Enough is Enough! Senator Mitch McConnell, Bring the Bill Up for a Vote!

This past Saturday our country suffered another mass shooting, this time in El Paso, Texas. A 21-year-old white supremacist opened fire at a Walmart store and killed 22 people and seriously wounded others. Then, early Sunday morning, another mass shooting took place in downtown Dayton, Ohio and nine civilians were killed.

Time and time again we have witnessed mass killings in our country: Las Vegas, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Orlando, Gilroy, and the list goes on and on. These massacres are in the news for a while, but nothing happens. Our Congress has let us down. 90% of our citizens are in favor of requiring a universal background check before people can purchase guns. This would reduce the number of guns in the hands of those who should not have them (felons, domestic abusers, mentally ill people, etc.)  Currently there are many loopholes (sales at gun shows, online gun sales, etc.) that allow guns to get into the wrong hands.

There is one man who has blocked legislation that would require a universal background check: Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell. He has repeatedly refused to bring legislation passed by the House of Representatives to a vote in the Senate. On a wide variety of issues this has contributed to the deadlock and polarization of our Congress, as moderate measures are not even given a chance. This is especially troubling regarding background checks.  Last month, a bipartisan bill passed the House (240 to 190) that would require a universal background check prior to the purchase of guns and would eliminate the loopholes. It was co-sponsored by Republican Representative Pete King who affirmed, “When background checks are used, they keep guns out of the hands of people that we all agree shouldn’t have guns. As government officials it is our responsibility to protect our citizens, and when it comes to gun violence, we must do more. The overwhelming majority of Americans want to see action and we owe it to the victims and their families to prevent such tragedies from occurring again.” Senator McConnell has not even brought this bill up for a vote in the Senate. The fact that the NRA (National Rifle Association) has given millions of dollars in contributions to his election campaigns clearly suggests that McConnell is in the NRA’s back pocket.

This bill is not perfect and will not end all gun violence in our country. McConnell does not have to vote in favor of this bill, but he does have the moral and legal responsibility to bring it up for discussion and a vote in the Senate. I urge my readers to communicate with Senator McConnell and to urge him to bring the bill to the Senate.  This is not a left/right issue. Even President Trump has urged a bipartisan response that would include “stricter background checks”. Enough is enough. We, the people of the United States, need to demand action by those in Congress who represent us. The lives of our neighbors are in the balance.

Mueller has spoken. So has Barr. Is it time for an impeachment inquiry?

As everyone knows, Special Counsel Robert Mueller headed up the investigation on alleged Russian interference in our 2016 presidential election. The twenty-two-month long investigation resulted in the Mueller Report with the following conclusions:

  • There was definite interference by Russia in our election.
  • The was not enough evidence to bring charges of conspiracy between the Trump election campaign and Russian officials.
  • There were ten episodes of alleged obstruction of justice. The Report laid out the evidence in favor and against obstruction, but did not state a conclusion. It suggested that the Congress has this responsibility.
  • The Report did not exonerate the President.

Within 48 hours, Attorney General Barr wrote a four-page document that summarized the report. Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein made a decision to affirm that President Trump was innocent of the allegations of obstruction of justice. Trump went even further and claimed that there was no obstruction and that he was fully exonerated.

Mueller disagreed with the Barr summary and wrote two letters to Barr to rectify that misleading conclusion. Not obtaining the rectification that he sought, Mueller broke his public silence on the investigation and gave a nine-minute public address (May 29, 2019) when he also announced his resignation from the Department of Justice. Regarding the investigation, he made the following affirmations:

  • His Special Counsel investigation was not legally permitted to bring charges against Trump due to Department of Justice tradition and policy that would not allow a sitting president to be indicted.
  • Since the Department of Justice cannot bring charges against a sitting president, the only other option is political. The Congress would need to bring charges of impeachment against the President.
  • Regarding the claims of no obstruction and exoneration, Mueller spoke quite clearly, “If we had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that. We did not, however, make a determination, as to whether the President did commit a crime.”

A few days later, Barr stated his disagreement with Mueller’s comments. Meanwhile, various committees in the Democrat controlled House of Representatives have subpoenaed various documents (Trump’s tax returns) and witnesses (Don McGahn, Hope Hicks, etc.). The Trump administration has refused to turn over documents and has pressured the witnesses not to appear before the House committees.

We are at an impasse. Both sides have their partisan political reasons for their positions. Democrats claim that Trump has obstructed justice and he is doing everything he can to prevent the truth from coming out. Trump claims that the Democrats lost in the investigation and want a “re-do” in a type of witch hunt against the President.

More than partisanship, what we really need is to come to a conclusion regarding the truth on these issues. A full-blown impeachment process would probably not obtain the needed two/thirds majority in the Senate due to the Republican control there, and therefore could be a strategic mistake for the Democrats. Nevertheless, given the White House actions of stalling and stonewalling, I believe an “impeachment inquiry” is now the only way to obtain a clearer understanding of what happened. If Trump is truly innocent, he should turn over the documents and permit McGahn and Hicks to bear witness to the truth, whatever the consequences. Democrats should be courageous enough to begin the inquiry in order to fulfill their Constitutional oversight responsibilities. Let the truth win out!

Let me be as clear as possible. An impeachment inquiry is not the same as articles of impeachment. An inquiry is a first step to gather sufficient evidence to see whether impeachment proceedings should go forward or not. If the White House is not willing to relinquish key documents and allow witnesses to testify, an impeachment inquiry is the next step forward.

The Battle for our National Soul

I believe that we are in a battle for the soul of our nation. It is a battle for our hearts and minds. It is a battle for the truth.

President Trump has repeatedly claimed that the Mueller Report gave him a threefold clean bill of political health. 

NO COLLUSION! 

NO OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE! 

FULL EXONERATION! 

Claims like these need to be examined under the light of the truth. The first claim is mostly accurate. The Mueller Report did find that the Russian government wanted to help Trump win, but there was not sufficient cooperation by the Trump campaign to bring a charge of complicity. 

The second and third claims are deliberate distortions of the Mueller Report findings. The Report is quite clear when it states, “IF WE HAD CONFIDENCE AFTER A THOROUGH INVESTIGATION OF THE FACTS THAT THE PRESIDENT CLEARLY DID NOT COMMIT OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE, WE WOULD SO STATE. WE ARE UNABLE TO REACH SUCH A JUDGMENT. While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, IT ALSO DOES NOT EXONERATE HIM.” There is no other possible understanding of Trump’s affirmations except that he is trying to mislead the U.S. people in order to protect himself. I personally get very angry when I hear such blatant lies repeated over and over again. 

What is equally troublesome for me is that some 30-40% of my fellow U.S. citizens actually believe his falsehoods. I can understand why some citizens support Trump (the strong economy, low unemployment rates, etc.), but I cannot comprehend why they believe him when he so blatantly lies. 

We have had many difficult times in our nation and in our world in the past, but the current period seems particularly dire. Perhaps our greatest challenge is the battle for the truth. It is the battle for the soul of our nation. If words no longer have any meaning, then there is no hope for resolving the problems before us.  It is time for all of us to affirm the importance of truth for the sake of our country. It is time for all of us to reject falsehoods regardless of the political affiliation of the leaders that propagate them.

Let us commit ourselves to holding each other accountable for the pursuit of the truth. It can set us free. 

Did Attorney General Bill Barr Lie to Congress?

One of the most serious discussions encircling the U.S. federal government these days is the accusation leveled by many Democrats (including the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi) that Attorney General Bill Barr has lied to Congress. Here are the details.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller finished his twenty-two-month long investigation of alleged Russian interference in our 2016 presidential elections and turned in his report to the Attorney General Bill Barr back in mid-March. Although the Attorney General could (should?) have published Mueller’s own summary of the Report for public consumption, Barr chose to release his own four-page summary letter on March 24.  In that letter, Barr summarized the Mueller Report in that there was “no collusion”. That was not quite what the Report said. It only stated that the evidence of conspiracy or cooperation between the Russian government and the Trump political campaign did not rise to the level of criminality.

What is more serious is that Barr distorted the Mueller Report regarding Trump’s alleged obstruction of justice. Barr, together with the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, concluded that Trump did not commit obstruction of justice.[1] Trump immediately and repeatedly claimed “No obstruction! Full exoneration!” Nothing could be further from the truth, because the Mueller Report was very clear on this point, “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. We are unable to reach such a judgment. While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” The Report did not exonerate the President, nor did it affirm that Trump did not commit obstruction of justice. To the contrary, it laid out the evidence of ten episodes in favor and against obstruction and affirmed that Congress had the responsibility to evaluate the evidence and decide whether it rose to the impeachment criteria of “high crimes and misdemeanors”.

Robert Mueller disagreed so strongly with the Barr summary, that he wrote two letters to Barr in the following days, in which he urged Barr to make public Mueller’s summaries that he had prepared precisely to be presented to the public and to protect confidential information. He also claimed that the Barr summary failed to capture the “context, nature and substance” of the Report and that Barr’s summary caused “public confusion about critical aspects” of the investigation.

The big lie to Congress came two weeks later. On April 9, Barr appeared before the House Appropriations Committee. Rep. Charlie Crist asked Barr if he knew the basis of reports that members of Mueller’s team were frustrated with his decision to release his four-page summary instead of the summaries that Mueller had prepared. Barr answered, “No, I don’t.” That was a lie, because he had already received Mueller’s two follow up letters. Barr’s later alibi was extremely weak because he claimed that he did not know which members of Mueller’s team were being referred to.

I believe that Barr’s integrity and independence have been seriously compromised. For the good of the country, Barr should step down from his position. On a related issue, Mueller should appear before both Senate and House committees to clarify any lingering questions and doubts about his Report. Originally Barr stated that he had no objections to Mueller’s testifying to Congress. But over the weekend, President Trump has stated he doesn’t want Mueller to testify. The citizens of our country deserve to hear Mueller’s candid comments about Russian interference in our elections and the truth about the accusations of obstruction of justice. The truth shall set us free.

PS – Yesterday a letter was published that was signed by over 450 ex Federal Prosecutors who had served in both Republican and Democrat administrations. The letter affirms that “Each of us believes that the conduct of President Trump described in the Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Report would, in the case of any other person not covered by the Office of Legal Counsel policy against indicting a sitting President, result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice.” Far from being exonerated as Trump repeatedly proclaims, a fair reading of the Mueller Report demonstrates several examples of obstruction of justice.


[1] This was misleading because Barr had written a 19-page article several months earlier where he claimed that no sitting president could even be guilty of obstruction of justice. Therefore, Barr’s “conclusion” that there was no obstruction was based upon his belief that a sitting president could not be guilty, not because the evidence wasn’t convincing.

The Mueller Report

The Mueller Report…What do we know now?

A week ago, on Thursday, April 18, Attorney General Bill Barr held a press conference about the Mueller Report. He then sent a redacted version of that report to congressional members which he also made available for public view.

Let us not be naïve. Both political sides are putting their “spin” on the Report and the analyzed events. These spins range from one extreme, “This is the best day so far in the Trump presidency” to the other extreme, “He should be impeached!” Trump himself exclaimed at first, “No collusion! No obstruction!” Nevertheless, upon becoming aware of the details of the Report that portray him in a negative light, he has claimed that the Report is full of lies.

As seekers of truth, we need to work hard to filter out the spin. This means we need to read with great care the Mueller Report for ourselves and to not accept blindly the “Cliff Notes” of secondary sources. It also means reading and listening to various points of view. I have forced myself to listen to CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and PBS, plus going on line to view additional sources.

Original purpose of the Mueller investigation

What has been overlooked by most news outlets is the conclusion that Mueller arrived at regarding the main purpose of his investigation: Did Russia interfere in our 2016 presidential election? Mueller’s answer was a resounding “Yes!” He provided pages and pages of evidence showing the multiple ways Russia tried to influence the election on behalf of Trump and against Hillary Clinton. Nevertheless, neither the White House, nor the Republicans, nor the Democrats have taken enough steps to block this type of interference in the future.

Attorney General William Barr

Every Attorney General swears to uphold the Constitution and is the highest law enforcement officer in the country.  He or she is supposed to be a neutral arbiter of justice and should be above partisan politics. The Attorney General is the attorney for the U.S. people, not the private defense attorney for the president. I believe that Attorney General Barr has lost credibility for the following reasons:

  1. Barr shared the redacted document with the White House and Trump’s lawyers prior to making it available to Congress or to the public. The Attorney General should be committed to equality and to not show favoritism.
  2. In Barr’s four-page summary letter of March 24, 2019 as well as in his press conference last Thursday morning, he distorted the Mueller Report on both the allegations of collusion and obstruction of justice, the right of Congress to evaluate the report, and the supposed eagerness of the President to cooperate with the investigation. (see below)

The Redaction of the Report

Attorney General Barr has emitted a redacted edition of the Mueller Report, not the complete version. Four kinds of information were blacked out. They are the following:

  1. Grand Jury material
  2. Classified information regarding secret intelligence content and sources
  3. Information that could interfere with other ongoing legal investigations
  4. Information that could hurt the privacy and reputation of ´peripheral third parties’

It seems reasonable to me that the first three types of information should not be revealed to the general public.  Because I am committed to the truth, I am not quite so convinced that peripheral third parties need to be protected. Nevertheless, I believe that Republican and Democrat congressional leaders have the right to see the entire non-redacted version plus the evidence that undergirds it. The reason is obvious. Attorney General Barr has lost credibility in the eyes of half of our citizens. He did not let Robert Mueller confirm the veracity of his “Summary” of last month nor the redacted version last week. I do not trust Barr to be the “gatekeeper” of what information is released. I also believe that Barr, Mueller, Don McGahn and others need to appear before Congress to answer important questions so that the truth can be made more public.

Legal Context – A President cannot be indicted but can be impeached

According to the Justice Department’s traditional position and the specific judgment of its Office of Legal Counsel, a sitting president cannot be indicted while in office. The rationale behind this is that presidents should not be distracted from fulfilling their executive responsibilities due to legal procedures against them. The options are the following:

  1. A president can be accused of a crime, but not indicted. Nevertheless, without being indicted, a president does not have a legal way to respond to the alleged crimes.
  2. A president can be indicted for crimes committed during his/her presidency, but only after leaving office.
  3. If a president’s actions reach the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors”, Congress has the responsibility to impeach a president. This is essentially the only way to remove a president from office.

In addition, Barr wrote an unsolicited letter to the Justice Department in June 2018 before he had become Attorney General. In that article he wrote that the Mueller investigation was illegal and a waste of time and taxpayer money, and that a sitting president could not commit obstruction of justice. Many people think that Trump chose Barr to be the Attorney General precisely due to these opinions. In essence, Mueller’s only course of action was to lay out the evidence and then let Congress take the next step. He clearly stated this, “We determined not to apply an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the President committed crimes.”

No Conspiracy and Cooperation between Russia and the Trump Campaign

The good news for Trump is that Mueller did not find evidence of conspiracy. The word “collusion” is not a legal term, and as a consequence, Mueller chose to hold a rather strict definition of the legal crime of “conspiracy”. Although Russia interfered in the election in support of Trump and against Hillary Clinton, and the Trump Campaign appreciated their support (ex. “We love WikiLeaks!), Mueller did not find that there was actual cooperation between the Russian government and the Campaign.

Obstruction of Justice

In his summary letter a month ago, Barr concluded (together with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein) that Trump was not guilty of obstruction of justice. This is where Barr distorted the facts. The Mueller Report clearly stated that it did not reach that conclusion. The Report reads, “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. We are unable to reach such a judgment.” It continues, “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” Thus, Attorney General Barr gave false information when he provided the first “spin” of the Mueller Report in his March 24th letter and then again in his press conference on April 18.

Why didn’t Mueller reach a decision regarding possible obstruction of justice? He investigated 10 episodes of alleged obstruction by the Trump campaign and administration. He then laid out the evidence both in favor and against that possible obstruction. Was the evidence so divided and balanced that Mueller could not reach a decision? No! He believed that his role was not to render a decision. He wanted the evidence to be weighed in the court of public opinion. If there would be a judgment, it would not be made by him nor by the Attorney General. The U.S. Constitution dictates that it is the Congress that should evaluate if impeachment is required for an obstruction of justice. (See comments below on Congress)

Did President Trump eagerly cooperate with the Mueller investigation?

                           During his press conference and in other moments, Barr affirmed that President Trump willingly and eagerly cooperated with the investigation. The facts do not confirm this claim. Mueller wanted to directly interview the president and so requested. Trump’s lawyers fought this request over and over again. Finally, it was agreed that Mueller would ask questions that Trump would answer in writing. (Mueller considered subpoenaing the president to an oral interview, but finally decided against doing that because the delay tactics of Trump’s lawyers would have caused the Report to have been extended by months or years.)

                           In his written answers, Trump was not very cooperative nor transparent. Over thirty times, he answered “I do not remember” or “I do not recollect”. Given that he had several days to turn in his answers, he had plenty of time to review emails, his notes, etc. to refresh his memory. (This is particularly ironic given that he has boasted over and over again that he has one of the best memories of anyone in the history of humanity.) During this past week, Trump has again refused to turn over his tax records. He has also demanded that his White House staff (both current and previous) refuse to appear before Congressional committees, even when they have been subpoenaed. It sure seems that he is trying to hide information from public view.

The Role of Congress to Evaluate the Report

Barr repeatedly affirmed that Mueller never said that the report was to be evaluated by the Congress. This goes directly against Mueller’s testimony. On repeated occasions, Mueller indicates the role of Congress to not only read his report, but if necessary, to act upon it. For example, “The conclusion that Congress may apply obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.”

The Report also states, “With respect to whether the President can be found to have obstructed justice by exercising his powers under Article II of the Constitution, we concluded that Congress has authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice.” It is quite clear that Mueller wants Congress to evaluate his findings.

“Sincere” Beliefs?

Attorney General Barr made an unusual comment that has not received much comment by the press. He claimed that some of President Trump’s actions were based upon his “sincere” beliefs that he was being unfairly attacked. I take issue with the word “sincere”. Only God can determine the sincerity of people’s hearts. So, unless Barr has an infallible connection with God, he should be an impartial Attorney General and not vouch for the sincerity of anyone.

Where do we go from here?

The two options that are generally proposed are: (1) We should forget about the Report and move on with other challenges; or (2) Congress should begin impeachment procedures now. I disagree with the first option because the serious Russia threat needs to be addressed and because Mueller has placed the ball in Congress’ court.  I am against the second option because an impeachment procedure is painful and divisive for the entire nation and should only be entered into after thoughtful deliberations. I urge a third way. It is the responsibility of Congress to clarify remaining doubts and answer lingering questions by calling Mueller, Barr, McGahn, and others to bear witness to the truth. Let us follow that truth wherever it leads.

A Mature Analysis of Honduras

Honduras has been in the news quite a bit lately as one of the countries of the Northern Triangle (together with Guatemala and El Salvador) from where many of their citizens are emigrating. So, what is the truth about Honduras? For various reasons, the following Declaration provides good answers to that question.

As we all know, in our polarized society, it is quite common for people on the left and on the right to blame only the other side for all the problems that we experience. Therefore, it is refreshing to find leaders who assume responsibility for their actions. The following Declaration ¨Honduras: Between Crisis and Hope¨ is refreshing precisely because these Christian leaders recognize that they are partly responsible for the problems in their country, especially by not holding government officials accountable for their actions. They rightly point out corruption and mismanagement by elected officials, the dangers posed by gang activity, and other internal and external factors, but they acknowledge their own failures. Read their realistic analysis of Honduras and be refreshed and inspired by their recommendations for going forward!

HONDURAS: BETWEEN CRISIS AND HOPE – A DECLARATION OF THE LATIN AMERICAN THEOLOGICAL FELLOWSHIP – HONDURAN CHAPTER [1]

The Latin American Theological Fellowship (FTL – la Fraternidad Teológica Latinoamericana), Honduran Chapter is an association composed of Protestant[2] men and women committed to the life and mission of God in Latin America. Gathered together as the local groups of the Honduran chapter of the FTL, we announce this declaration about the critical situation that our country is facing. We make this declaration from a perspective of hope in the midst of the frustration, deception and confusion that many of our Honduran people are experiencing. In addition, we are conscious of the need to change how evangelicals participate in our national life.

THE HONDURAS WHERE WE LIVE

We live in a Honduras with alarming rates of poverty that affect more than half of our people. At the same time, we have high rates of unemployment and underemployment, little production, consumerism and a costly rise in the prices of food and other essential items for life. Monopolies, greed, and large debt are enslaving our citizens. There is a decrease in even minimum access to the basic services of health, education and safety. This picture of generalized poverty contrasts greatly with the unequal, and frequently illegal, accumulation of wealth by a small number of people. We live in a Honduras that ranks very high regarding the unequal accumulation of wealth. In fact, we rank sixth in the world and first in Latin America. We live in a Honduras where assassinations, the Sicariato,[3] drug trafficking, arms trafficking, the Maras[4] and violence in the social media have largely contributed to a culture of violence learned at an early age. Immigration, motivated by (these high rates of) violence and poverty, is increasing in spite of difficulties, dangers and barriers. We live in a Honduras where corruption and impunity are an evil duo that has permeated governmental structures, private enterprise and average citizens, devouring, little by little, the lives and institutions of our country.

It is impossible to ignore the scandals and thefts committed within our governmental institutions that have not been resolved, such as the embezzlement of the National Social Security Institute (IHSS -Instituto Hondureño de Seguridad Social). There are other activities that are very disconcerting: the secrecy surrounding the governmental administration of finances, the involvement of public officials in drug trafficking, and additional cases that reveal the negligence and inefficiency of the Honduran system of justice. We live in a Honduras where the lack of trust in the justice system leads to desperation and pushes citizens to take justice into their own hands. Corruption is seen as a sin of the government, but we need to recognize that personal and collective corruption feeds into governmental corruption. We live in a Honduras where the Constitution and laws are continually and openly disobeyed by authorities and citizens alike. This has produced a weakened and corrupt government that lacks any credibility. We are concerned that our country is ungovernable. Our democratic institutions have become progressively weakened. The independence of governmental powers (executive, legislative, and judicial) has been lost and they are under the control of powerful groups of people.

The new generations of politicians are being formed in an environment where respect for the law is quite relative and this is quite serious. We live in a Honduras where citizens are being repressed.  They get treated with a disproportionate violence by governmental institutions when they protest against what they consider to be a violation of the Constitution and fraudulent disrespect of their vote. The chronic crisis that we experience has become extraordinarily worse due to the questionable results of recent elections and by the generalized perception of vote fraud (Psalm 101:7). This has led to an indignant reaction by broad sectors of the society that have chosen to practice civil disobedience and even insurrection. It is disconcerting that no respected national mediators have emerged, those who could call for a true dialogue that would result in believable agreements that would help stabilize our country.

THE CHURCH THAT WE HAVE BEEN FOR HONDURAS

We recognize that we Protestants have developed many service projects intended for the poor and vulnerable. Nevertheless, we have not fulfilled our duty of requiring the government to assume responsibility for its own destructive actions that have led to poverty and injustice. We recognize that we Christians have not been properly taught about the correct exercise of power. In general, we have lived an “escapist” kind of Christianity, hiding behind Biblical verses taken out of context. We have forgotten that although Christians have duties like respecting and praying for government authorities, they are also called to demand that those authorities govern with justice, righteousness and goodness (Romans 13). We acknowledge that many Protestant Christians have become involved in Honduran politics in the last decades, but we also recognize that they have done so without adequate preparation, without making much improvement, and they have confused politics, partisanship, and the Kingdom of God. Confusion and distortion regarding these three spheres have happened due to a reading of Scripture with biased lenses about the Church, society and citizenship and have resulted in a type of participation in society that is shameful. Recent experiences have given us examples of Protestant groups and individuals that have obtained positions of power but have left bad testimony because they have been involved in political cronyism and influence peddling. We recognize that we Christians need to deepen our responsibility to society, but without losing our senses and our firm resistance of evil (Habakkuk 1:2-4). Before we become seduced (by power), we need to remember that the true power of the Church is in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit and not primarily when church members obtain governmental power. We have seen, with sadness, that when we seek power, we really lose it. We are convinced that the teaching of Jesus should lead us to transform our society with the power of love and we should avoid the temptation of the love of power. We are ashamed that in the recent elections, self-proclaimed “prophets” have arisen who have predicted who would win the elections, but they predicted different winners.[5] As we study the Holy Scriptures, we discover that the role of prophets goes much deeper than predicting the future; their role consists of denouncing evil, demanding justice, calling the people and their leaders to give God and his commandments first place in their lives. The Biblical prophets also reminded the governing authorities not to abuse their power. “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humblywith your God” is what God has told us through his prophets (Micah 6:8). It is necessary to exercise discernment with these contemporary “prophets”, that are so abundant today and evaluate them according to the Holy Scriptures that show us how to distinguish true prophets from false ones.

WE ASK FOR FORGIVENESS AND WE RECOMMIT OURSELVES TO OUR MISSION

As Protestant Christians we ask for forgiveness from our fellow Hondurans, because we also have been responsible for corruption through our actions and our failures to act. To know what is right and not to do it is also sin. We have allowed the seduction of power and access to government subsidies to damage our prophetic function and our independent moral voice. Given our past, we have lost the opportunity to be instruments of peace and mediation. With humility we recommit ourselves to our calling to pray, reflect and act for the common good of our country. We do not only aspire to “peace”, but we do commit ourselves to promote justice. Isaiah 32:17 reminds us that “the fruit of justice is peace”,[6] and as citizens we are called to promote both in a holistic way. We should do this according to ethical and spiritual principles that guide us to overcome (the all too common) confusion, hate, despair, political opportunism and personal ambition.

WE CALL FOR CHANGE IN THE CHURCH AND FOR THE REBUILDING OF HONDURAS

  1. Let’s promote and live out our ethical ideals in both our church and public citizen contexts. The Christian mission is countercultural, because in a country in crisis, it is necessary to build a culture of values, peace, justice, honesty, legality and solidarity. These values include serving those in need and this service should be encouraged and put into practice by the church. We should not grow weary in doing good (Galatians 6:9).
  2. Let fight against corruption and impunity. Christians, wherever they are, should begin to break the chains of corruption. Our message and our lives should be consistent with honesty and righteousness, whatever the cost. In addition, the true prophetic work of the church is to denounce injustice, lies and evil, wherever they are, at both the individual level as well as in structures. Let’s imitate the mission of the ancient prophets of God, who challenged the acts of corruption that happened in places of power and in spaces of religion (Isaiah 33:15-16). Our role is to announce God’s call to repent of the sin of corruption and injustice. Today, more than ever, as a church we need to announce the good news of salvation (I Peter 2:9-10) and to denounce everything that goes against the principles and values of the Kingdom of God and his justice (Matthew 6:33; Micah 6:8).
  3. Let’s rebuild the institutional structures of society. We frequently hear that we should submit ourselves to the earthly authorities because they are instituted by God (Romans 13), but we don’t usually read the entire message within its context, which calls us to build a society that has good government because its institutions are just. The citizen should respect authorities, obey laws, work and pay taxes; but, on the other hand, the governing authorities need to obey the laws and make sure that they are obeyed, punishing evil and rewarding that which is good. Therefore, it is necessary to distinguish the functions of the Church from those of the government. Both are called to cooperate for the common good but maintaining a clear separation. Christian people and leaders are called to develop an incidence in society with integrity, independence and with a message and action to guide people from crisis to hope.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

(Jesus in Matthew 5:6-10)

Tegucigalpa, Honduras, January 25, 2018 https://www.facebook.com/FraternidadTeologica/


[1] This is a preliminary translation into English by Lindy Scott.

[2] Translator´s note – In the original Spanish version, the word that is used is ¨evangélico¨. Generally, this word in the Spanish speaking world refers to almost all Protestant groups. As such, ¨Protestant¨ is probably a slightly better translation than ¨Evangelical¨ (which is a translation that would too restrictive) or ¨Christian¨ (too broad).

[3] Sicariato = the hiring of a hitman to kill someone.

[4] Maras = a powerful, international gang that operates throughout Central America and in certain areas of the United States.

[5] Translator’s note – The Declaration makes reference to contemporary “Prophets” who claim to have a large amount of authority because they are the voice of God in a special way. This is a fairly recent phenomenon that has emerged primarily in some expressions of Neo-Pentecostalism in Latin America and around the world. Although these Prophets have large followings, there are many valid criticisms against them and their abuses, like the ones mentioned in the Declaration.

[6] Translator’s note. The Greek word “dikaiosune” is usually translated as “justicia” in Spanish versions of the Bible, but as “righteousness” in many English versions (Matthew 6:33). Although “righteousness” used to have a social justice meaning (as utilized by Abraham Lincoln to refer to the emancipation of slaves), it has become excessively individualistic in modern English. “Justice” would be a more faithful rendering of the original Greek into English today.

Un análisis realista de Honduras

Como sabemos, algo típico de la humanidad es el echar la culpa por nuestros errores a otras personas. En el otro equipo están los malvados y el nuestro no hace nada mal. Así, es refrescante encontrar a líderes quienes asumen la responsabilidad por sus acciones. La siguiente Declaración ¨Honduras entre crisis y esperanza¨ inspira precisamente porque sus autores, líderes cristianos en Honduras, aceptan responsabilidad por unos de los males de su país. Reconocen que han sido cómplices, por sus acciones y sus omisiones, cuando líderes gubernamentales han practicado corrupción y han hecho gran daño al pueblo. Aunque señalan la responsabilidad de otros (oficiales del gobierno, las pandillas, influencias internas y externas) admiten su propia participación. Asi, que lean su madura Declaración y que reciban el ánimo de sus palabras para seguir adelante!

HONDURAS ENTRE CRISIS Y ESPERANZA – DECLARACIÓN FRATERNIDAD TEOLOGICA LATINOAMERICANA – CAPITULO HONDURAS

La Fraternidad Teológica Latinoamericana es una asociación integrada por hombres y mujeres evangélicos comprometidos con la vida y misión de Dios en América Latina. Reunidos los núcleos locales de la FTL.-, Capítulo de Honduras, emitimos esta declaración sobre la situación crítica que vive nuestro país. Hacemos esta declaración desde una perspectiva de esperanza en medio de la frustración, la decepción y la confusión que vive una parte significativa de la población hondureña y además, conscientes de la necesidad de reformar la participación evangélica en la vida nacional.

LA HONDURAS EN QUE NOS TOCA VIVIR

Nos toca vivir en una Honduras con niveles de pobreza alarmantes que afectan a más de la mitad de la población. A la par tenemos altas tasas de desempleo y subempleo, poca producción, consumismo y encarecimiento de la canasta básica. Los monopolios, avaricia y un alto endeudamiento están esclavizando a los ciudadanos. Hay deterioro y mínimo acceso a los servicios básicos de salud, educación y seguridad. Este panorama de pobreza generalizada contrasta con el enriquecimiento desigual y muchas veces ilícito de algunas minorías del país. Nos toca vivir en una Honduras contada entre los 14 países con mayor desigualdad, ocupando el sexto lugar en el mundo y el primero en América Latina. Nos toca vivir en una Honduras donde los asesinatos, el sicariato, el narcotráfico, el tráfico de armas, las maras y la violencia en los medios de comunicación han contribuido grandemente a establecer una cultura violenta aprendida desde tempranas edades. La emigración, provocada por la violencia y la pobreza, se acrecienta a pesar de las dificultades, peligros y barreras. Nos toca vivir en una Honduras donde la corrupción y la impunidad son un dúo maligno que ha infiltrado desde las estructuras gubernamentales, privadas y a nivel de los ciudadanos comunes, devorando poco a poco las vidas y las instituciones de nuestro país. Es imposible ignorar los escándalos y robos en las instituciones estatales todavía no resueltos, como el desfalco del Instituto Hondureño de Seguridad Social (IHSS). Además preocupa la secretividad en el manejo financiero del Estado, el involucramiento de funcionarios en el narcotráfico y otros casos más que muestran la negligencia e ineficiencia del sistema de justicia hondureño. Nos toca vivir en una Honduras donde la falta de confianza en el sistema de justicia desespera y lleva a los ciudadanos a tomar acciones por su cuenta. La corrupción se percibe como un pecado del Estado, pero falta conciencia de que la corrupción personal y colectiva alimenta la corrupción estatal. Nos toca vivir en una Honduras donde la Constitución y las leyes son irrespetadas continuamente por gobernantes y gobernados, llevándonos a un Estado debilitado, corrupto y falto de credibilidad. Nos preocupa la gobernabilidad del país, donde la institucionalidad y la democracia se han debilitado progresivamente, donde la independencia de poderes se ha perdido y se ha puesto a disposición de grupos de poder. Las nuevas generaciones de políticos se están desarrollando en un medio donde el respeto a la ley es relativo y eso es muy grave. Nos toca vivir en una Honduras donde los ciudadanos están siendo reprimidos y tratados con violencia desproporcionada por las instituciones del Estado cuando se manifiestan contra lo que consideran violación de la Constitución e irrespeto a su voto. La crisis crónica que vivimos se ha amplificado extraordinariamente por el manejo lamentable de los resultados electorales recientes, por la percepción generalizada de manipulación y fraude (Salmo 101:7). Esto ha desencadenado una reacción indignada de amplios segmentos de la población, adoptando la desobediencia civil y aún la insurrección. Preocupa que no se visualice la existencia de mediadores nacionales de reconocimiento y respeto para coordinar diálogos y pactos creíbles que ayuden a la estabilidad del país.

LA IGLESIA QUE HEMOS SIDO PARA HONDURAS

Reconocemos que los evangélicos desarrollamos muchos proyectos dirigidos a los pobres y vulnerables, pero hemos omitido la exigencia para que el Estado asuma la responsabilidad de coordinar las acciones que apunten a las causas de la pobreza y la injusticia. Reconocemos que los cristianos hemos sido poco enseñados sobre el ejercicio y manejo del poder. En general hemos mostrado una conducta escapista escudada en versos de la Biblia fuera de contexto. Se nos olvidó que si bien el ciudadano cristiano tiene deberes como respetar y orar por las autoridades gubernamentales, también tiene el derecho de reclamarles que gobiernen con justicia, rectitud y bondad (Romanos 13) Reconocemos que muchos cristianos evangélicos se han involucrado en la política hondureña en las últimas décadas, pero reconocemos que lo han hecho sin preparación, sin hacer la diferencia, con pobre impacto y confundiendo los conceptos de política, partidarismo y Reino de Dios. La confusión y tergiversación de esos tres ámbitos ocurre por una lectura efectuada por filtros teológicos sesgados sobre Iglesia, sociedad y ciudadanía y resulta en una participación que nos avergüenza. La experiencia reciente muestra ejemplos de grupos y personas evangélicas que alcanzaron posiciones de poder pero que han dejado un mal testimonio por su involucramiento en actos como el clientelismo político y trafico de influencias entre otros. Reconocemos que los cristianos necesitamos profundizar en nuestra responsabilidad ante la sociedad pero sin perder la sensibilidad y la postura firme ante lo malo (Habacuc 1:2-4). Antes que ser seducidos, debemos recordar que el verdadero poder de la Iglesia está en el poder transformador del Espíritu Santo, no solamente al hecho que sus miembros accedan al poder gubernamental. Hemos comprobado con tristeza que mientras más buscamos el poder es cuando realmente lo perdemos. Estamos convencidos que la enseñanza de Jesús nos debe conducir a transformar nuestra sociedad con el poder del amor y evitar la tentación del amor al poder. Nos apena que en los últimos procesos electorales han surgido autodenominados “profetas” que han vaticinado quien sería el ganador de las elecciones, aunque interesantemente han proclamado diferentes ganadores. Al escudriñar las Sagradas Escrituras, encontramos que la labor del profeta va más allá de predecir el futuro; su rol se enfoca en la denuncia, el reclamo por la justicia, el llamado a que los líderes y el pueblo no dejasen de poner a Dios y Sus mandamientos primero. Los profetas bíblicos también recordaban a los gobernantes que no abusaran de los privilegios del poder. “Practicar la justicia, amar la misericordia, y humillarte ante tu Dios…” eso es lo que Dios nos ha dicho por medio de profetas (Miqueas 6:8). Es necesario discernir estos mensajes proféticos, que abundan estos días, sometiéndolos a las Sagradas Escrituras, que nos enseña a diferenciar los verdaderos de los falsos profetas.

PEDIMOS PERDON Y RETOMAMOS NUESTRA MISION Como cristianos evangelicos pedimos perdón a Honduras porque también hemos sido responsables de la corrupcion por acción u omisión. Poder hacer el bien y no hacerlo también es pecado. Hemos dejado que la seducción del poder y el acceso a financiamientos por parte del Estado comprometan nuestra función profética y orientadora independiente. Por lo anterior hemos perdído la oportunidad de ser instrumentos de mediación y paz. Con humildad retomamos nuestro llamado a orar, reflexionar y actuar por el bien de nuestro país. No podemos aspirar a la paz sino promovemos la justicia . Isaías 32:17 nos recuerda que “la paz es producto de la justicia “, y como ciudadanos estamos llamados a promover ambas de manera íntegra, haciéndolo en coherencia con los principios éticos y espirituales que nos rigen y viendo más allá de la confusión, del odio, la deseperación, la oportunidad politica y los intereses personales.

LLAMAMOS A REFORMAR LA IGLESIA Y RECONSTRUIR HONDURAS

a. Promovamos y vivamos la ética en el contexto eclesial y ciudadano La misión cristiana debe ser de contracultura, porque en un país en crisis, es necesario construir cultura de valores, paz, justicia, honestidad, legalidad y solidaridad. Estos valores incluyendo el servicio a los más necesitados deben ser promovidos y puestos en práctica por la iglesia, sin cansarnos de hacer el bien (Gálatas 6:9).

b. Combatamos la corrupción y la impunidad La cadena de la corrupción se debe empezar a romper en donde estén los cristianos. Su vida y su mensaje deben ser coherentes con la honestidad y la rectitud, a cualquier costo. Además, la labor profética verdadera de la Iglesia es denunciar la injusticia, la mentira y la maldad, venga de donde venga, tanto a nivel personal como estructural. Imitemos la misión de los profetas antiguos de Dios, la cual era confrontar los actos de corrupción de los que estaban en cúpulas de poder y espacios religiosos (Isaías 33:15-16). Nuestro papel es anunciar el llamado de Dios a arrepentirse del pecado de la corrupción y la injusticia. Hoy más que nunca, como iglesia necesitamos anunciar las buenas nuevas de salvación (1Pedro 2:9-10) y denunciar todo anti valor que este en contra de los principios y valores del Reino de Dios y su justicia (Mateo 6:33; Miqueas 6:8).

c. Construyamos la institucionalidad. Con frecuencia oímos que debemos someternos a las autoridades porque son puestas por Dios (Romanos 13), pero no leemos el mensaje completo y en su contexto, en el cual se nos llama a vivir en institucionalidad y gobernabilidad. El ciudadano respeta las autoridades, obedece la ley y aporta su trabajo y sus impuestos; pero por otro lado los gobernantes deben cumplir y hacer cumplir las leyes, castigando lo malo y fortaleciendo lo bueno. Por otra parte, es necesaria la separación de las funciones entre la Iglesia y el Estado, cooperando por el bien común pero sin interdependencia. El liderazgo y pueblo cristiano están llamados a desarrollar una incidencia con integridad, independencia y con mensaje y acción para guiar a la población de la crisis a la esperanza.

“Dichosos los que tienen hambre y sed de justicia, porque serán saciados. Dichosos los compasivos, porque serán tratados con compasión. Dichosos los de corazón limpio, porque ellos verán a Dios. Dichosos los que trabajan por la paz, porque serán llamados hijos de Dios. Dichosos los perseguidos por causa de la justicia, porque el reino de los cielos les pertenece.” Jesús-San Mateo 5: 6-10 (NVI)

Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 25 de enero del 2018 https://www.facebook.com/FraternidadTeologica/

The Barr Summary of the Mueller Report

March 27, 2019

Over the weekend, Attorney General William Barr issued his four page interpretation and summary of the Robert Mueller. Until the Mueller Report comes out, here are some tentative comments and questions that come to mind

A few preliminary words.

  1. It is the ruling of the Justice Department that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Therefore, if Mueller found incriminating evidence against Trump himself, he would need to lay out the evidence so that Congress could evaluate it to see if it rose to the level of impeachment due to “high crimes and misdemeanors”. That is why it is so important for the entire Mueller Report be made public.
  2. Mueller can indict others and he did so regarding more than 30 other people, both U.S. citizens and Russians. But in these cases, he needed to have evidence beyond reasonable doubt that the person was guilty, that it would be convincing enough to obtain a unanimous decision of a 12 person jury and that it could stand up to a legal appeal.

Barr Summary – We need to remember that we have not yet seen the Mueller report (except for a few small quotes). Whereas Mueller was somewhat ¨independent¨, Barr is Trump’s handpicked Attorney General. Although I have deep respect for Mueller and will generally accept his conclusions (upon seeing his evidence), I have serious questions regarding Barr for the following reasons.

  1. Barr stated that he would consult with Rosenstein and Mueller before going public with his summary in order to make sure that his summary was an accurate summation of the Mueller Report. He did NOT consult with Mueller as he promised. In my mind this raises some doubts about his honesty.
  2. Before becoming Attorney General, William Barr wrote a 19 page paper and sent it (unsolicited) to the Trump administration. He stated his criticism of the Mueller investigation and his belief that a president, by definition, could not be guilty of obstruction of justice. He had previously written extensively about his expansive view of presidential authority. It is likely that Trump chose Barr due to those beliefs. In less than two days, Barr reached a decision claiming there was no obstruction of justice. This went way beyond Mueller’s conclusions and which took Mueller almost two years to sift through (see below). I am somewhat skeptical that a fair decision could have been made in such a hasty way. It seems that Barr’s previously held beliefs and biases had already shaped his decision.

There were three main areas analyzed by the Mueller investigation according to the Barr summary: allegations regarding conspiracy and collusion, allegations regarding the obstruction of justice, and Russian interference in our elections.

Conspiracy/Collusion

                According to what we do know about the Mueller Report, it could not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the Trump campaign committed conspiracy and cooperation with the Russian government. The Report did affirm that the Russian government made overtures to the Trump campaign. Although Trump and his staff did commit questionable actions, Mueller did not believe that these actions rose to the level of criminality.

                There is a huge difference between the two possible explanations behind the Report’s findings.

  1. There was no evidence of collusion at all; or
  2. There was some evidence of collusion, but it did not rise to the level of establishing beyond a reasonable doubt that criminal actions (including intent) were committed.

Barr and Trump claim that the first interpretation is an accurate summary of Mueller’s Report. Until I see the Report and its evidence, I am not convinced. If Mueller did, in fact, reach the first option, it would be surprising to me. Everyone admits that the following events took place and that they give the appearance of collusion. I would like to see the Mueller Report to understand how these factual events were handled.

  1. At the New York Trump Tower meeting (June 9, 2016), Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort met with Russians in order to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.  Donald Jr. made many misleading statements about this meeting. President Trump himself dictated a response and claimed it was a meeting about the adoption of orphans. This misleading statement raises suspicions of both collusion as well as obstruction of justice.
  2. At campaign rallies, Trump exclaimed, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find those 30,000 emails that are missing” referring to Hillary’s emails. Although this was said in Trump’s boisterous, almost joking, manner, the content is actually an invitation for Russia to hack into a rival candidate’s email system, which is illegal.
  3. Mueller’s commission affirmed that Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, shared polling data on the 2016 elections with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian linked to Russia’s intelligence agencies. In my opinion, this is a clear example of collusion. I want to see how Mueller interprets it.
  4. Before Trump took office, his National Security Advisor designate, General Michael Flynn met secretly and illegally with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak to talk about the lifting of sanctions that Obama placed upon Russia. Flynn then lied about this meeting to Vice-President Pence who unknowingly repeated this lie to the public. Flynn was then fired for his misdeeds. There are many more examples, but these four are sufficient for now. The release of the Mueller Report is necessary to clear up these events.

Obstruction of Justice

                This is the biggest problem with the Barr Summary. It appears that Mueller laid out the arguments for and against the allegation that Trump obstructed the process of justice. Here are some actions that

  1. President Trump fired Comey as the Director of the FBI. He gave many reasons for the firing including the appeal to “this Russia thing with Trump”. This seems an obvious obstruction.
  2. On over a hundred occasions, Trump publicly criticized his first Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation. It is obvious that he wanted Sessions to guide the investigation in such a way that the president would be found not guilty. This raises a serious question about the appropriate role of an Attorney General. Is the Attorney General the personal lawyer of the president whose main goal is to defend the president? (This is obviously Trump’s understanding); OR is the Attorney General the highest-ranking officer in the land to defend the Constitution and the rule of law? The AG’s role is to advise the president to stay on the straight and narrow, not to defend a president if he violates the Constitution or rule of law.
  3. When the Mueller team requested an interview with Trump, the president’s lawyers did everything possible to avoid such an interview. They only agreed that the president would provide answers to written questions and the lawyers reviewed those answers before they were submitted. Given that previous presidents have willingly been interviewed by special investigators, Trump’s refusal to agree to an oral interview raises doubts in my mind about his honesty.
  4. Barr mentioned that there was additional evidence regarding obstruction of justice that has not been made available to the public. It is important for the public to see this information.

After laying out the evidence in favor and against the alleged obstruction of justice, Mueller decided not to make a decision. His report ¨does not conclude Trump committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him¨. It would be important to know why Mueller chose not to make a decision.  Since it was legally impossible for him to indict a president, it is likely that he recognized that it was the duty of Congress to make a decision about possible impeachment. This is what happened in the special counsel reports in the past regarding Presidents Nixon and Clinton.

Nevertheless, Attorney General Barr made a questionable maneuver. Over the weekend and in consultation with Rosenstein, Barr decided the evidence was not sufficient to pursue the alleged obstruction of justice by Trump. Whereas Mueller, after two years of investigation, laid out the arguments side by side, Barr exonerated Trump. The fact that Barr was appointed by Trump and reports back to Trump, and that any decision regarding possible criminality (impeachment) should be made by Congress and not by the Attorney General. Barr’s “decision” is a questionable attempt to spin and shape the “first impression” presented to the public, even if it distorts the Mueller Report’s evidence.

The President’s tweets and comments to reporters have repeated over and over again that the Mueller report granted him “Complete and total EXONERATION!” (Trump’s emphasis), This is misleading, because the Mueller Report stated that regarding obstruction, the Report “does not conclude Trump committed a crime, IT ALSO DOES NOT EXONERATE HIM¨ (my emphasis). Given that many will take Trump’s tweet as gospel truth, I believe that all people of good will (both critics and supporters of Trump) should call out the President on this misleading and dishonest affirmation.

Trump´s lawyer Rudy Giuliani asserted that there can be no obstruction of justice if there is no underlying crime. Giuliani is mistaken here. For example, Martha Stewart was convicted of obstruction of justice even though there was no underlying crime.

Russian Interference in our Elections

                Although Barr’s comments regarding conspiracy and obstruction of justice have grabbed the headlines these last three days, we should not forget that the Mueller commission found numerous examples of Russian interference in our elections. Russia has been a rival of the U.S. for over 70 years. Although we should strive for good relations with all countries, including our rivals, we cannot overlook dictatorial practices of any country. I believe (and the Mueller Report will probably also show) that Putin is directly behind this interference.

                At the summit meeting between Putin and Trump in Helsinki, they held a joint press conference. A question was raised regarding Russian interference in our elections. The questioner affirmed that every one of our intelligence agencies agreed that Russia had interfered. Trump responded ¨I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today¨. In effect, Trump threw his own intelligence community under the bus. I am deeply concerned that Trump takes the word of Putin over the evidence gathered by our intelligence community and the Mueller team. Republican leaders, like Lindsay Graham, have repeatedly tried to convince the President about the Russian threat and over the weekend Graham said that he thinks Trump finally understood about Russian interference.

                We should not “cherry pick” the Report and only accept the parts that we like. It is important that Trump go on record and acknowledge Russia’s interference, and also state what he plans to do to combat it in the future.

Given the many lingering doubts raised by the Barr Summary, the Mueller Report should be made public. Only then will the American people be able to draw well informed conclusions.

Our National Debt / Our National Disgrace

March 13, 2019

I am a fiscal conservative, in the sense that I believe we should live within our means. Living within our means personally and as families is important (and our massive credit card debt shows that many of us are not doing well at this). Nevertheless, in this blog I want to address living within our means at a national government level. Last month our United States national debt went over $22 trillion! We are borrowing this money from our grandchildren. No, that sentence is a lie. Because we have not asked our grandchildren for their permission, we are, in fact, stealing from our grandchildren! This is amazing. We who live in the richest country in the history of humanity are stealing from future generations. In addition, we pay billions of dollars in interest to service this debt. This is a political issue, but it is not primarily partisan. Most of our representatives in Washington, DC, whether they are Democrats or Republicans, have repeatedly voted to increase our national debt…and we citizens have tolerated this practice.

How did we get here?

                Although there are many positive benefits from living within a democracy, there are some downsides, especially when citizens are not vigilant. A special challenge is the combination of two major parties with questionable congressional district boundaries. Given the makeup of our congressional districts, over 80% of them are either safely under Democrat or Republican control. Congressional representatives from these blue or red districts usually vote according to the wishes of their local district, frequently at the expense of the national common good, currently or in the future. In budget legislation (as in other areas) this has led to gridlock. It is extremely difficult to get the House of Representatives AND the Senate AND the President (who has the power of a veto) to agree on a budget that does not increase the national debt. Therefore, our representatives “horse trade” and essentially say “I will vote for your pet projects if you vote for mine”. To avoid a government shutdown (we all remember that disaster earlier this year), they raise the debt limit. Some of these projects are sincerely held (a military base in my district, public education funding, subsidies of all kinds, health care, etc.), but sincerity does NOT guarantee that a particular project should be designated as worthy to be included in our national budget. Our representatives must do the hard work of reasoned persuasion of their colleagues about priorities and a commitment to live within our budget.

A secondary problem deals with economic predictions. Democrat and Republican officials have often claimed that we can overspend now, because our “wise” legislation will lead to a better economy, and a stronger economy will bring in larger amounts of tax revenue and our national debt will be reduced in the future. Although there could be an ounce of truth in this kind of reasoning, in the overwhelming majority of cases, a reduction in the national debt does NOT take place. We who believe these predictions and promises are guilty of being too naïve.  For example, the White House has predicted that the economy will grow at 3.2% this year and 3.1% for 2020. These figures are overly optimistic. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts that growth will only be 2.5% this year and will slow down to 1.8% for 2020 as the economic stimulus of the tax cuts fade. We should learn lessons from history. In 1980, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan promised that tax cuts would stimulate the economy through his “trickle down” economics and he would balance the budget. His Republican rival George Bush called this “voodoo economics”. It turns out that the debt ballooned under President Reagan. Bush was right, Reagan was wrong. We citizens have not held our officials accountable for their failed predictions…and our grandchildren will suffer the consequences and will ask us why we were so naïve.

How Can We Make our Country Better: What are the Most Important Priorities of the Common Good?

                I urge our government officials to live within the budget. I urge our officials to put the common good above their personal or local interests. So, how do we choose the most important projects of our common good? President Trump has just sent to Congress his proposed budget for 2020. It is appropriate that he state his priorities. Nevertheless, “we the people” have the responsibility to communicate to our representatives what we think are the more important priorities for our country.

                President Trump is asking for a 9% reduction in domestic expenses (including the Departments of Education, Health and Human Service, Interior and State) and a 5% increase in military funding, including a new proposal for an additional $8.6 billion for wall construction along our border with Mexico. I respectfully disagree with his priorities. Here are some of mine.

Military – Those who believe in Just War Theory and those who are pacifists can come together and agree that our military budget is excessive. We spend more on our military than the next seven highest national militaries combined.[1] This is ridiculous! If President Trump really believes that we are not the world’s policeman (he is an isolationist) and if he gets other nations (Germany, Japan, South Korea, etc.) to pay for U.S. soldiers stationed in their countries (plus 50%), then our military budget should be significantly reduced, not increased. With the money that is saved, we will have more than sufficient funds to cover true necessities and begin to lower our debt.

One of the craziest parts of the military budget is that designated for the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). The OCO was designed to pay for wars and is not subject to mandatory congressional spending limits. Trump proposed increasing the OCO budget more than double, from $69 billion to $165 billion. This is an attempt to go around the power of the purse of Congress and suggests we might be going into another war (Venezuela?) or perhaps using the OCO as a slush fund.

Medicaid – This program provides medical coverage for low income citizens. President Trump’s proposal reduces funding for Medicaid by $1.5 trillion over the next decade and would thereby eliminate medical coverage for tens of thousands of our neighbors. Instead of cutting funds for Medicaid, we should increase them.

SNAP food assistance – The Trump proposed budget would reduce funding of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program by $220 billion over the next ten years. Those who believe in God and those who don’t together recognize the ethical demand to love our neighbor. As a follower of Jesus, I believe  that the Bible teaches that this practical love for the poor is both a responsibility of individuals and churches (2 Corinthians 8 and 9) AND a responsibility of governments (Year of Jubilee in Leviticus 25 and Proverbs 31:8-9).

USAID – The Trump proposal makes drastic cuts to our agency that serves the people of poor countries, slashing more than 30% in humanitarian assistance. USAID is one of the few governmental agencies that is relatively benevolent towards the people of other nations without having the U.S. interests as the primary motivation.

Dear Citizens of the United States and of other countries: The national budget of one’s country is a moral document. It reveals what is truly important. To the degree that we are able, let us influence our neighbors and our representatives to so structure our national expenses to improve the common good.


[1] https://www.pgpf.org/chart-archive/0053_defense-comparison

Sorting Out the Complicated Venezuela Situation

March 4, 1019

Almost everyone agrees that Venezuela is in a very dire situation. It is difficult to comprehend all the relevant issues, but it is even more difficult to find a good, just solution. In this brief article, we will look at the recent historical background of Venezuelan politics, its current economic and political problems, and finally sketch out some possible options.

Hugo Chávez was the charismatic President of Venezuela from 1999 to 2012. Economically, the country was doing well, because Venezuela was sitting upon one of the largest oil reserves in the world. While oil prices were high (around $110 a barrel) Chávez was able to provide many social services for his citizens. Although he appointed several leftwing leaders to high positions in his administration, he also included conservative and centrist leaders as well. He followed the Rhenish version of capitalism, not the neoliberal version. He also generally implemented the recommendations suggested by the International Monetary Fund. Although he was criticized for being too autocratic, he was reelected in the 2000 elections with 60% of the vote. As criticisms continued to increase, he moved economically to the left and adopted Democratic Socialism as his economic philosophy (in contrast with the Leninist-Marxist versions of Russia and China in the 20th century). He chose to financially support likeminded governments in Latin America and the Caribbean (including Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba). In 2004 there was a national referendum to recall Chávez from the presidency, but he won with 59% of the vote. In the 2006 elections, Chávez again won, this time winning with 63% of the vote. The election was generally considered to be fair and honest by the Carter Center and by the Organization of American States. He also won the 2012 election with 54% of the vote. Due to his death on March 5, 2013, his Vice-President Nicolás Maduro assumed the presidential powers on a temporary basis.

Early on, there was resistance to the Maduro presidency. Opposition leaders claimed that he violated Articles 229, 231 and 233 of the Constitution. In the presidential election of April 2013, Maduro defeated his closest rival by just 1.5% of the vote. The 2017 Assembly elections were widely seen as fraudulent. The United States labeled Maduro a dictator, whereas Russia, China and Cuba defended him. In the first few years, high oil prices were able to keep the Maduro leftist government afloat. Nevertheless, oil prices fell in the second half of 2014 from $110 a barrel to about $50 a barrel. This proved disastrous for Venezuela’s economy, because oil comprised over 90% of the country’s exports. Maduro was reelected in 2018, but many regarded this election as fraudulent. The Organization of American States Permanent Council declared that Maduro was not the legitimate president and urged that new elections be called in the near future.

In January 2019, the National Assembly invoked a state of emergency. It additionally declared that the Assembly’s President, Juan Guaidó should be recognized as the nation’s interim president, according to the Constitution. Since then, there has been a standoff. Supporters for both Guaidó and Maduro have protested in public rallies and have marched in the streets. The Organization of American States, the Lima Group (comprised of more than a dozen countries in the Amerias) and the United States have recognized Guaidó as the legitimate president. Other nations (including Russia and China) have continued to recognize Maduro. Meanwhile, millions of Venezuelans have left the country and fled to Colombia, Brazil and other countries. Food has become exorbitantly costly and very scarce. The country is in crisis.

A Way Forward?

  1. Maduro has made many serious mistakes (authoritarianism, fraudulent elections, corruption). I think it is too late for Maduro to continue to govern for the benefit of the Venezuelan people. He should leave voluntarily, but it doesn’t look like he will.[1] He still has the support of a vocal, significant portion of the people, but more importantly, the majority of the military generals still support him.
  2. The United States has utilized economic sanctions to hurt Maduro´s administration and to pressure him to leave. This has not worked. This has only caused pain for the Venezuelan people. The U.S. government has threatened to use military force to remove Maduro. This would be the worst scenario and would lead to a bloodbath.[2]
  3. The Organization of American States and the Lima Group should continue to use diplomatic efforts to resolve the problem. If they could persuade both Maduro and Guaidó to agree to elections in the near future (during the next three months?), this would be the best solution. The quicker the agreement is reached the sooner tensions would decrease and emergency aid could arrive to the people in need.

Politics: The Art of the Possible

It is frequently claimed that politics is the art of the possible. What is possible for Venezuela? Option #1 above is unlikely and Option #2 would be a disaster. I favor Option #3. To achieve this, the Organization of American States should use all its diplomatic skills to bring about an acceptable solution. The OAS would need to bring to the negotiating table those countries that support Maduro (Russia, China, Mexico, Cuba). The United Nations could also lend its support. It might be possible that Maduro and Guaidó could agree to elections, but only if neither were allowed to be a candidate for the presidency. For the well being of the Venezuelan people, I would favor this option as the most viable peaceful alternative. In the end, it should be the Venezuelan people who determine their own future. Those of us on the outside should provide truly helpful assistance, not “answers” that hide our own greed or desires.


[1] Countries that Maduro has befriended (like Bolivia, Cuba, or Nicaragua) could take a helpful first step, if they would offer asylum to Maduro and his family and friends. Some of his critics would prefer Maduro to be brought to trial, but I think it is more important for him to leave the country as soon as possible.

[2] The United States has a horrible reputation in Latin America for interventions for its own benefit or hegemony in the area. The U.S. either orchestrated or supported many coup d’états that took out democratically elected governments (Guatemala, Brazil, Chile, etc.) and replaced them with brutal dictatorships.