February 8, 2017

Collect for a Troubled Nation

I recently wrote a collect “For a Troubled Nation.” It represents an admittedly liberal Episcopalian’s liturgical response to the advent of the Trump administration. After receiving feedback concerning my first draft from Episcopalian friends on Facebook, I revised the prayer. The current text is:
For a Troubled Nation

God of justice and mercy, who delivered your people from the oppression of Pharaoh, protect us from greed, ignorance, and malevolence in our political leaders, and help us make our nation one of peace, liberty, and justice, in harmony with your creation and exhibiting the love of Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
I have written about this collect on Lionel Deimel’s Farrago, where I have argued that such a prayer is needed, even though the Book of Common Prayer contains prayers for government. You can read “Collect for a Troubled Nation” here, and I suggest you do so before offering any criticism. This post is really intended primarily as a pointer to the essay on my Web site.

I consider this prayer a work in progress, so comments are welcome. If you use this prayer in any context, I would appreciate knowing.

February 7, 2017

Trump Haiku

I was on jury duty yesterday. If you have ever been on jury duty, you know that there is lots of down time while waiting to learn if you will be assigned to a jury. During one of these slack periods, I began writing haiku related to Donald Trump and his administration. I wrote more haiku today and added a “Trump Haiku” page on Lionel Deimel’s Farrago.

If you want to read my haiku, please follow the link above. Here, I will give you a sample:
                                                        Wall
                                             Tremendous idea:
                                             A wall to keep out rapists,
                                             Avocados, too.
There are eight other poems on my Web site.


January 29, 2017

Random Thoughts on U.S.-Mexican Relations

Thanks to our new President, relations between the United States and the United Mexican States (i.e., Mexico) are exceedingly strained. Donald Trump is solely responsible for this state of affairs. A move toward more friendly relations seems unlikely in the near future.

U.S. and Mexico flags
Mr. Trump has two issues with Mexico. The issues are distinct, but he has, of late, managed to conflate them. First, there is the matter of illegal immigration, the “solution” for which, in the President’s mind, is to build a wall along our southern border. Pledging to build such a wall (and to have the Mexican government pay for it) was Mr. Trump’s signature issue as a presidential candidate. Like all of his proposals, this was simplistic, ill-conceived, and basically stupid. But simple solutions to complicated problems are the stock in trade of political campaigns, and the Republican candidate used them shamelessly and, alas, successfully.

In general, Mr. Trump’s policy proposals derive from his own reality, which is but tenuously related to actual facts. The U.S. is not being overrun by Mexican rapists and drug dealers streaming over the border. Although there have been periods of significant migration from Mexico in times past, the current net migration is or is near zero. Instead, the most significant source of unauthorized migration into the U.S. is the overstaying of visas by persons who have entered the country lawfully. No wall is high enough to deter such activity.

There are several problems with building a Great Wall of America. To begin with, building a wall would be inordinately expensive, and, because it does not address a significant problem, horribly profligate. Serious drug dealers have not been deterred by existing barriers—they have tunneled their way across the border, for example—and, as has been noted, a 50-foot wall will create a run on 51-foot ladders.

President Trump wants to expand greatly the number of officers patrolling the border. This, of course, adds to the cost of the wall itself.

If a wall is to be truly effective, we should take a lesson from the German Democratic Republic (i.e., East Germany). Now that country had a wall! What is needed is a concrete wall, land mines, and machine-gun towers. I doubt Americans will support such a construction—but I thought they wouldn’t vote for Trump, either—and even the Berlin Wall did not last. There is a lesson here.

Candidate Trump received the cheers of his multitudes by declaring that Mexico would pay for a wall—no need to think too deeply whether a wall is necessary if someone else is going to foot the bill. Of course, it was never clear why Mexico, which is hardly a rich country, would be willing to make such a generous gesture. The candidate never explained how Mexico would be enticed to fork over the billions of pesos needed for a wall, particularly in light of its president’s refusal to consider the matter. In fact, though, Trump never explained the mechanisms he planed to employ to achieve any of the exulted goals he so glibly proclaimed. Perhaps he never really expected to win the election and would never be called upon to fulfill his promises. Perhaps he thought—his first week in office suggests this—that everything could be effected with the stroke of a pen. Actual government experience really would have been helpful.

Mr. Trump’s other Mexican problem is the balance of payments. We buy more from Mexico than Mexico buys from us. Trump, in his simplistic, real-estate-mogul mind, sees this as a problem and blames NAFTA for it, If NAFTA were fairer, Mexico wouldn’t be “stealing” American jobs and profiting handsomely from it. The reality is complex, however, and both the U.S. and Mexico have benefited from NAFTA. Jobs have been lost; other jobs have been created; and consumers have enjoyed lower prices. Our two economies are not inextricably intertwined. This not only produces economic efficiencies, but it also discourages conflicts (or at least it does when countries are governed by rational leaders).

The President has floated the idea of financing the wall by slapping a 20% tariff on goods from Mexico. This would kill two birds with one stone—the wall would be paid for, and Mexico would pay the bill, improving the balance-of-trade in the process. Except, of course, that the American consumer would pay the bill, not the Mexican government, and would likely be none too happy about it. One of the dead birds would be the goose that lays the golden egg.

No doubt, NAFTA could be “fairer” or “better” for the U.S. Such agreements are complicated and never perfect. It is unlikely that there is a silver bullet that would satisfy President Trump short of some sort of coercion of our neighbor to the south. A better plan would be to encourage development in Mexico—perhaps a loosing proposition in the short run—so that more Mexicans could buy American goods and services. This would also keep Mexicans in Mexico. Some undocumented Mexicans in the U.S. might even want to return home.

In reality, many of the border-crossers these days come from Central America, where economic conditions are worse than in Mexico and where life is often threatened by violence. Investment in Central America could benefit the U.S. in a multitude of ways. But, in the meantime, we should allow refugees from Central American violence to resettle in the U.S. To Mr. Trump, however, such people are merely potential terrorists.

Unfortunately, President Trump cannot drop the demented idea of building the Great Wall of American without losing face, and nothing is more important to Donald Trump than protecting his adulation-hungry ego. And the thought of spending money in foreign countries for long-term benefit is anathema to an America-first President Trump.

So here we are. God only knows where President Trump will take us.

January 20, 2017

This is no dream; this is really happening!

Rosemary’s Baby poster
Poster for Rosemary’s Baby
Donald Trump’s becoming President of the United States seems, on some level, unreal. It was not supposed to happen. It reminds me of the 1968 film Rosemary’s Baby. As Mia Farrow’s Rosemary Woodhouse is being raped by Satan, she wakes from her chemically induced stupor and, horrified, declares, “This is no dream; this is really happening!” And thus it is with the inauguration of Mr. Trump, which occurs at noon today.

January 20, 2017, will surely be “a date which will live in infamy.” One can only imagine the horrors that will follow, but we will experience them soon enough.

It has been difficult to decide how to mark this day. In one sense, I would like to be in Washington, D.C., protesting the inauguration, but I am here in Pennsylvania in front of my computer. It will be calmer here.

Robert Reich, who is becoming something of a resistance leader, advises Americans not going to Washington to boycott the event—don’t watch it or listen to it. Trump, after all, hates low ratings. I plan to take Reich’s advice, if only to keep my blood pressure down. Rachel Maddow can tell me tonight what happened.

I haven’t scheduled my entire day, but I plan to go to the Y to get some exercise. I usually listen to NPR while I’m on the treadmill, but today I’ll listen to Pandora instead. I’ll try to catch up on my reading and housecleaning while thinking thoughts unrelated to civic affairs. I hope to finish watching D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance on DVD.

I am not hopeful concerning our nation’s future and have no faith in Mr. Trump’s pledge to bring the country together. The best I can do on Inauguration Day is to offer this prayer from the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer:
O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We commend this nation to your merciful care, that, being guided by your Providence, we may dwell secure in your peace. Grant to the President of the United States, the Governor of this Commonwealth, and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do your will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in your fear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
God save the United States of America.

Inverted American flag

January 5, 2017

Hail to the Chief

This morning, NPR broadcast a short segment on “Hail to the Chief,” the familiar Presidential Anthem. The anthem has been associated with the President of the United States for two centuries. What is not well known is that the anthem has lyrics. The current words to “Hail to  the Chief” are the following:
Hail to the Chief we have chosen for the nation,
Hail to the Chief! We salute him, one and all.
Hail to the Chief, as we pledge cooperation
In proud fulfillment of a great, noble call.

Yours is the aim to make this grand country grander,
This you will do, that's our strong, firm belief.
Hail to the one we selected as commander,
Hail to the President! Hail to the Chief!
Herald trumpets
What is scary is the eerie appropriateness of these lyrics to the presidency of Donald Trump. In particular, Trump has called for everyone’s coöperation following a divisive election. (He won’t get it, of course.) And there is the line about making our “grand country grander” following “great” in the previous line.

No doubt, Mr. Trump would love these words were he to hear them. Perhaps President Trump will be introduced by four ruffles and flourishes and “Hail to the Chief” sung by a military chorus.

God save the United States of America.

Note. Information for this post was taken from Wikipedia.

January 4, 2017

Why Republicans Want to Kill Obamacare

When acting to “fix” something, it’s always a good idea to ask: What problem are we solving? Doing so forces you to consider ultimate objectives and how the status quo might be manipulated to achieve those objectives more fully.

The Republicans have been hell-bent on repealing the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) for the better part of eight years. This objective has become an article of faith among Republicans that, seemingly, requires no justification. Republicans never explain what is wrong with the ACA or how repeal will make life better for Americans. Candidate Trump repeatedly pledged to dump the ACA but never, as far as I can tell, suggested why that would be a good thing. The 115th Congress is hardly a day old, and Republicans are already introducing legislation aimed at getting rid of the ACA.

Mike Pence
Mike Pence (photo by Gage Skidmore)
In the noon NPR newscast today, an audio clip was broadcast of Mike Pense explaining, if not what is wrong with the ACA, at least what Republican objectives are in their quest to eliminate it:
My message to members of Congress is that we are going to be in the promise-keeping business, and the first order of business is to keep our promise to repeal Obamacare and replace it with the kind of health care reform that will lower the cost of health insurance without growing the cost of government.
What do we see here? First, Republicans are going to deliver on their promise to repeal the ACA. But this begs the question. Why was that promise made in the first place? (I suspect the real answer is to stick it to President Obama, whom the Republicans hate with a passion. This begs the question again, and, for now anyway, I don’t want to touch that issue.)

Pence went on to enumerate Republican objectives for their fix. These suggest, at least implicitly, what is seen to be wrong with the ACA. And what are those objectives? They are (1) to lower the cost of insurance and (2) to prevent the cost of government from growing.

Consider the second objective. To put it generously, the Republican Party is the party of limited government. Any program that expands the scope of government, particularly if it costs money, is considered a bad program. (Spending more money on the military, however, is usually acceptable.) No consideration is given to the urgency of a program or whether government is an appropriate or most efficient actor to carry out its objectives. This is a knee-jerk reaction that exposes yet another article faith among members of the GOP. It is not a valid reason to attack the ACA.

What about the cost of insurance? The ACA was intended to decrease the cost of health insurance to make it more generally available. It has done that, allowing millions of people to afford insurance that had previously been unaffordable. Republicans are fond of pointing out that the cost of insurance under the ACA has been rising, but, even with increasing costs, more people have been able to buy health insurance.

The real objective of the ACA isn’t to make health insurance affordable, though Republican concern for corporate health might make that seem like a high-priority objective. The real objective of the ACA is, or should be, to deliver health care to everyone. The problem to be solved is the inability of so many citizens to access health care, largely due to economic circumstances. Health insurance is a means to an end, not the end itself. Pence seems unconcerned with this and with the fact that repealing the ACA has the potential to deny health care to millions of Americans.

Citizens who are not part of the extreme right wing of the GOP need to tell their legislators that the size of government is not a primary concern for them and that they want high-quality health care to be made available to everyone, regardless of income. It is a scandal that the number one cause of personal bankruptcies in this country is unaffortable medical bills.