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 129: Thoughts on Gun Violence and Mental Illness

News reports about mass shootings have become part of our lives ever since Columbine in 1999.

And the reaction to these shootings has divided our nation. Many of us look to gun control. We believe that military weapons were designed to kill a maximum number of people in a minimum amount of time, and don’t they belong in the hands of civilians. Others claim that these weapons of max destruction aren’t the problem. Instead they suggest that these massacres are the result of bad people or bad circumstances, or…whatever. In the last several years they have settled on a scapegoat: people who struggle with mental illness.

One some level I understand their choice: while we’ve found success in treatments for our kidneys, hearts, and pancreases we had a much harder time with brain disease. Gun control opponents have seized on this opportunity to claim that we should continue to allow military grade rifles for all those except who are mentally ill. After the shootings the President said this: “[W]e must reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence, and make sure those people not only get treatment, but when necessary, involuntary confinement. Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.”

So here’s the problem: nobody knows what level of mental illness should block someone from buying or owning a gun. Simply put, opponents of gun control point to a problem with no solution and celebrate the appearance of concern.

If we’re not good at treating mental illness, we’re even worse at diagnosing it. The idea that we can predict the next mass shooters while treating those who suffer but aren’t a threat is, frankly put, a myth. People who live with (among others) depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia normally do more damage to themselves or their immediate circle of family and friends than they do to large numbers of strangers.

Recent massacres in Gilroy, California, El Pao, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio have made my point. None of these shooters would have been classified as mentally ill.

And even if you don’t buy my argument that we can’t predict these mass shootings, I’ll also argue that this will make it harder to provide treatment to those who suffer from mental illness.

How do we classify mental illness? We already have a “cannot purchase” list, but these are primarily those who have felony convictions, are on terrorist watch lists, or have been convicted of domestic violence.

But the term “mental illness” is much more fluid. Do we include only those who have been involuntarily institutionalized? What about those who have been voluntarily institutionalized? What about those currently in the care of a psychiatrist? Or those formerly in the care of a psychiatrist? What about those currently in the care of a psychologist? Or those formerly in the care of a psychologist?

Do we include those who participated in a depression support group? How about those who participated in a grief support group?

Many who suffer refuse to ask for help because of a well founded belief that they will be unfairly labeled as weak or crazy and will put themselves at risk of discrimination. Now imagine a troubled teenager who comes from a family who hunts. He knows that if he asks for help he may well be put on a database that prevents him from purchasing a gun.

We already have reasons for people to fear mental health treatment, we don’t need to create another.

Fifty Years Ago Today: Do I Need To Explain?

Fifty years ago today I was, along with my family and the rest of the world, glued to our black and white television set. And I have to confess something: when Neil Armstrong (1930-2012) set foot on the moon he uttered these words: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” I couldn’t figure out what he meant. I was once told that he was supposed to say: “That’s one giant leap for a man, one giant leap for mankind” and that makes more sense.

But more to the point, I knew as a 9 year old that I was watching something that would be in history books. I witnessed something that future generations would only read about.
July 20, 1969 was a good day for America, but it was also a good day for all humanity. We are born to explore, whether it be Christopher Columbus (1451-1506), or Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521), or Sir Edmund Hillary (1919-2008).

Fifty years later we still have the same curiosity over what lies beyond. Space travel continues to fascinate us as next frontier. Fifty years later we may not know the next step, but we know there will be a next step.

While we celebrate, let us also remember the costs of space travel. The space race in the United States has yielded sixteen lives and we should honor them. They died in our quest to explore:

The Election Chronicles 2020, Volume 2: One Down, Perhaps One Up

We all knew that the race for the 2020 Democratic nomination would winnow, and a few days ago we saw who withdrew first: Eric Swalwell. He’s a good guy but was never able to find his voice in a crowded and rowdy field. I wish him well in his continued service to our nation.

Almost immediately we heard that someone else joined the race: Tom Steyer. I haven’t placed him in my “official” list for a few reasons. First, as I write this he doesn’t have an official website. He’s been a vocal critic of the President and has a site calling for the President’s impeachment but it’s not a campaign site. Second, in my previous post I promised that I would only include those candidates who the Democratic Party allowed in the debates. I have no idea where Tom stands on this.

Film at 11.

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.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 34: Fifty Years After Stonewall

Fifty years ago it wasn’t easy to be gay. Everyone assumed every adult was attracted to a person of the opposite sex. Men fell in love with women and women fell in love with men.

Except for some people it was different. Some men fell in love with other men, and some women fell in love with other women. We can argue about what percentage, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is this: how do we treat people with different sexual orientations?

Frankly, fifty years ago most of us didn’t even know about this. But some did and they criminalized not only homosexual behavior, but even homosexuality itself. In many places homosexuality was a crime and in some parts of the world it still is.

In 1969 in New York City gay men and women lived with a secret that prevented them from being open with their family, friends, and coworkers. But they knew there was a place where they could be themselves: the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. There they could connect with other and find love.

But they couldn’t feel entirely safe because they were subjected to police raids. Patrons of the Stonewall Inn grew wearily used to police raids where officers would enter the bar and arrest men dressed as women and others who “looked gay.” But on the night of June 28,1969 something new happened. Patrons of the bar fought back. It led to three days of riots.

In the fifty years later, much has happened. The Stonewall riots empowered gay communities locally, nationally, and globally to demand equal rights. They called us, shamed us, and ultimately persuaded us to understand that they are created by the same God and are called to the same goals: to find love, to live with joy, and build families.

In 2003, in the case of Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court ruled that we can’t legislate against gay sex. Twelve years later they ruled that marriage was legal for all adults, regardless of orientation. I encourage you to read it: Obergenfell v. Hoges.

There’s lots to say about this, but let me say this: those opposed to gay marriage argued that if we allowed gays to be gay they would try to make our children gay. No gay person I know has even wanted to do this and they find this argument deeply offensive. The opponents of gay marriage also argue that if we live in a society that accepts homosexuality God will bring down fire and destruction. Except God hasn’t.

I am straight but not narrow. My gay friends have enlightened (and sometimes challenged) me to understand that they want those things I take for granted. They want to fall in love with someone who loves them. They want to be able to hold hands without being accused to “forcing an agenda.” They want the things I never had to fight to expect.

To those who fought back on June 28, 1969 I say this: Thank you for your courage and thank you for teaching the rest of us that you only want what I never had to demand.

The Election Chronicles 2020 Volume 1: Let the Candidates Line Up

Every four years I follow the election of our next President. As I write this we are 500 days from our next election and I’ve decided it’s time to start the countdown to the election.

In past election cycles I’ve listed candidates from several parties and several people who ran as independents. I’ve given up on that. My quest for fairness and transparencies required that I slog through web pages of nut cases who not only had no chance to win, but also showed all of us that you should always take prescribed medication, even if don’t think you need to.

The election of 2020 will tell us if President Trump should be elected to another term. As an incumbent Republican he faces little opposition. So far his only opposition is Bill Weld, a libertarian from Massachusetts.

On the other hand, Democrats are lining up to oppose him. A little less than a year and half from the election 24 candidates have announced that they are running to defeat him. Twenty of them qualified to debate each other yesterday and today.

I’ve made the executive decision (because, let’s face it: it’s my we page) that I’ll only list the 20 candidates who qualified for the first round of debates. Here they are:

June 6, 1944: Why We Must Never Forget the Longest Day

Seventy five years ago 150,000 soldiers boarded 5,000 ships and 11,000 planes in England and did something incredible: they invaded France despite heavy German fortifications.

World War II began on September 1, 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. England and France then declared war on Germany (the United States entered the war on December 8, 1941). But the Germans were able to march into France and France surrendered on June 22, 1940.

Allied leaders knew they needed to invade France if they had any chance to win the war; the Germans knew that too. While the allies planned the invasion, Germany fortified all the beaches in France on the English Channel. The narrowest part of the English Channel was from Dover, England to Calais, France and Hitler was convinced the allies would land in Calais. On the night of June 5, 1944, Hitler went to bed with instructions not to wake him the next morning.

Unbeknownst to him, while he slept the allies boarded planes and ships. They were young, scared, and determined. When the German soldiers (who were also young, scared, and determined), overlooking the beaches of Normandy, spotted the allied ships we can only imagine their reaction. They opened fire with their machine guns, and by the end of the day 4,413 allied soldiers died but they also knew that they needed reinforcements.

Meanwhile, back in Berlin, Hitler’s generals faced a dilemma. Only Hitler had the authority to send in reinforcements and his generals were too afraid to wake him. When Hitler finally did wake up and was told about the invasion in Normandy, he angrily insisted that this was a diversion and the real invasion was going to be in Calais. By the time Hitler finally accepted that Normandy was the invasion spot, it was too late.

But the invasion wasn’t that easy. The 11,000 planes carried paratroopers whose job it was to land behind enemy lines to block German reinforcements. But they flew at night under less than ideal weather conditions, and many of them landed far from where they intended. It took much longer than expected to form the front line and march toward Germany.

They liberated Paris on August 25, 1944 and Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945.

Seventy five years out it won’t be long until the last survivor of D-Day dies and our only testimonies will be those written or passed down orally. Those of us who were lucky to hear the stories of these surviving soldiers first hand must never take for granted the gift we were given. Those who only know of these stories from what we read must also never forget.

If you wish, you can read my post from five years ago

And if you haven’t seen these two movies, I highly recommend The Longest Day from 1962 and Saving Private Ryan from 1998.

My First Year As An Owner of a Honda Clarity

A year ago today I picked up the keys to my brand new Honda Clarity. My previous car, a Toyota Prius, served me well for 13 years and 270,000 miles, but it was time to move on. The anti-lock brake system in the Prius needed to be replaced and it would have cost more than the car was worth.

I loved driving a hybrid and the Prius regularly gave me 40 to 45 miles per gallon. But it was time to move up to a car that would run on battery power for the first 40 or so miles and then switch to a hybrid. I decided to go with a Honda Clarity.

I give a shout out to the San Diego County Credit Union. I knew I didn’t want to go from dealer to dealer haggling over prices and I had an unsatisfactory experience with Costco. I learned that my credit union would do something amazing: I gave them the specifics of the car I wanted and they called Honda dealerships all over Southern California to get the best price. On finding the best price they had the car delivered to the closest credit unit to my home. They found a Clarity in Riverside, 100 miles away. The dealer drove it down and we drove 3 miles to pick up the car.

A year later I now have 18,481 miles on the car and I love it. I drive for work and while the first 40 miles are all electric, most days I drive more than that and the car switches to a hybrid after the battery is depleted. That said, I average about 120 miles per gallon.

I also love the fact that the car communicates with my iPhone and allows me to listen to podcasts seamlessly. If this is the last car I own, I’ll be happy.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 33: It’s Time to Change the Discussion on Abortion

On January 22, 1973 the Supreme Court, in the case of Roe v. Wade, ruled 7-2 that the government cannot prohibit a woman from having an abortion. In the history of the 20th Century this decision ranked as one of its most important decisions alongside Brown v. Board of Education.

From day one Roe divided out nation into camps: Those who think abortion murders unborn babies v. those who think a woman’s right to her body is absolute.

If asked where I stand, I will say this: I think every abortion is a missed chance for a new life and it’s a tragedy. But I’ll also say that we live in a society that should value life, all lives and lives at every stage.

From the moment of publication the lines were drawn. Those who supported the opinion called themselves “pro-choice” (and were called “pro abortion” by their opponents). Those who opposed the opinion called themselves “pro-life” (and “anti-choice” by their opponents).

I remember that day and was surprised at how it divided the nation like no other issue since slavery. In the past 46 years I have watched the invective grow stronger and more hateful, and I have seen little in the way of bringing the two groups together and find a common solution.

In the mid 1980s I was a youth minister at a church in Virginia and I attended a conference in Washington D.C. where one speaker spoke about abortion in a way that caught my attention. He was a Catholic priest who periodically met with young women who had an abortion and regretted it. They told him that they had nowhere to go. If they sought help from the pro-choice movement they were told that they shouldn’t regret their decision. If they sought help from the pro-life movement they were told that what they did was unforgivable. He argued that there needs to be a voice that listens to these women and care for them.

But I think we need to move beyond that. I think both sides need to move to a point where it doesn’t matter if abortion is legal or not because we live in a place where all life is precious and abortion is unthinkable. I think we are called to move to a place where life is valued in all its stages: before birth, as children, as adults, and as the elderly. A place where our society ensures that we all have what we need to lead healthy, valued lives.

But here’s my problem: the pro-life proponents generally oppose government programs that provide assistance to young families. We find a bright line from those who oppose abortion and those who oppose government assistance for the poor. Former Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank famously stated this: “The Moral Majority supports legislators who oppose abortions but also oppose child nutrition and day care. From their perspective, life begins at conception and ends at birth.”

I’m not writing this to take sides, but instead to claim all sides need to embrace what late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin called the “seamless garment of life.” He argued that those who oppose abortion and claim to be pro-life should not only oppose abortion but also support the protection and respect of life in all stages. He argued against abortion, but also euthanasia and capital punishment.

It means we should ensure that children born into poverty are valued as much as children born into wealth. They should have as much access to nutrition and care. It means that no child should be denied medical care or vaccinations.

But more than that, being pro-life should challenge us to see men and women (boys and girls) as equals. Many women who seek abortions can speak with authority about how they didn’t fully consent to sex. Some were (frankly) raped by men that they knew and shouldn’t have trusted, often by family members. Others felt pressure to have sex with boyfriends out of a fear of loneliness. Decades ago I had a conversation with a teenage mother who told me that her pregnancy resulted from her boyfriend’s claim to “not like” condemns. When I told her she had the right to demand that he wear a condemn she had no idea what I was talking about.

The best path forward to decrease abortions is clear: make birth control easier to obtain and teach sex education to our children. We can learn a great deal from the Netherlands.

Simply put, if we can teach young men that sex should be a dialogue instead of a demand, and if we can teach young women that they have a voice in the decision to have sex, we will decrease unplanned and unwanted pregnancies.

I’m not arguing that this will be easy. For much of our history as humans we’ve assumed sex was something that men could demand and women needed to regulate. For much of our history women balanced the desire for intimacy with the fear of pregnancy and abandonment. Too many women faced the task of single parenthood out of the inability to choose to claim the power to negotiate.

It takes two people to make a baby. It should take all of us to value that baby without condition. Only then we will be truly pro-life.