Remember When Nobody Wanted To Be Called A Hypocrite?

For decades the Republican party has run on a platform of overturning the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision to allow early term abortions. Earlier this year they got their wish as Roe v. Wade was overturned and the question of abortion has gone back to the states. I wrote a long opinion on this here.

We now have Republican candidates who claim to oppose abortion with spotty records. Understand I’m not opposed to people changing their opinions as that may be due to a number of reasons. Maybe they’ve simply reconsidered or they’ve had an experience that sheds new light on the issue.

But when someone says or does something that indicates that the rules don’t apply to them, well that’s hypocrisy. And it should be embarrassing.

Former NFL player Hershel Walker is running for Senate from the state of Georgia. In the last few weeks two women have come forward and claimed that they were impregnated by Mr. Walker; when he found out he pressured them to abort the pregnancy and paid for it. They’ve presented some evidence (including a copy of the check he wrote to her to cover the cost of the procedure). Mr. Walker denies both charges. He did affirm he wrote the check but claims not to remember what the money was for.

Interestingly he advocates that all abortions be illegal, even in cases of rape or incest or if the mother’s life is in danger.

I guess he believes abortion is wrong unless he’s the father.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 157: He Never Going To Stop Making Money Off The Rest Of Us

President Trump claims to be the wealthiest President, and while nobody knows it’s generally assumed he’s correct. And while he uses that as a measure of his intelligence most of it was inherited. To quote an old sage it’s like waking up on 3rd base and claiming to have hit a triple.

I’m enough of a capitalist that I don’t begrudge anyone his wealth, though I would like people like Mr. Trump be a little more generous to those who wasn’t born to a wealthy family. What I do object to, however, is when a wealthy person preaches self sufficiency while draining money from tax payers.

The Secret Service was founded in 1865 to prosecute counterfeiters. After President McKinley was assassinated in 1901 its agents began to protect the President. The agency has since expanded to protect the President’s family and candidates running for President. This requires the protection detail to travel with the President at government expense.

In 2009 President and Mrs. Obama celebrated a “date night” in New York City. This was roundly criticized by Republicans as a waste of taxpayer money. We don’t know how much it cost but some thought the price tag (including transportation) was something north of $70,000. But by any measure President Obama didn’t personally profit from this.

When President Trump was elected he criticized his predecessor for, among other things, playing golf at government expense. As a candidate in August 2016 he said this: ““I’m going to be working for you. I’m not going to have time to play golf.” During the next four years he played golf 307 days; nearly one day in four.

Because the Secret Service needs to be in close proximity to the President they often stayed at Trump properties. Now you’d think the President would comp them those rooms or at least only charge them what any government employee would pay. You’d be wrong.

Not only is it estimated that we paid $1.4 million for those room, we’ve recently learned that the Trump organization charged as much as $1,185 per night. In 2017 his son Eric (who is afforded protection as the President’s son) stayed at Trump’s hotel in Washington D.C. He stayed there even though that hotel is a few blocks from the White House. The Secret Service, again required to be in close proximity, was charged $1,160 when the normal rate would have been $242.00.

Not only are these expenses exorbitant but they are paid directly to the Trump Organization. In other words when President Trump travels and stays at one of his properties, he profits at taxpayer expense.

I’ll remind him of this next time I see him.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 155: No Mr. Trump, Those Documents Don’t Belong To You

In the hours after the 2016 election I began this category (The Trump Chronicles). A year and a half ago I hoped I had written my last column on that topic.

Much as I have tried to stay true to that hope but I finally couldn’t stand it anymore. I write this shortly after Mr. Trump’s home in Mar a Lago was searched by federal officials. As you can imagine our former President is decrying this “invasion” while claiming there was nothing to see.

Well, no. It appears that when he left office in 2021 he took several boxes of documents with him, including some with classified information. Despite being told over and over that White House documents belong to the American people, he insisted that they belonged to him. Since he saw himself as the supreme leader, everything belonged to him.

He had a habit of tearing papers in pieces when he was done with them, which necessitated government employees to tape them back together. You can read about it here.

Shortly after he departed the White House the National Archives noticed missing material. They contacted Mr. Trump’s staff requesting their return. They were then subpoenaed (court ordered) and the staff insisted they weren’t in possession of anything in the subpoena. The government’s last resort lay in a search warrant. They had to prove that they had probable cause to believe Mr. Trump had documents that didn’t belong to him and they did.

Particularly troubling for me is that some of those documents were classified. Since Mr. Trump spent most of his transition time (election to inauguration) trying not to leave one could easily believe that the process of stealing that information was chaotic and perhaps nobody intended to steal classified information.

But here’s what concerns me: the noose is tightening on Mr. Trump. He’s currently being investigated by the Department of Justice as well as the states of New York and Georgia on criminal charges. He’s never been one to take responsibility for his actions and I believe if indicted he will flee the United States. His primary destination has to be Russia, which explains why he supports Russia over Ukraine and continues to fawn approval from Russian President Putin.

Now imagine he flees to Russia with classified files as a bribe for asylum. Crazy? I hope so, but I’ve said this many times before: I hope I’m wrong.

And Now Uvalde, Texas. Had Enough? The Republican Party Hasn’t.

Last week we learned the name of another small city with an elementary school: Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. In the last 23 years we’ve also learned about Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado; Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut; Marjorie Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida. There are several more, but you get the point. Each of these schools lost students to gun violence.

This type of mass murder also happens outside of schools as we learned of shootings at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma; Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, New York; Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada; Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. And this is only a fraction.

I wrote a longer article in 2018 and I don’t wish to repeat it here. I argued that it was time to outlaw the purchase of assault rifles. They have no place in legal activities such as hunting. Simply put, they are weapons of war and are designed only to kill a large number of people in a short time.

After every massacre the National Rifle Association and the Republican Party attempt to frame them as mental health issues. This allows them to divert attention away from the guns and their responsibility for the deaths.

After Sandy Hook in 2012 it briefly appeared that the deaths of students that young would shame those groups into talking seriously about reasonable gun control. Alas, no.

As I write this there are some Republicans who are feigning interest in reasonable legislation and I’d like to believe them. I hope I’m wrong.

Ukraine and Russia: This Is Going To Be Much Longer And Much Bloodier

As I write this it’s been about 6 weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine. When Vladimir Putin invaded he expected a quick and easy victory; he didn’t expect Ukrainian resistance to be so fierce. This was partly due to bad advice he was given by his advisors. Dictators often run into this: they demand absolute loyalty from those around him and they tell him only what he wants to hear. Nobody is willing to speak truth or power because they will be fired or worse.

But what happens when a “quick victory” doesn’t work out? Well, nothing good. Rarely does an aggressor recognize the obvious and pull back. And we need only look at several examples from the 20th Century.

  • During World War II Germany fought a war on two fronts: The Soviet Union to the East and the Allies to the West. In 1943 Germany lost the Battle for Stalingrad and Soviet troops began their march toward Berlin. In 1944 Allied troops landed in France and began their march toward Berlin. It was clear that Germany couldn’t win the war but Hitler refused to surrender and the war continued until May 8, 1945.
  • Meanwhile, in the Pacific, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 intended to defeat America’s ability to stop Japan’s quest to conquer much of East Asia. But the next year American forces defeated Japan in the Battle of Midway. It wasn’t easy or fast but American forces were able to begin “island hopping.” In other words we were able to occupy islands that gave us closer and closer access to Japan. Many of us recognize Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa from high school history class. Long after it was clear that Japan could prevail they refused to surrender and they only gave up after two atomic bombs destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  • In the 1960s the United States began a policy of supporting South Vietnam against the Communist North Vietnam. We sent advisors and then troops. In 1967 Defense Secretary Robert McNamera asked for a comprehensive report on US involvement in Vietnam, going back to 1945. We now know this report as the “Pentagon Papers.” The report was leaked in 1971 and it reported the American people were regularly lied to and that there were grave doubts as to whether the war was winnable at all. And yet we fought until our withdrawal in 1973.

I don’t think any of us want Putin and Russia to successfully conquer Ukraine. Given his fixation on restoring the old Soviet Union he may then set his sight on the Baltics (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia).

But a war that goes badly for Putin also goes badly for Ukraine. We are already hearing reports of murder of civilians and other atrocities. We can only pray.

Thoughts On January 6th, One Year Later

On January 6, 2021 I saw something I never expected: A group of terrorists, angry that Donald Trump was not reelected, stormed the Capitol in the hopes of preventing the Senate from certifying that Joe Biden was elected President. You can find an excellent timeline here.

At first even the Republican National Committee condemned the riot. But this was not to last.

In the year since this event Donald Trump has continued to claim he won the 2020 election and virtually all Republicans have tried to excuse or downplay January 6th.

A year later I think we have a few takeaways:

  1. The Republican Party has figured out that democracy isn’t working out for them. Since 1992 the Republican Presidential candidate has won the popular vote only once, in 2004. In 2000 and 2016 George Bush and Donald Trump won the electoral vote but lost the popular vote.
  2. Gerrymandering will only take them so far. For the most part state legislatures determine voting districts and the Republicans currently control statehouses in 30 states. After the 2020 census they are working hard at making sure that congressional districts give them an advantage. Instead of voters choosing the candidates, the candidates are choosing the voters. But there is a problem:
  3. People of color vote overwhelmingly Democratic. Despite all Republican attempts, the United States continues to move from a white majority to a more diverse nation. Children of immigrants who are born here are American citizens and can vote when they turn 18 and Trump’s xenophobia and racism are not lost on them.
  4. Younger voters vote overwhelmingly Democratic. Younger voters generally don’t vote as much as their parents and grandparents but that’s changing. The youngest Baby Boomer (those born from 1946 to 1964) is now 57. Gen X (1965 to 1980), Millenials (1981 to 1996), and Gen Z (1997 to 2012), when they vote, vote Democratic. A child born in 2006 will be able to vote in the 2024 Presidential election.

I believe that if Donald Trump remained in the White House on January 20, 2021 he would never leave. He would attempt to cancel the 2024 elections or at least find a way to win a 3rd term. I believe that would end our democracy.

I also fear that if he attempts to run in 2024 his supporters will do anything to make this happen.

I hope I’m wrong.

Omicron? OMG

It’s been nearly 2 years since we first heard about COVID 19. Despite the efforts of then President Trump to ignore and deny it, we soon learned it was becoming a global pandemic and needed immediate action. Here in California we were essentially locked down on March 19, 2020.

Following the experience of the flu pandemic in 1918 we hoped that by June we could “flatten the curve” and be in good shape for the expected 2nd wave in the fall.

On June 16, 2020 Vice President Mike Pence wrote an article claiming that President Trump’s leadership will prevent a 2nd wave.

But President Trump, Fox News, and other conservatives have continually discounted and denied the need for social distancing, masks, and vaccines. Simply put, their thirst for popularity, political ambition, and clicks has put us all in danger.

They have blood on their hands.

We are all tired of COVID. We are all tired of masks. We are all tired of restrictions on gathering with friends and family. But here we are in December of 2021 and COVID continues to rule our lives.

First it was the Delta variant, and now Omicron. History students in future generations will wonder why we ignored truth and science.

I have no answer for them.

The Money Chronicles, Volume 20: Why Is Helping The Economy (And Americans) A Liberal Agenda?

Today we learned that President Biden’s COVID-19 plan passed both houses of Congress and he will sign the bill into law in the next day or so.

By any measure it’s been a hard year. In late 2019 we learned about a virus that began in China and soon made its way around the globe. This time last year the its spread and lethality alarmed us enough to shut down large parts of the economy. Restaurants and gyms shut down, schools largely switched to distance learning, and many retail stores began to offer only services only by delivery.

As expected many people, largely those at the bottom of the economy, lost their jobs. Those who could work from home did this, but they were primarily those in the middle to top of the economy.

In fairness, the previous (Republican) President signed legislation to provide direct assistance and increased unemployment benefits but they were temporary. Now that our President is a Democrat, the Republican party has suddenly decided to care about the amount of money the government is spending.

They argue that the bill provides assistance that goes beyond help for COVID-19. They claim that this bill provides a “wish list of the liberal agenda”.

Speaking as a Democrat, I plead guilty. The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t just caused the death of 500,000 Americans, it has also devastated our economy.

If this bill provides us with the ability to inoculate us against the virus, I’m on board. And if it also allows business to stay in business, if it allows the unemployed to continue to provide food and housing to themselves and their families, I’m also on board with that.

If you disagree with me and if you claim to be Christian, please give me your argument in light of Matthew, chapter 5.

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.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 136: We Have Betrayed the Kurds Again

From the middle of the 20th Century we’ve seen conflict in the Middle East. As Americans we’ve often looked through the lens of Israel and their Arab neighbors. But the Middle East is more complex.

Eight years ago, in 2011, a civil war broke out in Syria. Any conflict in this part of the world complicates easy answers and I wrote about this conflict here.

I described the war as having three sides: President Assad, revolutionary Syrians, and Isis. The United States supported Syrians who wanted to overthrow Assad and we allied ourselves with the Kurds. The Kurds are an ethnic group in the Middle East.

The end of World War I redrew the map of Eastern Europe and the Middle East and the Kurds hoped they would be recognized as the nation of Kurdistan. Unfortunately that didn’t happen (and if you want to read an excellent book on this I recommend Paris 1919). The Kurds found themselves living in parts of Eastern Turkey, Northern Syria, and Western Iran, and Western Iraq.

In 1991 the United States invaded Iraq to counter Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Then President George H.W. Bush encouraged Iraq’s population to rise up and overthrow Saddam Hussein. The Kurds in northern Iraq did just that. But once the United States forces liberated Kuwait we pulled out, and Saddam Huessin turned his guns on those who followed President Bush’s encouragement. Saddam Hussein used poison gas to slaughter the Kurds.

Fast forward to Syria. When the United States decided to support Syrians who wanted to overthrow Assad we also decided to support the Kurds who populated Northern Syria and opposed Assad. This troubled Turkey because the Kurdish population in Eastern Turkey have wanted independence since 1919. Some of the Kurds formed a terrorist group called the PKK in the 1970s. Since then Turkey has viewed all Kurds as possible members of the PKK.

So here’s the question: Is there overlap between the PKK and the Kurds in Syria who wish to overthrow Assad? Turkey is clear: these aren’t two groups, but one. Allow the Syrian Kurds any encouragement and they will use their power to fight against Turkey. Frankly, I haven’t found proof of this, and not for lack of trying.

And now enter President Trump. On October 7th he tweeted that we are pulling our troops out of Syria. I imagine he thought this would be seen as a good thing as he has often promised to keep out people safe.

It didn’t happen like he thought. The Kurds have (once again) been good allies. In addition to fighting against Assad’s troops they have also successfully rounded up and imprisoned members of Isis. But now the Kurds need to pull out of guarding the members of Isis and fight the Turks.

The freeing of Isis fighters makes us less secure, but it also reminds the Kurds that the United States is not trustworthy.

Going forward the Middle East will continue to be a volatile place. I don’t think it’s in our best interest to become an isolationist nation and pretend that what happens in other parts of the world don’t matter (and I hope that 9/11 makes my point). Our retreat from Syria does nothing more than make us less safe and tell the Kurds that only idiots believe promises made by the United States.