Is Exactly What We Feared

April 6th, 2017

Last month I wrote about President Trump’s admission that he was surprised that health care was complicated. This alarmed many of us as he appeared to the be last American who understood this.

Alas, he campaigned on a platform that claimed everything was easy for him and if we voted for him he would fix everything. Famously he announced that I alone can fix it, speaking about all the troubles we face.

He told us he had a plan to defeat ISIS a year ago. Several times he’s promised to defeat North Korea without telling us how. He continues to blame President Obama for the carnage in Syria but promises a solution without telling us what it is.

In the last few days he’s learned that Syria is also complicated. As I write this he is ordering an airstrike against a Syrian airfield. I appreciate he is choosing some action instead of complaining about the “mess” he inherited. But I fear he thinks this will end the conflict in Syria. It won’t. Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad won’t surrender and Russian President Vladimir Putin won’t change his support from President Assad to President Trump.

And if Syria isn’t enough, Mr. Trump is also dealing with an ongoing crisis in North Korea. President Kim Jong Un clearly allows his people to starve while he concentrates on building a nuclear weapon that can reach the United States.

As I write this, Chinese President Xi Jinping is meeting with Mr. Trump in Florida. Simply put, only China can seriously pressure North Korea to do anything, but China has little reason to do so. North Korea has no desire to bomb China and China fears not a nuclear North Korea but a collapsing North Korea. Anything that destabilizes North Korea runs the risk of creating the kind of chaos that would cause thousands, and perhaps millions, of starving North Koreans to pour into China. Clearly China doesn’t want this, and Mr. Trump could probably only suggest they build a wall.

Being President is hard, and I think Mr. Trump is only now recognizing this.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 58: Do We Have Our New John Dean?

March 31st, 2017

The unfolding possibility that President Trump and members of his administration colluded with Russian agents to interfere with or sway the 2016 election occupies many of us.

And those of us “of a certain age” remember another Presidential scandal: Watergate. In the early hours of the morning on June 17, 1972 five men were found inside the offices of the Democratic National Committee. It was soon found out that they broke into the offices to install listening devices on the phones to give President Nixon and his campaign intelligence on his opponent, Senator George McGovern.

Virtually nobody believes that President Nixon knew about the this in advance, but within a few days he directed his staff to bribe the burglars to plead guilty and not implicate anyone else from the campaign.

President Nixon easily won re-election in November of 1972 but by the first few months of 1973 things began to unravel. On April 6, 1973 Presidential Counsel John Dean reached out to members of the Senate Watergate committee. His cooperation came to light and Mr. Dean was fired on April 30th.

During all these months, President Nixon became more and more insulated and desperate. His press secretary Ron Ziegler continued to press the line that “there’s nothing to see here” and that Watergate mattered only to the press.

It’s not a stretch to see President Trump now playing the role of President Nixon and Press Secretary Sean Spicer reprises Ron Ziegler’s role.

In the last few days we’ve learned that Mr. Trump’s original pick for National Security Advisor, General Michael Flynn has a story to tell. But he demands immunity from prosecution before he will tell his story.

Ironically, John Dean asked for immunity from President Nixon. It wasn’t granted.

General Flynn finds himself in a different place as he is asking for immunity from Congress. Nevertheless, I have to think that as I write this several occupants of the Trump administration are praying General Flynn does not testify to what he knows.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 57: Where Do We Go From Here?

March 28th, 2017

Some of you may recognize this phrase from the song Games People Play by The Alan Parsons Project. It’s been a few days since the death of the AHCA and we’ve grown weary of who is to blame.

Hopefully we can now pivot to our next step. President Trump has spent the last several days blaming the Freedom Caucus, the Democrats, and perhaps House Speaker Paul Ryan (don’t believe me? Ok, look at Mr. Trump’s tweet encouraging people to watch Judge Jeanine who blamed Speaker Ryan).

By all accounts the AHCA would have denied healthcare to millions of Americans, particularly th elderly poor. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that 24,000,000 Americans would lose health coverage, and most of those are Americans 50 or older.

Enter the Alan Parsons Project. Here is a line from Games People Play:

Where do we go from here now that all of the children have grown up?
And how do we spend our lives knowing nobody gives us a damn?

I’ll confess that I’m somewhere north of 50 years old and I’m blessed to have health insurance from my employer but I also live with the recognition that my wife and I are locked in to keeping our jobs. Before the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010 I would have been denied private insurance for a pre-existing condition (I use a bipap for sleep apnea). The ACA would allow me to purchase health insurance on a state exchange (because I live in a state that participates in it).

But the AHCA would have made health insurance unaffordable. And despite the fact that the AHCA failed, I’m still not safe. President Trump has executive authority to gut enough of the ACA to render it useless.

I get it that you may not care about me, as I’m probably safe. But if you know someone my age who fears losing his job, you need to oppose President Trump’s determination to destroy the ACA and blame his predecessor.

The Trump Chronicles Volume 56: President Trump, We All Knew Healthcare Was Complicated

March 24th, 2017

Today we received word that the Republican flagship legislation, the American Health Care Act of 2017 (AHCA), will not come up for a vote because of a lack of support.

Since passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, Republicans have voiced a false narrative that it won’t work and we can’t afford it. It’s certainly far from perfect but instead of continuing to work on it (as we have with Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) the Republicans saw the ACA as a way of gaining power.

And to be fair it worked. In 2010 the Democrats controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. Running on the promise of repealing the ACA Republicans scored victories gaining majorities in the House in 2010, the Senate in 2014, and the White House in 2016.

But Candidate Trump ran on the platform that replacing and improving the ACA “on day one” would be a top priority. He made this statement on March 3, 2016: “On day one of the Trump Administration, we will ask Congress to immediately deliver a full repeal of Obamacare.” You can see the link here.

In October of 2015 I predicted the demise of the Republican Party and suggested that our next President would never be a Republican. OK, I was wrong. At least on the timetable.

But the demise of the AHCA today showed us while my timetable may have been wrong, my point was not. Currently the House is divided into 237 Republicans, 193 Democrats, and 5 vacancies, and any bill needs 216 votes to pass. Most people (myself included) expected the Republicans would have no trouble passing the AHCA: Even if every Democrat and 21 Republicans voted against the AHCA it would pass. Frankly we thought the Senate fight would make headlines.

But Mr. Trump (who is still wrapping his head around the recognition he can’t fire anyone who irritates him) never expected opposition from the Republican Freedom Caucus, who are some of most conservative members of Congress.

So here’s his reality: of all the things he promised as a candidate, this was supposed to be the easiest. This was supposed to be his victory lap. This was supposed to be the first chapter of an epic Presidency. As I write this we have 1,326 days in his Presidency. It’s hard to imagine that it gets better from here.

The Trump Chronicles Volume 55: Is Today the Last Day of Affordable Health Care?

March 22nd, 2017

Yes, this a bit of a hyperbole but it got your attention. On March 23, 2010 President Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also called the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. From the moment Mr. Obama signed this legislation, the Republican Party announced it would destroy America. It didn’t.

But it didn’t prevent the GOP from spending the last 7 years claiming it was imploding even though evidence disputes this.

With Republican victories in November they found themselves in the unenviable position of having to keep their promises. Earlier this month President Trump released his plan, called the American Health Care Reform Act of 2017. It’s been a hard sell.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported that 14,000,000 Americans who currently have health insurance will lose it. This act particularly hurts Americans too young for Medicare (in their 50s or 60s), who don’t have health insurance from their employers, and don’t make much money. Many of these groups live in rural areas that voted overwhelming for Mr. Trump.

You can see this in an article in the Denver Post but they are about to find out that they’ve been betrayed.

Mr. Trump promised that nobody who has health insurance will lose it. Clearly Mr. Trump is lying.

Tomorrow the House of Representatives will vote on Mr. Trump’s plan. Fourteen million Americans, and those who care about them, hope it will fail.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 54: Our Budget Reflects Our Values

March 20th, 2017

For as long as I can remember Republicans have promised to cut the size of government. So far none of them have. There’s no single measure of government growth but I found an excellent article from Forbes magazine. They measured the number of government employees (GE) as a percentage of US population (P), or GE/P and used this as a tool and measured each President since 1980.

The percentage has increased over every President:

President Trump ran on the same GOP platform, but he appears to be serious. Last week he released his proposed budget for 2018 and it’s garnered a great deal of attention.

All budgets give us survivors, winners and losers. Medicare, Social Security, and interest on the national debt are survivors as Mr. Trump has chosen to not to meddle with them (even though many members of his party demand Medicare and Social Security reform). His list of winners is pretty small: The Department of Veterans’ Affairs will see an increase of 6%. Likewise, the Department of Homeland Security gains 7%, and the Department of Defense’s budget will increase 9%.

So how about the losers? I don’t have the bandwidth for all the losers, but let me highlight a few. The Environmental Protection Agency will be cut 31%. The Department of State will lose 29%.

There is obviously more, but here’s my point: under this budget our water and air will get dirtier with the cuts at EPA. Cutting the State Department’s budget while increasing Defense focuses our our nation away from diplomacy and toward conflict.

When I was a Catholic priest I spent a fair amount of time working with engaged couples in the last few months before their marriage. I told them that if they gave me their bank statements I could tell them what they valued. None of them took me up on the offer but I was serious. How we allocate our limited resources shows what we think important. A couple who begins their marriage in a modest home and fully funds their retirement (even though it’s 40 years in the future) values responsibility and patience. In the same way the couple that purchases fancy cars and the latest high tech electronics want what they want with little regard to the possibility that they will need this money for an unexpected future expense.

In the same way Mr. Trump makes it clear that he values fear over hope, immediate profit over long term investment. He cares a great deal about his time in office and cares nothing for the world he will leave to his grandchildren.

You have to wonder who he will leave Mar a Lago to when it’s under water.

Happy Birthday To My Prius

March 17th, 2017

Eleven years ago today I bought a brand new Prius. As I drive for my job it’s important that I get a car with good gas mileage. Today it has a few dings and I had to replace the battery 3 years ago, but with 242,040 miles on it it’s doing well. Happy birthday Prius!