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The Burlingame Mission

Posted: 23 Nov 2017 06:26 AM PST

In November 1867, China credentialed its first diplomatic mission to the West. Although it was only authorized to stay abroad for one year, the mission took nearly three. It visited San Francisco, New York, Washington, London, Paris, Stockholm, Copenhagen, The Hague, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Brussels, Florence, Madrid, and Suez, concluding a treaty revision with the United States, receiving an official declaration of policy from the United Kingdom, and dazzling its audiences everywhere.

That the first Chinese mission to the West visited the United States before moving on to Europe was no coincidence. The man commissioned to lead the mission had been educated at the University of Michigan and Harvard Law School. But he was not an early haigui, or “sea turtle”-the name given today to Chinese students who study abroad and then return to China to build their careers. He was an American.

His name was Anson Burlingame. A three-term member of the House of Representatives from Massachusetts, Burlingame lost his seat in the election of 1860 that brought Abraham Lincoln to the presidency. His consolation was an ambassadorship. Lincoln at first appointed him minister to Austria-Hungary but withdrew that commission because Vienna objected to Burlingame’s earlier support for Hungarian independence. So he was instead sent to Beijing, where he became the United States’ second permanent diplomatic representative in China.

Burlingame served almost seven years in that post. On November 21, 1867, he abruptly tendered his resignation. Two days later, he sent a short telegram to U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward:

Chinese empire appointed me envoy to treaty powers. Accepted. Leave at once for San Francisco.

And with that, Burlingame went from being the representative of the United States in China to being the representative of China to the world.


When Americans think about the 1860s, they tend to focus on the momentous struggle of the Civil War and the contentious politics of Reconstruction. But Washington’s foreign affairs continued despite the fighting at home, and in the first half of the decade, the United States was not the only country caught in the throes of a civil conflict.

When Burlingame arrived in China in October 1861, the ruling Qing Dynasty was fighting the Taiping rebellion in a protracted civil war that lasted from 1851 until 1864. Historians widely consider the Taiping rebellion the bloodiest civil war in history, with an estimated death toll of at least 20 million. Burlingame put the U.S. government firmly on the side of the Qing government. Maintaining China’s territorial integrity, the thinking in Washington ran, would maintain the “open door” for American commerce and help protect the country from European colonialism.

Over the years that followed, Burlingame became close friends with the regent Prince Gong, who was in effective control of the empire. He seems to have become a confidant of Gong, informing him about European politics and the distinctiveness of the United States as a Pacific power without territorial ambitions. In 1863, he helped Gong resolve a dispute with the United Kingdom over the Lay-Osborn Flotilla, a squadron of eight warships that China commissioned for use in the final phase of the Taiping rebellion. When it came time for China to send its first diplomatic mission abroad, Gong turned to Burlingame to lead it.

As Burlingame put it in a letter to Seward on December 14, he intended to resign his post as minister to China in 1868 to return to the United States and resume his career in domestic politics. Before he left, Gong honored him with a farewell dinner, at which the prince pressed Burlingame to help build American support for China when he returned the United States. Burlingame politely acceded to the request-upon which, according to Burlingame, a senior Chinese official at the table interjected: “Why will you not represent us officially?” Burlingame assured Seward that he took this as a joke and was only later informed that the offer was serious. He indicated his acceptance on November 18. His official commission was dated November 21: on that day, he resigned his service to the United States and entered the service of China as a “high minister extraordinary and plenipotentiary.”

On November 22, Gong sent a letter to the U.S. legation in Beijing in which he stressed China’s need to have its voice heard on the world stage and his respect for Burlingame. He enclosed a note, nominally from the emperor, empowering Burlingame “to attend to every question arising between China” and the countries of the West. Few if any Chinese officials had the experience needed to take on the job, and Gong trusted the United States. With the United Kingdom ensconced in Hong Kong, France seeking to conquer Vietnam, and Russia pressing on China’s northern and western frontiers, the United States was the only Western state that Chinese officials believed had no territorial designs on their country. The main objective of the Burlingame Mission, from China’s point of view, was to solicit assurances from Western governments that there would be no more demands for territorial concessions from China. Russia was probably the key target, and the United States was seen as a good interlocutor, having just negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia earlier in the year. 

Accompanied by two Chinese ministers, Burlingame traveled from Beijing to Shanghai in December and then on to Yokohama and San Francisco in the new year. After a fast 23 days’ crossing, he entered San Francisco Bay on March 31, 1868.


Burlingame’s arrival in San Francisco was highly anticipated, and people gathered at the wharf to get their first glimpse of Chinese nobility-and of the imperial yellow dragon flag, which appeared in many contemporary press reports. Burlingame’s party included the three ministers, nine other staff members, and 18 servants. Also on board, according to a report in the San Francisco newspaper Daily Alta Californian, were 42 Americans, their children, and 738 unnamed Chinese.

The same ship had carried only 209 passengers on its journey out. California’s chief import from China in the 1860s was people. Chinese labor was famously exploited in the building of the United States’ first transcontinental railroad, which was under construction at the time of Burlingame’s arrival in San Francisco. As many as 10,000 Chinese workers were then employed on the Central Pacific Railroad, and many more were working for businesses providing food and supplies; more than 1,000 may have died. With the completion of the railroad still more than a year away, the Burlingame Mission traveled on by steamship via Panama to New York.

On June 6, Burlingame’s group arrived at the White House. President Andrew Johnson left the diplomatic business to Seward, who was still secretary of state. Seward and Burlingame arranged a treaty of eight articles to supplement the existing 1858 commercial treaty between the United States and China. The so-called Burlingame Treaty was ratified by the Senate on July 24, signed by the president on October 19, and ratified by the Chinese empire the following year.


The Burlingame Treaty is justly famous as the first equal treaty agreed to by China in the modern era. All of China’s previous international treaties (like several later agreements) had been dictated to Beijing by foreign powers at the barrel of a gun; these unequal treaties, as they are known, forced China to open its ports to foreign traders, allow the importation of opium, and most oppressively, grant extraterritorial rights to foreigners residing in China, who thus became effectively immune to prosecution for crimes committed in the country. The legacy of the unequal treaties is still a source of tension between China and Asia’s former colonial powers. But the Burlingame Treaty was negotiated freely by China during a period of peace with a country that, at least at the time, had made no claims on its wealth or territory. And it was reciprocal, giving the United States and China the same rights and responsibilities with respect to each other.

The most remarkable and controversial parts of the treaty were its two articles on immigration. Article V recognized “the inherent and inalienable right of man to change his home and allegiance,” allowing free travel between the countries “for purposes of curiosity, or trade, or as permanent residents.” Article VI guaranteed immigrants in both countries most-favored-nation treatment, putting Chinese laborers in California on a par with British bankers in New York. These were not empty words. In the years that followed, U.S. courts repeatedly enforced Burlingame Treaty rights over California laws that discriminated against Chinese immigrants.

Although today’s Americans might read the Burlingame Treaty as an enlightened act ahead of its time, it was in reality directed as much against Chinese tradition as against Californian bigotry. In the nineteenth century, it was illegal for subjects of the Qing Dynasty to leave China without the emperor’s permission, and Chinese emigrants who returned home with savings accumulated overseas could face confiscation, imprisonment, and (in theory) execution. Burlingame was a dreamer who had supported Hungarian freedom in 1848 and advocated against slavery in the United States. In negotiating the treaty, he was probably more interested in protecting Chinese emigrants than in representing the Qing government, which would have seen little value in the agreement’s provisions on immigration. Gong accepted the treaty and had it ratified, but not without domestic opposition.

Seward’s motives were even clearer: he dreamed of a future for the United States as a Pacific power. He had already negotiated the purchase of Alaska, backed the construction of the transcontinental railroad, called for the annexation of Hawaii, and suggested the building of a canal in Panama. In 1852, as a U.S. senator, he gave a speech predicting that, over time, Europe would

relatively sink in importance, while the Pacific Ocean, its shores, its islands, and the vast regions beyond, will become the chief theatre of events in the world’s great hereafter.

Seward saw the transcontinental railroad as the first step to Asia, and he saw China as an almost limitless source of people with which to populate California. An ardent abolitionist, he had no problem with California attracting Chinese immigrants-and he wanted the Chinese in California to be free, not to recreate the racial divisions over which the state had just fought a civil war.

Not all Americans shared Seward’s vision, and Chinese immigration soon became a controversy in the American west. In 1880, the immigration articles of the treaty were renegotiated to allow the United States to temporarily suspend immigration from China. The Chinese Exclusion Acts of 1882, 1892, and 1902 effectively made that suspension permanent. The government only partly reopened Chinese immigration to the United States in 1943.


The Burlingame Mission reached Europe on September 19, 1868, arriving in London just in time to see the fall of the first government of Benjamin Disraeli and the coming to power of the liberal William Gladstone. Gladstone had been a fierce critic of the Opium Wars of 1840-1842 and 1856-1860, in which Britain forced open China’s opium market, annexed Hong Kong, and (in 1860) burned down the imperial Old Summer Palace. He was happy for his foreign minister, Lord Clarendon, to make a gesture to the Chinese delegation. On December 28, just three weeks after taking office, Clarendon made an official declaration forswearing the application of “unfriendly pressure to China to induce her government to advance more rapidly in her intercourse with foreign nations” and publicly stating London’s support for the central government in Beijing against any localist or separatist movements in the provinces. This was something of a relief, given the history of creeping British colonialism in Asia. Chinese officials were aware of how, little by little, the United Kingdom had come to occupy nearly all of India. (Aside from some minor incidents along China’s poorly defined border with British Burma, Clarendon’s promise held until the Boxer Rebellion of 1899-1901.)

This promise in hand, the Burlingame Mission moved on to the European continent. After stops in several European capitals, the group went to Russia-its real diplomatic target. Russia had been pressing heavily on the borders of China, Japan, and Korea for the last two decades, and China was eager to stabilize its northern frontier. Burlingame was friends with Alexander Vlangali, Russia’s minister to China, and at the time, Russia was on good terms with the United States, having just sold Alaska to it. The delegation met with Tsar Alexander II on February 16 and received a friendly welcome; it seems likely that Burlingame hoped to negotiate a treaty with Russia to cement the status quo on the Russian-Chinese border. But he fell ill in the cold Russian winter, took to bed, and died a few days later, on February 23, 1870. The cause of death was pneumonia. He was 49 years old.

Like Seward, Burlingame saw a future for the United States in Asia, anticipating the day when the Pacific would replace the Atlantic as the driver of the world’s prosperity. It may have taken 150 years, but that day has come.

This article was originally published on

Russia’s Questionable Counterterrorism Record

Posted: 23 Nov 2017 01:25 AM PST

In theory, Russia and the United States are on the same side in the war on terrorism. Both have suffered Islamist extremist attacks on their own soil, and both oppose the Islamic State (or ISIS). Former U.S. President Barack Obama often stated he was ready to work with Russia in Syria and in June 2016 proposed a military partnership. And his successor, President Donald Trump, has consistently said that he welcomes Russian President Vladimir Putin’s help against ISIS. On November 11, Trump and Putin confirmed their determination to defeat ISIS in Syria in a joint statement and ten days later discussed counterterrorism cooperation over the phone.

Such optimism about working with Russia on terrorism, however, is misguided. From Syria to Afghanistan, Putin has done more to encourage terrorism than fight it, with Moscow maintaining ties to terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and the Taliban. Russia’s record suggests it will never be an honest broker or reliable partner for the West in combating terrorism.


To understand the folly of counting Russia as a counterterrorism ally, one need look no further than Syria, where from the beginning of the uprising in 2011 its goal has been to prop up the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. This, not fighting ISIS or other terrorist groups, was the main purpose of Moscow’s military intervention in Syria in September 2015.

Consider the fact that much of the weaponry Moscow deployed to Syria was irrelevant to fighting ISIS. The advanced air defense and naval units Russia deployed allowed Moscow to expand its presence and project power, suggesting that its real aim was to limit the West’s ability to maneuver in the region. Numerous reports indicated that most of Russia’s airstrikes were outside ISIS-controlled areas, and primarily targeted mainstream Syrian opposition. In some cases, these strikes even helped strengthen ISIS.

Moreover, Russia will not hesitate to ally with terrorist groups if it thinks that doing so will serve its interests. Soon after Putin’s Syria intervention, Hezbollah and Moscow reportedly established joint operations rooms in Latakia and Damascus. In November 2015, Moscow and Hezbollah began to “officially” work together in the country to establish communications channels and possibly coordinate military operations in Syria, although the first Hezbollah delegation had visited Moscow back in October 2011. More recent reports indicate that Hezbollah has even been fighting alongside Russian troops in Syria. According to a January 2017 report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, one Hezbollah commander stationed in Aleppo said that “our relationship with the Russians is better than excellent.”


Russia’s unreliability on terrorism is hardly limited to Syria. Consider also Afghanistan where, by late 2007, Moscow had opened a line of communication with the Taliban. A senior Taliban official reportedly said about these early contacts, “We had a common enemy…We needed support to get rid of the United States and its allies in Afghanistan and Russia wanted all foreign troops to leave Afghanistan as quickly as possible.”

To be sure, Putin continued to support U.S. efforts while communicating with the Taliban. In early 2009, Moscow helped create the Northern Distribution Network, a supply route from Eastern Europe to the Afghanistan-Uzbekistan border, and granted the United States passage for lethal military supplies to Afghanistan. But Moscow agreed to this only after pressuring Kyrgyzstan to close the Manas airbase that the country was leasing to the United States.

This year, however, reports noted that Moscow’s support for the Taliban went beyond diplomacy. Senior Western military officials such as U.S. Army General and NATO Supreme Allied Commander for Europe Curtis Scaparrotti, has been talking about Moscow arming the Taliban since at least February of this year. U.S. State Secretary Rex Tillerson said in April, “To the extent Russia is supplying arms to the Taliban, that is a violation, obviously, of international norms and it’s a violation of UN Security Council norms.”

Some analysts point out that the Taliban may simply be getting their hands on large stockpiles of Russian weapons that remained in Afghanistan after the Soviet occupation. Although this is no doubt part of the picture, I learned from an Afghan official on a recent trip to the country that the Afghan government has confiscated new Russian military equipment from the Taliban, equipment that was manufactured well after the Soviet Union’s fall. Whether the group obtained these weapons directly from Moscow remains unclear. (Moscow, unlike Washington, does not prohibit secondary arms sales.) Regardless, it should cast further doubt on Moscow’s reliability as a counterterrorism partner.

Russia’s Iranian ally is also stepping up its support to the Taliban. This seems to make little sense at first glance, given that the group is traditionally anti-Shiite. Yet from a geopolitical perspective, Tehran has good reason to reverse its anti-Taliban policy. Limited support to the Taliban would, for example, accelerate U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, which Moscow and Tehran both want. Senior Afghan officials claim to have received intelligence reports of Iran arming the Taliban with weapons from Moscow. Farah Province Deputy Governor Mohammad Younis Rasooli said this spring that “Russia, with Iran’s assistance, is equipping the Taliban with advanced weapons.”

Moscow denies arming the Taliban and claims that their communication channel is necessary because they share a greater common enemy: ISIS. In January 2016, for example, Russian Special Envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov mentioned ISIS when he said that “Taliban interests objectively coincide with ours.” But when Moscow first opened a channel with the Taliban in late 2007, ISIS did not exist. More recently, Afghan officials said that the Taliban could not have briefly seized the center of Kunduz province in the spring of this year without Moscow’s assistance, yet ISIS does not operate in Kunduz. 

Indeed, ISIS in Afghanistan is a fairly small, motley collection of groups disconnected from the ISIS core in Iraq and Syria. The Taliban and ISIS have sometimes clashed, but in other cases they have entered into truces or even worked together. The two groups held joint operations in Sar-e-Pul province in August of this year in which they reportedly killed 50 civilians. Meanwhile, Moscow’s continued contact with the Taliban grants the group added legitimacy it would not have otherwise.

Since at least September 11, 2001, Putin has presented himself to the West as an indispensable counterterrorism partner, and it has paid off. Many have believed from the very beginning, for example, that the Syrian crisis cannot be resolved without Moscow, however flawed its approach may be. Yet Putin’s priority is to weaken and divide the West, and he will work with any group that will help him achieve this goal. The West believes in win-win scenarios, but for Putin it is zero-sum-for him to win, the West has to lose. Western policymakers should recognize Moscow’s true intentions and condemn its support for terrorist groups. They should also work to regain leadership roles in key regions such as the Middle East and pressure Moscow to change its behavior. Acquiescing to Moscow will never bring true, lasting stability. Rather, it will ensure the proliferation of conflicts for years to come.

This article was originally published on

Parents should help their kids be media savvy

Posted: 23 Nov 2017 12:01 AM PST

Dear Amy: I need some advice to guide our children in this electronic world. My husband and I have four children, ages 9 through 15.

Recently, our 12-year-old son was riding home on the school bus and a classmate showed him some salacious pictures that upset him.

He wasn’t sure how to get out of the situation, or what to say. He was on the window side of the seat so when he asked the other student to move aside so he could get out, the student would not move. Fortunately, the bus ride is only two minutes, but when he got off the bus he was very upset.

Our son is very modest, and we care very deeply about our children’s exposure to these types of things.

We talked it through and I brought it to the principal’s attention. He basically said that if there are no witnesses, then there is nothing he could do.

There is also a school policy of no phones, which extends to the bus. We reminded the principal of this. In the state we live in, we could possibly bring this issue to the police.

Outside of all that, what would your guidance be when children are shown things they don’t want to see — whether it is salacious, gory or otherwise? What are the words to say that empower them to rebuff these types of things, and to assert themselves more effectively?

— Powering Through Parenting!

Dear Powering Through: Your son was bullied and sexually harassed. His reaction to it was completely appropriate: when he was made uncomfortable, he tried to leave the area, but was physically prevented from doing so. He told an adult. All good.

The school principal’s reaction to this incident was sorely lacking and quite unprofessional. The aggressive boy should be disciplined and counseled. The school bus is an extension of the school; students deserve to ride in (relative) peace.

You should reassure your son about his own reaction. He has done nothing wrong, and he is justified in feeling upset about this.

Then you and your husband need to talk to your kids about porn, violence and media literacy. The omnipresence of this material in modern life means that children will be exposed to it at an early age. Stumbling across it (or deliberately finding it) is very different from having a bully shove it in your face.

Assure your son that he can always come to you with any concerns, and reassure him that he is basically a rock star who is already more mature than his peers.

He should try out and rehearse various responses. Boys who are bullied sometimes have success with a bored-seeming: “Dude, get a life” reaction. This is both worldly and self-protective.

Dear Amy: My father passed away three years ago at the age of 80. At the last minute, his significant other wasn’t up to making the decisions concerning his final arrangements.

She took care of dad for a long time when he was ill, and she couldn’t do more.

My problem is that I am feeling guilty about having him cremated. I had little time to prepare, no money for a funeral (the town paid for cremation) and was an emotional wreck.

I’m the most responsible out of four adult children, so I put it all on myself.

It has been haunting me. I was never able to ask dad what his wishes were. He was very afraid of dying. We have no religion, so I don’t have that guideline.

My siblings seem OK with my decision, but I am feeling upset over it now. I wish I had known what his wishes were.

— Sad

Dear Sad: You took a lot on, and you weren’t prepared. Your reaction now is completely understandable. For what it’s worth, I know you did the right thing.

You will feel better if you close the circle by memorializing your father. Plan a ceremony and bury or scatter his ashes in a meaningful place. Play his favorite music, prepare readings and then gather with your siblings and his partner for a meal. My sincerest condolences.

Dear Amy: Thank you, thank you, for your strong and beautiful response to “Confused,” the engaged man whose mother had pancreatic cancer. He wanted to rush the wedding, but his fiancee wanted to wait and “enjoy the process.” I was so relieved that you set him straight.

— Big Fan

Dear Fan: It is unusual for me to suggest that a person should not marry their intended; I made an exception in this case.

(You can contact Amy Dickinson via email: Readers may send postal mail to Amy Dickinson, c/o Tribune Content Agency, 16650 Westgrove Drive, Suite 175, Addison, Texas, 75001. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or “like” her on Facebook.)

OMARR’S DAILY ASTROLOGICAL FORECAST, For release 11/23/17 for 11/23/17

Posted: 23 Nov 2017 12:01 AM PST

BIRTHDAY GAL: Actress Lesley Fera was born in Los Angeles on this day in 1971. This birthday gal portrayed Veronica Hastings on “Pretty Little Liars” from 2010-2017. She’s also played recurring roles on “Southland,” “CSI: Miami,” and “24” as well as appearing on episodes of “Stalker,” “Criminal Minds,” and “The Mentalist.” Fera’s film work includes “Boone: The Bounty Hunter,” “The Lovers,” and “Herstory.”

ARIES (March 21-April 19): You can do it. If life seems dull, or extra responsibilities limit your free time, rest assured that everything the universe hands to you is well within your ability to handle. Put business concerns aside and enjoy a relaxing day.

TAURUS (April 20-May 20): Perform a hula at a hootenanny. Do something different to shake things up and make people laugh. This may not be a good time to make financial decisions, but you can certainly profit from improving your relationships.

GEMINI (May 21-June 20): Idle hands and all that. Staying busy stops you from saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Offer to wash dishes if you are a guest or take the dog for a walk. Chores help protect you from causing impromptu upsets.

CANCER (June 21-July 22): Grab the wishbone rather than fighting over other bones. You may feel as though you are put on the spot by someone with a bone to chew. Listen to calming advice from a friend and avoid overreacting to challenges.

LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): You don’t need a lot of money to be a honey. Making amends and offering apologies is not a sign of weakness and doesn’t cost a penny. Putting other people at ease is a way to promote peace and harmony within your life.

VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22): The benefit of the doubt benefits you. When someone reacts to your words, you will see a reflection of how others perceive you. Remember to be kind and generous when faced by surprises and unexpected reactions.

LIBRA (Sept. 23-Oct. 22): Root for the home team. It is praiseworthy to welcome guests and show hospitality to visitors, but remain just as courteous to those you hold near and dear. A quick apology is better than slow burning anger and resentment.

SCORPIO (Oct. 23-Nov. 21): Be nice as a pumpkin pie and be ready to share some, too. You may be eager to wallow in creature comforts and could go overboard with the good things that life has on offer. Act on your charitable urges.

SAGITTARIUS (Nov. 22-Dec. 21): Share your share when surrounded by surplus. Demonstrate good taste whether bring a gift or dress for a family gathering. Don’t dish out anything you wouldn’t accept yourself. It is easy to be overly competitive.

CAPRICORN (Dec. 22-Jan. 19): Be a good sport, not a sore loser. Whether you watch a game on TV or play a game of touch football in the backyard, rein in your competitiveness. Keep the contests on the playing field and away from the dinner table.

AQUARIUS (Jan. 20-Feb. 18): The good things in your life deserve your thanks. Taking pride in your possessions and giving them the care they deserve is a reflection upon how highly you value yourself. Give something of yourself.

PISCES (Feb. 19-March 20): Don’t worry about what you don’t have. This is a good day to give thanks for all the blessings you do have. Do something especially nice for a loved one or show appreciation for the kindness of others.

IF NOVEMBER 23 IS YOUR BIRTHDAY: Group dynamics may become extremely important as the next six to eight weeks unfold. You might make new friends or be called upon to take a part in community activities. Don’t volunteer for extra duties and responsibilities in January as your free time may be limited and you may be pressured to perform at a high level of precision. In April your popularity is at a zenith and it is a good time to meet new people, including prospective employers and romantic partners. However, you might not be blessed with material success if you delve into business or investments without professional advice. In June your business smarts are in top condition and you will be able to make progress in achieving your financial ambitions while enjoying some exciting changes and alterations in circumstances.

*Love Is… – Comic Panel – 20171123cplis-a.tif

Posted: 23 Nov 2017 12:01 AM PST

Add a helping of balance to your life this Thanksgiving

Posted: 23 Nov 2017 12:01 AM PST

What if you could enjoy Thanksgiving leftovers all year long?

The turkey and stuffing will go bad in a week. Same for the pie. You might get a month out of the cranberry sauce, but that’s pushing it. I know you must be thinking that I added a bit too much bourbon to the pecan pie. Surely nothing from Thanksgiving lasts a year. Except for one thing, and that thing is at the heart of Thanksgiving. What can last a year is a mindfulness technique I call spiritual balancing, which is the essence of all thankfulness. Spiritual balancing will help you through your grief work. Spiritual balancing is the foundation of character and virtue, and it outlasts stuffing by about a lifetime.

I learned about spiritual balancing from studying Buddhism, reading the Psalms and watching a plasterer by the name of Mladin Keladin.

Let’s begin with Mladin Keladin. He was helping us an old house in the ’70s remodel in Evanston, Ill., when I was at Northwestern. It was a big house and it was way beyond both our physical and our financial means to get it in shape, but we did our best. One day I saw Mladin walking upstairs, lugging two heavy buckets of spackling compound. I shouted at him, “Mladin! Are you nuts? Why are you taking two buckets up at the same time. Just take one at a time.” He put down the buckets, turned and said to me, “With only one bucket I’ll get pulled to one side and hurt my back. With two buckets, I am balanced and straight. I can carry twice as much and still not be hurt.”

Buddhism teaches that suffering, called dukkha, is the first truth of life. It cannot be avoided. Suffering is an inescapable part of the human spiritual condition. However, there is a path, a teaching that can help people balance and overcome suffering with proper thoughts and proper actions all of which leads not to the end of suffering but rather to its transcendence in enlightenment, nibana.

The most famous Psalm is the 23rd Psalm:

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

These glorious words of God also comfort us with the teaching of balance. Though we are walking in “the valley of the shadow of death” we are also being led towards green pastures beside still waters. Though we are surrounded by enemies, we are also sitting down to a banquet set by God for us to enjoy. We may encounter suffering but we are always accompanied by goodness and mercy.

Just like balance is the key to moving forward in the physical world, so too balance is the key to moving forward in the spiritual and moral world.

Here is a technique that will help you achieve some balance in your life if you are going through a tough patch, which means that you are alive …

For a set period of time (start with five minutes or fewer), think about your burdens. Let your fear and anger and jealousy and loss and failure come to the surface. If you are alone, speak of them and do not hold back. I think it is better for you to speak out loud because if you are just thinking, your mind can wander. Feel the pain of loss. Feel it without protection. If you are angry with God, yell at God — accuse God.

Then wipe your eyes, take some deep breaths, and for exactly the same amount of time, speak about or think about your blessings. Speak about all the good things that have happened to you in your life and all the blessings that you currently enjoy. Speak about how these blessings inspire you and keep you alive. Thank God for each and every one of these blessings. Thank God deeply and fully.

Then stop and reflect. My guess and my hope is that after balancing the time you give to thinking about your burdens with the time you give to thinking about your blessings, you can indeed carry twice the load and still not hurt yourself.

God bless your balanced life.

(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including “Religion for Dummies,” co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman.)

Can Trump-haters be thankful for him?

Posted: 23 Nov 2017 12:01 AM PST

Any other Republican president but Donald Trump might expect to get at least some credit for the mostly positive direction in which the country is headed. Unfortunately, the Trump-haters prefer to focus on his, shall I say, unusual personality, rather than results. So let’s put personality aside and consider what has happened in his first 10 months in office.

The liberal Los Angeles Times reported on a focus group conducted by Democratic pollster Peter Hart. Of those polled, Trump supporters and those who voted for Hillary Clinton expressed disappointment about the president’s behavior, but gave him positive marks on the economy. If “it’s the economy stupid,” as Bill Clinton strategist James Carville once said, and the economy is roaring, what’s the problem?

As the president has repeatedly said, the stock market continues to soar to new heights, which must delight retirees in Florida who see their IRA and 401K dividends rising most months. Unemployment figures are the lowest they’ve been in 17 years. Even unemployment among Blacks is down, as are the numbers of people on food assistance.

ISIS has been ousted from its last stronghold in Syria. True, President Obama deserves the credit for beginning the process with heavy bombing of ISIS targets, but it is President Trump who lifted many of the rules of engagement that kept the U.S. military fighting a losing battle.

North Korea is back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism where it belongs.

The president has pushed tax reform, which hasn’t been successfully addressed since 1986, to a point where it is on the verge of Senate approval, assuming a few recalcitrant Republicans can be persuaded to put taxpayers first, instead of the grievances they hold against the president (I’m speaking of John McCain, Bob Corker and Jeff Flake).

Goldman Sachs strategists are predicting not only a continued American economic recovery, but a concurrent worldwide lifting of many boats. One reason is the cash that has been sitting on the sidelines during the last recession is now making a beeline for stocks and mutual funds, causing the Standard and Poor’s Index to rise by a spectacular 20 percent so far this year. That’s more than triple its average annual increase over the last 20 years. Despite higher stock prices, Goldman Sachs analysts are recommending their clients buy now. Tech stocks are performing particularly well as companies re-invest profits to expand their firms.

When the left gives grudging credit to a president it hates, you know he must be doing something right. Here’s what Atlantic magazine said in its August 2 issue: “With the Trump administration’s chaos sucking up all the attention, it’s been able to move forward on a range of its priorities, which tend to be more focused on regulatory matters anyway. It is remaking the justice system, rewriting environmental rules, overhauling public-lands administration, and green lighting major infrastructure projects. It is appointing figures who will guarantee the triumph of its ideological vision for decades to come.”

That may be faint praise, but it’s praise.

President Trump is appointing conservative judges to federal courts and has released a list of names to choose from should another vacancy occur on the Supreme Court. All appear to be conservative constitutionalists.

Yes, his form could be better, but the substance is very good. Imagine what he could do if congressional Republicans got behind him — as Democrats do with a president of their party — and started backing him on legislation they promised to enact during their campaigns.

So, even if you are not particularly enamored by the president’s style (and many continue to be), give him some credit, especially if you are traveling this Thanksgiving, which is a sure sign that the economy and consumer optimism heading into the busy shopping season are on the increase.

For that, all of us — even Democrats — should be thankful.

(Readers may email Cal Thomas at

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