Tom’s Best Tech of 2016

fire hd 8

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-5-33-49-pmAmazon Fire HD 8 ($90 at Amazon) I have a longstanding antipathy toward the Fire ecosystem because it forces you to shop only through Amazon for your entertainment media. I am making an exception for the Fire HD 8 because it represents a great value and it is easily jailbroken so that the Google Play services can be added. After all, a tablet without Gmail, Google Maps, etc. Is little more than a paperweight. For the person with more hacking skills than $$$, this just might be your tablet.

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-5-36-31-pmAcer Chromebook R 13Acer Chromebook R13 with Android apps ($400 at Best Buy). There are still some niches that Chrome OS cannot adequately address – no desktop version of Lightroom or Photoshop, no powerful video editing. Even with its Android apps, you often are getting versions of desktop apps that are hamstrung. But for everyone in my family except myself (serious photography) and my son (a professional game programmer), Chrome is the way to go. Just be sure to get a laptop that is compatible with the Google Play Store like this one. It flips over for use like a tablet, has a serviceable keyboard, and a touch screen. The HDMI, microSD, USB 3.0 (2X), and audio ports make the connectivity on this thing rival a MacBook “Pro”. Although limited to a paltry 32 GB SSD, at least you can expand that with a microSD card. If you use software that requires Windows or MacOS, you know who you are. But otherwise, you should really give the Acer Chromebook R 13 a hard look. If you already live in the Chrome browser on your current device, the transition will be as easy as falling off of a log.

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-5-38-17-pmLenovo Yoga Book ($550 for the Windows version from Lenovo) Unlike the much more expensive iPad Pro, the Yoga Book includes a pen, a Halo keyboard, and a Wacom-powered digital drawing pad. It can even run desktop software at full strength.  Unlike an iPad Pro, this tablet starts with a Lenovo Yoga Book64 GB SSD and has a microSD slot to add an option 128 GB more. Closed, it is a slim 9.6 mm thin and weighs a mere 52 lbs (690 g). To be fair, typing on the Halo keyboard is pretty much like typing on a screen, but having the keyboard off the screen leaves your display fully visible as your type. As tablets and computers have become more and more blasé, the Yoga Book grabs our attention with real creativity. If you’re a digital artist or college student, this is your throw-it-in-my-bag-and-go device.

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-5-40-15-pm360fly 4K Camera360fly 4K Action Camera ($500 from 360fly) Once you’ve experienced 360 degree video it is very difficult to be content with merely shooting 4K. Don’t expect professional results – those systems can run as much as $9,000. There will be a little purple fringing and softness. But the overall result is just so much more immersive than any conventional video you can shoot. The prospect of shooting with the 360fly really stirs my creative juices.

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-5-41-54-pmYuneec BreezeYuneec Breeze Drone ($400 from the Yuneec Store) You don’t have a drone, yet? Well, get on that before the air is more crowded with drones than mosquitos. Drone enthusiasts with money to burn are more likely to get a DJI Phantom 4 Pro or some other over-$1000 drone. But for those of us who want to take some fun aerial selfies, there is this year’s unique Yuneec Breeze. It shoots 13 MP stills or 4K video and live streams 720p back to your mobile device. It has a Follow Me mode that makes a GoPro just seem a little pathetic. There’s no camera gimbal or object avoidance, but then again you don’t have to decide between buying this or buying a car.

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-5-44-07-pmscreen-shot-2016-12-07-at-6-17-34-pmGoogle Home ($129 from the Google Store) Let’s face it. Google Home is late to the starting line. Echo has been out for a couple of years and just does a stellar job. But if all you want is to play music and have a smart voice-activated assistant, you won’t go wrong with the newer, less expensive Google Home. Google Assistant just knows more than my gal Alexa. Alexa has far more skills than this Google Home upstart. But Google Home can voice control select apps on your Google Cast which is way cool. If you have more than one, you’ve got the option to have all of them playing the same music together. I’m all in on the Echo ecosystem, but if I was just starting out, I’d bring Google Home home.

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-5-45-53-pmDaydream VR ($79 from the Google Store) On the low-resolution Pixel, VR suffers from a marked screen door effect while watching videos. For some reason the games looked much better. But when I watched the YouTube VR video from School of Rock: You’re in the Band my mind was blown. Google Streetview VR was likewise impressive. I went down alleys in Paris and finally got to see London. The included hand controller was very good. Some of the few games were a bit buggy, like VR Karts, rendering it almost impossible to control my Kart. Another one made it possible to fly my starfighter between mountains pretty effortlessly. Of course, it is no Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, but then again it doesn’t cost hundreds of dollars. This is a great value.

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-5-47-10-pmGoogle PixelPixel and Pixel XL (available from the Google Store) Every flagship phone is great these days. But I traded in my iPhone 7 for a Pixel because after having the power and flexibility of Android, iOS was a yawn. And Siri-smeery. That poor girl has nothing on Google Assistant. I also missed things like seeing my step count in a widget and arranging icons on a page where I wanted them to go. The Pixels aren’t exactly stunning in appearance, but since I put a case on it, it really doesn’t matter, because it looks fine now. But what I love about my Pixel is that it is just so fast. There is no waiting or stuttering unless I’m having a problem with my internet. The operation of this phone is plain slick. The pixel density is a bit low for use with VR on the Pixel, but I understand the XL handles it quite well.

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-5-48-42-pmOver the Top “Cable” 2016 was the year I gave up my DVR and moved to streaming my TV shows. I tried Sling, PS Vue, and DirecTV Now. I’ll take any one of these over my cable service which also required that I rent their equipment. I finally settled on the DirecTV Now “Go Big” package, locking in its introductory rate and scoring a free Apple TV. We’ll have to see whether net neutrality is repealed under the new government. If it is, expect OTT provider costs to skyrocket and competition to die. But 2016 was gloriously liberating as competition finally came to television service providers.

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-5-49-36-pmAmazon Echo DotAmazon Echo Dot ($50 at Amazon) In March of this year, Amazon offered a less expensive version of their Echo. The Dot lacks the Echo’s larger speaker and larger price tag. The speaker it comes with works perfectly well and it is every bit as smart as its larger sibling. (It can be paired with a Bluetooth speaker when louder, better music is desired.)  I use it to listen to the music to which I fall asleep, tell me the weather and customized news topics for the day, control the thermostat and the TV (paired with a Logitech Hub). The $50 Dot might just be the best value in the Internet of Things. The hope for all technology is that it will actually make our lives better. I believe that having an Echo Dot will enhance the quality of your daily life. The low cost of entry democratizes the smart home assistant in a way that pretty much any one can enjoy its benefit.

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Islands in the Streaming

confusing play count flowYo, boys and girls, it is almost time for Thanksgiving. When Santa comes out in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade it is officially time to crank up the Christmas music. What better time to talk about how to make sure that you have wisely chosen the best approach for torturing the Scrooges in your life with non-stop holiday merriment piping out of every speaker in your house and car?

It has been quite a while since I’ve written about managing our digital catalogs. Most of us now listen not only to our own catalog of acquired tunes but also to one or more streaming services. Unfortunately, that presents us with the challenge of mixing and matching our desktop and mobile music apps with a wide variety of available streaming services. There are many available combinations and permutations. I’m going to share how I have assembled my recipe for musical holiday festivities.

Commercial Free YouTube

Google Play Music All Access has some super cool, but basic features. Best of all, when one subscribes to All Access one also gets YouTube Red – YouTube without commercials. Since I watch YouTube every night and sometimes while I’m getting ready for work, that alone is worth the $9.99 per month price of entry.

Cloud Storage | Play on Any Device

But the subscription also increases the number of songs you can upload from a mere 20,000 (available free) to 50,000 songs. All of your music is backed up to the cloud. If you buy all of your music from iTunes, iTunes in the Cloud (iCloud) stores your purchases for free. If you buy all of your music from Amazon’s MP3 store, all of your music is already available on Amazon’s Cloud Player. If you want to backup CD’s that you’ve ripped, songs from multiple stores, or otherwise don’t fit neatly into an iTunes or Amazon camp, Google Play Music has your back. iTunes Match will do the same job for up to 25,000 songs for only $25 per year. That is best compared to Google Play Music’s free service cap of 20,000 songs. Apple Music ($9.99/month or $14.99 for the family plan) will let you upload a humongous 100,000 songs.

The Google Play Music apps (Web, iOS, Android) make it possible to stream all of your songs and playlists from virtually any device. Like Spotify, it also will let you download your library from the cloud for offline storage on your mobile devices. For someone who spends over 30 hours per month riding in a car, offline play is a necessity to avoid mobile data caps.

Smart Radio

Google Play Music has over 35 million songs. Apple Music or Spotify have over 30 million songs. The service with the largest user base, Pandora, had only 2 million songs until it acquired Rdio with its 25 million song catalog. Amazon Prime Music with its puny 1 million song catalog was joined by Amazon Unlimited Music this year. Amazon Unlimited Music outdoes even Google with its 40 million song catalog. For most of us, any one of these services will have a sufficient library to scratch our itches. Even the paltry Amazon Prime Music catalog is made up of songs with very broad appeal. If the radio feature is what draws you, you could just pick the one whose interface is most intuitive for you.

But then there is the ‘smart’ in smart radio. Which service does a better job of picking tunes that you want to listen to when you venture forth from your own relatively small library? I haven’t tried every service and again this may well be a matter of taste. Google Play Music has categories of recommendations represented as cards. At the time I’m writing this, one of the cards is ‘Focusing (No Lyrics)’. When I tap the card I get eight more cards: ‘Jazz for Working’, ‘Bossa Jazz’, etc. It seems like a bit of work for getting to a station I might want to hear. The cool part is that it is situational. I get completely different recommendations for Sunday morning or for a work night.

Google Play Music also recommends sets of stations based on artists to whom one has recently listened. This simulates the Pandora-like stations but requires a few more taps of the screen to get there. I haven’t really been in the GPM world long and hopefully the recommendations will improve over time, but so far I’m not terribly impressed.

Even though I almost never listen to Amazon Prime Music, that service seems to have much better recommendations. Pandora recommendations are okay. Apple Music I haven’t tried. If it works anything near as well as the old Apple Genius Playlists, I suspect it is very good.

Spotify, which requires the Flash plug-in to work on the web, seems to have recommendations somewhere between the power but fussiness of Google and the weak, but simple approach of Pandora.

Mobile Interface

Google Play Music has a decent user interface that I would rate as comparable to Amazon Music on my Android phone. They’re both better than my PowerAmp interface but not as nice as Rocket Player.

Awesome Extras

Of course Google Play Music works well with the new Google Home device. Although the sound quality is lower on that device than a Sonos, it can sync the music across all of the devices in the house which would be very cool.

However, our house has long been part of the Amazon Echo world and Google Play Music is sadly lacking there. Of course the Echo loves Amazon Music (Unlimited or Prime) and both Echo and Home work with Pandora. One has to subscribe to Spotify Premium to use Spotify with the Echo or Google Home.  If you want Google music on an Echo, you’ll have to stream it via Bluetooth from your phone or computer. Fortunately, I belong to Amazon Prime and my wife subscribes to Pandora One so we have no lack of music on the Echo.

But Google is available on my Android TV where it offers a very nice slideshow of artists as their music plays. Amazon Music, Spotify, and Apple Music are no shows on Android TV.

But if you spend as much time in your car as I do, you’ll be very happy to know that Google, Amazon, and Spotify (free) all work with Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. All three services allow one to download their library for offline play, but Spotify requires a Premium subscription to do that. Sadly, these apps, possibly for licensing reasons, only allow one to download one’s library onto one’s Android device in their proprietary format. That means you need enough storage on your device to multiply your library by the number of apps you might want to use.

Like iTune’s smart playlists, compatibility with Android Auto is an absolute requirement for my music system.

Syncing Playlists and Play Counts

Say hello to the concept of silos. Amazon, Google, and Spotify will take your library out of iTunes but, for reasons possibly out of their control, they cannot be used as an interface to change playlists or update play counts. That means all of those fancy smart playlists you have in iTunes are rendered useless once you leave the Apple or other desktop ecosystem. I believe that smart playlists are the best way to fully enjoy the catalog of songs that you have acquired over time.

If you are an iOS, MacOS, tvOS, Apple CarPlay kind of user, congratulations. You have everything everywhere and it is all in sync. You won’t be shouting out from your easy chair for music to start playing from your home assistant (just yet), but otherwise you win.

I have not found a way to sync plays on Amazon Music back to iTunes either from the app or the web.

Google Play Music can work together with iSyncr on your mobile device. Link the Google Play Music Android app to an iSyncr rating widget and at least your playcounts will make it back into iTunes. Google Play Music Manager only mirrors iTunes dumb playlists so you’ll still need to use iSyncr and another music player to play your iTunes smart playlists. The Rocket Player app doesn’t need any extra settings to work with iSyncr for that. However, that also means that your play counts won’t be included on Rocket Player lacks support for scrobbling to By linking PowerAmp to , one gets the playcounts back into iTunes through iSyncr and the play counts show up on (In PowerAmp, just go to Settings>Misc>Scrobbling> and check both Simple and Scrobble Droid. Of course, you need both apps on your phone first.) GPM on the web can scrobble to but iSyncr does not appear to bring these plays back into iTunes. That only happens with plays on a mobile device. To scrobble from the web you’ll need the Music Plus for Google Play Music Chrome extension.

A Personal Approach

I think if all I wanted to do was play my music library or listen to smart radio stations I would subscribe to Spotify and call it a day – just like millions of people have done.

My problem is that I use Apple’s iTunes to manage my music library, including a brilliant use of smart playlists. Without my playlist that constantly updates with songs I’ve rated highly but haven’t heard in a while, there are many great songs I own but would never think to enjoy. As my tastes evolve, I change my rankings of different songs and that changes the mix of other smart playlists.

That is great when I am on my iMac or MacBook Pro (both of which I love). I undermined Apple Music by buying most of my music from Amazon instead of through the iTunes Store. I started that back when Apple insisted on saddling MP3s with DRM.  iTunes Match is limited to 25,000 songs and my library overshoots that limit. iCloud storage is pricey. And I absolutely will not give up my Android phone or Android Auto. But, there is just nothing that touches iTunes when it comes to smart playlists, so I’m not budging from iTunes.

My Amazon Prime Music is actually pretty nice. Since my family all shares my Prime membership, I won’t be giving that up anytime soon so the Music is essentially free for me. When it comes to listening to my Echo devices that works out pretty well for me. The downside is that my play counts don’t feed back into my iTunes smart playlists.

I also have Google Play Music as part of my subscription to YouTube Red which means I have almost all of my library stored with Google. (Believe it or not, I have more than 50,000 songs saved up over the years.) Using the iSyncr rating widget, I can get the Google Play Music Android app song plays back into my iTunes which is nicer than what happens with Amazon. (By using a Chrome extension, one can get to count Google Play Music web app play counts, but these aren’t taken back to iTunes by iSyncr.)

I have Pandora One because of my wife’s subscription. This works everywhere and it’s cheap. It just doesn’t include my personal library with its smart playlists.

I only use Windows at work and on two servers. It should be noted that back in the day Microsoft had a great music player in Zune, both on the desktop and as a device. But because I don’t use Windows for personal use, I have no experience with their Groove Music service. It appears to have similar choices in radio stations to Google and can manage dumb playlists like iTunes. It does not offer smart playlists like iTunes. It can be used with iOS or Android mobile devices but not Google Home, Amazon Echo, Android TV, Apple TV, Android Auto, or Apple CarPlay.

So, how do I use this hodgepodge of available music services?

  • I create smart playlists in iTunes and then play them on Android using iSyncr with PowerAmp.
  • I sync my Android phone play counts back to iTunes through the iSyncr widget. This keeps my smart playlists up to date.
  • My Echo and its little Dot friends, play Pandora when my wife talks to it and Amazon Prime when I do. I just think of this more like a radio. I have given up on trying to figure out how to get my play counts from the Echo back into iTunes. If I was starting over, I would buy a Google Home to get around this problem.
  • While driving, I play my library through Android Auto using the Google Play Music app because it lets me download my music to be played offline. I would subscribe to Spotify for this if I didn’t get Google Play Music thrown in for free with YouTube Red.
  • As far as the Android TV goes, I use it to play a slideshow as music plays from the Echo. Even if I want to listen to my own playlists, I use Bluetooth to play my phone through the Echo. So, even though it can play music and will eventually have the good speakers, Android TV is not a deciding factor when it comes to choosing a music service.

Things to Consider

Trying to disentangle the advantages and disadvantages of the music services is quite a chore. It isn’t really all that helpful when reading a lot of reviews. It seems like each reviewer picks a different service. Google didn’t have the Turkish yodeling album. Amazon didn’t have African insect mating songs. Their silly reasons aren’t really relevant to the average user. All of them have adequate catalogs for the average music fan.

  • If you care about smart playlists but not having a voice commanded home audio system, go all Apple. It’s an expensive approach, but dead simple.
  • If you don’t care about smart playlists or Android TV but love Echos, go Amazon.
  • If you don’t care about smart playlists or Apple but you want an assistant in your home, go Google Home, Android phone, Android TV, Android Auto, and Google Play Music.
  • If you don’t care about smart playlists, go Spotify.
  • If you can’t afford one of the above options, go with Pandora.

I know that you have different needs than do I, but hopefully this will be of help in sorting through the myriad options and coming with a mix that rings your bell. Have a great Thanksgiving – hopefully these thoughts can help to make even your road trip more pleasant.

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Love One Another

For many of us the election results have been a bitter pill to swallow. Although Donald Trump appears to have lost the popular vote, he won the electoral college. I am happy for those working class whites who have been feeling forgotten by the rest of us. I pray that, against all the evidence so far, he will bring you the economic relief and voice for which you are so desperate.

For others of us, this is a disappointing day. Despite Clinton having won the popular vote, our constitutional system will bring a different choice for president into office. For those of us who do not believe that any promised good will outweigh the history of bad behavior on the part of the winner, it is unsettling and even a bit depressing.

But I think we all have to shake off our natural reactions, to gloat that we have finally been heard or pine that our dreams have been dashed on the electoral college rocks. Because the result of electing a man with a history of racism, misogyny, incitement to violence, mocking the disabled, and religious bigotry and intolerance will bring some of the people around us to a place of fear and insecurity. If you see someone in one of those groups today be sure to share with them a friendly smile or an offer to pay for their coffee. If you know someone in one of those Trump targeted groups, give them a hug and assure them that when faced with inflamed bigotry you will stand with them, that you would die to protect their freedom to be true to their own lights. Remind them that more of us thought him to be in the wrong than in the right. It is also good to remember that many who did vote for him thought his faults were the necessary evil that must be accepted in order to get a conservative supreme court. They were not endorsing his bigotry. All of us today need to unite behind the principles of freedom and tolerance baked into our country’s constitution as well as a love for one another that will carry us through the next four years.

We need to hear and respect the forgotten needs of working class whites but fight the good fight against the elements of bigotry into which Trump’s campaign tapped. This should be a country in which every group is heard, but also where the voices of hate are drowned in a sea of courageous love.

Please join with me in praying for the President elect and for the healing of our country. God bless the USA.

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Come Home Republicans. We Miss You.

It is the Sunday before the 2016 elections and the Presidential race has tightened. For decades I have been a Republican. But having been raised in a home where Mom is a Democrat and Dad was a Republican, I’ve never hesitated to cross party lines when I felt a Democrat would better serve the interests of the United States.

I am also an evangelical Christian, a group that is more divided in 2016 than we have been since the rise of the Moral Majority. Many Christians have abandoned their previous Republican leanings because of the clear moral turpitude of the Republican candidate.

As we close in on decision day, many Republicans are calling for those of us who have not supported Trump or the Tea Party to “come home”.

Donald Trump is a racist who thinks that an American of Mexican-descent cannot be a fair judge in a trial. He has been sued for practicing discrimination in housing. He wants to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. He claims this is to keep out the Mexican killers and rapists. You know who he means, right? The kind of immigrants that he had work on his Florida projects and then when he stiffed them he threatened to turn them in to the immigration authorities if they complained.

Donald Trump does not believe in freedom of religion. He believes all Muslims should be banned from entering the United States.

Donald Trump objectifies women. Worse than that he has bragged about sexually assaulting women. Words caught on tape that lead credence to the many women who have accused him of inappropriate sexual behavior. His advice to his daughter, should she be sexually harassed on the job? He said she should be the one to leave. If they followed his advice all of the women who work at Fox News and claim to have been sexually harassed by Roger Ailes, all of those women should have had to leave Fox News and leave the next female intern on her own to deal with the likes of Ailes. Normally, when faced with a misogynist, one would turn to the electorate and ask if this is the way you want your daughter to be viewed. Donald referred to his own daughter in a Howard Stern interview as a nice “piece of ____”.

Donald Trump has no history of any compassion toward the poor. No history of service to the community of any kind. According to a Washington Post article, since 2008 he has no history of every having made $1 of charitable donations – let alone the millions he has lied about giving. This past May he was pressured into making good on the $1 million donation to veterans families he had promised but up until then reneged on. There is a “charity” in his name. He used their funds to buy a picture of himself and get himself out of legal hot water. Think of it as a charity for needy billionaires.

Donald Trump claims that he will put a strict constructionist on the Supreme Court and protect our Second Amendment gun rights. Yet, he says that he may not accept the results of the election. He jokes about Second Amendment people taking care of Clinton if she wins. You might think he was joking about assassinating his rival. But he has offered to pay the legal bills for people who act out violently at his rallies against those who protest against him. Apparently, we need to skip the First Amendment and focus only on the second one. He has repeatedly said that he will lock Clinton up if he wins, a practice characteristic of evil dictators, not a democratic republic.

He claims that he will protect the lives of the unborn although in his pre-political life he was pro-abortion. Protecting the unborn is part of a respect for all lives – male and female, every race, every religion, every economic group. There is no evidence of that context in Trump’s position. Every church of any size to which I have belonged has supported a service where women can go to have unwanted babies with their health care taken care of, assistance in putting the baby up for adoption if that is the mother’s choice, even a place to stay if they lack family support. I have never heard a word from Donald about how he would serve mothers who are faced with unwanted pregnancies.

The same compassion that wants to protect our defenseless unborn inspires the church to build hospitals, medical clinics and schools in underserved American neighborhoods and countries around the world. Its the compassion that moves so many local churches to sponsor immigrants, like those from Syria. My kind of pro-Life candidate would be running on a compassion platform.

Republicans are being told to come home.

In my home and the home in which I was raised, we shared Martin Luther King Jr’s dream of a world where people will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Racism is abhorrent to common decency and to a faith that believes we are all created in God’s image and created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights. As a white boy dating a black girl back in 1970, you know what upset my big sister? That I was dating one of her friends and any misbehavior on my part might jeopardize their friendship! That was my home.

I am a Baptist. We feel very strongly about freedom of religion and the separation of Church and State. Part of that is because our movement grew out persecution against those who held our beliefs. That is my home.

Our family motto could well have been, “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” My mother is brilliant. In fact, I have only met one other person that came across to me as having a similar IQ. Even my grandparents’ generation, while maintaining traditional gender roles, did not belittle an opinion because it happened to be the opinion of a woman. Everyone has a voice and their voice is heard and given equal weight. The Long men do not talk about women as a number between 1 and 10 or as a nice “piece of ____”. Pull that crap and you will literally have your mouth cleaned out with a piece of soap.

I believe that an elected official should be a public servant. People without a history of private service have no place in public office. People who mock our soldiers for becoming prisoners of war or mothers of fallen soldiers have no place in public office. They do not grasp the concept of service. (I don’t know why I say “people”. In my whole life, Donald Trump is the only person I have heard stoop so low.)

In my house we were taught, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything. Beginning with the primaries, Donald Trump has brought nasty political speech to an historically low coarseness.

As a long-standing Republican, I want a Supreme Court justice who will protect the constitution, not just the Second Amendment, but the whole thing. The whole point of the court is to not cherry pick what they think are the “good parts” but protect the Constitution as it was written and the laws that have been passed in keeping with constitutional requirements. One cannot just go around encouraging violence against dissenters and locking up political rivals – not if one respects our constitution.

The Republican party of Lincoln, Reagan, and the Bushes is not the party of today’s basket of Tea Party obstructionists and alt-right bigots. When I hear these our-party-right-or-wrong folks telling me to come home to the Republican Party, I’m reminded of a story I heard decades ago. An older farmer and his wife were riding along in their pickup truck. His wife said, “Remember when we were young and so in love that you couldn’t slip a piece of paper between us when we were out riding in our pickup?” He looked back at her and said, “I ain’t moved.”

Republicans, if you want to restore your party to what it was. If you want to make the Republican Party great again. There is only one thing you can do. Vote for anyone but Donald Trump.

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Dereliction of Duty

Evangelical leaders are speaking out endorsing political candidates. Here are the endorsements meted out by a few. Will this compromise their calling?

For Trump:
President of Liberty University – Jerry Falwell Jr.
Founder of Focus of the Family – James Dobson

Against Trump, but short of endorsing Clinton:
President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission – Russell Moore
Christian Author – Max Lucado

For Clinton:
Executive advisor to the World Evangelical Alliance-Deborah Fikes

As I have observed various Christian leaders endorsing candidates for election in the United States, I have had to consider whether it is advisable for these leaders to do so.

What is the role of a pastor? To go into the world and make disciples, baptize believers, and teach believers to obey God’s commandments (The Great Commission).

What is the primary expression of Christian faith? According to Jesus, the law of God is summed up with two commandments (Matthew 222:36ff). To love God more than anyone or anything. To love our neighbors. Jesus also says that the important matters of the law are justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23).

If you are a pastor considering endorsing a political candidate or with an even broader brush a political party, I would ask you a simple question. Will your endorsement enhance or impair your primary, God-given calling to attract people to Jesus?

To say that one has to vote for Hillary or Donald to be a good Christian is somewhat ludicrous. One or the other may align more closely with your views and prejudices. But to claim either as a paradigm of Christian values is to unnecessarily taint a church leader’s position when it comes to the one to whom they should be pointing us, Jesus.

As I consider my own decision as to how I will vote, I will keep in mind that my primary allegiance is not to a political party or political philosophy. My primary allegiance should be to God and His Word. But politics plays an extremely important role in our freedom to live out God’s kingdom on earth. I will try to make my political decisions based on some very fundamental biblical principles.

Justice and Mercy. These concepts are woven together in Scripture. God calls on His people to champion the weak, the oppressed, the poor, the foreigner, the widower, and the orphan. He says that people of different ethnicities, social status, and gender are all one in Christ.

Relating faith to American politics is challenging and many devout believers differ as to how their faith should be applied in the political arena. Broadly speaking Republicans emphasize opportunity and meritocracy. Democrats emphasize mercy in the form of a safety net for our most disenfranchised.

The Old Testament concept that relates here is the Jubilee. In the fiftieth year of Jubilee all land reverted to its original tribe and all slaves were freed. During the forty-nine years each individual had the opportunity to build from a place with equal footing. To put it in terms of the Jubilee, Republicans emphasize the forty-nine years of opportunity and competition and Democrats emphasize the Jubilee year of leveling the playing field. To put it another way, Republicans are more for equal OPPORTUNITY. Democrats are more for EQUAL opportunity.

Paul makes it clear that we cannot separate ourselves from those outside our faith community who do not hold to our ethical standards (1 Corinthians 5:9-10). Jesus warns us about judging others (Matthew 7:1-2). Personally, I think that Christian leaders would do better to take stands on issues rather than endorsing political figures. Like me, politicians are sinners made in the image of God – what some might call a mixed bag. Because of that, endorsing one candidate or another sends out a mixed message.

But I do think pastors should talk about the light faith can shed on issues that relate to biblical truths (not liberal, conservative, or personal philosophies). Let’s consider some of those principles and see where the candidates stand.

Perhaps the weakest and most disenfranchised of our people are those who have yet to be born. The Bible talks about our lives before our births (Psalm 139:13-16, Jeremiah 1:5, and Galatians 1:15). Many, if not most, Christians take this to mean that life starts at conception but the language of the Bible is not specific beyond life starting in the womb.

What does Trump say about the unborn person’s right to live?

His judicial philosophy is not clear. It is difficult to judge what kind of Supreme Court nominees he would put forward.

What does Clinton say about the unborn person’s right to live?

Clinton would be expected to add Supreme Court nominees who would confirm Roe v Wade and its wider implications.

Next, let’s look at what Donald Trump says about the weak, for example a handicapped reporter.

Hillary Clinton worked for the Children’s Defense Fund. She worked with families with disabled children in Massachusetts. She worked with Republicans to help create the Children’s Health Insurance Program. CHIP cut the uninsured rate of American children by half. Today it provides health care to more than 8 million kids.

Let’s look at what Trump has to say about those who were oppressed prisoners of war (POWs).

Later Trump says he doesn’t mean to disparage POWs but refuses to apologize to McCain.

Here is what Donald Trump has to say about women.

Here is how he clarified his position.

How does Trump treat small businesses and individuals that lack his economic clout?

Trump denies the claim of Jeb Bush that he tried to make a donation to the Republican party in Florida in trade for making it legal to build a casino there.

On a related note, the accusation of pay-to-play relates to giving special privilege to the rich and powerful that “regular” people wouldn’t have. Clinton has been accused of providing special privileges to those who make large donations to her family’s charitable foundation. The Washington Post appeared to take one email (from a Clinton aid) to support this accusation. There is no evidence that this or any other email actually resulted in special access, but opponents insist that it indicates an attempt to give pay-to-play access on the part of the aid.

What is Trump’s position on racial minorities?

His campaign had a half-Indian Trump supporter escorted from the Wilmington rally. The young man stated that he felt that he had been profiled.

I could not find any articles or speeches detailing what policies Trump would propose to support his professed love of minorities.

Unfortunately, I could not find any articles articulating Clinton’s positions on minorities and the issues that are important to them. In the primaries, black voters heavily favored Clinton over Sanders.

The Bible makes a big deal about how we treat the foreigner in our land (e.g., Exodus 22:21).

What does Trump say about immigrants?

What does Clinton say about immigrants?

“Who is my neighbor?” Trying to avoid the Bible’s mandate for compassion and service, a Pharisee posed this question to Jesus. Jesus responded with the well-known Parable of the Good Samaritan.

Hillary Clinton has a long history of service to those in need, as stated earlier. Her family has a charitable foundation. The Trump campaign has claimed that their foundation is a front for pay-to-play.

Donald Trump claims to have made $102 million in donations to charity in the last five years. None of the gifts were made with his money but were associated with charitable use of his properties or services. The Washington Post gives a detailed accounting.

Another important Christian principle is honesty, integrity, and doing things out in the open (lately we’ve been referring this last as ‘transparency’).

According to the FBI, Clinton was not truthful with her statements to the public about her emails. Hillary continues to hide her emails.

Trump repeatedly falsely stated that the sitting President of the U.S. was the founder of ISIS. Trump continues to hide his taxes.

One of the most radical principles of Christianity is Christ telling us to love our enemies. How do our politicians measure up on this one?

Donald Trump

Trump built his base largely by insulting other Republicans because they were short, boring, or tweeting a picture implying that their wife was ugly.

Hillary Clinton

I wrote this article because I was so deeply disturbed that people who were supposed to be pointing us to Jesus were pointing us to Trump. He’s some kind of saint? That is absurd. James Dobson even claimed that Trump was born again. (I have never heard Trump make such a claim.) This a failure of responsibility on the part of those who are supposed to be instilling Christian values in those they lead. Speak truth to the issues, but those issues which are clearly defined in the Scriptures. Because you happen to have a personal view or prejudice does not make it a Christian position so why are you squandering the reputations of your ministries? Are you trying to show how powerful you are? Blessed are the meek. Are you trying to show how important you are? Blessed are the poor in spirit. Stop it. Just stop it. In a world with too much hate and cruelty we need to be pointed to the light of the world, not a politician.

So, what about us among the rank and file? How should we vote? Evangelicals are split as to whether we should choose the lesser evil, vote for a third party candidate, or not vote. There are a lot of issues I haven’t broached in this article. Trying to apply Christian values as to form a position on whether the minimum wage should be raised, common core belongs in education, or whether trade deals help the people who need it most are not so clear as whether we should lie, hate, or take life versus speak the truth, show compassion for our neighbor and level the playing field, while giving value to every human life.

As citizens we have to use our critical thinking to determine how our vote can best serve the country and our voices can continue to point others to Jesus, accepting no human substitutes. Study, listen, discuss, and pray. Maybe we’ll get it wrong, but we have a duty to do our best.

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