Posts categorized “Series”

Worldview Lessons from a Pandemic: Federalism and Subsidiarity

July 25, 2020   8:48 am

We are now 4 solid months into America’s reaction to COVID-19. Early on, the focus was on a national response to a pandemic that affected New York and Washington State most acutely; ventliators, masks, and all sorts of personal protective equipment were in short supply (or so we were told), and it was the Federal government’s job to get the states these vitally important supplies. Many people clamored for a national lockdown order to keep the virus from spreading; never mind that a) the Federal government does not have that power, and b) the same people clamoring for heavy-handed action from Washington, D.C. were the same people who constantly told us that the current occupant is just waiting for his chance to become a dictator.

The national order never came, and the reason why leads us to our first term; if you read the linked article above, you saw David call it “federalism at work.” The word “federalsim” can be a bit confusing, as we use Federal government and national government (or U.S. government) synonymously; however, “federalism” is the opposite of a centralized government. Federalism pushes as much responsibility and power as possible to the lowest level possible, the idea being that government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” is best done by people in close proximity to one another. Our Federal government gets that name because it is a federation of the “several states” (to use the term from the Constitution) designed to deal with national-level issues.

How does federalism help us with our pandemic response? Easy - the states are in control of their responses, and can ask for help from the Federal government if they need it. We have seen this as the various states have begun their reopening procedures. Some have been aggressive, and ended up having to pull back; other states have been as aggressive, and have not seen as many issues. Some states are opening more cautiously - and, again, some are fine, but some are seeing cases spike in spite of that. Taken in isolation, this demonstrates that there is no one right answer for the nation at large. As we head into fall, states, cities, and school districts are trying to decide what school will look like; the one thing we can say for certain is that there will not be 50-state uniformity in these plans.

Back in the 1930s, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis voiced a concept that is now paraphrased “The states are laboratories of democracy.” The term “laboratory” is interesting, in light of the pandemic; they’re now serving as laboratories for more than just democracy! Different states will try different things, with different results. As a nation, our job will be to determine if successes could replicated at a larger scale; not everything that works in one place will work everywhere, and as programs grow, their efficiency often wanes. Federalism gives us a structure where we can have these public policy debates, realizing that we do not have to come up with a national answer. (I realize that I’m writing this in an election year; it can be tough to find candidates who say “Here’s what I’m going to stop having the Federal government do ‘for’ you,” but you can find them if you try.)

The other principle I want to highlight is known as subsidiarity. That link will give you lots of history behind the word as a civil, political, and social concept; but, the quick version is the idea that issues are best handled at the lowest level possible, and the level that handles it is also responsible for it. Subsidiarity begins with self, and works outward to family / home, church / school, city / county / state, etc. A piece of trash on your kitchen floor is likely not a county issue; a missing guardrail on a dangerous curve is likely not something for your church to fix; and funding prisons is not likely the sole responsibility of your family. If you’re thinking that it sounds a lot like federalism, you’d be right; federalism is subsidiarity in government.

Properly applying subsidiarity allows us to see positive changes in our communities. Politicians are going to politic; we can’t control that. However, we can make sure that we are not becoming careless spreaders of disease. We, along with our families, can make food, do chores, or otherwise care for someone who needs it. Our churches and civic organizations are a great level for community-oriented help, and often serve as a way to get people who need help with those who can provide it. As each organization’s focus gets wider, they are going to be the most productive if they can stay focused at that level. If they are having to do things that require more detail, they will be bogged down; if they are responsible for things above their level, they will not be able to do their actual mission.

A lot of the political anger overs masks vs. no masks, supplies, support, etc. can be seen as a failure of subsidiarity. Paul Harvey, the oustanding radio announcer, wrote “Government big enough to supply everything you need is big enough to take everything you have” (though this has widely been misattributed to Thomas Jefferson). The Federal government is the not the appropriate level for opening and closing decisions; that is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines are precisely that - guidelines. Wyoming is going to have different needs than Florida; and, within Wyoming, Laramie and Cheyenne may need a different focus than Moorcroft or Hyattville. Pushing these decisions up too high is asking for those decisions to be poor and/or insufficient.

This isn’t to say that the Federal government does not have a role to play; through laws and programs, it has stockpiles of emergency supplies, and it has the ability to shift a large amount of money around (relatively) quickly. This can help those who need it; yet, even then, our culture is such that those who don’t need the help will raise a stink about those who do need it actually getting it. We also saw that Paycheck Protection Program funds went to many entities that are most certainly not small businesses; this, too, can be seen as a failure of subsidiarity, as these companies represented themselves as (at least) a level below what they actually were.

There really is no grand conclusion here. Just as no government can blink and make a million tests appear, I cannot sit here behind my keyboard and prescribe how all this gets better. What I can do, though, is encourage each of us to embrace and employ the principles of federalism and subsidiarity as our best chance of getting the best results for the largest number of people. Insisting on a centralized response is insisting on a lackluster, inept response - no matter who is in the White House.


p.s. This was planned to be the 3rd installment of this series from the time I wrote part 1, which I expected to have done within 2 weeks. But, given the emphasis of that post, the timing of this just proves the assertion I made in that first post - we are not in control.

Worldview Lessons from a Pandemic: Church

April 18, 2020   10:12 pm

When orders started coming out to avoid groups larger than 250, then 50, then 10, many organizations were affected. The NBA season ended almost immediately, NCAA’s March Madness tournament was canceled, Major League Baseball has yet to have opening day, concerts have been canceled, and theaters have sat empty for a month. Churches are also place where regular meetings of more than 10 people occur, and they were affected as well. And, while sport and concert tickets can be refunded, and movie release dates pushed back, very few churches have chosen to go completely idle during this time.

Some people may just accept it. Others, though, may wonder why, and some people may completely not understand. If you can rewatch your favorite series on Netflix, why not rewatch or relisten to your favorite sermon? Nearly everyone owns at least one Bible, and even if not, Bible Gateway is free! Just read the Bible for yourself! In this installment, we’ll look at the concept of “church during a pandemic” from the Christian worldview, and see why its practitioners feel it is essential.

Scripture Commands and Exemplefies It

The best-known verse cited as a reason to gather regularly is Hebrews 10:25, presented here in context with verse 24:

24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV)

We also see it in the example of the early church, meeting together every day!

46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Acts 2:46-47 (ESV)

This is far from exhaustive (remember the “bite-sized” nature of these posts), but from these origins, believers have regularly met together. And, while I’m not aware of a church that has the full Sunday morning treatment every day of the week, there are churches that have activities nearly every day. These activities help believers obey this command and follow the example of those who came before us.

An interesting companion study of Scripture is to study times where Christians did not meet together, or where they adjusted their techniques due to government persecution. That would push this way longer than I’ve planned to write, but there are examples of people separating themselves for sickness, and of abandoning the temple for smaller gatherings in homes. I know of no orthodox Christians who have continued their normal services during these times.

Christians Need It

Notice that, in the above two passages, there was more than just a command or an example - there was a recognized or promised benefit. In Hebrews, believers meet together to stir up each other towards love and good works, and in Acts, they had glad and generous hearts. Meeting together with other believers was commanded because God knew that we, as Christians, would need those benefits. In one of his earliest recorded letters, Paul is discussing various spiritual gifts, and this is what he says as he concludes that discussion:

26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.

1 Corinthians 14:26 (ESV)

Christians can get these benefits virtually, and many have been. Prior to this, we would have scoffed at Zoom Sunday School classes; now, we are grateful for the tools that allow us to stay connected. I can’t remember who I first heard say “the Internet is a terrible place to go to church” (and they were right), but in a pinch, it’s been a great way to continue in fellowship with other believers. (Once this all goes away, these go back to being true; in-person is still preferable. There are many benefits these tools don’t provide.)

We All Need Hope

This is a dark time for many people. They have lost jobs and have no idea where money is coming from next week. They have lost loved ones, and weren’t even able to see them for the last weeks of their lives. They are depressed, the normal routine of a life they enjoyed exchanged for a house that feels like a jail. These are not people who need to “suck it up” and get over it – these are people with real, genuine hurts, and the world offers them very little in the way of comfort or hope.

Jesus, though, offers hope to hurting people. He spent His entire earthly ministry “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.” We, as the church, carry on His ministry today; but how can we offer hope if all we have is a greatest hits playlist? Hurting people need acceptance, a listening ear, and kind words; these pre-recorded messages may have truth, but struggling people “don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” Jesus offers salvation, which addresses the root of all of our problems, and He offers hope and peace between here and Heaven; we are the ambassadors He’s trusted to share that message.

Churches also need to meet to mobilze help where it may be needed. Most churches have several members who struggle to get out and get the things they need when nothing is wrong; under these conditions, they simply can’t do it. Most churches also have able-bodied, healthy members who can care for those who are struggling. We cannot build up the body (physically or spiritually) if we do not know the needs.


So, that is why you see churches live-streaming, driving CDs around, renting FM transmitters to let people park at the church and attend from their cars – it is that important. And, I’ll wrap up with a bit of afflicting the comfortable – shouldn’t our “salt and light” be so self-evident that no one wonders why we’re still meeting?

Worldview Lessons from a Pandemic: We Are Not in Control

April 13, 2020   3:05 pm

As I enter week 5 of working from home, our nation is walking through its 2nd month – and the world is wrapping up its 3rd month – dealing with SARS-CoV-2 (AKA “novel coronavirus 2019,” the virus behind COVID-19). Responses to this virus are testing Americans’ worldviews like nothing else in our current lifetime. Things are moving fast, and scientists and doctors are learning how to fight a new disease on-the-fly, while the fatality rate continues to creep up, and is at 3%+ as of this writing. Authoring a definitive tome on the entire thing is outside my abilities (and time constraints), but I thought I would write about some individual aspects, and consider how each one meshes with my understanding of a proper Christian worldview.

This first one came to my mind as I wondered “what form of government is best at handling this?” As I’ve read about various efforts at prevention and management from around the world, the answer to which I arrived was “none of them.” To be fair, some countries have fared better than others; but, to also be fair, comparing countries is a pretty terrible way to understand this pandemic. Communist countries, socialist nations, democracies, and republics have all fallen victim to this disease, especially in their larger population centers. No nation has been able to prevent the initial spread of this virus into their borders.

This does not match the expectations many people are levying on those governments. The clamoring has been loud and long for tests and treatments, and many of these people seem to think that government can just have these things at the ready, long before a need for them arises. They have a view of government and science that simply does not jibe with reality. When doctors make harmless mistakes, or miss a diagnosis that they eventually catch, we sometimes joke that “that’s why it’s called medical practice.” But, in reality, that is exactly why the term exists. To be sure, there is established science and a body of medical knowledge that, were its practitioners to ignore, they would be considered negligent. However, there is always the possibility that a doctor is encountering something that is either unknown, or presenting differently than current wisdom or protocols suggest.

Even if the medical care was there, though, the Federal government is wholly inept at doing anything, on a large scale, quickly and correctly. This is not a knock on it per se, and deeper discussions of government, both good and bad, will appear in future installments. The biggest reason for this broad statement is simply its size; it is nearly impossible to get a large organization to do anything quickly, much less something as large as a national response to this crisis. Think of the RMS Titanic - there is a reason they couldn’t avoid the iceberg, even though they spotted it before they struck it.

So, how does the Christian worldview address this? Quite simply - “duh!” Of course we are not in control. This world is fallen, cursed with sin, and subject to all manners of calamities.* Job experienced a lot of calamities, and asked God a lot of questions. When God came to answer him, though, He asserted His sovereignty over this entire planet:

1 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

2 "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
3 Dress for action like a man;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.

4 "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
    Or who stretched the line upon it?
6 On what were its bases sunk,
    or who laid its cornerstone,
7 when the morning stars sang together
    and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

8 “Or who shut in the sea with doors
    when it burst out from the womb,
9 when I made clouds its garment
    and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10 and prescribed limits for it
    and set bars and doors,
11 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
    and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?”

Job 38:1-11 (ESV)

We trust that God is continuing to work His will on this earth, whether through a pandemic or in spite of it; and, we also trust that He is big enough to protect us through it, and give us wisdom as we navigate these changing times. We also give thanks that God’s size does not affect Him the way it does our human institutions.

 

* As I finish writing this, I’ve learned that my high school alma mater was devastated by a tornado overnight; be praying for Grace Baptist Church and Academy, and all of those throughout the southeast who lost something much more precious than a building.

2014 Year in Review - The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous (and the Funny)

January 3, 2015   1:54 pm

I missed this in 2013, and this is not a 3-post series as usual. Instead of writing a lot about each topic, I’ll give a short reason I categorized it where I did. Please make no assumptions or conclusions about what I don’t say; the fact that people are so apt to do that should probably make the “Bad” list, but not this year. Since this is a single post, we’ll lead with…

The Good

The Bad

The Ridiculous

The Funny

Continuing his tradition which he didn’t miss last year, Dave Barry has his take on the year’s events.

Here’s to 2015 - let’s hope it’s a good one!

2012 Year in Review - The Good

January 3, 2013   12:00 am

This is the first or last post of our “2012 Year in Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous” series. 2012 wasn’t all bad; let’s take a look at how.

The London Olympics

London got a third turn to host the modern Olympic Games in 2012, and they did an outstanding job. The facilities were all first-rate. The opening and closing ceremonies both set new high bars, being spectacular without being cheesy. Security was also successful, with no violence or terrorist acts being committed during the games. Of course, seeing USA sitting atop the medal board at the end was an added bonus.

The only thing about the games that I would change would be the coverage. I’m not going into full #NBCfail mode, but they should have found a way to televise the games as they occurred, while still preserving their prime time “here’s what we think you want to see” coverage. Rio lines up with the US, so that shouldn’t be an issue as much; evening events can be broadcast live if they wanted.

Eat Mor Hate Chicken

In July, Chick-Fil-A president Dan Cathy, son of founder S. Truett Cathy, mentioned in a Baptist Press interview that the chain was supportive of the traditional definition of marriage. Judging from the reaction, you’d have thought that he had just introduced the new spicy sodomite sandwich! There were calls for all sorts of punitive actions against Chick-Fil-A, from boycotts to denying future permits. They also were attacked for giving charitable donations to “hate groups.”* So why is this on the good list?

This is here because of what happened next. A groundswell of support arose for the purveyors of fine non-cow products, culminating in “Chick-Fil-A Day,” where every single restaurant had lines around the block as people came out to show their support. The protests two days later paled in comparison to the outpouring of support for the stand the Cathy family was willing to take. Meanwhile, many in the gay community “came out” (sorry, couldn’t help it) in support of the restaurant, citing its employees’ respect for every customer, and others spoke highly of the environment as an employee. Chick-Fil-A fought back against the “you donate to hate groups” charge, and the official boycott effort went by the wayside.

In a year where “same-sex marriage” won at the ballot box, and religious groups failed to get the government to amend “health care” requirements that violate their religion, Chick-Fil-A was a nice bright spot of support for traditional marriage and the right of business people to share their beliefs.

* Just a note, activists – if you call Focus on the Family a hate group, you really should educate yourself, and close your mouth so you don’t completely destroy your credibility when you figure out how things actually are and start making sense.

MSM Exposed

Mark it down - 2012 proved that the mainstream media now makes no attempt at objective reporting. From the debate moderators, to the selective coverage of the party conventions, to the complete dearth of investigative reporting on Bengahzi, it’s like they just quit trying. When comedians other than Jay Leno are writing jokes about you, you’ve become a parody of yourself; and, when Jon “I can cuss, 'cause I’m edgy, but they can’t broadcast it” Stewart makes more sense than you do, you are an embarrassment to the craft. But, these two facts have become so self-evident that even the American people can’t miss it.

The bias is not the “good” part, but sunlight is the best disinfectant; the exposure of it (and embracing of it) is why this lands on the good list. Some journalists are starting to get it. While Jake Tapper (of ABC News in 2012, of CNN this year) has been the fairest MSMer for a while, this year saw many reporters, including CNN’s Anderson Cooper, asking tough questions and refusing to allow dodging. Special recognition also goes to Univisión for their debate questions; the English-language moderators could learn from you.

Maybe we’re almost to the point where liberals will actually see why criticizing “Faux News” with supporting links from The Huffington Post and Mother Jones aren’t that convincing. And there lies the rub; you shouldn’t restrict your reading to either “side.” Read the editorials with which you disagree, as well as the ones you like. Compare story selection among several news sources, and if there is a story missing, find out why. We have the tools now to easily do it, which may be the best part of all of this. You can be as informed as you want to be.

Family Time

This past year was a great year for our family. In January, February, and March, we were able to do quite a bit of snow skiing. I and my two oldest sons conquered several black diamond runs and couple of double-blacks; I learned the trick to moguls (ski the tops, not the groove in between them); and even my 7 year old found blue and a couple of black diamond runs he could do. We’re looking forward to more of that in the next few months, as our favorite ski area is ready!

In September, we were finally able to take a family cruise where one of our stops was letting our sons swim with stingrays in Grand Cayman. Michelle and I had done that back in 2006, and wanted them to experience it. We also visited Jamaica, where we had a surprisingly good time, and I celebrated my 39th birthday in Cozumel, Mexico. We got to cruise with the same couple with whom we cruised in 2006, and they also brought their family; it was great to spend time with them.

When we got back, we prepared to move. After living on a military base for nearly 10 years straight, we now have a place to live off base. Great friends here in Albuquerque got transferred overseas, and we are able to live in their house. It was a great blessing; we had begun to outgrow our current house. It is definitely nice to have a separation between “work” and “home” now; plus, now I’m not the guy who lives on base, who gets the calls to do stuff “because you’re already there.” Win-win!

Finally, in November and early December, our family was able to participate in Hoffmantown Church’s production of The Story, a dramatic musical presentation of the Christmas story, starting with creation and ending with the resurrection. We had never done anything like it; we usually were not around for it. But, since we were, we signed up. It was amazing! At the first rehearsal, I was not quite sure it was all going to come together, but each time, things got smoother, and by the time our final dress rehearsal came, we were ready. There were 450+ volunteers who worked, and over 6,500 people saw it. We are really looking forward to next year.

 

Of course, the 2013 production of The Story is still 11 months away; there’s a lot of 2013 between now and then. I hope that I have much trouble narrowing down the few things to include in this post next year. Happy New Year!

2012 Year in Review - The Bad

January 2, 2013   12:00 am

Either way you read it, this is the middle post of the “2012 Year in Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous” series. This past year has given me no shortage of things from which to choose to compose this post.

Mass Murder x2

2012 saw two mass murders on U. S. soil. On July 20th, at a premiere of the movie The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, 12 people were killed and 58 injured by a freak who made himself look like the Joker. Then, on December 14th, a troubled young man killed his own mother, 20 children, 6 adults, and himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. While the reaction made the ridiculous list this year, the murders themselves are here. They are a stark reminder that we live in a fallen world. Dr. Albert Mohler broke his less-than-a-day-old hiatus on The Briefing for a special edition, and he summed it up quite well.

Though the murders themselves were horrible and tragic, there were reports of heroes in both instances. In Colorado, men shielded others with their bodies, and ultimately gave their lives to save others In Connecticut, a teacher named Victoria Soto hid her students wherever she could, and told the gunman that the children were elsewhere. These ordinary people, stepping up to against evil, give us some hope that while we will never eliminate this sort of evil, it is far from the norm; and, there are those who will fight against it with little to no warning.

The Benghazi / Petraeus Affair

September 11th, for the past 11 years, has been a dicey day. Obviously, the one in 2001 was the worst; however, our intelligence and counter-terrorism forces have been vigilant to the point where we really had not had to deal with any actual attacks on that particular day. 2012 saw that streak come to an end, as a group of terrorists laid siege to the U. S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, kidnapping and then killing our ambassador and three others. Initially, the State Department blamed the attack on a spontaneous reaction to the film The Innocence of Muslims, a 16-minute film that made a great deal of fun over Mohammad. In the past few days (see why you write these things after the year is done?), the report has come out calling it “sloppy security.”

Conflicting reports came out about the threat level surrounding that particular embassy, and there were even conflicting reports on our reaction to the attack once we knew it was underway. Even with the report, many people still feel that the entire story is not known. Why would that be? Well, when a cover-up or misdirection is the initial response, how are the American people to know when the next answer is the right one?

But, surely, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, or the Secretary of State, could get the answers and bring them out, correct? This, too, was not to be in 2012. Thanks to a sexual harassment complaint launched in April and concluded in August, an affair between the CIA director, retired General David Petraeus, and his biographer, was revealed. This “trump card” was not played until after the election, and was used to oust Petraeus before he could give official testimony as the CIA director. At the same time, the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, couldn’t testify due to scheduling conflicts, then due to the “flu.” It may be just as well; she doesn’t have a great history of having a very good memory when she’s placed under oath. Additionally, the African Command commander was relieved of his position shortly after the attack.

September 11, 2001 is generally considered a failure of intelligence. The more we learn about September 11, 2012, it looks less like a failure of intelligence and more a failure to take appropriate defensive action based on that intelligence. To put it more bluntly, we hung our own countrymen out to dry, and four of them are no longer with us.

The Fiscal Cliff

If Benghazi’s problem was inaction, then the CIA and State have learned it from the U. S. Congress. Over three years of Senate inaction have left us with a budget that is nearly 4 years old; Obamacare deferred-until-the-next-election mandates will kick in; we’re about to hit the extended-several-times debt ceiling; across-the-board cuts, called “sequestration,” a compromise from the last debt ceiling expansion, are set to kick in; and the so-called “Bush tax cuts” which were extended a few times are once again set to expire (itself a concept that probably deserves a spot on a ridiculous list at some point). Since that’s a lot to say, the term “fiscal cliff” was coined to describe these economic events all hitting at the same time.

What is required to keep the next U. S. national sport from being fiscal cliff diving? A budget. Will that be the solution presented? Probably not. As I write this (on the 1st), the Senate has passed a compromise bill, but several House members do not seem to approve. When the next congress is seated later this week, that bill will be invalid. Bills proposed by the president and the Senate have been rightly termed “unserious” by Republicans; however, their bills are not very serious either. On a family budget that’s $24,000 in the red each year, we’re cutting $360. Neither side wants to do the hard work of cutting spending where it needs to be cut.

Here’s hoping the water is deep enough at the bottom of this cliff that we don’t break our necks.

Mitt Romney Loses

I covered my incredulity at the results of the election in the ridiculous post; but here, the negative is that we do not have Mitt Romney at the helm to guide our nation away from this cliff. Not since Sarah Palin have I witnessed such a successful character assassination, where his positives became negatives, and his successes presented as disqualifications.

As a business, America is failing. The Securities and Exchange Commission wouldn’t let our stock be traded. We need someone who cares enough about our country to make hard decisions about what needs to be cut, so that a leaner America can emerge and once again regain her strength. Who better to do that than someone who ran a company that did that for businesses over and over again? And what if this someone had also donated his entire inheritance to charity, and given 2 years of his life for his religion? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

I know some of my fellow conservatives had some problems with him on social issues, or the size and scope of the state. I wasn’t 100% with him (though in an isidewith.com survey, I scored 97% Romney), but if our country is not economically viable, social and domestic policy matter little; at that point, we’ll be answering to someone else anyway.

Hurricane Sandy

Cross an Atlantic hurricane with a nor’easter, and it’s not good. Hurricane Sandy battered much of the U. S. east coast in late October, merging with a northern storm just before Halloween, leading many to call it “Frankenstorm.” Its wake was no laughing matter, though, with over 100 dead. New York and New Jersey sustained the hardest direct hit, and current estimates have it as the second most costly storm on record, just behind 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.

Those two states provided a stark contrast in dealing with preparation and relief. New York City was particularly bad, with refugees being evicted from hotels for the “show must go on” New York Marathon, while generators were pulled from relief efforts to power the tents for the race. Mayor Bloomberg, at first a strong proponent of continuing to hold the race, changed his mind, and the organizers agreed to cancel it. Meanwhile, the Federal government has yet to vote on any special aid for Sandy relief; the Senate passed a bill, but the House won’t take up any legislation except the fiscal cliff. (And these are the people we want in charge of health care? But I digress.)

Hurricane Sandy, Sandy Hook Elementary School, Sandra Fluke - 2012 was a bad year for disasters named Sandy.

Lance Armstrong Revelations

Lance Armstrong was a 7-time Tour de France champion. He did it while fighting cancer, and founding a charitable foundation. However, he had been fighting doping charges for years, and in 2012, decided to stop fighting the charges. All his wins have been vacated, Olympic medals stripped, and the Livestrong Foundation that he founded has kicked him out. His defense is that he was not taking any substance that was not banned, and that he had done nothing other than what others had done.

Even if we take him at his word - if everyone took the same enhancement, that’s still a terrible way to determine athletic prowess. Professional sports should not be about who has the best chemistry; it should be people training their bodies to perform a specific task so well that no one else can do it equally. I’m not so naïve as to think that this means that no one is going to try; even NASCAR has had its fair share of drug problems. However, anything short of pure physical ability will inevitably lead to more and more use, and more experimenting. The NFL is already dealing with players who feel they were unfairly exploited and put in harm’s way. How much worse would it be for the players who tried experimental (i.e., not-banned-yet) drugs whose side effects were unknown until much later?

 

There you have it. 2012 didn’t lead to the end of the world, but there was much that we will be happy to see pass into the rear-view mirror. Other issues will still be here for us in 2013, waiting to be dealt with then. May we have the fortitude to do so.

2012 Year in Review - The Ridiculous

January 1, 2013   2:00 am

Welcome to “2012 Year in Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous.” If you’re reading this as they’re posted, it’s backwards; but, if you’re reading back through the blog archives, they’re in order.

2012 has been quite a year. We survived 3 ends of the world, by my count. That’s pretty ridiculous, true, but our very existence here means that they must be, so we won’t waste any more words on that. What did make the cut?

The “War on Women”

That this tops the list should not surprise my regular readers; several of my posts this year (including this one and that one when it first broke) dealt with it. Now, the “war on women” is not to be confused with the “war on a woman”; that I addressed in 2008 (first item). No, in yet another display of Democrat projection, this one was an accusation against Republicans.

It started with a strange question in the Republican primary, shot to the forefront with Sandra Fluke and Rush Limbaugh, and continued throughout the campaign. The Obama campaign created a horribly insipid animation called “The Life of Julia,” where their heroine (um, victim?) displays her dependence upon government at every stage of her life. It was presented as if it was a good thing; the government as boyfriend, husband, business partner, and health insurance provider. To me, the suggestion that women need, or would want, something like that is truly offensive and sexist.

Granted, the Republicans didn’t help themselves against these charges. Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, both running for the US Senate, answered questions about abortion by emphasizing their “no rape exception” views – clumsily. Akin should have removed himself, but did not, and squandered a gift-on-a-platter opportunity to remove a senator who has not been that helpful to her home state. Mourdock was a Tea Party Republican who defeated a long-term incumbent in the primary, yet went down to defeat in a state that Romney took 54/44.

Really, the war on women was nothing more than the “they want kids to starve” meme from the late 80’s and 90’s, where ridiculous charges were made against Republicans, and those charges went unanswered. This year, as well, the response was tepid. What Republican wants to take away health care? The charge is ridiculous, and should be addressed as such. Otherwise, they’ll continue to make these outlandish statements “They’re gonna put y’all back in chains!”, said our vice-president. They took “binders full of women” out of the context of people-to-hire and somehow turned it into a negative. “You didn’t build that” - oh wait, that’s just poor sentence structure. Please! There is no poor sentence structure in a pre-written campaign speech!

The main problem with all of that, though, is that it worked. Which brings me to my next item…

Barack Obama Reelected

When Obama was elected in 2008, that fact made the “bad” list for that year. Looking back at that post, in view of the past 4 years, I see that I was being way too generous. He presided over 4 of the toughest years in recent memory, making things worse with every decision (or indecision). His party hasn’t passed a budget in over 3 years now, and one of his was so unrealistic that it was defeated 96-0 in the Senate. We lost our top credit rating, and that cannot be blamed on George W. Bush; S&P downgraded us because of our lack of a plan of paying back our debt, not the size of it. This administration has brought us economic time bombs in the form of Obamacare mandates and repeated “debt ceiling”/“fiscal cliff” showdowns, one of which is staring us down even as I write this.

But, all of the above is not the ridiculous part; it just proves that I was right to put his election on the bad list 4 years ago. No, the ridiculous part is that the American people, seeing all of the above, put him back in office for another four years. My countrymen are playing the part of fools, falling for the ridiculous claims about their opponents, while failing to see that their own are the ones leading us down the slide to mediocrity. They’re behaving like little kids; what little kid wants to vote for the guy who says “Hey - we’ve got to pay for all this free candy we’ve been eating”? No, they vote for the guy who promises even more free candy, while demonizing those who generate enough wealth for our government to skim the top of it to provide the free candy. They cheer when the rich get poorer, not noticing that this does not make them richer, it only diminishes the overall wealth of our nation.

The National Park Service has signs in several forests warning against feeding bears, because they will become dependent on that food, lose their hunting skills, and become aggressive. Yet, the very people who suggest that this applies to human beings as well are branded as hate-filled and greedy. America needs to wake up, and do the hard work of dealing with the withdrawal symptoms of this free ride coming to an end, or the country itself will find itself in decline. Sadly, I don’t see this generation as one willing to sacrifice its own comfort to secure the comfort of future generations.

Reactions to Mass Murder

Again, I get to fault my fellow citizens. Sadly, our nation endured two mass murders this year; one at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, and the other at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. On my first visit to Facebook after learning about the Sandy Hook shooting, I was greeted with lots of “Don’t Take Our Guns!” images. Really, guys - that’s the way you show compassion for 25 families who lost their kids a scant few weeks before Christmas? And, the other side is just as bad. “Why are these guns on the street?” is not the question (although “because, Constitution” is the easy answer). Confiscating every gun in the Union would not bring an ounce more comfort to those families who lost their children and adults that day.

The proper response to something like this is sorrow and compassion, then anger, then punishment (if applicable), then speculation on prevention measures (within the parameters of our founding law). Jumping to #4 dehumanizes the response. I fault the gun-grabbers with having the non-Constitutional lead in this; but, while I did fault people above for not responding to ridiculous charges, there is a time for those sorts of debates. While the dead bodies are still warm is not that time.

Year-In-Reviews in Early December

On a lighter note, when did December become not-part-of-the-year? How can you review a year with nearly an entire month remaining in that year? Unless you’re covering NASCAR or the college football regular season, the first week of December is way too early to be publishing retrospectives (and, for the latter, you’d better wait until the conference championships to write it up). Look at the newsworthy events this year - Sandy Hook, the deaths of several notable people, and George H. W. Bush’s hospitalization, just to name a few. Don’t review a year until it’s over.

 

There you have it. I’m sure I’ll have no problem filling out another one of these in 2013.

2011 Year in Review - The Good

January 4, 2012   9:00 am

This is the last (or first, depending on how you’re reading it) part of the series “2011 Year in Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous.”

Evil’s Class of 2011

2011 was a good year for tyrants to breathe their last. Osama bin Laden, head of al-Qaeda and mastermind of the September 11, 2001 terrors attacks, was killed in a daring raid on May 2nd. Muammar Gaddafi, the long-time leader of Lybia, was captured and killed October 20th. Then, a week before Christmas, Kim Jong-Il, the North Korean dictator, breathed his last. These three men did very little to soothe pain and suffering in this world, choosing rather to inflict it in an attempt to maintain their power and control. As of today, none of these three men control anything - in my book, that’s a very good thing. (Even better would be a change in direction, though that’s looking doubtful at this point, except possibly in Libya.)

Contrary to popular opinion, you can make value judgments about these nations (or, in al-Qaeda’s case, their organization). Man has a God-given yearning to be free, both physically and spiritually. God also made it plain in His Word that choosing Him is a personal decision - it must be made in one’s heart, not forced by government at the point of a gun. Regimes can try to control behavior, but they cannot change hearts. These leaders used violence and oppression to try to conquer the hearts of their citizens, rationalized in many cases via religion; the God of the Bible wants us to surrender our hearts to Him voluntarily. These leaders worked against Him, and they are gone.

9-9-9

While the Cain Train’s derailment made the “bad” list, one positive to come out of his campaign was his 9-9-9 plan. This plan scraps all existing tax code, and replaces it with a 9% income tax, a 9% national sales tax, and a 9% corporate income tax. This plan is the first time a poll-leading presidential candidate has proposed such a massive overhaul of the tax system, and the only plan apart from the FairTax (which Mr. Cain also supports) that eliminates the ridiculous spaghetti of our tax code - spaghetti with a compliance price tag in the millions. While there was the expected knee-jerk reaction from the usual sources (“What? You mean POOR PEOPLE would have to pay 9% on THEIR INCOME, TOO?!?!”), Cain’s analysis showed that this would bring in about the same amount of revenue. Combine that with the vast simplification of the tax code, thus eliminating much of the compliance and enforcement expense, and you’ve got something that just might work.

I realize Cain’s analysis is that of someone running for office, but it does mesh with the analysis done by those that espouse the FairTax. 9-9-9 provides the most level of playing grounds - if you make $10,000, you’d owe $900; if you make $100,000, you’d owe $9,000; if you make $10,000,000, you’d owe $900,000. Corporations, although merely voluntary associations of individuals, are taxed at this rate as well. The national sales tax, balanced with reduced compliance cost to the businesses that would be collecting it, is nearly break-even. This would encourage growth without punishing success.

I can’t remember where I read it, but it’s almost like some people are obsessed with making sure everyone has their “fair share” of the pie. Others see the pie and ask “Hey, why don’t we just get a few more of those?” 9-9-9 clearly falls into the latter camp. Basing economic policy on “It’s not fair that he has more than me” is poor; there’s a reason we teach children not to look at life that way. Instead, we should compare our poor to the poor of other nations, and realize that even the “poor” in this country are better off than the average citizen in many other nations.

I hope that, the next time an alternative tax is pitched, we can have a rational discussion about it. In fact, the FairTax is proposed nearly every year - if you read about it and like it, just let your Congress-critter know.

A Full Trip Through the Bible

Inspired by my Christmas gift from my family in 2010, I searched the web for reading plans and found this one, which looked very interesting. I started a Facebook group and asked if any of my friends would like to join me on this journey, and 22 others joined me; I even made a few new friends along the way. Each day I would post the reading for that particular day, and we could use the group to share, discuss, or encourage one another. There were times I got behind (it happens), and when I posted an encouragement to the group, others were there with me. We weren’t judging each other, we were simply encouraging one another - as Hebrews 10:24 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.”

The pace was quick, and although I enjoyed it and was blessed by it, I believe 2012 will see me taking it a bit slower. I did flag several verses as I was reading through, and those are the places I’ll start digging in and digesting what’s there.

 

So, there you have it. As in previous years, while I had to cut off the lists for the bad and the ridiculous, those all happened externally. I could have filled the list for this post with solely personal things. This tells me that I serve a God Who blesses me, no matter what sort of bad or ridiculous stuff goes on around me. I believe more good is on its way in 2012, and some of it might not even be just for me. :)

2011 Year in Review - The Bad

January 3, 2012   9:00 am

This is part two of the series “2011 Year in Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous.” These are the things that were bad, but didn’t quite make the ridiculous list. (In many cases, though, they were close.)

Japan’s Handling of Fukushima

The tsunami that hit Japan in March of 2011 was bad - really bad. Nearly 16,000 people lost their lives because of it, and estimates on the damage it caused was over $200B. The enormity* alone would have been enough to land it on this list. However, the nuclear angle of the tsunami sent it right to the top.

Initially, the Japanese government declared a state of emergency. Then, they said that they had everything under control, and did not need to take any further steps. Some people familiar with reactors were not comfortable with this, and sadly, they were proved correct. The government of Japan admitted, little by little, how dire the situation was, which ended up with a complete meltdown of three reactors, and several hydrogen explosions. The contamination was likened to Chernobyl; thankfully, that disaster has not produced the ill effects that were forecasted for it. Hopefully we will see the same at Fukushima.

While there is no guarantee that any other nations’ aid could have prevented these meltdowns, it underscores the need for honesty and transparency in government, particularly during times of disaster. Thankfully, the myriad armchair nuclear scientists have moved on to other pursuits, and Japan has cleanup well underway. However, the effects of this disaster will be felt for many years to come.

Gabrielle Giffords Shot; Moonbats Expose Themselves

On January 8th, 2011, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was holding a constituent meeting in Tucson when she was shot at point-blank range. The shooter then turned and sprayed bullets into the crowd, killing several people. Miraculously, Rep. Giffords survived the shot, though she spent the majority of 2011 in the hospital or in rehab facilities. As the year closed, she was nearly ready to resume her regular schedule in Congress. While she was in the hospital, her husband flew on one of the final Space Shuttle missions. The shooting was bad, but her recovery has been one of the good news stories of 2011.

The man who shot her was a troubled individual, an anarchist who believed in “nothing” according to his friends. However, this did not stop the rush-to-judgment speculation of many media members. The first meme was that this was a deranged right-wing lunatic, acting out a map produced by Sarah Palin’s PAC in 2010. This map showed vulnerable seats with a cross-hair icon; of course this was the dog-whistle for the loonies to assassinate Democrats! Well, when that fell though, they still stuck with the right-wing narrative, until finally recanting when it was clear that this was not the case. Their rush to judgment gave us a window into their hearts, and what we saw was not pretty. (It also wasn’t news to many of us; just confirmation.)

Finally, many used her shooting to condemn the “violent” rhetoric (AKA firearms metaphors) that had become a part of the political system. This civility proved to be short-lived, and gave rise to the #NewTone Twitter hashtag, used by conservatives to retweet some of the vitriol directed at them.

These reactions illustrate the value of freedom of speech. Should these people have reacted the way they did? Of course not. But, without free speech, we wouldn’t know who the moonbats are. There are “journalists” who I simply will not patronize based on their behavior during this terrible tragedy.

US Credit Downgrade

In August, Standard and Poor’s downgraded the credit rating of the United States from AAA to AA. They did this in response to the failure of our country to address our looming deficits. When you look at our economic policies from 2006 forward, including 2009 being the last year with a Senate-passed budget, it’s hard to fault them for doing so. Our nation is ignoring the signs that tell us we should change; this year, the debt eclipsed our annual GDP. We cannot continue to spend money we do not have, while ignoring debt we have already accrued. Austerity is probably not going to get anyone elected, but it’s what we need; the world economy is no better than ours, so we cannot base our recovery on exports to other nations. We should position ourselves to ride out this contraction, so we will be ready to take advantage of the next expansion.

The Cain Train Derailed

I was on the Cain Train. I really liked Herman Cain’s plans for our nation. He was not a Washington insider, he has proven results with taking indentured businesses, making them live within their means, and growing them. His 9-9-9 plan attacked the sacred cow of tax code, proposing a much more fair solution. I wrote about him at length. However, as he rose in the polls, women began coming forward claiming sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior. These were bad, and he sadly put himself in the position of being vulnerable to those claims. His response, through his lawyer, was even worse; it sounded like something out of the Clinton administration.

Character matters. Even if every one of these claims were false, his inability or refusal to deny them outright gave us pause. A legal response that it was none of our business sounded fishy. Learning that he gave these women money unbeknownst to his wife just made me hang my head. Now, I realize that this comparison I’m about to make isn’t really apples to apples, but bear with me. When the Bible lists qualifications of a pastor, two of them are “husband of one wife” and “manages his own house well.” The first is important because fidelity to one’s spouse is an indication of fidelity to the rest of what they claim to believe, and the lack of it the same. The second lets us know that this person can work with people with whom they are close without letting them dissuade him from doing what it right. We’re not electing a pastor - I get that; the character required, however, is very similar. Mr. Cain did not manage his own house, could not refute these charges, and thus was drummed out of the race for Barack Obama’s job.

 

While there were plenty of bad things that happened, we can generally learn from them. May we learn, and not repeat 2011’s mistakes in 2012.

p.s. Intentionally left off this list is the Jerry Sandusky / Penn State scandal. Such unspeakable horror - may anywhere else this may exist be exposed, and the perpetrators be punished to the full extent of the law, and then some.

* Word nerd tip - “enormity” is not a synonym for “size,” but carries a negative connotation as well; in other words, it’s not just big, it’s big and bad. Its use here is appropriate; its common use elsewhere usually is not.

#OWS, Educate Thyself - Income Inequality (Part 3)

October 23, 2011   10:21 pm

Previously in this series - Part 1 - IntroductionPart 2 - Credit and Banks

Income inequality. The rallying cry of the Occupy Wall Street crowd really rings hollow with this 99%-er. This is certainly not a new complaint; “eat the rich” has been a sentiment for decades (or centuries). I would posit that covetousness has existed for over 6,000 years, and led to the first recorded murder in human history. It was wrong then, just as it is wrong now. Now, this is education, not church; we’re not going to belabor this point too much. But, the cries of “fairness” are a moral appeal, and must be dealt with accordingly. The ultimate in fairness is that everyone is taxed the same, and paid the same wage for the same type of work. Some people believe this is way-unfair, and they seem to start with “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” and work backward just enough to make it palatable to someone who claims to desire freedom. Know, as we enter this education, that I’m much more on the former end than the latter. (See the “Welcome to the Real World” heading in the introduction.)

Income inequality would be incomplete without a discussion of equality of opportunity. Think back over your life; have you ever had a friend who could out-eat everyone else, but still retained their beanpole-like physique? Did you also have a friend who was always dieting, and always looked like they should be dieting? Given an equal opportunity - a pizza and birthday cake celebration, for example - these two people will have unequal results. This is exactly how it is in life. Many different people take the same high school courses; some do well, others do not. Does the fact that everyone is not the valedictorian mean that the system is not fair? On the contrary, this illustrates that given equal opportunity, different results are possible (and likely). There’;s a phrase that originate with cars, but now is used for almost anything - “Your mileage may vary” (YMMV). This is an acknowledgement by car companies that, the way they drove the car, in the environment they had, that was the mileage they got; but, you may drive it a different way, or in a different environment, so your mileage may not be the same as what’s printed on the sticker in the window.

A boy is pushing a bagging lawn mower, with the caption "I figured out at a young age the easiest way to get money from rich people. Its called a JOB."

Now, let’s continue this train of thought. There are two people who get the same college degree; let’s even say that their GPA was the same, and it was good - they graduated Cum Laude. Fast-forward 5 years, and the likelihood of these two individuals bringing in the exact same salary is very low; one is going to be making more than the other. Is this fair? That’s tough to say, but just with these facts, it seems pretty fair to me. Going back to the introduction again, a college degree is a tool, and what one does with it has a lot to do with their decisions, and also has a lot to do with the environment in which they live. Think about it this way - the same hammer that demolishes a house can be used to hit a chisel to make a sculpture; and, depending on the scenario, both are important. However, the demolisher is probably not going to get paid the same as the sculptor.

How many people could you employ? I know my answer to that question - zero. I have a small programming business, and currently, I am at the point of breaking even. Over the course of 2+ years, I saw a project with potential to go nationwide fizzle and die; the work I put into that is gone, with no monetary return. I went from looking at a breakthrough project to being back to square 2 (not quite back to square 1) overnight. What am I doing? Continuing on, keeping the lessons learned in mind. I’m not camping out in front of the organization that didn’t choose me, and I’m not blaming the system. But, I can assure you that there is no room in my budget for any employees at all.

Businesses can only hire people as they have resources to do so. These resource quite often manifest themselves as stores of money saved and earned via profits. There is nothing wrong with businesses making a profit, just as there is nothing wrong with you exchanging an hour of your time for a profit yourself (via a wage). (For the record - who was one of the voices saying that a rise in the minimum wage would lead to fewer available jobs? Oh yeah - me. I take little pleasure in that vindication, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point it out.)

A graphical representation of the tax burden shift from Herman Cain's 9-9-9 tax proposalTo illustrate, let’s look at a hospital. Profit is a motivation even in a seemly-altruistic endeavor like health care. The operators of the hospital are responsible for hiring doctors, surgeons, nurses, nursing aides, medical technicians, janitorial staff, laundry personnel, anesthesiologists, etc. (or contracting it out). They are also responsible for purchasing beds, linens, cleaning supplies, medical supplies, and a full array of drugs; they also must maintain power, water, environment, and maintenance on their facilities. (I’m stopping there; I’m sure this list is incomplete.) The janitors and surgeons are both important; however, you’re not going to find a single hospital that pays janitors as well as it pays surgeons. Why? Two words - skill and education. Is that fair? Absolutely. The additional pay surgeons receive over janitors is a big reason many of them go through years and years of schooling, internships, and career-long continuing education.

Now, imagine you’re the surgeon. Would you think it fair if unemployed people demanded that you reduce your pay to that of the janitorial staff? If you say you’d be OK with that, you’re either naive or lying. But, these people get their way, and your pay is cut. You would be indignant that the fruits of your hard work were being demanded by people who have no claim on them. You would also no longer be able to pay the support staff necessary for your surgery practice, nor would you be able to spot the neighborhood kid the $50 to keep your yard up on a weekly basis. You would have to pull your children out of whatever private school they attend, which affects the teachers and workers at that school.

To put it as plain and simple as I can, these “rich” people you decry are the ones making our economy work. And, in our economy, you start where you start and try to improve your lot. That’s the promise of America. Not everyone will succeed, but the opportunity is there for those willing to work for it. For years, one party has fomented angst against one class of people, while pillorying those who are against that party as filled with hate. (Oh wait - maybe those are big words for college-educated people…) The Democrats make people mad about people who run businesses, and cast Republicans as hating poor people. Like many items of the Democrat platform, nothing could be further from the truth. These rich people are the ones employing people and supporting other businesses; they’re not sitting around their fireplaces smoking $100 bills and laughing at the peasants.

The graph running down the side of the post, as best I can tell, originated here, and was produced as an example of how bad Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan is. But, what I’d like for you to do is click on that, and look how tiny the increased tax is on the bottom 20% versus how much it saves the top 20%. (Keep in mind, #OWS-ers, that 19% of that top 20% are in your 99%.) This chart illustrates perfectly what is wrong with our tax code, and why our jobs are going to other countries. Where is the motivation to move yourself into that top 20%? (FTR, I am saddened by Cain’s recent adjustment to 9-0-9 “for poor people” - this completely destroys the beauty of 9-9-9 as an equalizer.)

At this point, I can hear the rebuttals about all the greedy people who have broken the law to increase their wealth. Those people will find no quarter here with me. One of my biggest problems with immigration reform is that the focus is always on the illegals, rather than the businesses who hire them with impunity. However, this greed and illegality must be fought where it is found, not via a whole-scale war on wealth. American has her position in the world because of her wealth! If profiling is so wrong in other areas, why is tolerated here?

Bottom line - instead of seeing these people as the enemy, you should see them as people you should emulate, whose accomplishments to which you should aspire. You should stop looking at what someone else has, and start looking at how you can improve your lot in life. Chase Bank is probably not hiring many Gender Studies graduates, and Exxon doesn’t have a great need for Gay and Lesbian Studies graduates. You may not find a job in your degree specialty - that’s OK. Work where you can find it, continue your education (but by all means, not at the same university that failed you so much already), and quit looking around so much.

Derek Sivers, in his summary of Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice, puts it this way.

More than half of people chose options that give them better relative position : better to earn $50k/yr while others around are earning $25k/yr than to be earning $100k/yr while others around are earning $200k/yr.

Can you see the lunacy in this? Because of their jealousy and covetousness, over half the people would choose half as much pay. This is exactly what you’re doing. Wake up, #OWS.