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.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 132: Cokie Roberts is Praying For You (and I’m Trying)

Yesterday I posted about the death of Cokie Roberts (1943-2019). As you can imagine people from around the world have posted remembrances and condolences.

President Obama said this: “Michelle and I are sad to hear about the passing of Cokie Roberts. She was a trailblazing figure; a role model to young women at a time when the profession was still dominated by men; a constant over forty years of a shifting media landscape and changing world, informing voters about the issues of our time and mentoring young journalists every step of the way. She will be missed ― and we send our condolences to her family.”

President George W. Bush said this: “We are deeply saddened that Cokie Roberts is no longer with us. She covered us for decades as a talented, tough, and fair reporter. We respected her drive and appreciated her humor. She became a friend. We know Steve, their children, and grandchildren are heartbroken. They have our sincere sympathies.”

Meanwhile, our current President (who must not be named) said this: “I never met her. She never treated me nicely. But I would like to wish her family well. She was a professional, and I respect professionals. I respect you guys a lot, you people a lot. She was a real professional,”

Way to make it about you.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 130: You Should Read This Book

I just finished Daniel Okrent’s book The Guarded Gate. Here’s what I’ve learned:

This was not an easy book to read, particularly to those of us who follow the news. In 1859 Charles Darwin published his book On the Origin of Species that found that plants and animals change and develop to adapt to a changing world. In the decades that followed, many people asked the question as to whether humans do the same.

It’s a decent question and we’ve found that skin color has changed incrementally over millennia based on our distance from the equator and sunlight. We all began in Africa with dark skin because of the sun: we needed dark skin to block skin cancer. But as a species we migrated to areas where the sun was not as intense, areas that we now know as Northern Europe and Scandinavia. Those migrants needed lighter skin because they needed the Vitamin D that the sun provided. And over thousands of years they developed exactly that. The different skin colors between Africans and Scandinavians had everything to do with the sun and nothing to do with anything else.

But in the decades after Darwin this debate took a horrifying turn: a number of Americans took Darwin’s theory to argue that people from certain countries were “good” and some were “bad” based on skin color and where they were born.

From the late 16th Century much of what we now call America saw a huge influx Western Europeans. In 1776 we declared ourselves independent from Europe (England) and opened our shores to all who wanted to come, not thinking much about skin color (except for the slaves we brought here in chains but that’s grist for another post). This lasted until 1882 when we decided that we didn’t want to include people from China.

Shortly after this descendants of Western European immigrants feared they would lose their wealth and their identity because of current Eastern and Southern European immigrants. With calls of “Keep America for the Americans” they decided that some immigrants were good and should be welcomed and some were bad and should be banned. They claimed science on their side and named their belief “eugenics.”

Daniel’s book documents this belief that Europeans could be divided into three groups: Nordics, Alpines, and Mediterraneans.” With no evidence they claimed a hierarchy: Nordics were good, Alpines were suspicious, and Mediterraneans were inferior. In no small part they recognized that Nordics had fair skin and fair hair while Mediterraneans had olive skin and dark hair.

In 1924 Congress passed (and President Coolidge signed) a law that placed horrific quotas on immigration from different nations of Europe. I encourage you to read the book but basically they wrote this law that set up immigration quotas from each nation. Those from Northern Europe and Scandinavians enjoyed generous quotas (including, by the way, President Trump’s mother who came from Scotland in 1930) while those from Italy, Austria, and the Balkans were essentially shut out.

The horror of this law wasn’t realized until the 1930s when Jews from Europe frantically attempted to flee Nazi Germany and were turned away from our shores because of their misfortune to come after their quota had already been met. Thousands were turned back where they perished in concentration camps. If you don’t think this has real consequences, read about the St. Louis.

Today, day after day, we see that men, women and children come to our borders. They are desperate to flee because of the same fear that Jews faced in the 1930s. They don’t face antisemitism but instead face death threats. Their fathers, brothers, sons, and grandsons face threats from local gangs who demand that these young men join their gang or face death.

They don’t want to join gangs and they began a long and dangerous journey in the hope of a place of safety: the United States. They want what our ancestors wanted. But when they arrive at our border they are seen as “invaders” who want to “take our stuff.”

In 2019 we cannot condemn xenophobia in the 1920s and defend xenophobia today.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 128: Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un

After World War II the Korean peninsula was divided into North Korea and South Korea. During the Cold War North Korea aligned with the Soviet Union and South Korea aligned with the United States. Five years after the end of World War II the Korean Peninsula became the first flashpoint of the Cold War when North Korea and its ally the People’s Republic of China invaded South Korea.

The United States and several other United Nations countries fought back. Nobody won the war and on July 27, 1953 both sides signed an agreement to stop fighting. Technically, the Korean War never ended.

Since 1953 North and South Korea have lived an uneasy peace. The border between their nations soon became the DMZ or “demilitarized zone.” The DMZ has famously become the most heavily armed border in the world. Both nations faced the fear of an invasion from the other side.

This uneasy balance was upset in 2005 when North Korea announced it had developed nuclear weapons. The United States developed the nuclear bomb during World War II and used it to force the Japanese to surrender in World War II. A few years later the Soviet Union developed similar nuclear capabilities. For the next three decades most of the world accepted the fact that these two superpowers had the capability to destroy the world and prayed they wouldn’t.

But other nations also worked to join the “nuclear club.” We’re not entirely certain who belongs to this club, but North Korea’s announcement ushered in a new concern. North Korea did well after the Korean War under the sponsorship of the Soviet Union, but when the Soviet Union broke apart in 1991 it was no longer able to support North Korea (or Cuba, or Poland, or, well, you get the idea).

Famously they suffered a famine in the 1990s caused by a combination of lack of Soviet support and unusually high rain levels in 1995 and 1996. North Korea also insisted they didn’t need help. There’s no way to know how many North Koreans starved but it’s agreed it was substantial.

By that time the first ruler of North Korea, Kim Il Sung (1912-1994) had died and he was succeeded by his son Kim Jong Il (1941-2011) who oversaw the nuclear program while refusing international aid to feed his people.

This caused a great deal of concern with the rest of the world as North Korea was seen as both unstable and dangerous. Anyone who develops nuclear weaponry can use it. It was generally assumed that Kim Jong Il desperately wanted respect and “a seat at the nuclear table,” and it was not given. He was treated by most of the rest of the world not as an adult but as a nut case. We feared this unstable leader would use his nuclear power as a lethal temper tantrum.

But in 2011 Kim Jong Il died and was succeeded by his son, Kim Jong Un (b.1983). He was incredibly young and inexperienced and we all held our breath. At the time the United States was led by President Barack Obama. Like his predecessors President Obama worked hard to encourage a stable North Korean government.

And it all changed on January 20, 2017. Donald Trump entered the White House and decided he was the man to “fix” North Korea. And that’s fine except instead of negotiating with Kim Jong Un, he craved North Korea’s approval. In fairness he did once refer to Kim as “Little Rocket Man” in 2017 (and leaving himself open to be called Honky Cat) but hasn’t done that since.

Instead he now speaks about how they “fell in love.” Last year I wrote about this and explained that Kim gave away nothing and Trump cancelled joint exercises with South Korea to prepare for a possible North Korean invasion.

This has to stop. Kim has figured out that he doesn’t need to give up his nuclear status while at the same time ensuring that the United States won’t confront him on anything substantial.

Meanwhile he has turned his back on our allies. A year ago he called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dishonest and weak. The next month he turned on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying Germany has made itself a captive to Russia. And most recently he called Britain’s Prime Minister Teresa May foolish.

Let’s face it: we have a president who craves the approval of dictators and turns his back on our allies. The 2020 election can’t happen soon enough.