Category Archives: Politics

Grandbabies, More Food, and Politics (Sort of…)

My day today began with my grandson. A perk of my sabbatical is that I’m able to spend more time with my family – especially my grandbabies. Romeo is grandbaby #3 (of 4 with Danae due in May), and his mama had an appointment, so she brought him to me. I don’t think there’s anything better than grandbabies, and Romeo is a really good one!  We had a great time together.

 
I did some more cooking today, and this dish was better than the one I did on Monday. Garlic parmesan chicken was my next experiment, and Michelle agreed – it was really good! Here’s the recipe, but even more important…here’s the picture!

 
I plan to do a lot of reading on my sabbatical, and I decided to begin with one of my favorite pastors – a mentor of mine from the late 1800’s, Charles Spurgeon. I’m reading An All-Around Ministry, which is a book of the chapel addresses he gave to his pastoral students at the college he founded for future pastors in England. Ironically, I read this on the day that I watched Donald Trump give his first press conference as President-elect. I have no plans of getting political on you, but Spurgeon’s words to pastors back then hit a resounding cord with me today.

“Politically, we have come back to a condition in which there will be a respect for righteousness, justice, and truth rather than for self-assertion, national gain, and conquest. We shall, I trust, no longer be steered by a false idea of British interests, and the policy which comes of it; but by the great principles of righteousness, justice, and humanity. This is all I want to see: parties, as such, are nothing to us nor individual statesmen, except so far as they represent right principles. We are for those who are on the side of justice, peace, and love.”

Yes!

My day ended with a bit of an emotional hit…and a victory. First, the emotional hit.

 
My dad passed away in 2013. He was unexpectedly diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in the fall of 2012 and was gone by early 2013. I still feel the pain and the loss to this day. My sister posted this picture on Facebook this evening – a picture I hadn’t seen in years – and it sent me down memory lane. I don’t remember this specific day, but I vividly remember the night before. It was Christmas Eve 1975 (I think), and I was 5 years old. I must have been pretty excited about Christmas, because I remember waking up and walking out to the family room to discover my mom putting presents under the tree. I remember seeing the Yogi the Bear doll under the tree before my mom frustratingly sent me back to bed. I don’t remember if I was upset or if my mom was upset about the way she sent me back to bed. All I remember is that she came into my room a bit later and gave me Yogi to sleep with that night. I slept with him every night for many years after that.

And this is the victory…

 
Max and newcomer Vido sleeping together on the same pallet! Vido arrived a month ago as a birthday gift for Michelle from me and the kids, and Max was none too happy. However, over the last few weeks, Max has warmed up a bit, and for the first time tonight, he allowed Vido to share his coveted pallet next to my desk in my home office. I think this is going to work!

Random Thought Thursday: July 16, 2015

President Obama is being treated unfairly by the news media.

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Ok.  Now that I’ve got your attention, let me explain why I feel the need to defend the president.  I watched his press conference yesterday on the nuclear agreement he and other countries signed with Iran.  He made a good case for why he agreed to it, and his critics are making a good case why he shouldn’t have.  I have my opinions about this, but that’s not the point of this post.

In addition to being concerned about a rouge nation like Iran having a nuclear weapon, I’m very concerned about the 4 Americans being held as prisoners there, especially American Pastor Saaed Abedini who is being held because of his Christian faith.  So, I watched the news conference, and sure enough, a question about the 4 prisoners was brought up to the president…and this is when things got ugly.

CBS News’ Unfair Question

During the conference, CBS News’ Major Garrett asked the president this question: “Can you tell the country sir why you are content, with all the fanfare around this deal, to leave the conscious of this nation, the strength of this nation, unaccounted for in relation to these four Americans?”

It was apparent that the president was annoyed by the question – not just about the words – but about the tone of the reporter’s question.  And I was too.  To insinuate that the president is “content” with these 4 prisoners being in Iran is unfair.  He is not, and his composed response was a far calmer response than I would have given.

The president responded, “I’ve got to give you credit, Major, for how you craft those questions. The notion that I’m content as I celebrate with American citizens languishing in Iranian jails, Major, that’s nonsense, and you should know better.” Then Obama reminded everyone at the conference and viewers that he has met with families of some of the Americans held in Iranian custody, and that his administration is “working diligently to try to get them out.”

Obama explained why tying the release of the Americans to the nuclear deal would not have been an ideal plan, and it made sense to me.  He said, “Nobody’s content. And our diplomats and our teams are working diligently to try and get them out. Now, if the question is ‘why we did not tie the [nuclear] negotiations to their release, think about the logic that that creates. Suddenly Iran realizes, ‘you know what, maybe we can get additional concessions out of the Americans by holding these individuals.'”

Even Pastor Saaed’s Wife Agrees

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In an interview by Leonardo Blair of the Christian Post,  Naghmeh Abedini, Pastor Saaed’s wife, said that she supported the president’s decision saying it “makes sense” and that she knew all along that her husband’s release would not have been a part of the deal and she also made it clear that she never asked that her husband’s release be a part of the nuclear deal.

She said, “I’ve never asked for Saeed to be part of the deal but I’ve hoped that on the sidelines that his release would have been secured as we still have some leverage with the Iranian government and that has been my hope that his release would have been secured even on the sidelines.”

Fox News Not So Fair and Balanced

Despite the president’s explanation and Naghmeh Abedini’s words, Fox News published an opinion piece by Jay Sekulow entitled: Iran deal: Obama leaves Pastor Saeed, Other Americans Behind.  In it he writes, “The worst case scenario has happened. The Obama administration has signed a deal with Iran – a deal that failed to secure the freedom of American Pastor Saeed Abedini and other Americans who remain imprisoned in Iran. It is unconscionable that the United States would ink a deal and leave Americans behind. But that’s exactly what has occurred.”

Really?  He’s leaving them behind? That’s nonsense.

At the press conference yesterday, Obama said, “That’s why those issues (the prisoners and the nuclear deal) are not connected, but we are working every single day to try and get them out and won’t stop until they are out and rejoined with their families.”

Naghmeh Abedini confirmed this.  She said, “I know they (U.S. diplomats) have also been talking to the Iranian government on the sidelines. Again, it does make sense that he was not part of the deal but I was hoping on the sidelines as they were reaching a deal they were also securing the release of Saeed and the other Americans. But his explanation does make sense. I’ve never wanted my husband to be part of having to give up something, our government and the rest of the world, for their release. And I didn’t want that to be used as part of the deal.”

Why does this bother me?

I’m not a huge fan of the president – nor have a been a huge fan of any president for that matter.  Politics are messy, and truth is hard to find within politics.  There’s so much gridlock and posturing that I’m pretty skeptical and cynical when it comes to politics – especially politics on a national level. So, why go to the hassle of writing this – especially when politics and pastoring are not a good mix?  Because on the issue of Pastor Saaed and the other 3 prisoners, President Obama is being treated unfairly.

I have read how many presidents from the past were ripped up by Americans being held hostage on their watch.  I know that Jimmy Carter was consumed with grief about the Iranian hostages during his presidency, and I believe that President Obama is no different. Sadly, many people will simply watch or read the unfair and hateful things that news outlets like CBS, Fox, and others are saying about the president on this issue and believe it.

But on this one, will you please give President Obama the benefit of the doubt that he actually does want to secure the release of these men – not just because of the political gain it may win him but simply because he’s a human who is genuinely concerned for the welfare of these lives?  And will you please continue to pray for him and for the diplomats that are working to secure the release of these 4 men.  May God bring these men home safely and soon.

My Thoughts on Ferguson

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I know very little about all of the details in Ferguson. However, I do know quite a bit about serving on a grand jury. I was the foreman for a grand jury for 3 months a few years back.  I served a total of 26 days and heard literally hundreds of cases.

Read about it here.

Very rarely did we ever return a “no bill.” Meaning, very rarely did we ever not decide that there was probable cause (which is the grand jury requirement as opposed to reasonable doubt) and “indict” the person being prosecuted.  The attorneys almost always came in with an air-tight case, and at times, I felt like we were just there as a puppet jury, churning out “true bills” left and right.

However, there were a few times when the facts in the case just didn’t add up.  A few times (maybe 5 out of the hundreds) when the facts were presented and the case was handed over to the 12 of us – and we just knew that the person being prosecuted probably wasn’t guilty of the charges.

In those rare cases, we would call the attorney back in and deliver a “no bill.”  It was very uncommon, and the prosecutors didn’t like it, but for the sake of justice, we just couldn’t indict the person.

The reason why so many indictments are handed down by grand juries is because cases that aren’t airtight don’t usually make it to them.  98-99% of the time, cases that come to grand juries are no brainers – the accused is probably guilty.

But when a “no bill” is handed down by a grand jury like the one in Ferguson, I tend to trust the grand jury.  They’ve decided that there is not probable cause for the accused.  My hunch is that the case against the officer was not airtight at all, but the pressure from the media and the community demanded that it go to the grand jury anyway.

Again, I don’t know much about the details in Ferguson, but I am confident – because of my experience – that the grand jury was correct when they handed down the rare “no bill” and did not indict the officer.  Not because I know the facts – but because “no bills” are so rare and are reserved for only those times when the facts just don’t add up.

Protesting the Police

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Albuquerque has made national news once again. This time because of the actions on Sunday of a couple hundred people protesting the Albuquerque police force. The protest lasted a long time and turned out not being very peaceful. Here’s the story in case you haven’t heard about it yet: APD Protest Ends After 12 Hours

There have been quite a few police shootings here over the past few years. A couple of weeks ago – just above my house in the foothills open space – a homeless man was shot and killed by the police after a long standoff. I saw all the police activity and actually heard the flash bang go off and the gunshots. It was pretty unsettling. This was the last straw for many in the city – thus the protest.

I’ve been thinking a lot about our police force in light of all this, and here are a few of my thoughts. Admittedly, I may be a bit biased as my brother-in-law is a sheriff in Ohio, and one of my good friends is a police officer here in Albuquerque. But here goes…

1. I personally would not want to be a police officer. The stress and scrutiny would be to much for me. I have a lot of respect and honor for those who serve the community in this way.

2. Albuquerque is a rough city with a lot of violent people in it. It’s no surprise to me that there is so much police activity and that some of the activity leads to violent confrontations with the police.

3. I find it quite humorous that the first thing the people protesting the police will do the minute they feel threatened by the violence in this city is call the police.

4. I’ve never seen a police shooting first-hand. I have no idea what goes on when they are called to confront a violent person. Most Albuquerque citizens haven’t either. So to say what the police should or shouldn’t do in those situations is presumptuous.

5. That said, I wish the man in the foothills wouldn’t have been killed. I don’t wish death on anyone for that matter. I wish the situation could have been resolved in a different way, but… see #4.

In spite of all of this, I still have faith in law enforcement. Are some officers corrupt? Sure. Do some law officers do unlawful things? Yes. The same can be said of anyone in any field.

I have faith that the large majority of law enforcement officers are committed to helping, protecting, and sacrificing for the good of the community. Even here in Albuquerque. And, I still know who I’ll be calling the minute I find myself in need of help.

A Sudanese Dish Named After George W.

Back in 2001 when the United States invaded Iraq, the economic impact was felt worldwide.  In the Sudan, prices for daily goods went up, and the people there – most of whom are very poor – were forced to make changes. People who were already skimping by had to skimp even more.  During this time, a cheap but filling dish emerged that consists of beans, bread and yogurt.  Because of the actions of the US, and because of the financial implications on Sudan, the people called this dish “Bush” – as in George W. Bush.  The name stuck, and today, Bush is a common food staple throughout the country.

These men got a kick out of showing me their meal named after my president!

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Leadership Lessons from Former President Ford

Gerald_FordOver the last 50 years, no president has been overlooked more than Gerald Ford.  He served as our president from 1974-1977 and is best known for the sudden and (according to many) ill-advised pardon of former President Richard Nixon.  I had my kids look at this picture of President Ford, and not one of them had any clue who they were looking at.  When I told them who he was, my daughter Alexis replied, “Who the heck is President Ford?”

I was very young when Ford served as president, and I have little memory of him as well.  Growing up, my brother and I had a metal trash can in our room that had on it a caricature of him swinging a golf club and yelling “Fore!”  In 1976, I do remember voting for him in the election held in my first grade class.  Ironically, I remember the results of that election were the same as the results of the national election:  Ford lost to Jimmy Carter.    That’s about all I remember about him.

I’m reading a fascinating book  by David Gergen called, Eyewitness to Power: The Essence of Leadership Nixon to Clinton.  Gergen served as an adviser to four presidents: Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton, and in the book, he shares leadership lessons he has learned from each one.  Here are some of the lessons on leadership he learned while serving President Ford.

1. He loved his wife dearly and this endeared him to his followers.

One morning, the press watched him making breakfast for his wife, Betty, and not only were they impressed, but so was the rest of the country.  Columnists promoted the idea that any man good enough to make English muffins for his wife in the morning must be good enough to run the country.

Shortly after the inauguration, doctors found that Betty had breast cancer and immediately performed a radical mastectomy.  Hearing the news, Ford sat at his desk in the Oval Office and cried, later describing it as “the lowest and loneliest moment” of his White House days.

With Kennedy before him and Clinton after him, Ford’s love and devotion to his wife (which was not always easy as she struggled with devastating addictions) was a breath of fresh air.  His love and dedication to her spoke volumes about his character and endeared him to many who knew him.

2. He was a man known for telling the truth.

In our relativistic and cynical society, we have come to expect politicians to lie, but this was not the case with President Ford.  He believed that truth is the glue that not only holds government together but civilization as well.  His old nemesis, former President Johnson, after many disparaging remarks behind closed doors told Ford, “You and I have had a lot of head-to-head confrontations, but I never doubted your integrity.”

Gergen states that in his experience of over 30 years in the White House, every administration – save one – has on occasion willfully misled or lied to the press.  He claims that the exception to the rule was the Ford White House, claiming that many modern presidents have been congenital liars, but Ford was a congenital truth-teller.

3. He didn’t need to be president to be happy with his life.

Gergen claims that former presidents Johnson, Nixon, and Clinton needed to win so much so that their unhealthy hunger drove them to extremes that sucked the dignity out of their presidencies.  Ford, on the other hand, entered the presidency content with his life and was not enamored by the position.  Because he was comfortable with himself, he was comfortable having men and women around him who were brighter and more talented in their area of expertise than him, but that didn’t matter to him as long as they could perform well.  He was not intimidated by their success.

President Ford was a man of integrity, and no matter how hard people tried, they could not poke holes in his character.  Maybe this is why he was so unmemorable.  According to many people, his biggest guffaw was pardoning President Nixon for his crimes while in office.  However, Ford had – in his opinion – a very noble reason for doing it.  His conviction was that post-Vietnam America could not handle a long-drawn out trial of a former president.  It would be too damaging and too taxing to a country already reeling from the negative outcomes of the Vietnam War, and so he did what he thought was best for the country.

Tip O’Neill, the former Democratic Speaker of the House, put it well about his friend in his memoirs: “God has been good to America, especially during difficult times.  At the time of the Civil War, he gave us Abraham Lincoln.  And at the time of Watergate, he gave us Gerald Ford – the right man at the right time who was able to put our country back together again.”

Lessons on Leadership from Former President Nixon

richard-nixonIt’s not everyday that someone says they learned something positive from someone like former President Richard Nixon.  He was the only president to resign the office, and he did so after being mowed over by a self-made avalanche of lies and illegal activity.  In many ways, he’s the perfect example of what NOT to do as a leader, but there is someone who thinks that in-spite of all his shortcomings, President Nixon had some admirable leadership qualities from which we can learn.

David Gergen is a Harvard professor, editor of U.S. News and World Report, a regular on CNN, and the author of the book, Eyewitness to Power: The Essence of Leadership Nixon to Clinton.  Gergen served as an adviser to four presidents: Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton, and in the book, he shares leadership lessons he learned from each one.  Here are some of the lessons on leadership he learned while serving President Nixon.

1. He seized the opportunity for personal growth while in the wilderness.

In 1960, Nixon lost the presidential election by less than one percent to John F. Kennedy.  Two years later, he decided to build on that momentum by running for governor of California.  He was defeated by Pat Brown, and it appeared that his political career was over.  As it turned out, his banishment from politics was one of the best things that ever happened to him.  It prepared him to lead.  For the next six years, he wandered in the political wilderness and took that opportunity to deepen and broaden himself intellectually.  He visited four continents, investigating conditions, examining the interests and motivations of other nations, and expanding his storehouse of contacts.  He also read many influential books and spent a lot of time writing out his thoughts.  Gradually, he developed a more sophisticated, tempered, longer-range view of world affairs that became the foundation of his presidency.

2. Faced with bad news, he didn’t flinch but plunged ahead with even more grit.

Toughness in adversity became a hallmark of Nixon’s life.  From childhood, when two of his brothers died and his family faced incredible hardship, all the way through to the dark night of his presidency, toughness proved to be an indispensable element of his success in politics and in life.  In the summer of 1974, as his presidency was crumbling, Nixon was on a trip to the Middle East when the White House physician traveling with him discovered that Nixon had phlebitis – an inflammation that can be fatal.  The doctor advised Nixon to cut his Middle East schedule in half, but Nixon, knowing the political importance of the trip, ordered his agenda be doubled instead!  This scenario was indicative of the resolve and toughness of Nixon who lived through and excelled in times of hardship and crisis.

3. He understood that history was a handmaiden to leadership.

Nixon was a history buff.  He voraciously read books about famous past leaders in order to learn from their successes and failures.  While he spent much of his time reading about foreign leaders, he also took notes repeatedly on his predecessors, analyzing their greatest qualities and evaluating how he measured up.  He drew upon the past in three ways: to gain a broader perspective on his own times, to impress upon his listeners his place in the sun, and to find role models for action.  He believed that a leader must be able to “get on the balcony” in order to observe the patterns of action from afar so that he may participate in them more effectively.

4. He surrounded himself with a steady stream of talented and effective leaders.

Although some of these men – like Chuck Colson – ended up helping Nixon seal his demise, most of the leaders he surrounded himself with became his greatest strength and his greatest legacy.  The dedication in 1990 of his library drew together a wide array of former presidents, cabinet members, and other major figures – almost all of whom had roots in the Nixon era.  Among those who gathered were the Republican Big Four: Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and the sitting President, George Bush.  They all knew that had it not been for Nixon, they might not have made it to the White House.  And by the way, the story didn’t end with Watergate for Colson.  He has gone on to become the leader of Prison Fellowship and one of the most influential voices of our time for justice, humanity, and redemption.  Nixon surrounded himself with a steady stream of leaders who continue to lead well even to this day.