Monday, June 19, 2017

Friends Forever: A Graduation Sermon

Thanks to a reminder from a former parishioner, I just ran across this sermon I wrote in 2000.  Thought I would publish it here, since it contains a lot of valuable advice for both current graduates and the rest of us too!

"Today we want to honor our seniors as they come to their graduation from high school.   This morning I find that I speak from my heart as both as a pastor and as a parent, though I don’t happen to have a senior this year, (though in another sense I feel like a father to some of you seniors).
In the course of 18 years, we have seen you go from being helpless, totally dependent babies nestled in your mother’s arms to what we now must acknowledge to be independent young adults, ready and able to venture out into this big wide world that God has created for us.  What an amazing change we have witnessed!
Highlands UMC 2000 Graduating Class
We who are your parents still want to call you kids.  And you are our kids.  And in a sense you’ll always be our kids.  And as you all know from time to time, we still try to treat you as ‘kids,’ as our dependent children to protect and nurture and keep from harm.   Of course that’s more of a habit, or maybe a wish to go back in time, to reverse direction in our family’s life and go back to when you needed us, and we could care for you and protect you against those things in this world that can harm you.
But deep down in our hearts we know those days are over.  We know it.  Oh, you might still need a small loan, or we might still have to spend a small fortune on your college education or your wedding.
But the bottom line is that we recognize that you are young adults now.  Like a baby bird that has been growing big and strong, with wings of feathers capable of soaring on the winds, you need to get out of the nest and fly on your own.  For you were born to fly, to soar high and beautifully.  And fly you must if the circle of life is to be completed.
 And we know that you need that.  If we parents have been doing our job right, this is a time we have been preparing for.  But still it frightens us, not because you lack anything, but because it’s just hard for us to change what we’ve been doing for so many years now.
So have patience with us if we have a difficult letting you go.  Over the last 18 years you have become part of us.  We have poured our lives into yours, and while it has been a lot of work, it has given us the greatest joy and satisfaction.  You may not fully understand this until, God willing, you raise your own children and experience it yourself.   Your leaving is a bit like cutting off an arm.  We’ll adjust in time, but in the meantime it just plain hurts.
But it’s time for you to fly, to soar on your beautiful wings that are strong and ready, if yet still a little untested.  We want you to go and you need to go.  But always know that we still want to be a part of your lives, though on a different basis than before, which we’ll work out together, as adults.
So what do we want for you?  The best, of course. 
But more specifically, we want you to fulfill your life and your God-given destiny, whatever that is.   We want you to go out and take the abilities, skills, and talents that God has given you and you’ve developed, and both develop them more and find a place to apply them.  We want you to do something useful and productive, something that will make this community, this society, and this world a better place than it was before you arrived.  Probably, it isn’t perfectly clear to us or to you what that is, and that’s okay.  That will develop as you go through your life, and for some of us, it may take quite a while!  And if you let him, God will help you find it.
We of course want you to be happy.  But our faith tells us that happiness is not something that we seek for directly, but rather it is largely a byproduct of other things.  One thing is for sure: happiness certainly does not depend upon being wealthy or beautiful or powerful.  Those may or may not be worthy goals in their own right, but don’t count on them making you happy.  Many people grasp for happiness by being self-centered or materialistic or by seeking a life of constant pleasure.  But true happiness is not to be found there. 
So how does one find true happiness?  Yes, that is the ‘million dollar question’, isn’t it!  But we believe that God has given us the answer to that question.  But rather than it being the answer to a ‘yes or no’ question or a ‘multiple choice’ question, it’s more like the answer to an ‘essay’ question—there are as many ways to answer it as there are individuals, yet some answers are more correct than others.  So let me give you Carl’s brief essay answer to this question of where one finds true happiness in this life, understanding that everyone here would put this in a slightly different way.
And my answer is simply this:  remember who you are.  You are God’s beloved child, you are his beautiful creation, you are made in God’s own image.  Everything else you do or make of yourself should revolve around this understanding of who you are. 
If you will live your life with this understanding of who you are and live out its meaning, true happiness will come to you as naturally as the rain falls on the earth.  True happiness is none other than what the Bible refers to as the joy and peace that comes to you when you live out the reality of being God’s beloved child.
  So, make room for God in your life.  Indeed, more than make room, surrender your life over into His keeping through trust in Christ.  Never forget that you are ultimately a spiritual being, and that faith in Christ is as natural and as essential a part of your life as anything else.  Therefore, practice being a faithful person, using the spiritual disciplines of prayer, worship, scripture study, fellowship in community and deeds of love and mercy.
I don’t know of a better recipe for real happiness and blessedness than the Sermon on the Mount, which Jesus taught his disciples in Matthew’s gospel, chapters 5-7, and which he demonstrated for us in his life.  Blessed are the humble, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers.  Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth, but store up for yourself treasures in heaven.  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.  Do not worry about your life or about tomorrow, but seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness.  Build your house (and your life) upon a rock and not upon shifting sand, because a house built upon a rock will not fall when the storms comes.
Christ put it well in the gospel of John, when he said that we are to love one another as he loved us.  In doing so, we become friends, friends of our brothers and sisters and friends of Christ, friends forever.
One more thought on happiness.   One contemporary writer, Richard Carlson, author of the “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” series, put it this way:  “The truth is, there’s no better time to be happy than right now.  If not now, when?  Your life will always be filled with challenges.  It’s best to admit this to yourself and decide to be happy anyway.  There is no way to happiness.  Happiness is the way”  (from Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff).
This is a determination to live in the present, making the most of every hour and every day, because we never know when our life will end.  The prominent philosopher John Lennon once wrote:  “Life is what’s happening while we’re busy making other plans.”  Now is the only time we have!  So, plan for the future, and learn from the past, but live in the present and enjoy or at least appreciate every day as it comes.
  Let me go on to some other aspects of living life wisely.  Accept yourself—who you are and where you come from.  And be grateful for it.  One of the truest things I ever saw on a poster was this: “What you are is God’s gift to you.  What you make of yourself is your gift back to God.”  This is, I think, the heart and soul of service.  When we serve, we give back to God what he has first given to us.
Learn the lessons that life has to teach you, which interestingly enough mostly come from the problems we encounter in life.  Life is difficult, about that there is little doubt.  All of us will, at some point in our lives, turn to the book of Job for solace and comfort.  But in the face of tough times, determine that you will not ever give into despair or become cynical.  Hang in there when things seem to fall apart, and friends desert you, and even God seems to have hidden his face.  For in reality, like the sun beyond the clouds, God is still there and your real friends are still there.  Always keep hope alive in your life.
Strive to be a person of integrity.  Always keep your promises and commitments, or don’t make them in the first place.  Be honest in all your dealings, and know that lies, whether large or small, will always find you out.
But in your honesty, don’t be so blunt to the point of brutality or cruelty.  Practice speaking the truth with gentleness and compassion, and if that proves too difficult, at least be civil.  We often find that a hard thing to do, when we are filled with passion in our beliefs and thoughts.  At all times, always look to build other people up, to share in their joys and their sorrows, to be a peacemaker.
Practice true humility.  You don’t need to seek other’s approval by bragging about your accomplishments.  They speak for themselves.  People are actually drawn to persons who have a quiet, inner confidence and don’t need to make themselves look good.
Never hate anyone or allow yourself to become bitter or cynical.  These negative attitudes are toxic poisons to the soul, both your own and that of others.  They will slowly kill you.  Forgive one another.  Forgive one another.  Forgive one another.
Be grateful.  Focus on what is good in your life and the things for which you can be grateful.  And of course the ultimate recipient of our gratitude should be the One who has made us and provided us with good things, our loving and almighty heavenly Father.  Someone has written that “everything has God’s fingerprints on it.” And we should try to view the world from that perspective.
And I should like to add how important it is that we as a human community try to reconnect with the natural world, God’s creation.  In all our Western affluence, with all our technology, we have increasingly become disconnected from the creation, from nature.  We have forgotten that we are not gods, that we are also a part of nature.  And what we do to nature, we do to ourselves.  So let us begin to treat the earth and all its creatures with more respect, gentleness and compassion.  Remember, the creation doesn’t belong to us, we belong to the creation.
Now let me become even a bit more specific, graduates.  Except for a house and a car, avoid debt like the plague.  Throw away those applications for credit cards that you’re already receiving in the mail.  Spend less than you make.  Save and invest as much as you can.  In your finances and in every other part of your life, practice self-discipline and self-control.  Control your desires, your passions, your feelings, your habits, and your actions. Make these your servants, and never allow yourself to become their slave.  And if you ever do become enslaved, seek help.
Set goals for your life, both short and long term, and then do what is necessary to achieving them.  Strive for excellence.  But at the same time, don’t forget to enjoy the simple and daily pleasures of life.
Avoid television and movies as much as possible, and when you do watch, make sure it’s not mental and emotional “junk food.”  Read more good books.  Listen to good music, for music is the language of angels.
Don’t read People magazine!  In other words, don’t envy or try to imitate celebrities, because most of them know less about living the “good life” than you do, and certainly less than your parents do.  Instead, find yourself a real hero to emulate, maybe your father or mother or a grandparent or uncle or aunt, or a teacher or coach, or a saint or prophet.  Set for yourself high ideals.
If you get married, and the chances are that most of you will, be very careful about the person you select as your life’s partner.  Get serious premarital counseling.  But once you have made your wedding vows, keep them!  Work hard at your marriage, and be prepared to change, because both you and your partner and your relationship will change over the years.  And make this the basic operating principle of your marriage:  when in doubt about whose turn it is to take out the trash, go ahead and take it out.!
Finally, although I know that it’s probably hard for you to think about his now, don’t forget to grow old gracefully.  Early in our lives, it’s easy to think we’re going to live forever.  Later on, when our bodies start to go bad, we begin to face the hard truth of life and our eventual mortality.  That’s when some of us go kind of crazy and have mid-life crises and so forth.
But actually it’s a pretty good idea to once in a while consider your death and in so consider the state of your life.  When you lie on your deathbed, what will you think of your life--your relationships, your priorities, your achievements?  What would want your epitaph, carved on your tombstone, to be?
Most people look back on their lives and wish they had spent more time with the people and activities they truly loved and less time worrying about aspects of life that don’t really matter all that much.
There is something to be said for living each day as if it were your last day on earth.  Not to be morally reckless or to neglect your responsibilities, but simply to help remind yourself of how wonderfully precious life really is and what your real priorities in this life should be.
Well, that’s it for today.  Graduates, we wish you the very best.   We’re proud of you, and we love you and will always support you.  God go with you, and know that you are loved, and that you are always in our thoughts and prayers, wherever you are.

Heavenly Father,
We are thankful for these young people you have shared with us, as our children and our friends.  We now humbly present them back to you.  Go with them and keep them safe as they leave our control and our protection.  Continue, in your ultimate wisdom and providential care, to make them into what you would have them to be.  And may your love continue to fill their hearts and lives, as we all together remain your people and your spiritual family in humble service in this place and throughout the world.  In Christ’s name we pray.   Amen."  

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Anti-Semitism in America

Anti-Semitism.  A subject that, unfortunately, has been recently politicized (against you know who) but still deserves comment, especially with these recent damnable Jewish cemetery desecrations.

Having spent last summer visiting many very old cemeteries in New England for Mary Beth's ancestry research, I can tell you that few things outrage me more, as I get older, than cemetery vandalism and desecration. To me cemeteries are a sacred place, no less so than a holy place of worship. And to damage or desecrate these places is a terrible, degenerate thing.

I am something of a amateur history buff, particularly concerning WWII, and so I've read a considerable amount about Hitler, the rise of Nazism with its extreme form of anti-Semitism, and the consequent experience of the Holocaust.

Also, when I was preparing for my role as Tevye in 'Fiddler on the Roof' a few years ago, I did a study of Jewish life in Christian Europe over the last two millennia, along with the accompanying anti-Semitism.

Finally, in my research on Islam over the last 2 years or so, I looked at the Muslim views of Jews and the widespread anti-Semitism to be found in the Islamic world today.

So I think I can safely say that I know a thing or two about anti-Semitism, at least from an historical perspective.  Furthermore, I think I can make an assertion here without fear of contradiction that, aside from Israel, the United States is the least anti-Semitic country in the world today. As a ethnic and religious group, Jews are more welcome in America than anywhere else, again except for Israel, the Jewish homeland.

Of course, that hasn't always been the case. Prior to WWII and the Holocaust, Jews were somewhat frowned upon in American life, much like they were in Europe. Despite that, however, millions of Jews emigrated to the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries and made a life and a home here.  And since WWII, anti-Semitism has largely been pushed to those tiny nooks and crannies of American life where a few neo-Nazis hide away.

Now, in the last 6 months or so, claims have been made that President Trump is anti-Semitic, or that he has staff around him who are anti-Semitic, or that he has a significant group of political supporters who are anti-Semitic. These claims has been made, of course, by political opponents and (not too strong a word) enemies of Trump.

Of course, some of these critics are the same ones who were ready at the drop of a hat to call a good quarter of the US population (in the case of Hillary's 'deplorables') "racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic--you name it".  (I'm actually surprised that she didn't add 'anti-Semitic' to her list, maybe because she knew it wouldn't sell?)

Needless to say, I'm not particularly inclined right now to give much credence to those accusations against the Trump administration, unless there is some significant evidence to go along with them. And frankly, there really isn't, at least that I've seen. To the contrary, from what I can see, the Trump administration is the most pro-Israel, pro-Jewish administration since the Reagan years.

Speaking now as a (somewhat reluctant) Trump voter, I can honestly say that I have only run across one other Trump supporter whom I would consider to be anti-Semitic. It was a young man who we met on the plane flying out to Colorado a year ago January. Sitting next to us, we got a chance to talk about things, and though he clearly was a 'country boy' from rural North Carolina, he was very smart and amazingly well-read, particularly in theology, which surprised me greatly. (Incidentally, he was on his way out West with a few friends to do some big-game hunting of elk.)

When I got back home, I friended him on Facebook to continue our dialogue, which we did. And then, all of a sudden, a few months later last spring, I started seeing some videos show up on his FB wall that were clearly anti-Semitic, and almost crudely so. (He had become a Trump supporter by this time, though separately from what I was now seeing.) So I messaged him to inquire about what I was seeing, to make sure he understood what he was posting, to make sure he wasn't being hacked or something, and, frankly, to express my distress at what I was seeing.

Turns out that indeed he had been posting the anti-Semitic videos and that he had been sucked into the anti-Semitic ideology they were pushing (and believe me, you know it when you see it, it's so obvious).   I was shocked to put it mildly and tried to persuade him that this was a very wrong direction to go. But that didn't work, for whatever reason, and so I told him that I could not be FB friends with a dedicated anti-Semite. So we parted ways and I've lost touch with him.

All this to say, I KNOW that there are susceptible individuals out there who can get sucked into an extremist ideology like neo-Nazism, and who can also support a conservative political candidate like Trump. BUT if my personal experience is any guide, these kind of people are very far and few between in America.

Whoever is committing these anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish cemeteries and synagogues needs to be caught and prosecuted. I hope law enforcement is committing resources to track them down.

Clearly, there are extremists on the Left--as we've seen with a number of 'black-bloc' anarchist riots--and extremists on the Right. Both extremes need to be condemned and corralled.  What we don't need to do is politicize these extremists and use them as weapons in our political and media campaigns against our public officials.

Monday, February 6, 2017

On the Comparison of Trump and Hitler

The picture below shows some of my collection of books on Hitler, the Nazis, and the Second World War. I think it's a pretty good collection, considering I'm neither a scholar on Adolf Hitler nor an historian of the Nazi era in German history.  Though you may not be able to make out the individual titles, they include several outstanding biographies of the F├╝hrer, along with an old copy of his primary manifesto, Mein Kampf.

I started gathering and reading these books decades ago, of course, but my interest definitely peaked after my father, Lennart Lindquist, died in 1998. At that point, my appreciation of what Dad had done in WWII--piloting a B-17 on 35 bombing missions over Nazi Germany--grew immensely, as did my interest in learning more about Hitler and his Nazis, the target of my Dad's 500 lb. bombs.  So I committed myself to learning as much as I can about those topics (again as an amateur), along with a similar interest in Communism and the Soviet Union, the other great totalitarian threat of the 20th Century.

My Dad in front of his B-17 Flying Fortress, 1944.
As I mentioned a few days ago, all this talk of our new President being a new American Hitler has led me back into rereading some of the books on that shelf.

Which leads me to say this: anyone who thinks there is any significant resemblance between Hitler and the Nazis on the one hand, and Trump and the Republicans, on the other, is talking sheer nonsense. And not only is it historical and political nonsense, it also is symptomatic of a political hysteria, an hysteria on the liberal-left which is not only quite offensive to everyone who ended up voting for the Republicans this year, but in its own extreme way, it is very dangerous to the country.

Though I really wouldn't need to do this in a country that had even a rudimentary understanding of American and world history, since that seems clearly not to be the case, let me share just a few of the distinctions and differences between Herr Hitler and our President to make the basic point here.

First, are there any similarities?  Well, yes, it is true that both men have German-sounding names, given that they both are of German ancestry:  Hitler/Trump.  They both abstain(ed) from alcohol and tobacco.  They both were interested in buildings: designing and building them (Hitler loved talking architecture with Albert Speer, his chief architect).  They both were effective public speakers (much like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, for that matter).  And they both managed to become the primary leaders of their respective countries, through a legitimate electoral process.  That's about it, in terms of what they might have in common, it seems to me.

Oh, and they both wrote a best-selling book, which described their larger goals.  Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, and Trump wrote The Art of the Deal.

In Mein Kampf, written in the early 1920s (about a decade or so before he gained power), Hitler described the basic elements of his worldview: Aryan Supremacy (his Racialist Doctrine of the Master Race), the sub-human and even Satanic nature of the Jews, and the need for the German people to conquer the lands to the East (slavic lands including Russia) in order to achieve continental, and eventually world, domination.

All this was to be achieved by eliminating parliamentary democracy in Germany and consolidating all national power--political, economic, and cultural--in the Nazi party.  And once Hitler gained power as Chancellor on January 30, 1933, over the next 12 years, he carried out the goals of his vision almost without deviation.  Fortunately for us, he was only defeated by the combined armed forces of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union, (including my brave father).

Now, Donald Trump's book, The Art of the Deal, gives you an insight into his life goals.  Which has been to make great business deals, to build great buildings, and get rich.  That's about it.  And he was successful in fulfilling his goals in life.

While Trump talked occasionally about running for President over the years, it never seemed to be a serious ambition, until, it is said, President Obama goaded him into it by making fun of him in public, at the 2011 White House Correspondents dinner.  And even then, the campaign seemed totally quixotic until, well, against all odds he actually won.  And then half of America lost their minds.

Actually, I think I've made my point.  If you want to read more about Hitler and the Nazis, you can find dozens of biographies/histories around.  I recommend a very readable biography by John Toland, entitled simply Adolph Hitler, but there are others by Ian Kershaw, Alan Bullock, etc.

Or, on the other hand, if you want to continue to listen to political fools like Ashley Judd, with her moronic rantings about Trump's Nazi inclinations, well, it truly is a free country where a person can get up onstage within a mile or so of the President and make fun of him, and there are simply no consequences.  Madonna can even ruminate about wanting to blow up the White House, and yet no one is sent to jail, beat up, or put in a concentration camp.  God bless America.

Now, obviously none of what I have said here is meant to say that we all can't criticize Trump for his words and actions as President.  Of course we can, and I have routinely criticized every President, including our current one.  That's normal politics and that's good.  Free speech and assembly, checks and balances, frequent elections: all that good stuff that we all love about this stable constitutional republic we call the United States of America.

But the kind of apocalyptic rhetoric I'm seeing from the (hopefully) loyal opposition in our country is out of control.  People, get a grip, please.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Trump Doctrine: Turning the Clock Back to 1991

For those trying to make sense of Trump's controversial interview with The Times of London and the German newspaper Das Bild, it is important to combine his ideas about nationalism, mass immigration, Islam, and Russia.

In that interview, Trump spoke candidly about the European Union and its current troubles.
The president-elect is much less sanguine about the future of the EU itself. A combination of economic woes and the migrant crisis will, he believes, lead to other countries leaving. “People, countries, want their own identity and the UK wanted its own identity. But, I do believe this, if they hadn’t been forced to take in all of the refugees, so many, with all the problems that it . . . entails, I think that you wouldn’t have a Brexit. This was the final straw that broke the camel’s back. . . I believe others will leave. I do think keeping it together is not gonna be as easy as a lot of people think. And I think this, if refugees keep pouring into different parts of Europe . . . I think it’s gonna be very hard to keep it together because people are angry about it.”
Trump is clearly a Euroskeptic; in other words, he sees the project of the European Union--created for the purpose of forging a superstate not unlike the United States out of the many disparate nations of Western, Central, and Eastern Europe--as problematic.

The way the EU has developed, when a country joins the Union, that nation gives up a significant amount of its national sovereignty, including the right to establish and police its own borders.  Instead, the various bureaucracies of the EU makes those decisions.  That is the essential problem, as Trump views these things.  The 'natives' of the various European states are getting restless, as they see the power to make their own decisions about their own countries depleted and turned over Brussels bureaucrats.  This is especially true when it comes to mass immigration.
While he expresses admiration for Angela Merkel, Mr Trump believes that she made 'one catastrophic mistake' by welcoming an unlimited number of Syrian refugees. More than one million migrants from north Africa and the Middle East arrived between 2015 and 2016. He adds that he believes the West should have built safe zones in Syria — paid for by the Gulf — to limit the surge. 'I think she made one very catastrophic mistake and that was taking all of these illegals, you know taking all of the people from wherever they come from. And nobody even knows where they come from.'
There is no rancour or glee in his prediction of the break-up of the EU, quite the opposite. His demeanour is warm and genial, the flame-throwing rhetoric of his rallies and press conferences replaced with showers of compliments. He describes Jean-Claude Juncker as a very fine gentleman, and says that he has great respect for Mrs Merkel.
His pessimism about the EU is rooted in his view of it as anti-jobs and anti-growth. And it springs, as so much of his world view does, from his experience as a businessman rather than any ideological preconception.
Mr Trump’s view is that Europe is dominated by Germany, and Britain was wise to extract itself: 'You look at the European Union and it’s Germany. Basically a vehicle for Germany. That’s why I thought the UK was so smart in getting out.'
President Obama was opposed to the Brexit vote, Trump was in favor of it.  The UK, to everyone's surprise, voted in favor of getting out of the EU.  Trump's position was vindicated by the British public, and so it should be no big surprise to anyone that he is now talking about working closely with the current UK leadership to forge a new and closer alliance.

The rest of the EU is creaking and groaning toward the future.  The Euroskeptical nationalist (so-called 'far-right') parties of the various EU countries are gaining in popularity and political power, again mostly because of their loss of power to determine such crucial issues as immigration and counter-terrorism.  Right or wrong, it seems clear that Trump is not opposed to a fragmenting of the European Union.

Trump is also opposed to mass, uncontrolled immigration, whether it's from Mexico and Central America into the US, or from the Muslim nations of the Middle East and North Africa into Europe.  Such immigration threatens the historical and national identity of the Western countries and given the importance of nationalism to his worldview, it's no wonder that he opposes it.  And when you add in the threat of Islamic jihadist terrorism, well, what more needs to be said?

But it's not just the EU, it's also the NATO alliance.  Trump has been openly critical of NATO, which has led to much gnashing of teeth both in Europe and in the American political Establishment.
Mr Trump’s hostility to the EU has been matched by his scepticism towards another pillar of the postwar order, Nato. But the president-elect was at pains to emphasise that he is committed to the defence of Europe and the West. His concerns are, principally, that Nato had not reformed to meet the main threat that we face — Islamist terrorism — and its members had relied too heavily on America. “I said a long time ago that Nato had problems. Number one it was obsolete, because it was designed many, many years ago. Number two the countries aren’t paying what they’re supposed to pay. I took such heat, when I said Nato was obsolete. It’s obsolete because it wasn’t taking care of terror. I took a lot of heat for two days. And then they started saying Trump is right.

“And the other thing is the countries aren’t paying their fair share so we’re supposed to protect countries. But a lot of these countries aren’t paying what they’re supposed to be paying, which I think is very unfair to the United States. With that being said, Nato is very important to me. There’s five countries that are paying what they’re supposed to. Five. It’s not much.”
Add to all this Trump's view on Russia and you have the makings of a sea change in American foreign policy (and I haven't even brought up China!).  One of Trump's long-standing views is that we need to try and normalize our relations with post-Communist Russia, given the fact that they have left their Marxist-Leninist ideology behind and restored their old Russian identity, which is (potentially) much less hostile to the US, Europe, and the world.

One of the least discussed realities of the last 20 years is how the US (and its European allies) pushed the NATO military alliance toward the new borders of Russia, in the process antagonizing the Russian leaders and causing them to become both defensive and increasingly hostile toward the West.  Trump has tried to reverse this process, though in the process infuriating the Western foreign policy Establishment.

Bottom-line, Trump's views are almost diametrically opposed to the foreign policy Establishment of both Republican and Democratic parties.  He has honestly earned their enmity.

It strikes me that if Trump could turn back the clock to around 1991--when we were still friends with Russia, before NAFTA, before the Iraq Invasion, etc.--and start over again, he would.  And perhaps that's exactly what he's trying to do.  He probably won't succeed, but hang on, because,one, he's starting to shake things up, and two, it doesn't pay to be too skeptical of the Donald.

Monday, January 9, 2017

On The Wikileaks Emails

With regard to the Wikileaks emails and the alleged Russian hacking of the election, here are some of my thoughts.

First, I always assume that all the world's major powers are conducting espionage and 'cyber-warfare' against each other all the time, to the best of their ability and in their own self-determined national interest.  That's just the nature of international politics.  First and foremost among those powers is the United States, China, and Russia.   But they are joined by many others, including the U.K., France, Germany, Israel, Iran, and so on.

Second, I'm not sure why it should be so surprising to anyone that Russia may have an interest in 'interfering' in our election.  We have certainly not hesitated to 'interfere' in their political system since the end of WWII, and that continued in a even more enhanced way after the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s.

The best accounting of this US involvement in Russian politics that I've read is by Stephen Cohen, long-time professor of Russian History at, first, Princeton and now at NYU, both in his numerous articles for The Nation magazine and in his books, esp. 'Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia'.  What he shows is how extensive (and counterproductive!) our 'democracy-promotion' efforts in Russia have been in the last 25 years, actually causing the majority of Russians to move from a pro-US position to an anti-US one over the decade of the 90s and into the new century.  Add to this the efforts of the US to push the NATO military alliance to the borders of Russia, and you have all the ingredients necessary for a new and very dangerous Cold War, which is what Cohen says is going on now.

Furthermore, we conduct espionage and influence campaigns on our own allies, for God's sake.  In Germany in 2013, the US was caught wiretapping the phone calls of Chancellor Angela Merkel.  Israel does it to us all the time, and I assume we do it to them.  And Russia and China do it to all of the above.  It's just the way the real world works.

My sense of this recent post-election contretemps is that no one 'in the know' is really shocked about all this, except for some gullible Americans.   And that of course is the whole point, isn't it?  Keep the outrage and resentment about the recent election churning.

Third, why should the recent pronouncement of Messrs. Comey, Brennan, Rogers, and Clapper be considered as if it were objective, non-partisan, and, well, infallible?  If I remembered correctly, the Clintons were as recently as a few weeks ago blaming FBI Director James Comey for Hillary's loss.  I guess they don't figure that he is so infallible.  And wasn't DNI Director James Clapper being considered for perjury charges for having lied to Congress about NSA bulk data collection from Americans just a few years ago?  And isn't the CIA widely considered to be the private army of the President, with its director being under the direct control of the President and no one else?  Why would anyone necessarily think that CIA Director Brennan is totally and completely impartial when it comes to this very partisan issue?  I don't.

I for one will be very interested to see how the assessment of all this changes when Trump's people take over.  If they have a different take, then I guess it shows that the leaders of the Intelligence Community can't always be taken as totally objective, infallible, and non-partisan.  Which is what I happen to think now.

Fourth, for what it's worth (and I'm not sure how much it is), Julian Assange, the head of Wikileaks, has said that it was not the Russians who gave Wikileaks the Podesta emails.  And again, for what it's worth, it doesn't look to me like it would be all that difficult to have hacked Podesta's emails....or Clinton's for that matter, given she had her private server in her bathroom at home.  With such nonchalance and indifference to cyber security, why give the Russians any credit at all for having 'hacked' these emails?  It probably could have been any reasonably talented teen computer nerd of any nationality.

And finally, the Wikileaks emails, wherever they came from, were not the reason Hillary lost this election.  There were any number of reasons more important, starting with the fact that Hillary was just a really lousy and unpopular candidate.

In any case, the Wikileak emails, none of which by the way have been refuted or denied, just added a little pizzazz to the excruciating spectacle of the 2016 Presidential Election.  Indeed, far from being misinformation of any kind, the Wikileak emails were just a tiny, transparent window onto the actual operations of the Democratic party and the Clinton Campaign.  And it wasn't very pretty at all.  But who ever said democracy was pretty and neat, instead of ugly and messy?

Monday, December 19, 2016

A Report Card on the Trump Transition Five Weeks After the Election

Now that Donald Trump has received the necessary Electoral College votes to become President, it may be appropriate to hand out a report card on his first 5 weeks of transition.

I voted for Trump, as I wrote here the day before the election, much to the consternation of many of my family and friends.  But I did it because I believed that Trump was not the crazy, mindless demogogue and bigot that the Clinton campaign and much of the media portrayed him to be.  And because there were quite a few issues that he was addressing (or might address) that I thought to be very important to our future, important enough to sustain the 'slings and arrows' of outrage from my family.  Obviously, I could be wrong about Trump, so I've watched with considerable interest and (at least some) anxiety.

So how are things turning out, now that we've watched Trump begin his transition to the Presidency?

The first thing to consider is his pick for the White House chief of staff position.  Trump had already picked the well-thought-of Mike Pence as his VP, a widely applauded choice in terms of his political experience, intelligence, and overall conservative philosophy.  Now, he selected the head of the RNC, Reince Priebus, who knows everybody in the Republican Party, to be his primary assistant in the Oval Office.  A wise way to start the transition, without a doubt, because this gives you two experienced and conservative Republican professionals right next to him all the time.  For this he gets from me a grade of A+.

The second thing to consider is Trump's choice for Secretary of Defense, certainly one of the most important of the Cabinet positions.  In a very (and unusually) public process conducted in Trump Tower in NYC, Trump finally settled on retired Marine General James 'Mad Dog' Mattis.  This selection has been praised across the board as excellent.  Another A+.

Trump's choice for CIA Director is congressman Mike Pompeo, and it is (like the others) a widely praised selection.  Homeland Security will be led by universally admired General John Kelly.  His UN Ambassador nominee will be Nicky Haley, the very capable governor of South Carolina and the daughter of Sikh immigrants from India.  All of which earns Trump an  A+.

One of the most important Cabinet positions is, of course, Secretary of State, and for that Trump has picked Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson.  This choice has been a bit more controversial, primarily because of the recent sensitivities over our relationship with Russia, and Tillerson has a long-standing relationship with Putin because of the Russian oil industry.  However, assuming the second-in-charge under Tillerson is an knowledgeable and experienced State Department pro, then I think Tillerson is an excellent choice, given his extensive knowledge of the world and the world's leaders, and especially in terms of working out a more cooperative and less dangerous relationship with Russia.  I give Tillerson an A+.

I like Jeff Sessions at the Attorney General position, and give him an A+.  This will be controversial because of a statement of his that will be dredged of from 40 years ago, but he should be approved because of his long Senate service and because of his past experience.

When it comes to all the domestic Cabinet positions, they appear to me to be conservative choices who will be in synch with the Republican-controlled Senate and House.  I don't necessarily agree with all their positions, but they seem to be capable people who will definitely bring change to Washington.  And that is probably a good thing, although continued discussion of many of the relevant issues is also a good thing.  I give Trump's domestic picks for the Cabinet a B.

Oddly enough, Trump has managed to sideline three of his earliest and most devoted supporters: Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani, and Newt Gingrich.  All three could have done a good job in certain positions, but for different reasons, either were not chosen or themselves chose not to serve.  Probably just as well.

Donald Trump decided to do a 'thank you' tour of the country, especially the states that he needed to win.  It has had the effect of keeping his base on board, while the MSM, along with the Democrats and the Left in general, continue to hammer him.  It also seems to energize him and give him a break from the tedium of the transition.  Probably a good idea.  B.

The one thing I wish (along with most people, according to polls) that Trump would stop is his tweeting.  It is undignified, dangerous, and unnecessary.  For that, and that alone, I give him an F.

All in all, I am pleased (and relieved) with the way the Trump Transition is going (except for the tweets).  I haven't yet mentioned his (to all appearances) good relationship with President Obama.

Contrast all this with the disarray in the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party, their contesting of the election through protests and sundry statements, their refusal to take responsibility for their loss, and their pushing of scapegoats.  Compared to all this, the Trump Transition looks like a well-oiled machine!  This is indeed an auspicious sign for the future.

Just Remember this, Mr. Potter

As for the election whiners in Hollywood, trying to change the outcome of the Electoral College with their obnoxious televised appeals, this writer from the American Thinker blog responds superbly....
Imagine a guy who “play acted” as a wartime doctor during the Korean War (when he was actually filming in Malibu Creek State Park in sunny southern California) telling some blind veteran who’s in a wheelchair, missing several limbs because of an IED, that the vote that he and so many have fought and died for shouldn’t count.

Or how about the “celebrity” who “play acts” as a cop from the safety of a sound stage, telling the surviving wife and kids of a “real life” hero patrolman, executed solely for wearing a badge, that their votes shouldn’t count.
Well, these real life “play actors” who get paid outrageous amounts for pretending to have skills they don’t, have appeared in a PSA calling themselves “Unite for America” -- really. The PSA should actually be called “Sore Losers”.

With the sound turned off, it looks like a Medicaid ad, but turned up, it is a bunch of whiney liberal “play actors” urging the members of the Electoral College to ignore the law, centuries of fair play and tradition, and do what they say, because Hollywood actors know what’s best for us rabble.

What qualifies these people who have personal assistants, makeup artists, stand-ins, stunt men, plush motor homes, and their specific brand of chilled sparkling water and treats to even think for a second that they are qualified to comment on “real life” issues much less subvert a long standing election process?

Apparently when you “play act” as a ruthless bad guy who goes around shooting as many people on film as you can qualifies you in “real life” to push gun control on the millions of responsible citizens that don’t commit gun crimes.

Perhaps an actress worth countless millions who tells “real life” working moms how tough it is being a “working” “play actress”, having to leave for weeks at a time to make millions qualifies them?

Does working in an industry rife with addicts, alcoholics, and perverts qualify them?

Liberal Hollywood actors are entirely out of touch with reality; overpaid, pampered, egotistical, out of step with regular hard working Americans, yet they somehow feel qualified to act as a force majeure and have the Electoral College consider disregarding their word of honor.

Those of us who go to work every day to take care of our families, often working two or three jobs to pay the bills, buy food and hopefully have enough left over for gas and some extras, have spoken, and after eight years of these spoiled brats getting their way, we are sick and tired of their temper tantrums.

We’re in the trenches, doing it every day, year after year, while whiney “play actors” receive thousands of dollars an hour, yet many Americans would be happy to earn $12.00 an hour.

Don’t get me wrong, Hollywood has produced some great actors, one of the top being Jimmy Stewart. In It’s a Wonderful Life he tells Mr. Potter; “Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you're talking about... they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community”.

We’re not rabble, you’re just lousy losers.

The Whiniest Democrats Ever

Watching the Democrats (and their allies in the media, academia and, especially, Hollywood) thrash around in pain and suffering after their loss in November's election is a sight to behold.  I have never in my life seen such poor, pathetic sore losers.  And to think that before the election, they and their media friends were so skeptical of Trump's willingness to accept the election results.

It's FBI Director Comey's fault!  It's Anthony Weiner's fault! It's those Fake News sites' fault!  It's White Supremicist Steve Bannon's fault!  It's those young Clinton staffers' fault!  It's Michigan's voting machines fault!  It's Bill Clinton's fault (for being too charismatic)!  It's Vladimir Putin's fault!  It's the Constitution's fault (for setting up the Electoral College)!  Blah blah blah....

Come on, Democrats.  Stop your childish whining!  No one, outside your tight circle, wants to hear it.   It only makes us think less of you than we already do, if that's possible. 

If one wants to 'blame' anyone, obviously that has to rest on the shoulders of one person alone. Hillary Rodham Clinton.  Let the buck stop right there with one of the weakest (or unluckiest, or both) candidates ever to run for President.

Here's a word of advice for Democrats.  Stop trying to blame anyone and look inside your own hearts.  As a national party, you are really in bad shape right now.  But this is a good opportunity to get your house in order.

But that won't happen if you just keep acting like spoiled brats.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Rex Tillerson on Life and Work

An interesting video on Rex Tillerson, Trump's possible Secretary of State, in which he presents a lot of information about his background.  Filmed within the last year or two, I think.  At about the 37 minute point, he addresses his relationship with Putin and Russia.  At about the 50-51 minute mark, he talks about climate change.