The Election 2016 Chronicles Volume 2: An Open Letter to Donald Trump

Dear Donald:

I’m writing to share some good news with you: Today, July 9, 2015 my nephew and godson Nathan Rycroft earned a Ph.D from Boston University.

I’m writing to tell you about this event not because of Dr. Rycroft, but because of his great grandfather Calixte Allain.

You see, your words on immigration have prompted me to think about the role of immigration in my family. On June 16, 2015 you said this:

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.

Nathan’s great grandfather left his home in Canada and came to Gardner, Massachusetts somewhere around 1915. He married in 1918, had children born in 1920, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1926, 1928, and 1931. Of his seven children, he had five boys. Of those boys, four of them served in uniform during World War II or Korea, or both. He worked hard all his life and he did it with essentially a 3rd grade education.

His youngest son (Donald), Nathan’s grandfather, was able to earn a high school diploma. He did it through a combination of Calixte’s and Emma’s dedication and Donald’s determination.

Donald married in 1958, moved to Woodbridge, Virginia and had children born in 1960 (me) and 1962 (my sister Lisa). Both of us earned Master’s degrees, me from Catholic University and Lisa from American University. We did it through a combination of Donald’s and Claire’s dedication and our determination.

Lisa married in 1984 and had children born in 1987 (Nathan) and 1991 (Christopher). Nathan graduated college in 2009 and Chris in 2015. Nathan went on to get his Ph.D today.

I’m writing to you to tell you that Nathan’s great grandfather didn’t come to this country with “problems.” He came here with a determination to make a better life for him, his future wife, and future children (and grandchildren and great grandchildren). He didn’t bring crime, drugs and he didn’t come to rape anyone. He brought a future of good people who are now working hard, paying taxes, and are the kind of Americans you want to attract.

I understand that you are attracting potential voters and funding with your invective against people who don’t look like you (or me) but I want you to know that your bigotry runs against our history as Americans. The Statue of Liberty welcomes the people you want to exclude.

Please stop your bigotry.

The Justice Chronicle, Volume 22: King v. Burwell: What Does It Mean?

Thursday morning at breakfast the Today Show broke into its programming to announce a decision in the case of King v. Burwell. By a 6-3 decision the justices found for the defendant.

I’ve been disturbed at the news coverage on this. Virtually all the reporting makes it sound like a boxing match: Who won and who lost. I’m willing to bet that an embarrassingly small percentage of the population could name the case (King v. Burwell) or the issue that the court decided today.

The implications were clear: had the court found for the plaintiff the Affordable Care Act would likely not have been able to survive. So what were the particulars of the case?

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also called “Obamacare” was signed into law in 2010 and mandated that nearly everyone purchase health insurance. Many of us work for companies that provide us with adequate health insurance, but many companies don’t If you’re a part time or per diem employee you may not get health care from your company. If you work for a small business they may not afford to pay for health insurance. If you’re under 65 and not employed (for any reason) you have nobody to provide you health insurance.

You’ve always been able to buy a health insurance policy on your own, but for many people that was not an option. Premiums were prohibitively high, and you can be denied for a host of pre-existing conditions. I have sleep apnea and before the ACA I would have been excluded from any private health coverage.

The ACA mandated that health insurance companies not exclude anyone for pre-existing conditions. Health insurance companies (rightly) argued that this doesn’t work for them because under this system nobody would buy health insurance until they needed it (much as you can’t buy fire insurance when your house is already on fire). The mandate was necessary as this provided health insurance companies a larger base of customers. That’s the basis of insurance: most people who buy insurance don’t need it and this pays for the minority who does.

But there was still another problem: a large percentage of our population still couldn’t afford to purchase health insurance. We can’t tell people they have to buy health insurance if they simply can’t afford to. Because of this the ACA provided subsidies for people whose earnings fall below a certain level.

The ACA wanted the states to participate in this and made this deal: if your state wishes, it can set up a health insurance exchange. For those eligible for subsidies, the federal government will pick up all of the cost for the first few years and most of the cost from then on. If a state refused to set up an exchange, the federal government would set one up. I believed that most states would see the value in setting up exchanges. I was wrong. Only 16 states set up exchanges and the rest depended on the federal government.

That’s all fine, but here’s where we get into the current lawsuit. Most of us get our health insurance through our employers and our employer pays part of the premium. For people who get their insurance through these exchanges, paying the full premium would be overly burdensome, and the ACA provides subsidies to help people buy insurance. Buried deep in the legislation is the phrase that subsidies are only available to people who purchase their health insurance on an exchange “established by the State.”

The plaintiffs argued that these subsidies are only valid for health insurance exchanges established by one of the 16 states, and that if you live in one of the states that doesn’t run its own exchange, you are not eligible for subsidies.

Frankly that would have sent the entire ACA into a death spiral. People in those 34 states would lose insurance because they couldn’t afford to purchase it. The loss of premiums would have made it much more difficult for insurance companies in those states to continue to provide coverage and many of them would stop providing insurance in those states at all.

In the majority ruling the Court found for the defendants, arguing that if this phrase meant to apply only to those 16 states, the seeds of its own destruction would have been written into the law. In other words this can’t have been the intent of the authors because they never would have written legislation whose implementation was impossible.

Simply put this was the last, desperate act of a group of people who don’t like President Obama, don’t like anything he supports, and hoped against hope that they could convince the Supreme Court to strike it down. Fortunately it didn’t work.

The Election 2016 Chronicles Volume 1: Countdown to Election 2016

As many of you know, every four years I begin to track those who are running for President. And even though the election is over 17 months away, the campaign is beginning in full swing.

As I write this the race for the nomination for the Democrats is a small field. But the race for the Republican nomination is a much more open field. In the past I’ve gone to pains to include those who seek the nomination in other parties or those who run as independents.

Running against the current of common sense I’ve done it again. If you scroll down the left side of this page you’ll see those I’ve listed. I have a few criteria. I won’t list anyone who hasn’t declared. Several candidates in both parties are “exploring” whether or not to run; I’ll include them when they declare.

There are several smaller parties who run candidates and I begin with their web pages. Again you need to declare to be included.

By far the independents are the hardest group to track. I’ve developed this criteria for this list: you have to be eligible to be president (ie, 35 years old and a U.S. citizen by birth) and you have to have a web page. I know this probably discriminates against candidates who are not computer literate, but since I depend on computer searches, it’s the best I can do. If you write to me and tell me you’re running, I’ll include you.

Let the races begin.

On This Date 150 Years Ago the Civil War Ended

On April 9, 1865 two men met at Appomattox Court House and signed a document that silenced thousands of guns and ended possibly the worst era in our history.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee (1807-1870) surrendered the forces of the Confederate States of America to Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) and the Grand Army of the Republic.

Four years earlier the nation was torn apart when eleven states succeeded from the union in an effort to preserve states’ rights and slavery. Neither side expected the other to last long and both expected to win the war handily. The union didn’t think the confederates had the resources or commitment to fight a long war and the confederates didn’t think the union had the desire to preserve the union. They were both wrong.

By the winter of 1865 the nation was in shambles. About 620,000 soldiers died from combat, disease, or starvation. The confederates suffered the lion’s share and its troops were starving. General Lee recognized that he had no choice and asked for terms of peace. He had no idea what that would mean for him or his troops.

General Grant rose to the occasion. He told General Lee that his troops could go home (and not be prisoners). His officers could keep their sidearms. And the union troops fed the starving confederate troops. You can read more about this in an article written by Douglas Brinkley.

In fairness this was not their first meeting. They were both graduates of West Point (Lee in 1829 and Grant in 1843). They fought together in the Mexican American War from 1846 to 1848. As a matter of fact when they met at Appomattox they began to talk about that war.

Libraries have been written about this day but I have two recommendations. Bruce Catton (1899-1978) wrote several books on the Civil War and his last volume recounts the last days of the war. It’s called A Stillness At Appomattox. My next recommendation is a work of fiction that details a man who is walking home from the war. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier gripped me from page one.

Yosemite 2015: Fun, Too Warm and Dry, and Tinged with Sadness

I write this a few hours after Nancy and I returned from our annual pilgrimage to Yosemite National Park for its annual Chef’s Holidays. We’ve been going for several years and have always enjoyed it. Their staff is second to none and now several of them recognize us. It’s three days of good hiking, superior food, and an opportunity for Nancy to interact with some of the best chefs in the country.

That said we did see some disturbing things there. First was the weather: the elevation on the valley floor is nearly 4000 feet above sea level and from there we can see peaks of over 8000 feet. Several times over the years we’ve seen snow on the valley floor and I don’t remember ever not seeing snow on the top of Half Dome; this year we didn’t see any snow that high. To be fair Half Dome has had snow this season but it melted within a few weeks. Simply put it’s too warm.

It’s also too dry. Much of California has been suffering a drought for a few years. Precipitation that falls as snow in the higher elevations gives the rest of us water for much of the year as the snow melts and flows down to lower elevations. We can see this clearly in Yosemite Valley through the falls, Bridalveil and Yosemite being the most common. Water flow changes dramatically during the year, but they should be fairly robust at this time of year and they weren’t. This past year wildfires have come dangerously close to popular areas of the park. It’s hard to imagine but there is no way to avoid the reality that climate change is badly affecting the park.

My next concern follows from a conversation we had with one of the park rangers. We often joke with park rangers about silly questions they get from park guests, but a few struck me as more concerning than silly. The ranger was walking along a trail and met a group of hikers; she told them that she saw a bobcat nearby and hopefully they would too. One of the hikers said: “Oh, did you just let him out?” Later that season (in the autumn when the falls often run dry) a woman asked her to “turn on the falls” since she had come all the way from England.

Both these encounters point to a troubling reality: we’ve become so acclimated to being spectators in a planned experience that we don’t recognize when we are truly “in the wild.” I call this the “Disney effect.” Instead of going into the wilderness and observing what nature has to teach us, we think that the whole thing is a staged event we can manipulate. Do you want to see the falls? Don’t worry that you’ve come at a time of year where water rarely falls, we can turn it on. Do you want to see one of the native animals? Let us know and we’ll release him.

This reality robs us of the opportunity to do exactly what the early Yosemite caretakers wished: to see how natural beauty and breathtaking scenery can transform our lives long after we leave the valley. John Muir (1838-1914) and countless others dreamed of a place that would teach us, not entertain us. They wanted us to leave the valley with a greater understanding of and respect for nature; this understanding and respect would compel us to treat the rest of the earth with the wisdom we gained there. It has with me, and I hope it has with others.

At the beginning of this post I spoke of a “tinge of sadness.” On our trip to Yosemite I received word that my Aunt Eva died after a short illness. She was married to my father’s oldest brother, Uncle Ed. Aunt Eva was a wonderful woman. She was born in Gardner, Massachusetts to immigrants from Kent County, New Brunswick (Canada). She married Uncle Ed in 1952 and had two of my favorite cousins: David and Terry. I don’t remember visiting Gardner (as a child or an adult) without a trip to 69 Baker St. I also don’t remember not being treated to her famous fricot. If you’ve never had the joy of eating fricot you need to put this on your bucket list. It’s not a dish for the wealthy. It’s a dish for good, hardworking people who want a simple, elegant meal at the end of a hard day’s work. It always made me feel loved, and in touch with those ancestors whose hard work made my success in life possible. Aunt Eva, I’ll miss you.

Carl, Thank You For Conceeding But You Could Have Been More Gracious

In an earlier post I spoke about the close race for my U.S. Representative. Two years ago we unseated Brian Bilbray by electing Scott Peters; shortly after that, Carl DeMaio announced he would run against Scott in 2014. Carl served on the San Diego City Council and ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2012.

Carl is nothing but bad news for those of us who want a good future for our city and nation. Nancy had a few occasions to watch Carl live as a member of the city council. She found him to be a slimy bully.

When he planned his campaign to unseat Scott he tried to brand himself as a team player, a problem solver, and a “new type of Republican.” He wasn’t any of those. Carl is gay and is in a long term relationship with Jonathon Hale; he claims that he is hoping to make the Republican Party more accepting of gays.

As a Democrat I applaud him and hope he is successful. Alas, I don’t think he will be successful because I don’t think he’s honest. All along he’s assumed that because he’s gay he would automatically get the San Diego gay vote. He didn’t and it never occurred to him that he would have to actually have to work for the gay vote.

I’ve spent the last several days waiting for his concession and hoped he would be gracious. Yeah, right. Toward the end of his campaign there were allegations that he sexually harassed two of his campaign aids. This is never good news for someone running for office but Carl’s strategy came down to accusing Scott of planting these stories.

It was his last opportunity to show some class and he blew it. Good riddance Carl.

Happy Anniversary to this Blog

As of yesterday it’s been 10 years since I started this online blog. At the time I was on the cusp of leaving my job as a chaplain at Odyssey Hospice, which is now part of Gentiva Hospice. I wasn’t sure where my path led, but I knew it didn’t follow the same path as Odyssey Hospice. I wasn’t sure if I was meant to be a hospice chaplain and I took some time off to explore my next step.

I was “between jobs” from November 13, 2004 until February 14, 2005. I learned a number of things, but mostly I learned that I don’t do unemployment well. I caught two colds, suffered several days of indecision, and learned that I like the simple pleasure of a good days’ work. As I look back on the blog I have to admit a certain amount of embarrassment over the blog posts in the first few months: it had a “dear diary” flavor to it. That only changed when I started working again; I posted less, but thought more.

Since then the blog has turned into my honest thoughts. I’m pretty proud of what I’ve written, and in 2007 my friend Chip suggested that I move my page to his server. Since then I’ve had a page that gives you the ability to search my page and give me feedback. It’s been good.

Hopefully everyone who reads this will keep reading. I love writing, and I love (even more) getting your feedback.

The Justice Chronicles Volume 16: Are We Tipping On Marriage Equality?

When we see a shift in public opinion about something we sometimes talk about a “tipping point,” that is, a time where it appears that the momentum has shifted and what was once a minority opinion has now become the majority.

It’s hard to remember this, but just a few years ago this was thought impossible. In 1996, 18 years ago, President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. It mandated that the federal government not recognize any marriage except between one man and one woman.

Fifteen years ago, in 1999, California led the country in issuing domestic partner licenses; it provided some of the benefits of marriage. Other states followed.

Massachusetts, in 2004, became the first state to allow gay couples to marry. But because of DOMA these married couples could not file joint income tax returns, or benefit from each others’ social security or other benefits. There had been a residency requirement (that you had to live in Massachusetts or plan to live there). This was a 1913 law and was intended to prevent Southern interracial couples from coming to Massachusetts to get married. It was repealed in 2008.

Also in 2008 the California Supreme Court ruled that the state could not ban gay marriage under the rules of the state constitution. Almost immediately there were calls to amend the California constitution to prevent marriage equality. Later that year Proposition 8 amended the constitution, though the state upheld the marriages that were performed between June 16th and November 4th.

In 2010 the District Court of Northern California ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional (even though it was an amendment to the constitution). In 2012 the U.S. Ninth Circuit upheld the ruling; it was appealed to the Supreme Court but the Supreme Court ruled against them in 2013. Ever since then marriage equality has been legal in California.

There is much more to this and I encourage everyone to read the entire timeline at here.

The 50 states are divided into 11 circuits: you can view the map at here.

The 4th, 7th, 9th, and 10th circuits have all ruled in favor of marriage equality. In a surprise to many, the Supreme Court refused to hear any these appeals.

It’s a bit of a disappointment to those of us who favor marriage equality; we were hoping for the equivalent of Loving v. Virginia when the Court ruled that bans on interracial marriages were unconstitutional.

That said, it’s a devastating blow to those who oppose marriage equality. It appears that as of today Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Utah will start issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Because they belong to the 4th, 7th, 9th, and 10th circuits Wyoming, Kansas, West Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina will soon follow.

The Supreme Court could still take cases from the other circuits (the 5th circuit is looking at this) but I think this sends a clear message to the other circuits that the Supreme Court will rule in favor of marriage equality.

It appears that homophobia is the latest casualty in the march for justice.

Happy Labor Day To All

Today many of us have the day off from work to celebrate Labor Day. For many it’s the traditional end of summer and the beginning of the campaign season for November’s election (even though campaigning these days seems to be continuous).

But it got me thinking about labor and the role of work in our lives. Earlier this year I read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s excellent book The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism. Both men were members of the Republican Party and both were President (Theodore Roosevelt served from 1901 to 1909 and William Howard Taft served from 1909 to 1913).

They were also progressives and did much to advance the cause of the working man and woman. The late 1800s and early 1900s were very good if you were rich and very bad if you were poor. While we know the names of the wealthiest, Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and J.P. Morgan (among others), we don’t know the millions of people whose labor made their fortune.

It was commonly held back then that if you went to work for someone, he told you how much you were getting paid and you accepted it, even if if meant you and your family were going to live in abject poverty with little hope of relief. The Bully Pulpit gave me a quote that succinctly describes this. George M. Pullman developed the railroad sleeping car and dining car and founded the Pullman Palace Car Company. When describing the conditions of his workers he made it sound like a paradise. The lived in homes owned by Pullman, shopped in stores owned by Pullman and worshiped in churches owned by Pullman. The problem was that Pullman cut their wages in 1894 claiming that the company needed to do that to survive. It was later learned that the company paid out dividends to its stockholders that year of over $2,000,000 and reported profits of $25,000,000 (this in 1894 dollars).

When the workers attempted to arbitrate with the company, Pullman responded that there was nothing to arbitrate. He insisted that workers have nothing to do with the amount of wages they shall receive; that is solely the business of the company (you can read this on page 186 of Doris’ book: she footnotes Ray Stannard Baker). This, and hundreds of other examples, launched the labor movement in the United States and the organization of unions. We often look at this time as the era of Robber Barons.

Even the Vatican weighed in. In 1891 Pope Leo XIII wrote an encyclical called Rerum Novarum, commonly translated as “On Human Labor.” The Pope was concerned that workers were being exploited and wrote about the dignity of the individual worker. Truth be told he was equally concerned that the backlash against the Robber Barons would be acceptance of socialism, but his words are worth a read.

In the time since there have been incredible reforms. We now have a minimum wage. Child labor is (at least legally) almost nonexistent. Most of us work a 5 day, 40 hour week with paid vacation, holidays and sick leave. Most of the time we have recourse if we feel we are being treated unfairly. Most of the time we work in safe environments and are compensated if we are injured on the job. But none of this came easy. Our parents and grandparents had to fight for every one of these reforms and none of them are guaranteed to our children and grandchildren.

In my family I am the first generation who never had to work in a factory. My parents grew up in Gardner, Massachusetts where almost everyone, at least at some point in their lives, worked for the Heywood – Wakefield Furniture Company. The work was repetitive, exhausting, and boring. I am who I am because they worked hard to give me a chance to move beyond that. I will never forget that.

We honor Labor Day not by cooking hot dogs or going to the beach. We honor Labor Day by honoring laborers. Let’s all agree to keep fighting for the things they fought for.

Good Passover to Our Jewish Brothers and Sisters

Tonight is the first night of Passover, the Jewish feast that remembers their liberation from slavery in Egypt. The celebration is tightly scripted and comes from the 12th Chapter of the Book of Exodus. Today anyone can purchase a book giving directions for this feast; it’s called a Haggadah. Last year I read about a new edition called the New American Haggadah and this year I purchased it.

In addition to giving instructions on celebrating the feast it also gives commentary and a timeline. One commentary grabbed my attention and I want to share it here. It speaks of slavery in Egypt and how slavery continues to exist. In a sense, anyone enslaved is still in Egypt. Here is what is says:

Who can say we’ve actually left? “Whenever you live, it is probably Egypt,” Michael Walzer wrote. Do you live in a place where some people work two and three jobs to feed their children, and others don’t even have a single, poorly paid job? Do you live in a community in which the rich are fabulously rich, and the poor humiliated and desperate? Do you live among people who worship the golden calves of obsessive acquisitiveness, among people whose children are blessed by material abundance and cursed by spiritual impoverishment? Do you live in a place in which some people are more equal than others? In America, the unemployment rate for African-Americans is nearly twice as high as it is for whites. Black people are five times as likely to be incarcerated as whites. Infant mortality in the black community is twice as high as it is among whites. America is a golden land, absolutely, and for Jews, it has been an ark of refuge. But it has not yet fulfilled its promise. The same is true for that other Promised Land. Jewish citizens of Israel have median household incomes almost double that of Arab citizens and an infant mortality rate less than half that of Arabs. Israel represents the greatest miracle in Jewish life in two thousand years – and its achievements are stupendous (and not merely in comparison to its dysfunctional neighbors) – and yet its promise is also unfulfilled. The seder marks the flight from the humiliation of slavery to the grandeur of freedom, but not everyone has come on this journey. It is impossible to love the stranger as much as we love our own kin, but aren’t we still commanded to bring everyone out of Egypt?

Enough said.