We Are Both Klingons

My wife and I had just finished our afternoon prayers when she said, “Oh, no.”

I turned to see her staring at her phone.

“What?”

“Trump has just tweeted out a warning to Iran against attacking any Americans. He told them we had 52 Iranian sites targeted.”

Oy, vey. The Child President, he of much bullying and bluster, strikes again.

I can see him as a sixth-grader, hair swept back even then, taunting and glowering at the kindergarteners.

The thing is, we can be sure that Iran is quite aware of his hatred and also aware that many Iranian sites are targeted by the American military. It is the way we are. We have targeted hundreds if not thousands of sites across the world. I’m primarily looking at you Russia, China, and North Korea, in addition to Iran.

To be fair, other countries have hundreds or thousands of sites targeted in the United States. See countries named above.

We like to think we are a people of peace, reluctantly drawn into war, but such is not the case. The United States has been involved in roughly 80 wars, give or take, in our short history. We are not pikers when it comes to the war. We are Klingons. We have clearly instigated several wars, most notably the war with Mexico and the Spanish-American War. We also have conducted a genocide. You can ask any Native American about that. Let’s not even get into the violence of slavery.

And if you believe that General Sulimeini was the first leader in another country that we have assassinated, please think again. By most counts, we are well into the double figures. I am including Osama Bin Laden in my list, but it also includes democratically elected leaders, such as Chile’s Salvador Allende.

And, our killing of Suliemani was not the first time we have been involved in having our way, so to speak, with an Iranian government.

In fact, some people date our present discord with Iran as being rooted in our 1953 overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government, thus ending democracy in that country.

Mohammad Mossadegh was elected in 1951 as the thirty-fifth prime minister of Iran. He remained in office until 1953, when he was overthrown in a coup d’état orchestrated by the CIA and Great Britain’s MI6.

His sin against the Western powers was that he had nationalized the oil industry. The end result was that the power of the Shah was solidified and popular rule undercut.

Of no small import is the fact that the United States became the Big Dog in Iran, heavily subsidizing the Shah and his government, which in turn kept the oil spigots open and Big Oil happy. As the Shah become increasingly despotic, general resentment toward the United States increased.

That resentment exploded in 1979 when the unpopular Shah was deposed and the United States embassy invaded and many of its staffers imprisoned. Although they were later released, Iranian-American relations remained poor for decades.

Now, the Child President has precipitously upped the ante and, if possible, increased the hostility between the two.

Openly assassinating the leading general of Iran was an option rejected by both Presidents Bush and Obama.

It is hard to say that those were more prudent times, but such are the days in which we live. Those were more prudent times.

The Child President can kill and disrupt peace one day and threaten to make things even worse the next.

To be sure, Suleimani was a bad actor and present-day Iran openly kills its own citizens and instigates troubles across the Middle East. It is hard to cry for them.

Let us not think in this, however, that the United States has the moral high ground.

My thought is that we are both Klingons.

Woe be to those who get caught in between.

And let us pray that the violence end now. Suleimani isn’t worth it.

Shiny Object Syndrome a/k/a Fiddling While the World Burns

Egad! The bright and shiny objects of the week are, once again, any news relating to Donald Trump.

Trump
Our omnipresent “Bright and Shiny Object”

In the so-called “Age of Distraction,” Trump IS the distraction. From wall-to-wall coverage of the impeachment hearings to breathless headlines about “today’s” tweets to tut-tutting over the latest executive order (He is not anti-Semitic!), Americans glut themselves on all things Trump.

This week is only the latest example.

There is the omnipresent coverage of the impeachment hearings (The Democrats are for! The Republicans against!).

Thursday, we could feast on reactions to his comments about Greta Thunberg being named Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” (Trump bullies sixteen-year-old!).

Daily, we could peruse news flashes about his latest abominations (Trump moves to cut disability benefits! Trump cuts food stamps! Trump calls FBI “scum!”).

Unfortunately, almost hidden by this Trumpian avalanche is the most important event of our lifetime, a mere tip of its iceberg visible above the orange-hued snow in which it lays buried.

That iceberg is the climate crisis.

While all government and much of our population chains itself to the latest and greatest, brightest and shiniest Trump revelations of the day, that crisis worsens. . . and worsens.

And nothing gets done.

Sea levels slowly increase, islands get swamped, populations become displaced, animal species grow extinct and our own regional climates warm up, dry up and become less predictable and more volatile.

Climate change is not going to happen. It has happened and continues to happen. . . for the worse.

methane
The EPA is seeking to relieve restrictions on methane emissions like these. Methane is one of the worst producers of carbon dioxide.

Meanwhile, our government does nothing except exacerbate it.

And our citizens remain hypnotized to the point of inaction by the orange shiny things that swing daily across their eyes.

One of the apocryphal stories of history is that of Rome going up in flames while Emperor Nero fiddled.

Rome did burn, but it is unlikely that Nero ever fiddled for the simple reason that there were no fiddles in his day.

However, the story makes the important point that bad things can happen when people pay them no heed and, instead, “fiddle” away their time.

Collectively, that is what we are doing—fiddling while Rome burns.

Democratic office holders, or most of them, would like to act, but we hear precious little from the major presidential candidates who battle instead over Medicare-for-all and the other candidates’ business ties.

For their part, Republican office holders remain in the grossest form of denialism while greedily accepting money from fossil fuel interests.

Even worse, most of the public, no matter whether they identify with a party or are steadfastly independent, pay little but lip service to the issue.

However, if you like your seashores, mountains, existing species and more predictable, calmer weather, you might turn from the shiny orange things that try to dominate your attention and do something to address this crisis. Really, virtually anything.

Below are a number of sources that give different vantage points as to what your options for action may be. They range from running for office yourself to buying more fuel-efficient vehicles to using your washers and dryers more effectively.

The point is to do something because the world does depend, in part, on you.

BBC article 102-what-can-i-do-about-climate-change

https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2016/09/22/climate-change-solutions

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/08/climate-change-what-you-can-do-campaigning-installing-insulation-solar-panels

Trump in Flight

A chain reaction was set off earlier today when CNN reported that Tuesday’s White House lockdown was due to the sighting of a “slow-moving blob” crossing the sky.

Learning of the report, Fox News broke into regular programming to announce that Donald Trump apparently had gained the ability to fly.

Pat Robertson and the Christian Broadcasting Network immediately followed with a news release proclaiming that God had given this ability to Trump in thanks for “Making America Great Again.”

Hard on the heels of that release, Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr., Robert Jeffrees and Paula White said in a joint statement that the flight proved again that Trump was “The Chosen One.”

They also noted that Barack Obama had flown only with the assistance of airplane.

Trump himself added a final note by tweeting that while it was true God had given him the gift in thanks, it was also true that He had given it in worship.

The tweet also noted that “every one of the heavenly host” agreed that Trump was the greatest leader of all time.

Meanwhile, speaking off the record, national security officials said that the mysterious “blob” was likely a large flock of birds or a drone.

Eric and Franklin in Never Never Land

It is hard to know whether to be shocked, amazed or mournful about the relationship of many white, conservative evangelical leaders with Donald Trump.

The latest example can be seen and heard in a recent interview of Eric Metaxes with Franklin Graham, Jr.

While Metaxes is a gifted author and Graham has begun and continued important service ministries, both seem to share a blind spot toward Trump that has led them into a strange world populated entirely by those few who not only admire Trump but also worship him.

The Metaxes-Graham conversation began somewhat normally until Metaxes gave the first indication of his citizenship in an alternate world by observing the “bizarre” phenomenon of people “who exist” to “undermine” the president.

Keep in mind that in past years in this world, many people would actively oppose a president and work against his (never her) policy initiatives. Those people were called “opponents.” Apparently, in the eyes of Metaxes and Graham such people have become sinister and, as we shall see, evil.

For his part, Graham agreed with Metaxes on the “bizarre” behavior and even raised the ante by saying that such people are “almost demonic.”

It got worse.

Metaxes topped Graham by saying, “Almost [demonic]? I would say it is demonic.”

He added that they both know that this is a “spiritual battle.”

Wow! Who knew but them! Trump is fighting with the heavenly forces in the eternal, cosmic battle with. . . gulp. . . “demons” like me.

It continued to worsen.

Graham argued that it is easy for anyone, Republican or Democrat, to see how good Trump is as president.

Yes. He said this. Worried about those child separations? How about his acting against United States policy interests for personal favors? Appalled by the lies and bullying? Franklin says you shouldn’t be.

He went on to add that the economy is “screaming forward.”

Metaxes pulled them both deep into Never Never Land by adding that “everyone knows” that the economy was “dead in the water three years ago.”

Well, no. That is wrong.

Instead, even if Eric cannot face the fact, we can all celebrate that the economy continues to perform well under Trump, just as it did under Obama.

After taking office in January 2009 with the economy in a nosedive, Obama went on to enjoy the final 75 months of his administration with an economy that grew and added jobs each month. In the end, over 11 million jobs were added in that time period.

Meanwhile, Trump’s administration has added 6 million jobs and the economy continues to grow.

Both are good news for Republican and Democrats, even if not for Graham or Metaxes.

We can hope they both return to Earth soon and come to understand that political differences in the United States are not necessarily “demonic” but part of the democratic process and that presidents are men (and, soon, women) but are not gods much less God.

The Walking Dead. . . and Divided

Earlier today, the United Methodist Judicial Council upheld several parts of the controversial “traditional” plan adopted at their conference in February 2019.

It also struck down several other parts of the plan, but that is likely only to be a road bump on the way to a final church split.

It is widely expected that the final rupture (that’s almost a pun) will come next year, when denominational representatives meet in a regularly-scheduled general conference.

When last rites finally are pronounced over the denomination, it is likely that scores, if not hundreds or thousands, of progressive and moderate churches will leave to form a new denomination.

Between now and then, leaders of the respective factions—progressive, moderate and conservative—will meet internally to plan their strategy. Following that, it is likely that a set of leaders representing each faction will meet to see if they can reach an amicable divorce, which is a polite way of saying “agree upon a church schism.”

A church schism, or split, is not an unusual path in either Protestantism or Methodism, notwithstanding Jesus’ great prayer in the John’s gospel that the church be unified. As he says in John 17:11, “Holy Father, protect them. . . so that they may be one as we are one.”

Well, so much for spiritual integrity, even though all sides of the Methodist mess claim that scripture is on their side.

In truth, though, the Christian church has never been “one.” Instead, it has always been a lively, messy, prickly, argumentative conglomerate of people and churches with largely similar beliefs on major issues, who will then divide like angry amoebas over lesser matters.

For example, most Christians throughout history would agree that Jesus is Lord. However, Christians have killed each other over other issues, such as whether infant baptism is scripturally sound or whether Jesus’ blood and body is physically present in the communion elements.

Today’s dividing issue is LGBTQ equality. Thus, if you believe a man can love a man or a woman can love a woman, and that God is okay with that and maybe even celebrates it, well, many Christians believe you to be a heretic, damn you!

And, a good number are willing to persecute you or discriminate against you for that belief (see “evangelical” in your dictionary).

Similar to the global church, United Methodists seem to agree that Jesus is Lord, but they break down bigly over LGBTQ issues, which even the most fervent, fire-breathing conservative agrees is mentioned or alluded to in only a handful of the Bible’s over 31,000 verses.

Of course, the American Methodist church has split over civil rights issues before. Prior to the Civil War, it divided into northern and southern churches over the issue of slavery, and did not reunite until 1939.

Meanwhile, today’s conservatives pooh-pooh any suggestion that they are making the same mistake as their southern forebears, who insisted that some people are entitled to more civil rights than others.

That is hard to maintain when they are, indeed, insisting that some people are entitled to more civil rights than others, but there you go. . .

In their defense, humans have never been much for consistency, but are quite adept at denial.

Unfortunately, the handwriting seems to be on the wall for people who love the United Methodist church and had some hope that the church would stay united despite differences. They will need to find grace in their grief as the denomination hurdles toward division and death.

Fortunately, irrespective of our views on these issues, we can learn from the resurrection verses in Matthew: Jesus is alive and going ahead of us.

Our task is to follow him faithfully and prayerfully as best we can, even in hard and fractious times.

Our Lawless President

I can understand why congressional Democrats are reluctant begin impeachment proceedings. After all, following his ordeal in the late 1990’s, Bill Clinton’s popularity rose. Why take the chance that the same might happen with this president?

Nonetheless, the time may be drawing nigh when impeachment is forced upon a reluctant Congress by the acts of an openly lawless president.

Today’s Washington Post reported that the administration considered a plan to bus groups of immigrant “detainees” to certain sanctuary cities and dump them there.

The Post noted that the preferred destinations of choice were Democratic strongholds, such as San Francisco.

Surprisingly, United States “immigration officials” verified that the bussing plan had been considered both last fall and this winter.

Later this morning, the president sent out two tweets that went much further than the WAPO story.

One said, “Due to the fact that Democrats are unwilling to change our very dangerous immigration laws, we are indeed, as reported, giving strong considerations to placing Illegal Immigrants in Sanctuary Cities only.”

A second tweet added, “The Radical Left always seems to have an Open Borders, Open Arms policy – so this should make them very happy!”

So goes policy discussion within the White House—how to use people as pawns to strike at political enemies by diverting ICE and Border Patrol from needed duties.

Of course, there is another facet to the story—that the president would act purely to sow political and societal discord and division on people of this country.

So much for a president who seeks the common welfare.

There is yet another facet to the story—that the administration regards people (mainly families with minor children) as pawns.

However, leave it to Trump to come up with a still more outrageous action.

CNN reported this afternoon that our president told Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan that he would grant McAleenan a pardon if he went to jail for having border agents block asylum seekers from entering the US in defiance of US law.

He encouraged an employee of the federal government to break the law.

So much for upholding the laws and constitution of the United States.

The man needs to be held accountable.

 

Uh Oh! Will the Democrats Blow It?

There is plenty for Democrats to celebrate as the 119th Congress gavels to order, but this Democrat wonders if we need to temper our hurrahs and reset our goals.

True, we can raise a toast to gaining control of the House of Representatives. That means not only a Democratic Speaker, but also control of House rules, committees and calendars.

Control of committees not only translates into the oft-noted ability to investigate this corrupt administration but also to shaping all committee work (where most Congressional work gets done) and managing the lion’s share of committee staffs.

In the long-term, perhaps even more important than the above is the incoming Democratic freshman class. Taken as a whole, it better reflects the country’s age, religious, sex, racial and ethnic complexion and complexities more than any prior freshman group. It also boasts the nation’s first Native American congresswoman and first Muslim congresswomen in addition to a record number of newly-elected women and what appear to be more than a few burgeoning political stars.

But at least two things worry me amidst all the good.

First, Congress is open, but parts of the federal government are not, and the Democrats are doing little to open it. Instead, they seem fixed on yet another internecine partisan battle, this one with federal employees used as political pawns.

It is likely that their efforts would be better directed to helping repair the Roman ruins that Congress has come to so closely resemble. Simply put, our second branch of government is as decrepit and crumbling as the Roman Colosseum. This continuing dysfunction inflicts deep damage on our country and its people. Our nation is falling behind globally according to several important measures and many Americans’ quality of life has slipped notably over the last two generations.

Instead of going down the same destructive path, the nation needs Congress to repair itself and begin passing effective bipartisan legislation in any number of areas, such as: vast infrastructure improvements; affordable and available healthcare; and, any number of initiatives to combat global warming and mitigate its already present effects.

Yes, I know the latter would not be easy in the face of a consistently obstinate and doctrinaire Republican party. However, Congressional rebuilding needs to begin. Instead of this, however, the Democratic party is breaking from the gate with more partisan warfare and nary a bipartisan initiative in sight. This is short-sighted and misguided. Which, of course, is what our politics and our Congress have become. And, so it goes.

Second, for its part, the Democratic progressive wing has begun the session balking at one of the first acts of an incoming Congress—adopting rules. Some of its members have said they will oppose a set of rules otherwise widely agreed to within the Democratic caucus. If they get enough votes, the proposed rules will fail or be pulled from the calendar, thereby giving an immediate black eye to the party and its House leadership. This progressive position is disappointingly reminiscent of the Republican Freedom Caucus and its continuing confrontation with Republican House leaders. It also likely foreshadows a number of future problems.

And, here is something for Democrats to add to their agenda: a rural initiative, including proposals related to reinvigorating smaller farms and ranches at the expense of the Big Ag and chemical lobbies; rolling back presidential tariff and trade powers to ease the pain being suffered by dairy and soybean farmers; and, adopting a full-bore rural internet initiative much like the rural electrification initiative of the New Deal. Measures such as these might gain bipartisan support and also peel some Trump voters away and reinvigorate Democratic parties in red states.