Much for which to be thankful

Of course, I’m thankful for my wife, my job which is also my ministry, my family.  I’m thankful for my health, which, though not great, is still manageable.  I’m going on two years cancer free, and that’s a blessing.  I’m thankful for my Gracie, my beautiful dog, who is a wonderful companion.

I’m thankful that I have a roof over my head, and plenty of food to eat.  And I’m thankful that this past week, my awareness of the needs of other people, not just for material things that I take for granted, but for the simple acknowledgement from me of their existence, was increased.  I’m thankful that opportunities have come up which have allowed me to put into practice my new awareness.

I’m thankful that, in the movement of human history, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been put in a place where I don’t have to make a run into a strange country to preserve my life, and be safe, risking the safety and security of family members in order to pursue a distant, almost impossible dream of freedom.

On this Thanksgiving Day, when we have so much for which to be grateful, I won’t abandon either my gratitude, or my principles and values, in the face of fear.

More Thoughts on the Syrian Refugee Issue

The identity of the United States of America is as a country that is a refuge from oppression and conflict.  We’re a land of liberty, the home of the free and the brave, the hope of mankind.  It’s a personal belief that I hold, but I believe the concept of “America” resulted from the pioneering spirit of the oppressed and persecuted people who came here as a means of escape, and to start a new life.  The toughness that was required to survive, and to build a new life produced character.  That character, blended with a strong faith in God, “Divine Providence” as the founding fathers referred to him, left a rich deposit of values that defined America as no other nation in the world had ever been defined, or has been since.

My Southern Baptist upbringing is responsible for my feelings about missions.  By extension, that has helped to develop a deep regard for peace, and a strong disdain for violence of any kind.  My background as a Social Studies teacher, with a passion for modern American and European history, blends in with those Christian convictions.  The end result of that is my understanding of an America as a refuge for the oppressed and persecuted, which is an essential core value that goes to the very character of the nation.  Most of us who are Americans today have ancestors who came here because they were oppressed or persecuted, and sought the promise of a better life by starting over and working hard.

It is very difficult for me to understand how fear, coupled with a heavy dose of misinformation, and blended with destructive partisan politics, can so easily cause people to even consider abandoning this core value, much less actually doing it.  We hear an awful lot about the faults of the mainstream media, but some of the things I’ve read and seen on social media, which is basically the same thing as gossip, are incredible in their inaccuracy, bigotry, twisting of the truth, and outright lying.  I’m not in favor of, as one post said, “Flinging open the borders and just letting everyone come in.”  No one is advocating for that.  In fact, in light of the size of the crisis, and the numbers of people who are involved, the world’s wealthiest country agreeing to accept 10,000 thoroughly vetted and screened refugees seems like a small issue, and a very paltry response.

Maybe some factual information is in order.

  1.  The US has already taken in, under existing quotas and immigration law, thousands of refugees from the Middle East’s recent upheavals, including Syria.  To date, there is no record of any Syrian refugee being involved in a radical Islamic terrorist attack in the US, or anywhere else for that matter.
  2. The US has, at several times in modern history, taken in huge numbers of refugees, screened them thoroughly, and allowed them to settle without much in the way of difficulty.  That’s partly because the screening process to be admitted to the US is so secure, and so rigorous.  Remember the fall of Saigon?  The Mariel Boatlift?  There were inherent problems with screening the Vietnamese to make sure that no Communist plants got in with the crowds, likewise with the Cubans, as Fidel Castro opened up his prisons and attempted to pour criminal elements into the US.  But we did it.
  3. In the wake of the Paris attacks, like 9-11, fear seems to be the driving force, and reason is being abandoned.   Why aren’t we clamoring for a shut off of refugees from Belgium, or shutting down airline flights from there, or refusing to allow people with Belgian passports into the US?  That’s where the Paris attackers came from, at least, the ones who didn’t already live in Paris.  They were a combination of Belgian and French citizens, most of them native born. The news that one of the terrorists came into the country posing as a Syrian refugee has yet to be confirmed by the French.
  4. Few Syrians are involved, or ever have been involved, in Radical Islam.  ISIS or ISIL is an insurgency that has welled up in the vacuum created by the US invasion and occupation of Iraq that deposed Saddam Hussein who was one of the stabilizing forces in the region preventing an Islamic insurgency.  The other upheaval is the Syrian revolution against the Assad dictatorship.  The Obama administration has hesitated to get involved in that conflict, because of the uncertainty of who we would be supporting against Assad.  Now we know.
  5. No doubt among some Radical Islamic elements, there is an expressed desire for world rule, and the destruction of democracy, Christianity, Judaism or any other world religion.  But it takes a very in-depth understanding of Muslim history, from the time of Mohammed, to understand the idea of Caliphate as ISIS or ISIL is attempting to establish, and why.  And attempting to interpret the verses of the Koran that have been cited in support of those who want to believe that all Muslims hold this worldview requires much more than a surface reading of them.  Muslims don’t accept an English translation as authentic, and the key to understanding their language about “killing infidels” requires understanding how the Imams interpret the Arabic text.
  6. I’m not going to argue against the inevitability, or the high likelihood, that the United States will experience another terrorist attack.  The pressure never lets up.  We’re a big piece of geography with long borders and coastlines, and all of that is tough to control.  Donald Trump’s wall, notwithstanding, however, given what has developed in the world since 9-11, the fact that the US has experienced far less Islamic terrorism than other parts of the world is due directly to how our security has been improved and updated, to technology we have, and that most of our enemies don’t, or don’t even know about, and the amount of resources that the US puts into national security.  On a per-capita, per-person basis, we spend far more and have a much higher level of security than France, or any EU country for that matter.  And the political liability of budget cuts and policy that opened the door for the 9-11 attacks is high enough to be a motivating factor to keep security high, on the cutting edge, and in massive quantities for both Congress and the President, whoever he or she may be.

Terrorism isn’t aimed at winning by conquest.  It is aimed at winning by causing a shift in ideology.  It was never the intention of the Islamic revolution in Iran to take over the United States, but the Ayatollah Khomeini manipulated the hostage crisis in such a way as to intentionally damage Jimmy Carter’s re-election chances, and then claimed he helped Reagan get elected, and thus controlled who was the President of the United States.

These terrorists didn’t even attack the US, they were attacking France.  They might be tempted to think that it is quite easy to get Americans to abandon the core values and principles of the country if this one came about so easily.


The Loss of Christian Compassion

Be silent before the Lord and wait expectantly for him; do not be agitated by one who prospers in his way, by the man who carries out evil plans.  Psalm 37:7 HCSB

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free…Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus” inscribed on the Statue of Liberty

The fear from the Paris attacks of Saturday night is beginning to find its expression in the United States, and elsewhere.  Fear is the weapon that terrorists wield to make their point, to advance their cause and to get their way, mainly because it works.

One of the seven terrorists involved in the Paris attacks, one, had been able to enter France through the corridor of refugees streaming into Europe from Syria.  One.  The others came in from neighboring Belgium.  It was an attack that would have happened regardless of the presence of that one.  But fear has a way of distorting perspective.

In relatively short time, the fear has crossed an ocean, and is finding expression in voices on this side of the water who are speaking out against receiving any Syrian refugees at all.  These are people who are fleeing the same terror that we are fearing, except that it is happening in their streets and in their cities, on the heels of a revolution that has already claimed lives, destroyed property and impoverished millions.  And here’s the even bigger irony.  Many of the American voices opposed to taking in Syrian refugees are Christians.  It’s disappointing to even make that statement, but it is true.  Do you realize that 10% of the population of Syria is Christian?  That many of these people are your brothers and sisters in Christ?  That they have been victims of persecution because of the revolution, and are now victims of ISIS, too?  And there are American Christians who want to slam the door shut and keep them out of the one country that the world looks to as a refuge from oppression and persecution, because of its Christian heritage.

Religious beliefs should not make a difference here.  But they do.  In spite of the noble poetic reference on the Statue of Liberty cited above, the United States has often been a very selective and exclusive refuge for those seeking freedom from religious persecution.

Remember Hitler?

Pernicious immigration policy prevented most European Jews wanting to escape Nazi persecution from getting into the United States.  The State Department used a number of policies, including strict quotas based on national origin, not religion, to block the entry of European Jews prior to World War II.  Jews jammed into Europe’s neutral countries, like Switzerland, Sweden, Spain and Portugal, where they were safe, but where their numbers eventually overwhelmed the government’s resources, and caused them to stop allowing others to enter.  Private resources from Jewish sources in the United States could have been provided in almost unlimited quantities to transport and house hundreds of thousands of Jews that were piled up in the neutral countries, opening up room for more to escape the Nazis, but the state department pulled out all the stops to prevent Jews from entering the United States.

Six million Jews died in the Holocaust.  The United States, the bastion of liberty, freedom and justice, managed to rescue somewhere around 100,000.  Between 1939 and 1941, when the US entered the war, the only way European Jews, in countries occupied by Hitler, could enter the US was under the quotas from their country of origin.  Most were in Poland, but the number of immigrants allowed into the US from Poland was miniscule.  Jews from Germany were limited to the quota of Germans allowed into the US, and most of those spots were taken by anti-Nazi German citizens who wanted out.  Following the lead of their northern neighbor, Latin American countries limited their acceptance of Jewish refugees.  Great Britain and Canada accepted more Jewish refugees than the United States, and so did Spain.  Tiny Portugal saved almost as many.

The state department hid behind the same excuse that is popping up in the calls for refusal of Syrian refugees.  We can’t let in all those Jews because the Germans may send saboteurs and terrorists in among them.  So you’re telling me that the United States, with its military resources, cannot equip its FBI and CIA, and its state and municipal police forces, with the ability to screen refugees?  After the fact, we determined that gross negligence allowed the 9-11 attackers in.  We haven’t experienced an attack since then.  There’s been a learning curve.  Perhaps an attack is inevitable, but whether it is or not, taking care of a few thousand Syrians isn’t going to make it any more or less likely.

Terror is a weapon that is used to force people to give in to fear, and in so doing, give up their values.  Take a look around.  Fear is causing the abandonment of Christian compassion, and of a core founding principle of this country.   Isn’t that what the terrorists are trying to do?




An Unusual Evangelistic Opportunity

No one should be surprised that a mass of refugees has pushed its way across Syria’s borders and out of the country toward safety elsewhere.  The civil war between the dictator Assad’s government forces and the various rebel groups had done enough damage and created plenty of upheaval, but the addition of the ISIS insurgency has blocked off the border to the east with Iraq, and pockets of ISIS control have increased the safety risks along with the shooting and bombing.  And realistically, Europe’s prosperity, combined with a cooler climate, make the prospect of living in a refugee camp infinitely more attractive than camping out in the bare, hot desert of Jordan or Saudi Arabia.

I may get a bit sarcastic here, but bear with me as I make my point.  I think it’s a good one, worth making.

As Syrian refugees by the thousands streamed into Eastern Europe, overwhelming small, poor countries like Kosovo, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Bosnia, where the ravages of war haven’t been completely repaired yet, either, Europeans reached out to them.  Of course, many of the people living on the Balkan peninsula are Muslim, and so reached out to their fellow Muslims as they moved north.  But there are also many Christians among the Syrian population, since more than 10% of the country was Christian at the time that the civil war erupted.

Europeans of all nationalities, including the Serbs, Croats, Greeks, Hungarians, Austrians and Germans in particular, collected resources and sent help.  The crisis did prompt some countries, especially those who were small and felt overwhelmed by the flood of people, to take steps to close off the refugee stream as well, but Europe, yes, liberal, socialist Europe with very few practicing Christians among the population, saw the humanitarian crisis develop, pulled together the resources to feed, clothe and house the massive numbers of people, and helped.  And they’re still helping.

One of the greatest needs, aside from providing basic services, is to relieve the crush of people on the European countries where they’ve taken refuge.  So, they look to the United States to help.  You know, us.  The country with the statue of Liberty and the poem that is engraved at its base, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free…”  Well, where does the world always look when it needs help, right?

Not surprising, our government comes up with a plan to help relieve the crush of refugees by taking a pretty good sized number of them ourselves, including working out a way to get them across the ocean, far, far away from the troubles in their own country, and as a means of helping Europe, particularly Germany, Hungary and Austria, where most of the refugees have landed.  And, given the political mindset in our country these days, not surprisingly there is a strong, vitriolic, negative reaction to taking in Syrian refugees, on religious grounds.  Most of them are Muslim.  Taking in such a large number of Muslims will ruin the country and open the door to Islamic insurgency and Sharia law breaking out all over the US, right?  Keep them out.  We didn’t invite them.  After all, Muslims are violent terrorists, right?

Of course, the numbers we’re talking about aren’t that big.  I think its something like 75,000 altogether, not exactly a flood tide, or even comparable to the number who have flooded through small countries like Kosovo or Croatia, into Hungary and Germany.  Nor have any of these people exhibited the insurgent, radicalized tendencies of ISIS or Al Qaida.  In fact, these people are fleeing from that sort of rule of law, because they are just as much in danger from ISIS as they are from the Assad regime.  But that doesn’t seem to matter.  There are voices, some of them among the Christian community, being raised against allowing any Syrian refugees to enter the US.

Turning refugees away from America on the basis of their religious faith seems completely incongruous with our American heritage, and history.  We’ve done it before, because of pernicious and obtuse immigration policy that is too complicated to get into here.  Just look up and read the story of the ship the St Louis in the summer of 1939.  But this is 2015, and our government has opened the door to freedom, as it well should, given our resources and our heritage and history.

American Christians should be particularly anxious to help collect resources, and to serve these people when they come with welcoming, open arms.  Aside from the fact that such action is the only one I can think of in a situation like this that is consistent with what we claim to believe as Christ followers, it is an unusual evangelistic opportunity.  There are some Christians among these refugees, but most of them are Muslims, coming from a country, and an environment, where any sharing of the gospel has been highly restricted, and most of anything these people have heard about the Christian faith has been wrong, or from only a Muslim perspective.

All of a sudden, there are hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in European countries where there’s absolutely no restriction whatsoever on sharing the gospel, and they are in need in such a way that kindness shown to them would go a long way toward opening a door to at least being able to see the real Jesus, and real Christians.  Noting that Canada, our secular, socialist neighbor to the north, has opened a door to Syrian refugees not only to find freedom from fear in a camp somewhere, but to put their skills and education to use, and make a permanent home in Canada, if they choose.  That’s the sort of opportunity that Christians should be promoting, eh?

Fear and lack of understanding are enemies of freedom, which means they are restrictions on the forward movement of the Kingdom of God.  Here’s a real opportunity and a real calling for Christians in America to set aside the accumulation of resources for our own enjoyment, and do something positive to advance the kingdom of God.

Stop Whining, and Answer the Question Please!

Perhaps I’m old fashioned, and my expectations of political candidates are at odds with what is expected these days, but I think the GOP field, and the RNC, have made a calculated error in their recent criticism of CNBC’s moderation of their most recent debate, and their suspension of further moderation by the NBC network.  And while I understand the level of frustration caused by the lack of individual face and response time in televised debates, these are not paid infomercials for the candidates.  There are too many candidates, and that’s one problem.  But it seems like what the candidates want now is the opportunity to determine the questions in advance, and avoid having to answer on the spot, on their feet.  Silly me.  I thought that was the whole purpose of a presidential campaign debate.

We’ve long since abandoned the rules and form of debates when it comes to politics.  Enforcing the time limits, and the rules, and sticking to some kind of expected form for scoring and evaluation was never really the goal of a political debate, anyway.  The idea is to put candidates together so that people can see where they differ, and observe their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to the responses.  For me, the best debates are those that take place once the parties have named their nominees, and the general election is coming.  These debates with candidates lining the stage, and each one getting perhaps five minutes, while the dominant candidates interrupt, and attract the attention away from others, aren’t doing much except frustrating everyone, and precipitating attacks on the stage, and then later on when the dominant candidates hog the interview time.

Personally, I think scattering the debates among several media outlets, to bring in a variety of questioning techniques and perspectives, was an excellent idea, and fits with what the party should be trying to accomplish in these days before the primaries begin.  The whining began early, when Donald Trump attacked Megyn Kelly and the Fox News debate team following the first debate which they moderated.  Fox News?  Really?  They weren’t exactly easy on the candidates, though the line of questioning was certainly much more compatible with the GOP’s expressed views, and the rest of the candidates were more comfortable with it.

At some point, the President of the United States is going to have to deal with up front, open, honest, and sometimes incredibly biased questioning from the media.  Whining about it is the least effective response.  Most of the candidates did shift their response, when they sensed where the questions were going, and planned their strategic responses, in order to stay on focus and keep their message coming forward.  The problem, of course, was that they didn’t really have the time they needed to come across that way.  So, when the tension broke, and frustration hit the ceiling, a few of the candidates hid behind the “liberal biased media” accusation, and let that become their debate statement.

In the long run, that’s not a good idea.  The core base will agree, but across the board, the base doesn’t have enough votes to win a general election for you.

Can you imagine Ronald Reagan whining about the questions he was asked in a Presidential debate?  This is his party.  Hopefully, someone in the field of candidates will start acting like it is.

So, It’s November 2016, and the winner is…(Part 2: The GOP Nomination)

If you read the initial post in this topic, you know that I’ve used a variety of background information sources to look at some numbers and make Hillary Clinton the odds-on favorite to win the Presidency in 2016.  I also made two clear statements.  1.  Things can change, but the prediction is based on the things that pundits use to make these kinds of predictions, including previous exit polling, current polling data, and factors that have an effect on voting trends.  2.  My prediction does not necessarily reflect the way I will cast my ballot.  I wanted the St. Louis Cardinals to win the world series, and predicting the Royals as the winners doesn’t change my loyalty at all, it is just a reflection of the reality of the way things are now.

The best assessment I’ve seen of the current state of affairs in the GOP primary campaign is characterized by the party official who put his head in his hands and said, “My, my, we’ve got a mess.”  Yes, but it’s a political mess, which means that unpredictability and sudden reversals of fortune are always possible, and things can change at the drop of a hat.

Too Many Candidates

The biggest problem on this side of the campaign is simply the fact that there are too many candidates running.  The debates are not giving any candidate, well, I should say most candidates, the kind of face time they need, and the inequities of campaign financing are drowning out the candidates that don’t have a huge war chest of finances.  It also means that too many minor issues are getting too much attention, and the entire field is suffering from lack of ability to articulate a position or a plan on the things that matter to the American voters.  That causes frustration which, in turn, causes some of the candidates to lash out and blame the media, like they did following the most recent debate.  And that makes the whole field look bad.  I mean, are you kidding me?  In what debate do the debaters get the opportunity to pre-select the questions, or criticize the moderators for the kinds of questions they asked?  You take what comes, and make the best of it.

There may be one advantage to the large field.  If there’s no clear nominee by convention time, after the first round, the committed delegates are free to nominate and vote for whom they please.  It’s been a long time since that happened, but it might be a good thing for the GOP in finding a consensus candidate who can unify the party and draw support from the various factions which do not seem inclined to unify behind a candidate now unless he or she reflects their exclusive perspective.

Will Following the Money lead to the end of the Trail?

One of the best arguments in favor of the Citizens United decision might well be the effect that cash is having on the GOP primary race.  Trump is spending huge amounts of his own money, but has come to the point where he has also started asking for contributions, which may mean that even he has a limit on the amount of his own fortune he will invest in this campaign.  Comparatively, other candidates who are creeping up on his poll numbers are spending relatively little cash, their own or that which has been contributed, because they simply don’t have large amounts of it.  That would include Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina.  Ted Cruz has a supporting billionaire, and a pretty good sized campaign account, along with a lot of PAC money, but hasn’t picked up a lot of traction with it.  Marco Rubio’s numbers are better than Cruz’s, yet he has spent about a fourth of what Cruz has paid out.  And of course, Jeb Bush is the fundraising king, and still has a bundle in his PAC, but his poll numbers are dropping like a stone in a well.

It seems that Carson and Fiorina are making the most of their media face time and debate appearances.  In addition to that, I don’t think I’ve seen any GOP candidate on Facebook to the extent that Carson is.  His campaign staff seems to be young, and tech-savvy, both important factors in this election cycle.

If money was the key factor in the GOP primary, Bush would be fighting with Trump, neck and neck in the polls.  For what he’s laid out, Trump’s numbers are small, and Bush’s are miniscule.

On the Issues

Carson and Fiorina, who are both “outsiders” when it comes to politics, seem to be hitting on the issues that voters want candidates to discuss, at least more so than most of the other candidates in the field.  They each have proposals and plans in response to issues like health care, education, and foreign policy, which come to the top of the list.  They’re not ignoring social issues, but they aren’t focusing their campaigns on themes that haven’t really resonated with voters for a while, like most of the other candidates are doing.  Trump has tried to nail down the “anti-Obama” theme, which has garnered him 25% of the Republican polling, and 75% who are saying “I’m voting for someone else, thank you.”

Who Isn’t Going to get the GOP Nomination

This is probably an easier question to answer than figuring out who will get it.  My number one answer to this question is Jeb Bush.  Nominating Jeb would be telling the country that the Republicans are no longer interested in the Presidency, and are content to work with a majority in, perhaps, one house of Congress.  I’m not in favor of judging one family member by the actions of another, but I’m pretty sure, looking at the numbers and the preferences, the electoral history and the exit polls, that the Bush family will not count another President of the US among their family members, either sons of George H.W. or grandsons.

Rather than a paragraph as to why each of the following won’t be the nominee, I’ll just make a list of names and let you figure it out:  Chris Christie, Bobby Jindahl, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, George Pataki, Jim Gilmore, and Rick Santorum.

It won’t be Rand Paul.  For obvious reasons, he just doesn’t have the personality or the ability to attract voters.  He’s not even as popular among right wing extremists in the GOP as his father was.  Nor will Donald Trump get it.  There’s no way he can, drawing only 25% or so of the support.  At each primary stop, someone will come out ahead, and he won’t be able to handle it.  The possibility of a Trump candidacy scares the RNC to the point where they are openly opposed to it, and surreptitiously working against it.  He resonates with a more extreme, anti-government segment of the far right, and that’s not palatable with moderate Republicans who wouldn’t do it openly, but who will vote for Mrs. Clinton when they are safe within the confines of the private voting booth.

My own preferences, by the way, are in that list, so I am being fair.

Who’s Left Standing

Looking at the list in the previous paragraphs, that leaves Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio as potential candidates.  Each one of them brings something to the table that the GOP desperately needs to help move forward.  Don’t discount the racial or gender issues here.  Even if those are just surface issues, and they have to do with the image the GOP projects, the fact that three of their most viable candidates represent the two largest minority groups in the US, and one is a woman, is a decisive issue, IMHO

If you look at head to head polling, name recognition is going to be a major issue for Carson and Fiorina, neither of whom are polling as well as Mrs. Clinton.  Looking at the numbers and at the odds, Rubio emerges as the best possible candidate that the GOP can field.  He can gather enough of the Hispanic vote to close that gap, and the potential for carrying Florida is there, though he does not .  His biggest problem may be convincing the conservatives in his own party to turn out for him.  I’m not saying this will be easy, but Rubio, more than any other candidate, makes it doable.

Evangelical Christians will have to come to grips with Rubio’s Catholic faith.  And there have been problems related to misinformation regarding his parents and their immigration from Cuba to the US, during the Batista dictatorship, not Castro, as Rubio once claimed.  However, Rubio seems to be the strongest candidate that the GOP can field, when you look at the numbers.  It remains to be seen if he will be able to win enough delegates to have it sewn up before the convention, but he’d be a great candidate nominated from the floor.

So, It’s November 2016, and the Winner is…

You don’t think I’m really going to step all the way out on that limb.

I am, however, going to do some educated speculating, based on my background in history and political science, and on the observations of a number of non-partisan pundits who often get these things right, or at least are in the ballpark when it comes to accuracy of their predictions.  And it’s not too early to at least put forth some odds when it comes to some of the candidates, based on all of the analytical tools that are used in accurately pinpointing what the results of an election might be.

Such an analysis does not necessarily reflect my own political perspective, nor how I will be casting my ballot.  I’m only pointing to the odds, with the data that is available to do so.  Obviously, I’m not Nate Silber of the New York Times, or even Quinnipiac or Pew Survey.  But all that data is available, so I can at least have some fun with it, and see where it goes.  It’s still a crowded field, and it is early in the season, but there is some data that places likely odds on certain candidates when it comes to their taking the oath of office in January of 2017.  I will repeat that this has nothing to do with my preferences, it is simply taking a look at the numbers, everything that is available, past trends, and expert analysis across the spectrum, and making an educated guess with supporting evidence.  I used to be somewhat amused at the amazement shown by my former social studies students over my accuracy in predicting election outcomes.  It’s a matter of observing, knowing what the pundits use to make their guess, and using several sources.

Predicting that someone might win is not the same as unqualified support for that candidate.  You know, it’s kind of annoying when the fans of a particular football team are asked who is going to win tonight’s game, in spite of glaring evidence to the contrary, “our team is!”  If you’re looking for that kind of cheerleading, you probably need to stop reading now.

Based on data, including 2012 exit polling and analysis, current polls and trends, and the information from several of the more reliable pundits, my guess for the best odds of winning the White House in 2016 is Hillary Clinton.  Here’s why.

Benghazi is Over

It would probably have been expedient to wait on making a prediction such as this after the hearings were over, though all indications, including the six or seven prior investigations, pointed to this issue amounting to either nothing, or to nothing that would actually harm Mrs. Clinton’s campaign.  The problems and issues that came from previous investigations should have been a clue that this one would also prove to be little more than political grandstanding.  I’m not sure that our Congress is capable, in today’s political climate, of conducting a genuine investigation into a matter that has impact for one side or the other in a politically charged atmosphere, which is a symptom of what is gravely wrong with the partisan, “winner take all,” no compromise politics that are status quo these days.  When the Speaker of the House decided to resign under pressure from a far right caucus in his party, I figured this would turn in Hillary’s direction.  Then when a former committee member confessed to the political objective of the Republicans on the committee, and its GOP chairman, Trey Gowdy (R-SC) broke ranks and essentially confessed and repented on Face the Nation the weekend before the hearings, I figured it was over.

Americans were already divided pretty much along political lines over Mrs. Clinton’s culpability and involvement in the Benghazi situation anyway.  She’s picked up support among independents in the wake of the committee’s toned-down and soft conducting of the hearing.  A majority of American voters now believe that the committee was politically motivated, and that there’s really nothing to investigate when it comes to her email server or the incident in Benghazi.  And that’s huge, when coupled with the other developments related to this election.

Core Constituents

Minority voting will be a major factor in the 2016 election.  More Americans of Hispanic and African American heritage will cast ballots than ever before.  And if current trends hold out, as most polls seem to indicate they will, the GOP candidate will have to pull down more than 65% of the white vote to win.  Romney, by contrast, got 59% of the white vote, as high a percentage as any recent Republican except George H.W. Bush, who got 59% of the white vote in his 1988 win.  The white vote is predicted to drop by about 4% between 2012 and 2016, while the minority vote, boosted by major increases in Hispanic voter registration, will increase by about 5%.  Mrs. Clinton polls favorably among 93% of African Americans, 88% of Hispanics, and 76% of Asian-Americans, and 42% of white voters.  If that holds, 58% of the white vote will not be enough for the Republican to win, whoever it happens to be.

Mrs. Clinton also has substantial polling numbers among voters under 35, which has been a key constituency for Democrats in Presidential election years, though they don’t materialize as well during mid-term elections.  Her polling numbers among this constituency are about the same as President Obama’s were at this time in the last cycle, though the population of this group is larger than it was then.

The Blue Wall

We love to look at the national, head to head polls, but keep in mind, the Presidential election is based on electoral votes, not the popular vote.  Both parties have build geographical strongholds across the map.  The difference between the one the Democrats have built, and the one the Republicans have built is population, and by translation, electoral votes.

From the Potomac River north, east of the Ohio, the Democrats have built a supportive constituency that provides double digit percentage differences in the votes between their candidates and those of the other party.  The upper Midwest adds states to that “blue wall” like Michigan and Illinois, which are part of the ten most populous in the country, and rich with electoral votes.  The wall is anchored by the West Coast, including California with its mother lode of electoral votes.

If you look at the core states in the blue wall, those that Democrats have won by 10+ percentage points in each of the last six election cycles, the electoral votes add up to 240.  That means that from the remaining swing states, or states that tend to lean Democratic, the candidates need only 30 more votes to nail down the election.  Add Wisconsin, Nevada and Colorado, which have been reliably Democratic, and you have more than enough.  Democratic majorities have also developed in Ohio, resulting from the boom in the auto industry, and Virginia, where growth in the number of voters in the counties adjacent to Washington, DC have switched the state to blue.

Mrs. Clinton’s poll preferences in virtually all of the blue wall are substantial, indicating that she will likely do as well here, or better, than her predecessor.

Incidentally, Mrs. Clinton also has higher polling numbers than the GOP candidates do in red states like Arkansas, where she was once first lady, and in Arizona, which her husband was the first Democrat to carry since Truman.

Winning on the Issues

By an almost two to one margin, Mrs. Clinton has gained support on the issues that the American people want their candidates to address over her Republican rivals.  I’m not sure whether it’s the nature of the Republican debates and the sniping that has created this bump, or whether she just sits where most Americans think she can do some good.  A majority of Americans are with her on health care, education, on most jobs and economy issues, and on foreign policy.  That may change as some of the lesser known, non-politician Republicans like Ben Carson get more recognition and face time, but right now, she can truthfully say that most Americans are in agreement with her position on these issues.

The Trump Campaign theme of “make America great again” seems to have a lot of attention, but only from a fractional percentage of Republicans who support him.  The media hasn’t really pointed it out, but even a majority of Republicans don’t think America has fallen from greatness.

The Realities of the Campaign

Citizens United has gone a long way toward changing the structure of political campaigns, particularly on the federal level.  And it will most definitely have an impact on the 2016 campaign, though perhaps not in as predictable a way as was once thought.

Realistically, Mrs. Clinton isn’t going to have to spend much money winning the Democratic nomination.  Once the candidates are out of the gate, and past the initial primaries, particularly New Hampshire, Vermont is the only other state that Bernie Sanders has any realistic hope of winning.  Estimates are that Hillary will raise at least $1 billion to spend on the head to head race against the GOP nominee.  Several major Republican contributors have already tossed in the towel, as far as what they are planning to give, and it’s gone to candidates who aren’t even going to win the nomination, like Jeb Bush.  Even Donald Trump, who up until now had spent his own money, is hitting the fundraising trail.

It’s not just the fundraising, though.  Mrs. Clinton is laying the groundwork for a campaign on the offensive, and I would guess that she will take full advantage of the snipes and swipes that Republicans are beating each other up with now.  Polling data from the 2012 election, which underscored some solid reasons why President Obama, in spite of an incomplete economic recovery, and continued problems in the Middle East, was able to craft a message that resonated with the voters, and won a fairly convincing re-election under difficult circumstances.

Mrs. Clinton’s core support is in the same ball park that President Obama operated from in 2012.  While Bernie Sanders may make a strong showing, and capture the support of the left wing of the party, his voters will step into the Clinton column if he doesn’t win the nomination, and she’ll get his support.  That may not be the scenario that develops on the other side, where some conservatives have publicly declared that if it takes letting the other side win to send a message to their moderate core, they’re willing to do so in 2016.

Part 2

So, later on I’ll discuss the odds of who I think is the most likely potential GOP nominee.

The Achilles Heel of American Christianity, Part 2: The Enemy in the Culture War

“You have heard the law that says, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.  But I say, love your enemies.  Pray for those who persecute you!  In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.  For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.”  Matthew 5:43-45 NLT

Are there exceptions to this teaching of Jesus?

The Christian school that I serve as administrator has made a commitment to live up to the expectation of being “distinctively Christian.”  That is one of the adjectives we use to promote our ministry.  The first thing that most people think about when they hear that, in relation to a Christian education institution, is that we integrate Biblical truth into the curriculum, and teach from a Biblical worldview.  And it does include those things.  But one of the other commitments that we determined to make at the time that we adopted that adjective was that we must be consistent in the example we set for our students, parents, staff, and for the community, in everything we do.  That means our conduct on the athletic field, and in the bleachers.  It means the bus ride for students to and from school.  It particularly means our financial policy, the conduct of our business, balancing consistency with grace, which required the discerning of God’s direction through the Holy Spirit.

It means being completely unselfish, thinking about the needs of others ahead of our own interests, understanding that what we do will be measured against our words, and that the example we set will have a direct impact on the impressionable minds of our students, and their spiritual formation.  The school’s leadership must adopt the same servant attitude expected of pastors and church leaders, because this isn’t about us.

To be honest, I never really thought that the bakery business would become a focal point of controversy over constitutional rights, but it has.  There are multiple instances around the country of Christian-owned bakeries refusing to provide wedding cakes for same-sex marriage ceremonies.  On the one hand, there is the question of the extent of the religious freedom of the bakery owners.  On the other hand, there is the issue of discrimination and the freedom of expression of those desiring to marry someone of the same gender.  Of course, there has now been a court ruling, in Colorado, which sides against the bakery owner and with the same-sex couple.  The court determined that the bakery owner’s religious freedom does not extend to his business in the public arena, and that the business is obligated to comply with anti-discrimination laws.  The court, in essence, said that the owner’s religious freedom is not violated, since he can continue to be opposed to same-sex marriage, and can openly express his opinion to the customers, if he chooses.  They determined that baking a cake doesn’t constitute an endorsement of anything for which it might be provided, and that the “endorsement”, if there is one, rests with the person who paid for the cake, and will serve it.

Let me make it clear that I don’t support same-sex marriage.  I also don’t support a marriage in which the husband and wife will be “unequally yoked” in terms of their faith, either, meaning that one or the other isn’t a believer.  And I don’t believe in divorce, unless it meets the criterion allowed by scripture.

Having said that, if I owned a bakery, and a same-sex couple came in and ordered a wedding cake, I’d provide them with the same quality and level of service that anyone else would get.  I certainly wouldn’t consider that an endorsement of their marriage, any more than any other cake I’d ever baked constituted an endorsement of any other previous customer’s marriage, including those who got divorced later on, or those in which one partner wasn’t a Christian.  As far as the business goes, I’m the believer.  But the business isn’t a person, and as its owner, I am free to operate it under Christian practices and principles, including honesty, integrity, treating customers fairly and in setting a good example for Christ to the community that I serve.

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”  John 3:17-18, ESV

Think about that passage from the perspective of a Christian bakery owner.  If you’ve determined that two people of the same gender who come into your business with plans to marry each other, and order a cake from you, are not believers, but are part of the world that is already condemned, refusing to serve them will only confirm their unbelief.  What they will see, and experience, from a self-identified Christian, will look to them like bigotry and discrimination, judgment, and condemnation, and will serve to strengthen their already negative opinion of Christians and the Christian faith.

What they need to see is Jesus in you.

American Christians are really good with condemnation, criticism and judgment of the flaws and sins of others.  Pastors preach sermons that point out why their congregation, or denomination, or perspective, is right, and why the churches down the street and around the corner, are wrong.  We throw terms around like “conservative,” and “liberal,” and get angry at those who don’t readily agree with, or accept our premises and our list of “dont’s” to define Christianity.  The passage I cited from John says that those who believe in the name of the only Son of God are not condemned.  In light of that message, if I own a bakery, am I doing more to advance the Kingdom of God by refusing to provide a cake for a same-sex marriage, claiming that doing so violates my personal religious liberty, or do I provide the cake and my best service out of gratitude for the fact that I am not condemned because of the blood of Christ, and I don’t want to prevent someone else from seeing that in me?

Yeah, that’s a rhetorical question.  But think about this.  When we decide to move away from the church’s mission and purpose, and protect our own rights and entitlements while fighting the culture war, every “war” has an enemy.  And what does Jesus say we are to do for our enemies?

Something to Think About

My Mom, born and raised in rural West Virginia, didn’t have the opportunity to get too much of an education.  Her wisdom was gathered from her parents by observation, and by her respect for, and observation of the other adults around her.  She was not particularly articulate, but she expressed her wisdom quite often by quoting her version of some old sayings.  I heard many of them over and over, and of course they are committed to memory.

“Don’t criticize someone else until you’ve walked a country mile in their shoes.” 

And, if you can imagine this being spoken with a West Virginia accent, “Them that don’t remember their history are doomed to repeat it.” 

Much of what I see and read on social media about Islam, Muslims, and the Middle East has convinced me that most people, or I should say most of those who express themselves politically on social media, know very little history, very little about interpreting it, and very little about either Islam or Christianity.  Read on, and give some thought to what I’m writing.  We’ll get back to this discussion at the end.

Let’s try putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes for a while, and while we’re in them, lets talk a little bit about history.

How would we feel if the victors of a major world war came in, sliced off the South and the West and created six or seven countries or political units out of the territory based on their economic interests, not ours, occupied the land with their military to make sure we followed their rule, set the various ethnic groups and religious groups against each other for their own benefit, and displaced thousands of people from their homes, cities and provinces?  How would we feel if a few privileged leaders turned the mineral wealth of the nation over to foreign developers to extract, and received massive amounts of money for doing so, while the majority of the people, already suffering under the weight of poverty, were at the mercy of their own corrupt leadership and the occupying military?  The few elite rulers, privileged by tradition and heritage, become fabulously wealthy, while the bulk of the wealth and resources benefits foreign investors, companies and countries.

I don’t think many Americans would sit still for that.  We’d do whatever we could to throw the foreign invaders out.

That’s a very unlikely scenario for the US, but it is everyday reality in the Middle East.  From the Turkish border to the bottom of Saudi Arabia, and from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf, the mostly desert sub-continent of the Middle East was under the control of one or another Islamic nationality from about 1200 right up to 1917.  The Caliphates, during which the various sects of Islam developed, eventually gave way to rule by the Ottoman Turks.  As the power of the Ottoman Empire waned, and the emperor decided to side with the Germans in the First World War, mainly against his traditional enemy the Russian Czar, and against growing British imperialism, the price they paid in the peace settlement was the loss of the territory that is now occupied by Israel, Jordan, Iraq and Syria.

The area was really never stable.  Strong, dictatorial, absolute rule by shieks and royal families was the main means of peacekeeping.  But for most of the Arabic inhabitants of the region, absolute rule was at least in the hands of other Muslims.  The uneasy relationship between the various sects of Islam, such as the Sunni and Shi’ite groups, along with the non-Arabic Persians, Kurds and Turks, and Christian minorities like the Armenians, often flared into violence and war.

All of that changed when the British took over in 1917, gaining control of the area through the ill-fated Treaty of Versailles.  Now, the Middle East was under foreign control.  The British saw the economic potential of developing the oil resources, and building transportation over the trade routes to India.  There are those who could argue that British rule was a humanitarian improvement, and maybe the case could be made that the British were probably less oppressive than some of the previous rulers of the region had been, and that their intentions were honorable, desiring to bring democracy and freedom to oppressed people, but that’s really not what happened, and it certainly isn’t how it was perceived.  The British priority was economic, not political, and the people of the region didn’t see their presence as a positive thing, nor different in any way from their previous experience.  Their way of fighting back, since they did not possess the means to face a well-equipped and well-trained army straight up, was to do as they had always done, and that included sabotage, duplicity, corruption and terrorism.  That’s not justifying those things, mind you, it is simply explaining why things are the way they are.

The United States became involved through its alliance with Britain, and its involvement in the Second World War.   We supplied the Russians with Lend-Lease goods through a corridor that ran through Iran.  We helped the British keep the Germans out so that the flow of Arabian oil could supply the allies in Europe.  And it was American pressure following the war that opened up Palestine for increased Jewish immigration, leading to the establishment of the modern state of Israel.  And once again, while we insisted that the British grant autonomy and independence to the various states of the region that they created for their economic interest, both Britain and the US maintained a heavy military presence in the area to manage the development of resources, mainly oil, protect the trade routes, and that has always involved favoring and dealing with certain royal families and nationalities with favor, while treating others as enemies.

The paranoia about militant Islam in this country, and the ignorance of the geography and history of the Middle East, is the source of major misinformation about the Islamic faith, and everything associated with it.  The constant complaining and whining about why peaceful Muslims don’t become outraged at the results of the brutality of terrorists, and why they don’t condemn the terrorist networks and organizations that sponsor it, is a symptom of the ignorance about the culture and religion.  These are people who have lived under oppressive regimes for generations, for hundreds of years.  When they have protested injustice and oppression, they’ve been massacred as a result of it.  They believe in an uncharitable, unloving god who holds their fate in his hands.  Protest gains them nothing.  But sacrificing themselves to their god, on the altar of war, is the quickest and easiest path to heaven.  There may be some, among the terrorists, who are aiming at world domination, or the extermination of all “infidels,” but for most, it is simply a matter of defending what is theirs.  They want us out, because they see Christian influenced Western culture as a corrupting influence leading people away from Islam.  And they see an independent state of Israel as an imperialist outpost designed to protect the presence of the Western powers in the Middle East.

We’ve seen how this goes, but it doesn’t seem like we’ve learned much.  Our interference in Iran, and support for the government of the Shah led to a fundamentalist Islamic regime led by clerics, and set Iran back years in its development.  The Assad dictatorship in Syria resulted from support of the regime by Russia, which is now not able to protect its friend, and into that vacuum comes ISIS, or ISOL, founded on the old idea of the historical Caliphates, which represent Islamic political and military power at its peak.  Our interference in Iraq, twice, has helped that country unravel, and open the door for ISIS to roll through Western Iraq.  Because they are Sunni, they have widespread support while the US backed Shi’ite government is trapped and surrounded in Baghdad.

If all of that were happening to us, how would we respond?

That’s not to excuse terrorism.  But understanding it is the first step in eliminating it, and it will take a lot of understanding to bring peace to the Middle East.  It may never happen.  But we need to get out of the business of contributing to its development.


Iran: We Can’t Afford to Play Politics With This One

Perhaps the most frightening issue in the world today is the fear that some rogue dictator will get hold of a nuclear device and hold the world hostage by threatening to use it.  That’s a real fear, since the power of religion includes philosophical perspectives which devalue human life to the point where suicidal madness is a real possibility in order to please or appease some imaginary deity.

Scientific development has made the possibility of acquiring nuclear technology a reality in places where the resources allow for it.  Unfortunately, there are some rogue nations whose leaders have the power to diminish the prosperity of their citizens in order to make the development of nuclear weapons a priority.   Hence, the United States, and the other major powers in the United Nations, are working to prevent such a weapon from falling into the hands of rogue nations like Iran and North Korea.

Keep in mind that the reason the sanctions have worked so far, and there is some doubt about the completeness of their success, because they have international support, particularly from nations like Russia and China.  And whether or not the sanctions continue will depend on the level of cooperation that comes from the international community.  There is a lot of interest in keeping Iran nuclear free, but there is also a lot of interest in finding another way to do it, and that seems to be the direction the international community wants to go.  The US is still the most influential power at the table, and our expertise in nuclear technology is an essential element in preventing nuclear proliferation, but it is clear that we will not be able to keep the sanctions in place if several other nations want to take a different path.

Keep in mind that the Republicans made up the majority of the opposition to the sanctions.  That was a major difficulty for UN Ambassador John Bolton, and for President Bush.  Had it not been for Democratic party support, the US would not have supported the resolution for sanctions against Iran.  Ironically, now they are supporting keeping the sanctions in place.  They are playing politics, and using this international issue as another means to put obstacles in the path of the President, and keep him from accomplishing anything.  But while the GOP plays its games, Iran moves closer to a nuclear weapon.  The Republicans are being very short sighted with their predictable opposition to an agreement they didn’t even read before they criticized it.  The stakes are too high here and real solutions will be much more effective than stone-faced opposition.

There’s only so much life in sanctions that slow down, but are not completely stopping, Iran’s move toward acquiring nuclear weapons.  There are humanitarian issues associated with strangling the economic life out of a country, and it is not only Americans who are beginning to get uncomfortable with the suffering of the Iranian people, no matter what their government leaders do.  And ultimately, the sanctions will fail.  They have succeeded in buying time for the international community to figure out how to deal with the issue, but sanctions won’t be 100% successful.  What’s the contingency plan in place to be enacted on the day that Iran succeeds in achieving the first major step toward having a nuclear bomb?  Because that is what will happen if there is no change made in the status quo.  At least the proposed plan makes it possible for the UN to “snap back” to sanctions if the Iranians violate the agreement, and it would make it possible for a much closer, up front inspection of the nuclear activity taking place in the country.

It’s not a perfect plan, but no plan of this nature, basically interfering with the sovereignty of an independent nation to prevent them from acquiring something we already have, can be perfect.  Perhaps the best asset we have is Ernest Moniz, the nuclear physicist who is also our Secretary of Energy.  He’s the best nuclear physicist in the world, and that’s who you want in charge if there’s any treaty with the Iranians regarding their nuclear potential.  His presence and involvement in this issue is the one thing that assures its success.  If you set aside your political bias, and read up on Ernest Moniz, including what he’s said about this particular treaty, it will be very reassuring.  The man knows what he’s talking about, and what he has to say makes a lot of the critics look like they don’t.

What’s the alternative?  I haven’t heard one.  Continuing the sanctions depends on the UN security council, and a few countries that have the economic power, and political reach, to make or break any deal.  But the experts tell us that even with sanctions, Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon, or at least the capability to make one, is a foregone conclusion.  Do we take military action?  The security council would never authorize it, and if the US went in alone, the cost, in terms of lives lost and destruction of property, would be staggering, not to mention the trillions of dollars in monetary cost.  Iran is a large, very rugged, desert country.  There’s no assurance of a quick, easy win, and a war could take years to resolve.  It would be a tremendous risk to Israel.  Iran is a large, rugged, mountainous desert country.  Invading wouldn’t be easy, and the risk of getting bogged down for years is high.  Is it worth it?

Congress needs to evaluate this treaty by consulting the experts, and determining whether it achieves the goal of keeping Iran from building a nuclear weapon.  What we are doing now isn’t working to accomplish that, so doing nothing is not a viable plan.  The paid propagandists who are running ads encouraging people to call their Congressmen and derail this treaty are just playing politics and don’t know squat about the treaty, what it would do, or how it would work.  It’s time for some good, old fashioned common sense.  Who’s ready to stand up and show some?