JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Donald Trump, Harold Hamm And Kevin Cramer

Most of my Democratic friends have a hard time understanding why I like Kevin Cramer. I think it’s because they’ve never been a part of a brotherhood. Let me explain.

I’m was thinking about this Wednesday because of Gary Emineth’s announcement Tuesday that Kevin Cramer would run for the U.S. Senate against Heidi Heitkamp. Thanks for that, Gary. I’m sure Kevin is grateful as well. Saved him a whole bunch of time and trouble putting together an announcement statement and lining up a place for a press conference and notifying the media and all the rigamarole that goes with announcing a campaign.

A couple of my Republican friends told me they are disappointed in the way things turned out. I think they wanted Emineth to run and Kevin to stay in the House. Well, me too. More about that in a minute.

I’ll give you a couple of names of people who are not disappointed.

Hey, Kevin …

Donald Trump and Harold Hamm. The two of them were the most instrumental in getting Kevin to change his mind, after he announced he would seek re-election to the House and not make the race for the Senate. Both put some persuasive pressure on Kevin to run against Heidi, but I’m told it was Hamm who closed the deal, after Trump had called Kevin and been turned down.

Harold Hamm, the deal closer.

I don’t know what Hamm promised, but it must have been significant, because Kevin was pretty sure, to the point of a public announcement, he would seek re-election to what most people consider a safe seat, and now he’s giving up a lot of security on a big gamble.

Well, of course, as of today this is all speculation, because there’s no formal announcement yet from Kevin, and likely no one except Harold and Kevin know what the deal was.

Kevin Cramer — an unlikely senator.
Kevin Cramer — an unlikely senator.

I’m disappointed because I’ve considered Kevin a friend for many years, and I don’t like it when my friends lose elections, no matter what party they belong to. And he’s pretty likely going to lose against Heidi. Which is OK, I guess. Even good, in fact, because Heidi’s been my friend longer than Kevin, and we all know the importance of seniority in politics.

I’ve known Heidi since her 1984 campaign for North Dakota State auditor. Anybody else remember that? I got to know Kevin in 1992, when he was chairman and executive director of the North Dakota Republican Party. He was a good one, unlike most of those party hacks who preceded him. But I need to back up a minute.

I had the job of executive director of the other party, the Democratic-NPL Party, in 1984, the year Bud Sinner got elected governor. I’m not boasting when I say I played a pretty significant role in his election.

After the election, as his transition team began filling available jobs in the Capitol, I got a call from Joe Lamb, who was chairing the transition team, asking me if I wanted a job in government. I said I was pretty happy with what I was doing, but if it meant a pay raise, I’d consider it.

I considered it, but I stayed on in my job with the Democratic-NPL Party until summer, meanwhile looking around at what might be the best job in state government that I dared ask for. I found one. I called Chuck Fleming, who had been Sinner’s campaign manager and then became his chief of staff in the governor’s office, and said a really cool job would be the manager of Lake Metigoshe State Park. I loved parks, and I loved camping, and I loved the Turtle Mountains, and I told Chuck that if I could manage a whole state political party, surely I could manage one square mile in the Turtle Mountains. Chuck said he would see what he could do.

A few days later he called me back and said, “Sorry, but you have to be QUALIFIED to get that job.” Turns out it is a civil service position that falls under the state’s personnel system, not subject to patronage. Dang.

But Chuck had another idea. He said I might make a pretty good State Tourism director, and that job might come available. Well, I didn’t know much about tourism, but I knew enough about marketing, which was what the job was all about, and apparently you didn’t have to be QUALIFIED to take THAT job, so I took it.

I wasn’t prepared for the phone call the next day from a reporter from The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead asking me what my qualifications were to be Tourism director. I stammered out something like “Well, I know the state pretty well, and I’ve camped in every state park in North Dakota …”

The answer looked pretty lame in the paper the next day, but somehow I got by that and had a fun seven  years in the Tourism Office.

Fast-forward to November 1992. I resigned from the Tourism Office that fall, and Ed Schafer got elected governor. Not long after the election, I ran into Kevin Cramer at lunch time at the Peacock Alley in downtown Bismarck, and I congratulated him on a great campaign and on getting Ed, who I liked immensely (and who I had voted for), elected governor.

And I said that now precedent had been set — Sinner got elected on my watch, and I became Tourism director — so now it was his turn. And I said, it is the best job in state government (way better than being a state park manager).

Well, it took Kevin a few months to warm to the idea, but eventually he did it, and held that post a few years, joining the Brotherhood of North Dakota Tourism directors. I was only the fourth person to hold that job in the state’s history, and Kevin became the sixth. Ed kept Tracy Potter, who was Deputy Tourism director when I was there, in the job on an interim basis, until Kevin was ready to leave his post with the party and go to work in government, so Tracy was fifth.

The rest is history. Kevin did a fine job, got promoted to Economic Development director, ran for Congress a couple of times and lost (if you went through his bank statements from his 1996 and 1998 campaigns, you’d find a couple of checks from me in there — sorry, Earl), and he finally did get elected to Congress a dozen or so years later.

He should stay there. He can continue to make as many BAD votes there as he wants to without really doing any harm. Although young Ben Hanson, the Democrat running for that job, would give him a pretty good run for his money. It’s going to be a darn good year for Democrats, and Ben’s a darn good candidate, and you never know …

What I do know is that Ben is the third person, behind Trump and Hamm, who’s really happy to see Kevin make the jump, if that is what happens this week. His job as a candidate just got a whole lot easier, no matter who the Republicans run for that seat.

Questions remain.

  • What of Tom Campbell, the only other serious Republican in the Senate race? He’s rich and could primary Cramer, just like Cramer primaried Brian Kalk six years ago. If not, Campbell could run for the House.
  • But who else might want that House seat? Maybe someone who had it once before, like Rick Berg? That could make for an interesting state convention, and/or primary.
  • And what of Gary Emineth? Well, he’s embarrassed the party by calling the president of the United States (not the current one, but if the shoe fits …) a Piece Of Shit in a Facebook post and might be tempted, but he’s unlikely to get a party endorsement any more. That’s why he pulled out of the Senate race and made Kevin’s announcement for him.

Could I make a prediction? Well, partly. Anticipating this possibility, young Ben Hanson got out there really early and pretty much has a lock on the Democratic-NPL slot. Smart kid. But an open seat for Congress could draw a flood of Republicans to the race. I wouldn’t be surprised to see as many as half a dozen.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves in this Senate race. Let’s wait for Kevin to come home and talk to us.

To paraphrase Priscilla Alden, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, Kevin?”

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Equal Under The Law In The USA?

I think Lady Liberty would be crying right now if she were human. Given the events of recent days, echoing the worst days from our history, I cannot fathom what it would be like to be an immigrant, a nonwhite person or a dreamer.

The executive and legislative branches of government right now are treating humans like cattle in their unending war to gain political advantage. Instead of behaving like adults, too many follow the lead of the childish and dangerous 45 — no way to solve this nation’s problems.

Philadelphia experienced all kinds of misbehavior after the Eagles won the Super Bowl on Sunday. Some called it “rioting,” while others brushed it off as limited bad behavior. In a city that large, “limited bad behavior” would be like torching the whole downtown of a city the size of Fargo.

No matter what they call it in Pennsylvania, if nonwhites had committed those acts, you can bet the farm there would have been large-scale arrests. The last reports I’ve seen reported just three arrests, though there may have been a few more since then.

When the Minnesota Vikings played in Pennsylvania, the local fans’ behavior was both obnoxious and unlawful, as well as completely dangerous. We’ve heard about urinating on people, throwing full cans of beer, head-butting and other physical contact. And no arrests?

While I certainly don’t equate the situations in Pennsylvania and North Dakota, does anyone remember the level of force used to quash the protesters at Standing Rock? Does anyone recall the hundreds of arrests — arrests that subsequently resulted in multiple dismissals?

Recently federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement — ICE — has been arresting people at work, at church and while dropping their children off at school. Physicians, U.S. military veterans and parents have been hauled off and deported, sometimes without a chance even to say goodbye to their families.

What kind of country deports people under these circumstances? How dare they even consider arresting veterans who have earned citizenship through their service, even if present law does not reflect that.

It isn’t the nation that is the problem. It is our totally dysfunctional government. There is no excuse for the DACA situation, with the lives of hundreds of thousands who were brought here as children left hanging in the balance. President Obama provided leadership, but 45 revoked Obama’s executive order with his own. The current president did have the right to revoke the order, but he also had a duty to have a new plan in place before doing so — assuming he knew what he was doing, and I don’t think he did — or at least now, as the deadline he set is looming.

While Special Counsel Robert Mueller continues his investigation, 45 perfects his frustrated-monkey yowl and attacks the investigation that is steadily moving forward. This, of course, is the same 45 who promised to release the flawed GOP intelligence “report” before he had even read it.

Too many people excuse his bad behavior. Too many buy into his obvious lies. They seemingly couldn’t care less.

But the president of these dimwits is about to walk right into a constitutional crisis. In doing so, he lashes out like a … well, I was going to say “child,” but I’m not insulting children. He has no concept about how his words are taken by the rest of the world.

I once again urge those people in government who support him to take away his Twitter and his cellphone and lock him in a room until the Mueller investigation is complete.

If, as the president says, he’s not guilty of collusion or obstruction, why on Earth is he doing everything in his power to block the investigation? If he had a filter of any type and was genuinely innocent, 45 should have sat back, laughed and waited until Mueller was done. He did not.

His actions speak louder than words! They are the actions of a man who has something nefarious to hide. In the meantime, he places our country in danger and the congressional majority does nothing to protect our democracy.

I’ve said this before: It is the third branch of government, the judiciary, that will ultimately restore this country to its greatness. Trump has lost most of the legal battles he has faced, and he is about the lose the biggest one of all. The question is not “if,” but “when.” Amen.

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — State Of The Union

Well, the groundhog saw his shadow, so six more months of Mueller.

The president might have basked for a while in the glow of his triumphant State of the Union address, of which a whopping 43 percent of Democrats and 109 percent of Republicans approved. Instead, he released The Memo, which instantly changed the tune from Kumbaya at a campfire to something from The Sex Pistols in a mosh pit.

Some had speculated the president would speak in Russian or maybe just plead The Fifth. But if you looked past the Mussolini jaw-jut and his clapping into the microphone, it was a strong “performance” that included numerous complete sentences.

He touted job growth — the most anemic in six years — but growth, nonetheless. He’d followed up on vows to cut regulations, harass immigrants, move the embassy to Jerusalem and restore Americans’ inalienable right to die uninsured.

He’d put someone to the right of Anthonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, with the appointment Mitch McConnell hijacked; the military has ISIS on the run, and the tax break fired up Wall Street. Pretty good stable geniusing.

Conversely, he was too busy golfing to enact sanctions on Russia. Other unfinished business includes firing everyone on the Russian probe.

Let’s go to the score card. So far, the FBI has recorded two guilty pleas, two indictments and a field goal. The president has sacked acting Attorney General Sally Yates, FBI Director James Comey, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and threw incomplete trying to fire Robert Mueller.

The next time you get pulled over, tell the cop he’s fired. See how that works for you.

Meanwhile, the Democrats flunked Body Language 101. They sat and sulked through all the applause lines, thereby proving they hate God, America, cops, soldiers, capitalism, bootstraps, babies, puppies, kittens, sunshine, lollipops, rainbows, country music, assault rifles and Shirley Temple.

The sit-in was the most organized the Democrats have been all year, with the exception of the 15-minute holdout Chuck Schumer staged over the spending bill, which showed more fiscal discipline than we’ve seen in Washington since Andrew Jackson balanced the budget by selling land stolen from the Indians.

Schumer’s insolent slumping was absent only a black leather jacket and a smoldering Marlboro. Nancy Pelosi looked like a Holstein chewing a cud of lemons. Some Democrats even kneeled.

Even Melania threw shade, wearing a liberal white pantsuit and refusing to stand when the thrice-married kitty grabber talked about family values.

Almost as if she believes the fake news about her husband’s tryst with porn star Stormy Daniels, who has been googled more in recent weeks than Butterball at Thanksgiving.

“To put (white pantsuits) on a display like that at a joint session of Congress is undignified to say the least. It violates the common decency of the chamber,” Kevin Cramer said. Back when Democrats wore them.

It couldn’t have gone better for Republicans. Trump looked sane, Democrats like party-poopers. Sean Hannity was feeling so groovy, he loosened his tie at bedtime. Rush Limbaugh attempted a somersault that turned into a bizarre yoga move and a pulled hamstring.

The Democratic response came from either Conan O’Brien or Rep. Joseph Kennedy III. Apparently, Franklin Roosevelt IX was busy. It was a heartfelt speech from a millionaire in support of middle-class Americans, but too much Chapstick made it appear Kennedy was drooling. “Ask not what your country can drool for you, but what you can drool for your country,” someone tweeted.

Then, the president snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and released the Super Top Secret Memo intended to torpedo the FBI. It cited fake news magazine Mother Jones as one source. The theory is the FBI tried to get Hillary elected, a strategy that included announcing her newest email issues a week before the election.

Democrats claimed The Memo omitted contextual material. Republicans argued, “Hey, that’s how Fox News does it.”

Trump and Republicans, “must stop looking at this investigation through the warped lens of politics and manufacturing partisan sideshows,” John McCain said. “If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin’s job for him.”

Paul Ryan said this was about transparency. Thus inspired, Trump immediately released his tax returns. Kidding.

The Memo revealed the FBI was tracking Trump campaign associate and Russianista Carter Page for years. That didn’t exactly restore confidence in All The President’s Men.

The Memo was released Thursday. On Friday, the stock market fell 666 points. Rattled conservative investors checked their 401Ks to see how many rubles they’d lost. Liberals checked their 420Ks. Evangelicals studied Revelations.

If you wanted more proof the universe speaks in metaphors, you need only consider the news the same day The Memo was released.

There was a train wreck involving Republican politicians. The Republican train ran over a garbage truck, killing a blue-collar worker.

There’s a headline that writes itself.

© Tony Bender, 2018

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Espionage, Not Treason

With all of the news relating to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, some terms have been loosely thrown around.

A number of talking heads have been referring to the investigation of the Russian matter as “treason.” That is not correct. Treason is defined as “the practice of spying or using spies, typically by governments to obtain political and military information.”

Under Article III, Section 3, of the Constitution of the United States, treason can be committed only during times of war!

Espionage, on the other hand, is defined as “the practice of spying or of using spies, typically by governments to obtain political and or military information.” It consists among other things, of infiltration; eavesdropping; surveillance, reconnaissance, intelligence and undercover work.

Rep. Devon Nunes, R-Calif., who served on the House Committee on the Judiciary, was supposed to be disqualified from anything Russian. Remember him? He’s the man who last year went to the White House in the middle of the night, got materials to slime the Russian investigation, and then — dimwit that he is —returned the materials to the White House … and was caught doing it.

Then we have retired Gen. John F. Kelly, the man with supposedly perfect credentials, who is the chief of staff to 45. Kelly was brought in to potty-train 45 and bring order to the executive office. He has failed miserably.

I initially considered Kelly a good choice to keep the undisciplined president under control, but he hasn’t. In fact by now, 45 seems to have potty-trained Kelly.

The real world understands that the president has no right to tell the FBI, CIA or Justice Department how to do their jobs. He especially has a duty not to interfere with their investigations.

Yet Kelly contacted the Justice Department and FBI and made it clear that the president wanted certain individuals removed. The president also said he wanted that infamous memo prepared by Nunes’ staff released — after the legal divisions of the agencies said that such a release could jeopardize security and endanger sources of information.

I’m watching the destruction of our values on a scale I could never have imagined. Those who are interfering with a lawful investigation that is in the best interests of this country are, in my opinion, guilty of espionage. Putin loves them. Because he does, we should not.

There is no one who can control this lying, name-calling, childish president. But I can tell you one thing, as I’ve been saying ever since 45 lost the popular vote in 2016: The investigation will continue. The president will be required to testify. Though the Trey Gowdys and Nuneses will, with their gang of scofflaws, continue to block the truth … and the final arbiter will be the courts.

In case you haven’t noticed, 45’s record with the courts since becoming president is dismal. It’s just about as bad as his record in business.

Remember, the original investigation was to determine whether there was Russian interference in our election. That has been determined to be fact beyond the shadow of a doubt. Counsel is simply following the trail.

You can take this to the bank: Special Counsel Mueller will complete his investigation. Either the president will suffer, or he will not. A lot of folks who should never have been brought into government have already been exposed, and there will be more to come. Hold onto your seats. The battle is just starting. Amen.

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — The Right To Be Silent

In this country, we have the right to remain silent. But there are times where we also have the duty to speak out. We now live in a time when to remain silent is an act of cowardice, racism and bigotry.

I’m not going to dignify this POTUS by quoting his recent disgusting statement referencing the entire African continent. He was, of course, talking about banning folks from those countries whose people just happen to be black! It’s not unlike his constant attacks on Mexico, whose people happen to be brown. Of course, he also has little positive to say about China, which has the largest population on Earth, which happen to be yellow.

Have you noticed that the only time the president takes on someone face to face, it’s when he has a microphone in his tiny hands … and it’s either a female reporter or a female member of Congress. Since he moved into the Oval Office, have you seen him say one critical thing to a male, mano a mano? Perhaps in the case of men, I might have missed a moment or two of bravery. But I doubt it.

The next time you see POTUS speaking to the press, watch his posture. When he is seated and on the defensive, he crosses his arms, literally hugging himself. When he’s in that posture while being questioned, he really lashes out. In this defensive position, he even can summon up the guts to insult some media males.

When he is standing at a podium and controls the mic, he doesn’t hug himself. Instead, he gestures from right to left, left to right, until you can predict which direction he’ll opt. He learned that on “The Apprentice”! Actually, his behavior suggests he didn’t really learn much of anything from his hit TV show— but you can bet the farm that the participants on that show recognized his dictatorial style long before the public did.

We don’t get to make any more excuses for the state of our country. Before we voted for him, we were told what this man had done to the small businesses that contracted to do work for him. We were told that, as a landlord, the court stepped in to rescind his ban on renting to blacks. We were told all about his sexual improprieties. We knew fidelity was not his strong point, as evidenced by his multiple marriages. We knew all this and more … but still elected him.

I am always amused by those who claim they voted for POTUS rather than Hillary Clinton, referring to her as a “crook” and every demeaning comment imaginable. When you ask them for a concrete example of her sins, they either go silent or refer to a phony scandal like Benghazi. Sen. Tom Cotton led a panel that cost our country millions of dollars “investigating” the charges. He and his attack dogs came up with absolutely nothing because there was nothing there.

Previously I referred to some of POTUS’ shortcomings. Here are some more: his attack on the United States Supreme Court; his attacks on federal district and appellate courts; and his attack on one judge in particular who he stated should be disqualified because he was of Mexican heritage. (That judge was born and raised right here in the U.S. Even if he had not been, I’d say, “So what!”)

If our veterans, teachers, child-care centers and middle-income people are going to be hurt as much by his tax bill as experts have estimated, the term “absolute liar” will stick to him forever.

* * *

OK, I’ve just been reminded of something completely different — how lucky I am to be alive. When I worked in my law firm, my wife was my bookkeeper. When I occasionally left before she did, I’m told I always asked her on my way out the door, “What’s for dinner?” The staff — many of whom are still our friends today — would have a good laugh, asking her why she put up with me.

I wonder to this day how she did it. I’m a lucky man. Amen.

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — 2018 … Ready or Not, Here We Come

It’s odd how people will read this column or one of my posts on Facebook and conclude I don’t like folks at the local and state level. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

On an individual basis, I like everyone on the Fargo City Commission. I have not met a state or county official I don’t personally like. At the federal level, I guess they’re right, at least about two out of three. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is my favorite. I have no difficulty separating friendship from political ideology. Surprise! While I have Democratic leanings, I also have many Republican friends. That won’t change.

Now we learn that POTUS 45 has directed the Centers for Disease Control to ban the use of the words “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender” and “fetus,” along with “evidence-based” and “science-based.” Reports indicate that the entire Health Department may follow suit.

It’s odd how those words describe groups most in need of protection. First, he attacks the media! Then he attacks the courts! Then he praises hate groups like the KKK! Then he limits freedom of speech! Then he proposes that opponents and reporters should be jailed! Then he relies on Fox News and Sean Hannity for his world view! Then he blows his cork each and every time someone says or does something he doesn’t like — like the recently revealed story from last June, when he considered dumping his Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch for telling a senator he found 45’s attacks on the court system “disheartening and demoralizing.” I could fill up the rest of this paper with a list of his attacks on countless targets. You get the idea.

This man apparently wants to be a dictator, emperor or king. He has no idea what it takes to actually govern a democracy.

The dumbest lawyers in the world seem to be those who are trying to provide advice to this president. He takes no advice. His legal counsel are apparently too stupid to tell him that he must either take their learned advice … or they will walk.

Any good lawyer controls his client, and any good lawyer kicks that client’s butt right out the door if he doesn’t take sound legal advice.

Lawyers should have told 45 that some of his federal district and appellate court nominees were totally unfit for the positions offered. In fact, they tried. The American Bar Association, which is nonpartisan, rates candidates for lifetime appointment to the bench. Its committee recently found some of the current crop are not just “unqualified,” but “totally unqualified.” Yet these nominees’ names still made it out of the Senate committee. (Several were subsequently withdrawn because of public outrage.)

That begs the real question: What is the IQ of those who submitted these misfits for approval in the first place?

The best gift for all of the people of this country, for this holiday season and far beyond, would be a positive, simple but far-reaching realization by all of our government leaders, from the top to the local level, to remember that we live in a democracy where the will of the people counts.

We live in a country where we should (but in too many cases do not) judge people by who they are, not by their color, sex or religion.

* * *

Now that the tax bill has passed, the wealthy have every reason to be happy with the law that Congress did not even read before passing. We who are not so financially comfortable — we who need affordable health care, the average citizen — will take it in the shorts. Remember, the tax cuts they’ve legislated for individual citizens all expire in 2025 and go back to where they are today. But the tax cuts for corporations and businesses are permanent, ad infinitum!

Because my pancreas was infected and almost totally destroyed several years ago, I am now a Type 1 diabetic, with all the extreme medical expenses that carries. The United States already pays the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. The last thing we need is to put a pharmaceutical executive in charge of the Department of Health and Human Services, which regulates prescription drugs.

Nowhere in the world are drug prices as high as they are in this country. That in and of itself is unacceptable. Yet 45 has appointed Alex Azar, the head of Eli Lily, to head the powerful agency. Azar is a man who values drug prices and profits over people’s lives. That’s a demonstrable fact.

You can take this to the bank: The judicial system will be called upon at both state and federal levels to address many problems of concern to the average citizen. There is no shortage of groups willing to take the abuse to task and into the courts. It may take time, but I am sure of one thing — we will take back our country at every level, and it’s going to happen in my lifetime. (And I’m 78, so that means it damn well better happen fast.)

At his private Christmas dinner at Mar-a-Lago with his wealthy friends, 45 announced his recent tax bill has made them all even wealthier. For once, he was telling the truth. He played the Senate like a fiddle to get the votes to pass it; lies just don’t bother the man. What is worse is that others who are in power know he’s lying, but support him anyway. Do you remember how he claimed the changes in the bill would mean he himself would suffer financially? Clearly, that’s another lie … but until he reveals his tax returns, which he refuses to do, we will not know the rest of the story.

I’m an optimist. I believe good will always prevails over evil. While this country is taking a big hit both here at home and overseas, our democratic system of government will eventually regain its balance, its prominence and its leadership role in the world. This is my wish for the new year. Amen.

PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — ‘Christian Evangelicals’ Have It All Wrong

I’ve been wavering for weeks as to whether to weigh in to the recent #MeToo movement.

On the one hand, as a survivor of rape as well as sexual harassment who has experienced sexual discrimination, I have some pretty strong opinions on the matter.

On the other hand, I am fully aware of subtleties in every case and worry about broad brushes that equate molesting a 14-year-old child with an inappropriate intentional grope, or potentially an inadvertent one. All sexual offenses are not the same. And my fear is a blog opens one up to being attacked on social media over a topic better suited for face to face conversation, which is sorely lacking in our polarized society.

However, I decided to dive in after just hearing David Brody, a reporter for the Christian Broadcast Network, explain why so many evangelical Christians are standing by Roy Moore and Donald Trump. He claimed that the Bible is full of imperfect people that God used to accomplish God’s work and that as Christians they believe in grace and forgiveness.

It is true. The Bible is full of imperfect people. In fact, last time I checked, every single one of them, except for the main character in the New Testament, was an imperfect person. Which is precisely why Jesus came. To bridge the gap between us and God — to offer us the gift of forgiveness.

I believe the reason that Jesus was turned over to Pilate by the religious leaders was precisely because he came to forgive. He had the audacity to suggest that they were not perfect. That they could not follow God’s laws exactly. And that they needed a Savior.

Rather than humble themselves in the sight of the Lord, they lifted Jesus up on a cross to be killed.

And through his Resurrection, he showed us that not even death will keep God from offering to forgive us. That God’s love is more powerful than human judgment.

But here’s the thing that bothers me about what these “Christian evangelicals” — I use quotation marks because I am a Christian and an evangelical Lutheran who believes in the Good News of God’s grace and forgiveness made real in a personal relationship with Christ and I wish to remove myself from their sphere and reclaim it for those of us who find their defense of the indefensible abhorrent — who support Trump and Moore without reservation because they believe in grace and forgiveness and God using broken people:

In order to be a person of faith used by God in this way, one NEEDS to repent. The Greek word for repentance is “metanoia,” which means “to change direction.” One needs to admit they were wrong and work to make things right.

Brody, echoing the “Christian evangelicals” led by the likes of Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr, used King David as his example of a person who God used in spite of his sinful action.

It is true, God used King David, who committed adultery by forcing Bathsheba to come to his royal palace and raping her. (I don’t think she was in the position to give consent, so let’s call it what it is.) When she became pregnant, he arranged to have her husband killed in battle.

By all accounts, King David was a poster child for men abusing their power and assaulting women.

But here’s the thing. When the prophet Nathan came and confronted David with his sin, David immediately repented. In response to his sinful behavior, he wrote Psalm 51, which is a plea for forgiveness.

David claims his sin and begs God, “Do not cast me away from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore me to the joy of your salvation and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10-11)

In Lutheran tradition, we use this Psalm as an offertory, recognizing in order to be so bold as to make an offering to God, we need to acknowledge that we are not worthy, and approach God with our gifts only through grace.

David gets that he did wrong and from the very essence of his soul pleads with God to put him right again.

In addition to his repentance, there are consequences for David’s action. Most notably, he was not allowed to build the temple, which was his dream, because he had shed blood in war — namely, he killed Uriah. Instead, Solomon, the child born when he married Bathsheba — more power abuse, but I’d have to write another blog to deal with that — built the temple.

When “Christian evangelicals” make this claim about David and God’s use of other imperfect people (read as humans), they miss a key point in the comparison: the essential need for repentance and a plea for mercy and forgiveness to be used by God as a disciple. God uses many different types of people to accomplish God’s will, but to be be one of the redeemed, you need to be, well, redeemed. You need to know you sinned.

Without that, you utterly miss the point. That is, as Bonhoeffer says, “cheap grace.”

Can perpetrators of sexual abuse and any sin be forgiven in a Christian community? Of course they can. Can they be rehabilitated? Yes, of course they can. But in order to do that, they need to repent. They need to change direction.

Al Franken, in his acknowledgement of his action, most particularly the photo, said it was wrong. He privately apologized to Leeann Tweeden, she accepted his apology, and ultimately he paid the consequences by resigning from his seat.

This is a textbook case of how it is done and although Franken’s iniquities were hardly in the category of King David’s, serves as a perfect example of what Brody was describing.

All government leaders who stand accused, especially in the case of multiple accusers whose stories have credibility, either need to face ethics inquiries to deal with the facts or come clean, admit guilt, repent and move forward to the stage of forgiveness with the consequences that accompany them.

For a Christian leader of any stripe to say that you can skip this stage is to forget what it means to repent. It is to defend sin without acknowledging it. Now we can get into a debate about what sin is, and what one needs to repent over, but that again is a whole other blog. I am being specific here about sexual predation.

But there was one more thing that Brody said, echoing the opinion of the “Christian evangelicals,” that left me in a fury. He said that they wanted to be people of grace and forgiveness and so they could forgive Roy Moore of his transgressions, if he committed them, especially if they were long ago.

No one has any business forgiving someone of a sin that was not committed against them.

The only person on Earth who can forgive my rapist was me. (And I did, for my sake, not his. I didn’t want to carry that burden through life with me, so I left it on deposit with God, should he ever repent.)

I have no business forgiving someone for what Roy Moore did to them. Or Donald Trump. Or Matt Lauer. Or Al Franken. Or …

I can chose not to judge someone because of their sin. Because I am also sinful. I can chose to move past it in how I interact with them. I can chose not to hold it against them.

And as an agent of God, when someone makes confession of sin, I can offer God’s forgiveness. Which is always ready for those who turn to God, regardless of the sin. And I can stand with them as they face the consequences.

But I can’t forgive them for what they did to someone else. Only the person who was victimized can do that.

That’s it. Full stop.

I think many of these “Christian evangelicals” who are selling their souls for political power would be better served by focusing their efforts not on defending the indefensible but rather focusing on those who really need defense and who Jesus called us to serve — the last, the lost and least; the downtrodden and the forgotten; the orphan, the widow and the alien (immigrant.)

Because when all is said and done, Jesus came for two reasons. To forgive us our sins and to call us to respond with mercy to all of God’s children as forgiven people armed with love. So focus with humility on your own need for forgiveness and go out and serve and love everyone with radical abandon.

That is the image the world needs of Christian leaders, and the only way we can live out the amazing grace of God.

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Me Too?

There has been quite a movement across this nation to focus on demeaning and horrible things happening to women in this country. To be sure, the stories on the national stage deserve the attention they are receiving.

Let’s put the brakes on the current outcry, however. Let’s study the issues and do more than sensationalize and talk.

Khizr Khan, an American of Pakistani descent, is the Gold Star parent of a fallen hero. Then he criticized then-presidential candidate Donald J. Trump.

Myeshia Johnson is the Gold Star widow of fallen hero Sgt. La David Johnson.

Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., was in the car with Myeshia Johnson on the way to Dover Air Force Base to accept her husband’s remains when 45 placed a call of condolence. Wilson had been a mentor and family friend to the Johnsons for years and was in the car as a friend, not as a politician.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., another bona fide hero, spent five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam under the most horrible circumstances.

Judge Gonzalo Curiel is an American-born federal judge of Hispanic heritage who was overseeing the fraud case against Trump University in San Diego.

And Donald J. Trump, the current president of the United States and leader of the Free World.

Let’s start with President Trump, who in normal times we’d have expected to be as a role model for our children — a man who won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote in a country that’s currently deeply divided.

For the first time in history, the president of the United States has openly criticized a Gold Star family, that of Khizr Khan, an American of Pakistani descent.

He attacked Sen. McCain, an American hero, saying he didn’t like men who were captured.

He attacked Myeshia Johnson, the Gold Star mother of three with a child on the way who’d taken offense at his tone-deaf attempt to offer condolence. There obviously was miscommunication; but rather than apologize or stay quiet, the president attacked her. Of course he did; she is a woman of color.

He attacked Rep. Wilson, the longtime family friend, who heard Myeshia Johnson’s whole conversation with the president. She was supported in her interpretation of the conversation by the widow herself. Rather than take the high road and apologize, admitting there may have been miscommunication, he went tweet-crazy. But then, she too is a woman of color.

Judge Gonzalo Curiel, one of many federal judges the president has personally attacked, was said to be “incapable of being fair” because he was Hispanic and ruled against the case involving building 45’s wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Judge Curiel is an American of Mexican heritage, so of course that made him less than an honorable man.

* * *.

Harvey Weinstein is a Hollywood producer who’s now famous worldwide because of sexual misconduct toward women spanning decades — including allegations of rape, harassment and assault. He may now hold the record for more allegations of sexual misconduct than any man in history. I’ve lost count of the number of women who have come forward with their stories. They have explained legitimate reasons why they did not say anything publicly until now. Of course, he is a multimillionaire, so he feels he can use women as he wants.

We have certain churches in this country that even now do not allow women to have leadership positions. Yet they scream like hell that they protect and value women.

We have legislative leaders who howl like a pack of wolves that women and children must be honored and valued, yet do little to address the issues for fear of offending certain individuals or groups.

Men who take advantage of women and children are the scum of the earth.

What this country needs right now are men who will raise their sons to respect everyone, regardless of gender or color.

We need women to urge their daughters to respect themselves and not allow the male of the species to treat them like objects.

We need the general population to stop talking and start acting — by word and deed — to let everyone know that each life is valued, and that no one at all has the right to devalue them.

We need religious leaders from all faiths to get out of politics and go back to preaching the values promoted by our Creator. We need them to remind everyone that the color of one’s skin is just that: color. It is not something sinister, not something that diminishes them.

We need politicians to remember we didn’t send them to the Capitol to represent their party. Their job is to represent the people who elected them.

Most importantly, we need people to take off their blinders, get the facts on candidates and issues and only then use the power of their votes.

With the exception of the man who is our president, there’s not much truly new in what has been happening to this country. What is new is that the news media and social networks are shining the light on what is really going on — as opposed to what we might like to think is happening.

Values count. Family values count the most. If we don’t pull our collective heads out of the sand and care about each other, then all may be lost. In my opinion, this last election has brought a lot more than Trump into focus. It has spotlighted a lot of shortcomings. Our goal now is not to whine and moan but to do what is necessary to bring us back to the greatness our military, alive and deceased, fought for.

If not now when? Amen.

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Potpourri

One of Us

The other day, I ran into a friend who wondered why I couldn’t get with the program, like the rest of the Republicans in my neck of the woods.

I explained I’m not really anti-Republican, I am pro-common sense. Since these days we are entitled to our own facts, along with entire networks to support them, please allow me my delusion.

Continuing with said delusion, I told my friend I actually appreciated real conservatives, like William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater, both of whom are spinning in their graves so fast these days, you could use them for horizontal drilling.

My friend told me the reason nine out of 10 voters and four out of five dentists in the state supported Trump is “He’s one of us.” Which is why he wants to roll back the estate tax to save those of us with $5.49 million in the bank. Whew. Close call.

I can appreciate the way some folks are sticking with the president in the same way I appreciated the time my cat got one of those sticky mousetraps pasted to his fur.

Some people have veritable shrines to Trump in their yards, or on the sides of weathered barn buildings.

Me? I have a shrine to Melania in a more discreet location.

Because I don’t think we all have to wear our politics on our sleeves. Let mine remain a mystery to you.

Disavowing Harvey Weinstein

It’s been a good week for conservatives because they finally got a new liberal sleazeball to demonize in Harvey Weinstein.

Bill Clinton has been the standard bearer for quite a while. With occasional appearances by Anthony Weiner, who has the best political perv name of all time. At least, until Peter Dingleberry gets elected.

For quite some time, the party of family values has dominated the scandal category. I’m not saying sleaze doesn’t cut across party lines, it’s just that most liberals are too busy smoking pot, collecting welfare and hugging trees — treesexuals abound in the party — to get elected to anything. When Diane Feinstein, at 84 and running for office again, is one of the fresh faces of the Democratic Party, well, need I say more?

Conservative pundits have been licking their chops and are demanding liberals publicly disavow Weinstein. Taking bold leadership on the issue was President Trump, who said, “I’ve known Harvey Weinstein for a long time. I’m not at all surprised to see it.”

And now, a moment of silence for Irony, who died in that very moment. She is survived by two sisters, Hypocrisy and Obliviousness. Officiating at the service will be Congressman Tim Murphy.

It’s none of your business

Hypocrisy and Obliviousness were spotted in a meeting last week at the Fargo Public Library, when Govs. Doug Burgum and Mark Dayton, Sen. John Hoeven, Moorhead Mayor Del Rae Williams, Fargo Deputy Mayor Dave Piepkorn and Cass County commissioners Mary Scherlings and Chad Peterson held a closed-door meeting to discuss the $2.2 billion flood diversion project.

That’s $2.2 Billion, with a capital Bill. Your Bill.

North Dakota reporters have been kicked out of so many meetings lately you can identify them by the dusty footprints on their behinds. When EPA administrator Scott Pruitt held a meeting with Hoeven, Kevin Cramer and Burgum to discuss ways to keep oil companies from despoiling the state (Sarcasm is still alive), scribes were asked to leave the meeting.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been asked to leave a party after an invitation. After two beers, hosts invariably start rethinking things. And they always want the lampshade back.

Burgum, who is reinventing transparency, said about last week’s meeting, “The primary reason (for barring the taxpaying public) is, we want to make sure everybody in the room feels comfortable sharing their concerns.”

I have some concerns of my own. But you know me, I don’t feel comfortable sharing them in such a public forum.

Obviousness, who was not allowed in either, was, however, comfortable expressing her feelings in the hallway outside the door, which was guarded by burly bouncers.

“All I know is clowns and politicians perform better under a spotlight,” she told a fake news reporter, who stood through the interview because his butt was really sore.

“And we still have the First Amendment and Democracy, don’t we,” she continued.

The place went silent.

© Tony Bender, 2017

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — A Win For President Trump

In the interests of humanity, the lives of the people of our country should have priority. Hence, funds that would have been appropriated for the wall will instead be diverted to rebuilding the devastated communities. That would include infrastructure and replacement of utilities, as well as immediate provision of food and medical care, including the means to “deliver” them.

We have the means. Does President Trump have the will to put people first? He wants to claim he’s creating jobs; the suggested solution would certainly do that. Think about it! Using new and progressive ideas — new and improved roads, bridges, utilities, housing and businesses — all creating jobs and future growth in the affected areas.

I believe 45 hasn’t visited fire-ravaged California because that state didn’t support him. But that is no reason not to support the citizens who live there.

I know I have oversimplified this idea. But what is the down side? I can’t find one. I know the average citizen of this country would support the idea. We simply cannot afford to both build a wall along the entire border and support storm-ravaged areas.

He could also divert a few trillion dollars from the military budget to infrastructure without harming the military. Remember, there is a lot of money in the military appropriation that the military did not request.

Congress, which has a lower approval rating than a skunk, could gain much-needed esteem by growing a spine and taking prompt action to help those most in need. It appears to me that millionaires would not qualify as “those in need,” so you can tax them a few more bucks for the common good.

One can rant and rave about any president at any time in history, but this is a fact: A president can’t go rogue if Congress does its job.

What blows my mind is the fact that our elected officials at the national level can’t just sit down and compromise. During the Obama years, the R’s kept things from happening. During the Trump tenure, the D’s keep things from happening. These people have forgotten they represent us (the people), not their party and not the president.

I guess common sense is a lost virtue within our current federal leadership.

* * *

A Tennessee man named Bob Nichols, who I do not know personally, posted the following on Facebook. I can’t find the original source. The wording is so great that I’m just copying it verbatim. I can’t improve on the message:

“Some of the most incredible people I know voted for Donald Trump, and some of the most incredible people I know voted for Hillary Clinton. The people that I know that voted for Trump are not racist, misogynistic or hateful, and the people that voted for Hillary Clinton are not hateful and intolerable. If you are someone who woke up this morning and is going to start seeing people as who they voted for, and not as the person you have always known them to be, then you are what is wrong with America. I will never think any less of any person who has different views than me, because some of the most beautiful, inspirational people I know will disagree with what I believe all day long, but at the end of the day they are still that beautiful inspirational person I have always known them as. Don’t think less of people because some of their beliefs don’t align with yours, and don’t lose quality people in your life because you choose hate over love.”

Amen.