Monday, January 30, 2012

Tectonic Shift in Thinking


At Spherical Model, some years ago, I wrote something about Ron Paul in the 2008 election being valuable because he brought something important to the conversation:

He reads the Constitution. More than most he insists that our economic system would function much better if we actually adhered to the Constitution. He would limit taxes to what is permissible in the Constitution. Up to this point, he sounds very much like a lone voice in the freedom zone.
This election cycle it’s totally natural to be reading the Constitution. All candidates must convince primary voters that they are Constitutional scholars and protectors. That wasn’t true last time around. So there has been a shift.
Have you heard of the Overton Window? It’s a way of describing shift in public opinion on any policy. [It’s named for Joseph P. Overton, former VP of the free market think tank Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Glenn Beck wrote a thriller with this title based on the concept of public opinion shift. Take a look at the site for more detailed explanation and examples.] In short, there is a spectrum of reactions to an idea, ranging from unthinkable to becoming policy. The spectrum looks like this:


Unthinkable     Radical        Acceptable     Sensible        Popular        Policy

The “window” is the range of policies that are considered acceptable, rather than extreme at any given time. One election cycle ago it seemed odd to talk about the US Constitution as the basis for economic policy, even within the Republican Party. McCain claimed to be conservative, but in practice he wasn’t against federal intervention in the economy, and wasn’t even strongly supportive of cutting the budget, reducing the deficit, and lowering taxes. (Romney was clearly for those things four years ago and was considered, in some ways, too conservative to be electable.)
I know it seems like we’ve always believed in the Constitution (and some of us always have), but back then it was called extreme to insist that people who make the money should be the ones to decide who spends it. Now, in part thanks to Ron Paul for helping to shift the window, conservative free market economics are the only acceptable position for a GOP presidential candidate. All of them tout free market economics, and some articulate the concepts with words very similar to 2008’s Ron Paul.
In a Wall Street Journal editorial William McGurn wryly credits Obama for the shift. The piece as a whole deserves reading, but here are some excerpts:
Yes, in the Bush years the air was also thick with accusations that the Constitution was being "shredded."…
Where the accusations against Mr. Bush were led by prestigious law faculties and law firms, those against Mr. Obama reflect a more popular hue. Where the indictments of Mr. Bush were largely limited to war policy, those against Mr. Obama's extend broadly to all areas of policy: foreign, economic and social. And where critics of Mr. Bush were obsessed with outcome, the discontent with Mr. Obama has been magnified by the uneasy sense that he is changing the fundamental rules of the game….
We are learning, however, that ordinary Americans who never before heard of the Commerce Clause are perfectly capable of grasping the argument that if the federal government can require a citizen to buy a product in the market, there's nothing he can't be forced to do….
You can say Mr. Obama probably will not like where a greater public familiarity with the Constitution is likely to take us politically. But you can't say the former University of Chicago professor hasn't made it exciting.

The more Obama is out of touch with the “window” of acceptable ideas, which has shifted away from him rather than towards him, the more often he will seem extreme. If the shift is real, that is if Constitutional principles have become widely understood and appreciated, then it is a matter of articulating the principles to currently listening ears.
In terms of the Spherical Model, we have an opportunity to move upward toward freedom, prosperity, and civilization—if we can continue to articulate the philosophy to people who, after four failed years of imposed socialist policies, are ready to consider cutting government and abiding by our Constitution as a normal thing to consider.
The tempest within the GOP primary is evidence of this positive news. Tea partiers aren’t convinced anyone is conservative enough to suit them (maybe because they won’t be satisfied until the window shifts further). But all of the candidates are more conservative by record and word than our last nominee (maybe our last several nominees). Last time there was pressure to downplay conservative philosophy. This time all are practicing how to articulate the conservative message and honing their ability to do so.
At some point we will have a nominee. There will be some who refuse to believe he is good enough. But take heart that, whoever it is will speak a message that resonates with many more people. And the pull will continue to be toward freedom. That’s a good thing.
----------------------
*Photo credited to Corbis, from WSJ piece linked above.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Is That What We Heard?

I did not listen/watch the State of the Union address. I have found, after so very many speeches by this president, that I have a hard time hearing what he’s saying over the disdain I hear dripping from his tone. So, in order to be fair, I got the speech transcript. It’s almost 7,000 words, which is about six times longer than one of my typical blogs (9 times longer than this one).  At a typical speaking rate, without applause pauses, that’s about 55 minutes—a lot of text for the teleprompter.

I was on my way home from an evening event and had the radio on around 8:45 CST, when I heard about three minutes of the speech. It was an unfortunate three minutes.  It was about taking away the unfair subsidies from the oil industry. Well, this is Houston; everyone here is either in the oil industry or knows many people in the oil industry. Mr. Political Sphere works for a drilling support company. So I was surprised to learn there were subsidies.
So when I got home, I did a little Google search. And I was right; there are no oil subsidies. This article from last May, by Randall Hoven in The American Thinker, spells out the details, and is worth reading if you want to understand what Obama is distorting. Here’s the summary of the so-called subsidies:
• They are all tax "breaks," or earnings that oil companies get to keep, not money paid out from the US Treasury.
• The amount of earnings not collected in taxes is about $4.3 billion per year—about 0.2% of this year's deficit and enough to fund about 10 hours of current US government spending.
• A full $3.55 billion of that amount (82%) is due to the way taxes are treated for all industries or manufacturers. To change these tax laws only for oil companies would require singling them out among all industries for special mistreatment. (I'm not a lawyer, but that sounds like a bill of attainder to me, something our Constitution forbids.)
• The only tax in which the oil industry seems to get special treatment compared to other industries is intangible drilling costs. The amount of that subsidy? That would be $0.78 billion per year—enough to fund less than two hours of federal spending in 2011, and not even half the amount we are lending a foreign-owned and state-owned oil company for drilling offshore Brazil.
• Oil companies already pay tax rates of 40-50% of income. For one company, Exxon, in one quarter of one year, that amount was over $8 billion, or almost double the so-called tax "subsidy" for all oil companies for an entire year.


If you’d rather not read (or listen to) the SOTU speech, I came across a rather useful summary. It made me laugh, rather painfully. It’s called “SOTU: Did I Hear That Right?” by Clark Judge. Here’s the beginning:
It sounded like such a soft, even conservative speech.
But let me get this straight: 1) banks will be punished (do I understand this right, by a committee headed by Eric Holder?) if their lending is too risky, 2) and they will be required (by the same committee) to give more home loans (meaning, it must be, to people who would otherwise not qualify for the loans, or else the government would not have to be involved) at lower rates (which means rates that do not compensate them as much as the market says they need to be compensated for the risks they are taking, all of which sounds like a new edition of the policies that brought on the financial collapse)….
His interconnected list goes on through 21, ending with:
…20) meanwhile he is going to tell states and localities what their budget priorities should be, 21) and make them adopt his policies for running their schools, leaving me to wonder, when he’s through, what won’t he control?
I believe that’s what I heard the president advocate last night. But one term I didn’t hear, maybe I missed it: “The Constitution.” Then again, wasn’t he suggesting that, in brave times like these, we need to put aside those old rules. Do I have this straight?

Yes, I think he’s got it straight; our president is warped, and is trying to warp our great nation into something unrecognizable to Constitution loving people. We must speak up and stop him.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Viewing the Same Thing, Seeing Different Things

My son Political Sphere and I stayed up way too late on Monday night (Tuesday morning by the time we started), to watch the Tampa debate. There was a question, about three-fourths into the debate, to Mitt Romney, and then to Newt Gingrich, on what each has contributed to conservatism.

If I were to come up with a dream list, it would include actions that support all three layers of the Spherical Model: civilization, free enterprise, and political freedom as guaranteed in the US Constitution. For civilization, there should be a demonstration of devotion to God, the grantor of our rights, by obedience to His laws, particularly including strengthening the family and valuing life.
For free enterprise there should be a demonstration that private choices should be made by the people making the money, not some distant central decision maker. Urge low taxes and spending cuts to live on less outgo than income. Know how free enterprise makes jobs and builds wealth, and understand how to keep government from interfering.
For freedom, understand and value the Constitution as the way to freedom, demonstrated by a record of words and actions supporting limited and divided powers of the federal government and specific support of the Bill of Rights.
Here is Romney’s answer:
Well, number one, I’ve raised a family. With my wife we’ve raised five wonderful sons, and we have 16 wonderful grandkids.
Number two, I’ve worked in the private sector. The idea that somehow everything important for conservatism or for America happens in government, is simply wrong. I’ve been in the private sector. I worked in one business that was in trouble and helped turn it around, another I started. And as part of that, we were able to create thousands and thousands of jobs.
And then I took an opportunity to become governor of a state that was slightly Democrat. About 85 percent of my legislature was Democrat. And I worked very hard to promote a conservative agenda. We cut taxes 19 times. We balanced the budget every year, put in place a “rainy day” fund of over $2 billion by the time I left. We were also successful in having English immersion in our schools, driving our schools to be number one in the nation.
That kind of a conservative model in a state like Massachusetts was a model in many respects that other states could look at and say, okay, conservative principles work. We were able to reach across the aisle to fight for conservative principles, and now I’m taking that to a presidential campaign, wrote a book about those principles that lay out why I believe they’re right for America.
I said to Political Sphere at the time, “That was a really good answer.” So I was surprised that the follow up commentary singled that out as a particularly weak answer. At first I thought that was just because the commentators are liberal and have a hard time understanding conservative principles, so they have a perception gap. But the next day I came across several conservative commentators who called it a weak answer; all of them clipped it at the first paragraph, on family. Since I see the civilization sphere as a base for the economic and political spheres to be able to thrive, and since the family is the basic unit of civilization, success in a family is important. It’s also not easy, and Romney’s family is exceptional—in direct contrast to the failure of Gingrich in the family, who failed at the very moment of claiming he understood the concepts. Living a civilized life is the only way to lead people to civilization. You can’t lead by standing on an alternate path and say, “All you people go that way.”
So I understood that Romney started with what was indeed a core conservative principle. And then he continued, listing significant business executive leadership—almost unparalleled in the business world and certainly unparalleled among the candidates. Then he referred to his political record, governing successfully, implementing conservative economic and social principles that led to success that shows in the public record.

In that limited time, he didn’t even include the boost he gave America by keeping the Olympics alive and removing much of the stain of scandal that had plagued the committee; he was hired specifically because practically no one else could have come from such deep problems and break even, and he did more; the 2002 Winter Olympics were a huge success.

Then he didn’t mention what he’s been doing lately. Maybe that’s because it gets dismissed as just more campaigning. But with no decision made about whether he would ever run for any public office again, when he stepped out of the race in 2008, he didn’t go home and rest; he went on the campaign trail for every conservative he could help. He spoke at campaign rallies; he raised funding; he gave donations. And the basic reason was that he wanted to help save America. It might have been awkward to say that himself, but those close to him over the decades show him to be the decent, positive man of integrity he would like you to see. It isn’t a fa├žade; it’s real.
So I saw a strong answer. No hesitation. A long list, without notes or teleprompter. But the media reaction is that he was particularly unprepared on that answer. Hugh Hewitt, radio host who wrote about Romney four years ago, was an exception; he thought it was a good answer, but admitted it could have been stronger.
Then there was Gingrich’s answer. I didn’t hear much commentary about it afterward, but I saw it as an exaggeration, symbolic only, and taking credit where it was not due:
 I went to a Goldwater organizing session in 1964. I met with Ronald Reagan for the first time in 1974. I worked with Jack Kemp and Art Laffer and others to develop supply-side economics in the late ’70s. I helped Governor Reagan become President Reagan. I helped pass the Reagan economic program, and I worked with the National Security Council on issues involving the collapse of the Soviet Empire. I then came back, organized a group called GOPAC, spent 16 years building a majority in the House for the first time since 1954, the first reelected majority since 1928, developed the Conservative Opportunity Society, talked about big ideas, big solutions.
So I think it’s fair to say I spent most of my lifetime trying to develop a conservative movement across this country that relates directly to what we have to do. And I think only a  genuine conservative who’s in a position to debate Obama and to show how wide the gap is between Obama’s policies and conservatism can in fact win, because he’s gonna spend a billion dollars trying to smear whoever the nominee is, and we’d better be prepared to beat him in the debate and prove exactly how wrong his values are, and how wrong his practices are.
Gingrich may have gone to a Goldwater rally in 1964, but in 1968 he was the southern regional director for the Rockefeller campaign. He may have met Reagan in 1974, but who knows whether Reagan took notice of him then.  Gingrich ran his first campaign for congress from Georgia that year, and lost to the incumbent (and lost again in 1976 before winning in 1978). So is it likely he had a private advising session with California Governor Ronald Reagan in 1974, or just a meet and greet? And the likelihood that he was the idea guy behind economist Art Laffer’s theories is about as likely as Al Gore inventing the internet. (I’ll take that back if Art Laffer comes out and says, “Oh, yes, I couldn’t have come up with conservative economic ideas without Newt Gingrich.”)
Did Gingrich work successfully to bring a GOP majority to the US Congress? Yes, which is why he became speaker. (Do we need to add here that GOP doesn’t always translate to conservative, but can also be just the less liberal alternative to the Democrat Party?) And while that Congress kept its Contract with America by voting on its list of issues in the first 100 days, that didn’t mean everything passed, nor that they had any success in getting passed by the Democrat majority Senate or signed by the Democrat President. Big ideas, strong efforts, but not particularly notable results. And then the ethics and moral violations that led to his stepping down in disgrace were the antithesis of conservative ideals. When he had the opportunity to lead, his character failed him. Yet, instead of humility, we see braggadocio.  

Here is what I want, and what I pray for: that the people in this country, including myself, will see the truth—truth of who the candidates are (including Obama) and what they can and will do for our struggling nation—so that the decision of where we end up will be the result of clear decisions and not deceit. It’s possible that I see Romney positively because I want to, because I want what I picture he can offer. And it may be that Gingrich is a better man than he appears to me, because he has gone through a character change not visible to me. So I am continuing to look.
But I am paying attention and trying to discern the truth. But my country’s future depends on the decisions of millions of other American voters. So I pray that somehow truth will be evident to all of us.

                                                                                                             

Monday, January 23, 2012

Media Misinformation

My purpose in this blog about the Spherical Model is to raise awareness of the freedom and economic success that come from living civilizing principles. My purpose in spending time here talking about the political primaries has been to offer an alternative to the right/left way of looking at political philosophies.
A major concern I’ve had so far in this political season has been getting to the truth. So often what is common knowledge just isn’t so. I’m not an investigative journalist, so sometimes I can’t get to the truth either; I can only ask questions to raise awareness that we’re not getting it.
Over the weekend I came across a little piece about media bias. The Center for Media at George Mason University did a studymeasuring positive vs. negative reports on candidates at the three major news networks. Here are the percentages.

                  Candidate           % of Stories Positive       % of Stories Negative
                    Mitt Romney                    22%                                78%
                    Newt Gingrich                 52%                                48%
                    Rick Santorum                56%                                44%
                    Jon Huntsman                71%                                29%
                    Ron Paul                           73%                                27%
The study reveals that, the more viable and electable the media perceives the candidate, the more negative the portrayal.
What about Fox News, with their (probably inaccurate in relation to actual news reporting) conservative viewpoint? On their “Special Report” they portrayed Mitt Romney negatively 63% of the time and positively 37% of the time. Overall Fox News was found most balanced, with 52% positive and 48% negative stories.
Is it possible that there is that much actual negative to tell about Romney? When you look at the stories, the negatives are repeated until they are believed true. I’ve been through most of them in this blog, and most of the negatives are verifiably false.
Romney is consistently more conservative than Newt Gingrich, using their own words and their own records. Romney has lived as a cultural conservative his entire life and has a flawless record against abortion and for marriage, according to the most powerful voices on those issues. (Maggie Gallagher of National Organization for Marriage recently defended Romney, based on her personal work with him in Massachusetts.) Romney worked with an 85% liberal legislature and was able to balance the state budget, recover from deficit, and do it without raising taxes, which is downright amazing.
His state had a problem with health care funding, like many other states, because the federal government requires medical care of the uninsured, and people take advantage of that. The solution he wanted was to encourage more people to buy health insurance, through free-market incentives and state subsidies for low income earners, using existing private insurance sources. He nearly succeeded, but the leftists in his state insisted on changing incentives into penalties (what is called the mandate). And this is his Achilles heel?
What would Gingrich have done in a similar situation? First, he couldn’t have persuaded Massachusetts voters to let him try anything, because, using elementary school language, he doesn't play well with others. Second, according to his own words, his favorite presidents are FDR, Woodrow Wilson, and Teddy Roosevelt; he would have been philosophically comfortable with government-imposed programs.
The stories surrounding last week’s attack piece on Newt in the form of an interview with wife number two seemed orchestrated to give sympathy to Newt (and indeed contributed to an astounding shift in the South Carolina polls of 20 percentage points within half a week). Apparently the big accusation was whether Newt had asked wife #2 for an open marriage; but, while that sounds despicable to moral people and we’re willing to believe Newt when he says he didn’t ask for such a thing—the fact remains that he did want an open marriage, defined as having sex with someone in addition to his wife, because he was doing that without asking. That was kind of lost on the SC audience, which seemed titillated by the takedown Newt did on the debate moderator for daring to ask the question on everyone’s mind.
We like to think of ourselves as forgiving. I’m willing to believe Newt and wife Callista are contrite for the adultery they in fact committed—at the very time Newt was prosecuting Bill Clinton for his lies about adultery. But there is a difference between forgiving and trusting. Newt himself explained his behavior as a result of loving America too much. Well, the fact is, he hasn’t had a position of power since then to test his resolve to change. We can forgive his past massive sins without offering him our support as the most powerful leader in the world. Maybe we should even consider it our Christian duty not to put him in a position where he might be tempted beyond his strength to resist. In short, I have a hard time supporting a serial adulterer to represent our efforts toward civilization against a post-constitutional socialist who appears to be a good husband and father.
If we could just get the full truth about Romney, I believe we would see a preponderance of positives. And if we could just get the full truth about Gingrich, I believe we would see a preponderance of negatives. When we go up against the most negative president in my lifetime, I would prefer to do it with someone on the positive side of the balance sheet.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Shining City Moment

Last night, the closing statements to the presidential debate were worth listening to. All agreed this was a critical election, and it’s important who we choose  to represent us and our values. Newt Gingrich, trying to convince us he’s the answer, offered himself up to debate Obama. And while that might be a delight to see, Gingrich has been much better against the media than he has been against opponents, against whom he seems at times to be throwing a petty tantrum. Plus, there’s no guarantee that Obama will risk agreeing to a series of humiliating debates.

Ron Paul went first, reiterating the connection between economic policy and freedom for all. As usual he’s right on economics, but he does it with a tone of a slightly exasperated professor saying, “Why don’t you people get it yet?”
Rick Santorum went last, agreeing that the stakes are high, but trying to convince that he is “the” conservative in the race, and that he is electable. He urges South Carolina not to settle for a moderate, but to do what they did in 1980, voting for Reagan before he was the Reagan we know. It was well said, but it was essentially the small message: “South Carolina, vote for me.”
Romney’s closing statement went third, but I’ve saved his for last. He used the moment so beautifully to talk to Americans about beautiful, positive American ideas. There was a piece by Jon Kraushar from November, called “Want to Know Who Will Win in 2012: Look for the Smile.” I’ve been thinking about his observations since then. At that moment, the two most positive, smiling candidates were Romney and Gingrich. Then, in  December, as Gingrich began to be a serious contender, he got angrier and more erratic, and then started sinking in the polls. He may maintain momentum long enough for South Carolina, but if the cheerfulness theory holds, I don’t expect him to make much further progress.
Santorum is someone I often like. Ideologically according to a couple of those charts where you compare your beliefs and see who should be your candidate, I align with him about 97% of the time, and Romney only maybe 96% (both seem surprisingly close both to me and each other). But Santorum, coming always from behind, often seems tense and pressured in debates--better among townhalls, I think. Romney almost always seems cool under pressure, and is by nature pleasant, cheerful, and positive. He’s extraordinarily hard working and detail oriented, but he appears at ease. There’s something Reaganesque about that, even if he isn’t as media savvy as Reagan, who came from that world.
Anyway, Romney’s closing statement is a nice moment I want to remember from this campaign, regardless of outcome. Here is the transcript, as well as the two-minute video. Enjoy.
I agree with a lot of what these last two men have just said; I think this is an absolutely critical election. I  but believe that the founders took very careful thought in the preparation of the words of our Declaration of Independence, that said that the Creator had endowed us with certain unalienable rights. Not the state, but the Creator. Among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And by virtue of those words, the pursuit of happiness, this became the place on the planet where we were able to pursue our dreams as we might choose. People came here from all over the world, wishing to pursue happiness in their own way. And that has made us the most powerful economic engine in the world, where we can guard freedom because our military is the strongest in the world, coming from that powerful economic engine.
This president’s changing that. He’s changing the very nature of America. He’s turning us, not, from a merit society, an opportunity society, where people are free to choose their own course. But instead he’s making us an entitlement society, where people think they’re entitled to what other people have, where government takes from some and gives to others. That has never been the source of American greatness.
We need to return to the principles upon which this country was founded. Our president said, I think in a very revealing way, that he wants to fundamentally transform America. He’s wrong. We need to restore the values that made America the hope of the earth. And I understand those values. I will do everything in my power to restore those values by keeping America free, by fighting for free enterprise, by standing up to President Obama and pointing out how he has made it almost impossible for our private sector to reboot. I will get America working again. I will defeat Barak Obama and keep America as it’s always been, the shining city on a hill. Thank you.





Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Santorum on the Constitution

Back in September I talked about the philosophical differences between the American and French revolutions. Exciting stuff, I know. So it caught my interest this week when Rick Santorum talked about the comparison as well.

Santorum was answering a voter’s question about his understanding of the Constitution, since Ron Paul is often framed as the Constitution expert candidate, and they often disagree. Santorum started by pulling out his pocket Constitution (which shows I’m not the only one carrying one around at all times, just in case). Then he followed up (without notes or speechwriter) with a serious philosophical answer:
Ron Paul has a libertarian view of the Constitution. I do not. The Constitution has to be read in the context of another founding document, and that’s the Declaration of Independence. Our country never was a libertarian idea of radical individualism. We have certain values and principles that are embodied in our country. We have God-given rights.
The Constitution is not the “why” of America; it’s the “how” of America. It’s the operator’s manual. It’s the rules we have to play by to ensure something. And what do we ensure? God-given rights. And so to read the Constitution as the end-all, be-all is, in a sense, what happened in France. You see, during the time of our revolution, we had a Declaration of Independence that said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, [that they are] endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
So we were founded as a country that had God-given rights that the government had to respect. And with those rights come responsibilities, right? God did not just give us rights. He gave us a moral code by which to exercise them.
See, that’s what Ron Paul sort of leaves out. He leaves out rights and responsibilities that we have from God that this Constitution is to protect. And he says, “No, we just have rights, and then that’s it.” No, we don’t. America is a moral enterprise….
My understanding of our founding documents and the purpose of this country is different. I would argue that [Paul’s] understanding of the Constitution was similar to the French Revolution and the French understanding of the Constitution. The French had 21, I think, constitutions, but their constitutions were initially patterned after the American Constitution. Gave radical freedom, like ours does. But their founding document was not the Declaration of Independence. Their founding watchwords were the words, “liberty” and “fraternity.” Fraternity. Brotherhood. But no fatherhood. No God. It was a completely secular revolution. An anti-clerical revolution. And the root of it was, whoever’s in power rules. 

Rick Santorum is right. I don’t mean to say that Ron Paul personally is atheist; I don’t believe he is. (Actually, neither was Woodrow Wilson, the father of American Progressivism—i.e., movement toward Marxist socialism.) The question is, what is the philosophy underlying libertarianism?
The Spherical Model, by giving a three-dimensional view of philosophies, rather than the usual right/left paradigm, allows us to see where libertarianism fits. Instead of right/left, what we want to know about a philosophy is, does it civilize? The north/south orientation is between freedom (north) and tyranny (south). The west/east orientation answers the question of whose interests: individual and family, local community on the west, on over to state, nation, region, world in the east.
Libertarianism is always western oriented (western on the sphere, not related to western on our world map), toward local and individual. A principle of freedom is to limit government so that the most local level possible takes care of a problem. So, very often libertarians are right, because government has overreached. The west/east exception is when the state, nation, or region (our allies, so often beyond our vicinity) is in fact the best level, such as with international defense and trade policies.
The main problem with libertarianism is that it tends to occupy the entire western hemisphere of our model, including north (freedom) and south (tyranny). Santorum is right that following God’s law is essential for maintaining freedom. As soon as the libertarians start claiming we have a “right” to addictive mind-altering drugs, pornography, prostitution, and other vices. Even though they argue that those behaviors only affect the individual, those behaviors are savage; savagery overlays tyranny on the sphere. The only way libertarianism can avoid the chaotic tyranny of anarchy is if the people involved are so personally righteous that they never choose savage behaviors.
But what we saw with the French Revolution was that, when you have a people who take God out of the philosophical movement, you get savagery, not matter how much you talk about the rights of man. If the rights don’t come from God, along with the responsibilities He requires of us in His law, then they are just an invention of man, subject to whoever is in power. And that is a definition of tyranny.
I do believe we’d be better off if the political debate were entirely between Constitutional Republicans and Constitutional Libertarians—a northern west/east debate. The debate we actually have (once the primaries, with Ron Paul involved are over) is between northern freedom lovers and southern tyrannical power seekers.
But one thing we can thank Ron Paul for is shifting the debate, so it isn’t just about the degree of southeast-ness (statist tyranny quadrant). I working on a piece about that shift, coming soon.



Monday, January 16, 2012

Bain Basics


from Mittfitts.com
Venture capital is not exactly a specialty of mine. So as anti-Romneys have stirred the pot by calling Bain bad, I had to read up like of the general public. I have, however, read enough in the past about Romney’s business success and the near unanimous approval of both his business acumen and his ethics that, when opponents with a desperate need to wound his candidacy start claiming negative things about Romney’s predatory practices, I don’t automatically accept their word for it.

Maybe I’m too partisan by now, in my leanings toward Romney’s candidacy, that I’m missing something. But maybe not. Anyway, I have collected a few sources that have explained the Bain Capital experience pretty much to my satisfaction.
This one, from a pro-Romney blog, gives the “Real Story of Romney and Bain Capital.” Romney was asked by consulting company Bain and Co. owner Bain to start a separate venture capital company, where they could, instead of making money only on giving advice, invest money in companies they could persuade to follow their advice and make money on the success. Romney was hesitant and looked carefully at the opportunity before taking it on. He took a year, back in 1984, to raise money to start up the new company, all from private investors. And it took some time before the first big payback came—$2 Million invested in office supply store start-up Staples, which yielded $13 Million.
Generally what Bain did is not what you could call “vulture capitalism.” They didn’t identify weak companies where they could go in and pick the bones. Rather, they identified good ideas, good possibilities, that with enough capital and good business practices (often including laying off excess employees, particularly middle management), they hoped to turn the company around and build success.
Venture capitalists in general can expect a fairly low success rate—about like baseball hitters, who are best in the league when they average hits a third of the time. Bain was a great hitter. A surprisingly low percentage went bankrupt. And of those that did fail, that was often long after Bain was no longer involved. And one has to ask in those cases, what are the odds that company would have succeeded without the opportunities Bain offered?  A further look shows that, in some cases (Dade is an example) where companies did go through bankruptcy, they came through the restructuring and became more valuable, being bought on the other side at even greater profit.
It could be said, generally, that if Bain hadn’t gotten involved in those companies, chances were higher that more jobs would have been lost, and possibly all the jobs those companies provided. But an investment by Bain meant a stroke of good fortune.
As for the number of jobs Romney helped bring about? Probably an underestimate. According to the blog, “If one assumes a complete turn-over of employees every 5 years or so, a single company like Staples, which currently employs 90,000 people, has likely given jobs to over a quarter million people since it was founded!” Remember, Romney is careful to say he knows how jobs are created; he doesn’t say, “As president, I will create jobs,” the way liberals talk about it. What has to happen is to create the environment where businesses can create jobs. Get rid of uncertainty, over-taxation, and over-regulation. Romney knows what it takes because he has been involved in the “how” of job creation in an extremely broad array of businesses and industries. This particular blog lists well over 200 companies Bain worked with. Compare to the relatively vast experience Herman Cain, who had built up a couple of large, successful companies in the restaurant industry.
But one pro-Romney blog is not convincing by itself. So, here is former GE CEO Jack Welch, talking about Romney and Bain. In this two-minute clip, Welch says, “In my lifetime, Mitt Romney is the most qualified leader I’ve ever seen run for the presidency of the United States.”
In this National Review piece, two of the CEOs of Bain-helped companies, stand up for Romney:
Jack Smith, founder of Sports Authority, calls the attacks “a terrible slap against a brilliant guy’s record.” Bain was one of the original investors in the sporting-goods store, and Romney served as a director on the company’s board. Smith says he would consult Romney on “anything and everything.” “He provided guidance and direction,” he adds.
“I heard [Newt] Gingrich talking about how they eliminated jobs and the money they grabbed, that’s baloney,” Smith insists.
On Fox News, Stuart Varney talks about private equity and particularly Bain Capital. This clip is about 7 minutes long, but very informative about what Bain actually did, as compared to what Gingrich and others are claiming about it.

In the long run, it may be helpful to be having this discussion now. We can be certain that the Obama liberals will use any anti-capitalist ammunition they can grab hold of. So, having the opportunity to, piece by piece and case by case, debunk the arguments now will undermine those attacks later. So, for this head start we can thank Gingrich and Perry.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Two Hundredth Post

This is my 200th post at the Spherical Model blog. I had intended to celebrate by posting a short video explaining the Spherical Model concept. However, due mainly to my lack of technical skills, that is still in process. (My sons, Political Sphere and Economic Sphere, are encouraging me that this little project is doable in the near future.)

So, instead we’ll celebrate the unanimous ruling by the Supreme Court Wednesday in favor of religious liberty.
First, let’s do a little grammar practice. This is what the 1st Amendment to the Constitution says concerning religion:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof
There are two parts. So how would it read if we clarified by making each part its own sentence?
·         Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.
·         Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
It’s not really that difficult, grammatically. The second has been violated many times because of some twisted misunderstandings about the first. What would it mean for Congress to establish a religion? It would mean that they would make one particular religion (sect) the preferred religion—they would “establish” that religion as “the” official religion of the nation. Adherents to that particular faith would have preferred status under the law. Our founders didn’t prevent particular states from establishing their own state religion, and in the beginning several did indeed have state religions. But the Constitution prevented that from ever being done at the federal level. (And states figured out on their own it wasn’t a good idea at their level either.)
There is nothing about getting all religious expression out of public life. In fact, getting religious expression out of public life would indeed violate the second part; it would be prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
So what about non-believers, or different believers? They get to tolerate differences in religious beliefs, just like the rest of us. Simple, right?
The ruling this week was related to a particular issue, with a teacher at a parochial school who violated her contract with the church and then tried to get the courts to rule that the church didn’t have the right to terminate her because of her violation. The courts were unanimous in saying a church could decide who it hired based on their own religious criteria. It was somewhat technical; more info here.
But it was good to see the courts could be both clear and unanimous when the administration was lobbying against religious freedom. Let’s hope this is an indicator of more such clarity to come.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Backward-Step-Pivot-Forward

We’re getting closer to the end of presidential nomination process, so eventually it will stop being a distraction from a myriad of other things worth talking about. But last night I did follow  the election returns.

screen shot of winning results
Romney was expected to win in New Hampshire, so the question was the margin. Some people were claiming anything under 36% would show weakness—even though historically no non-incumbent has won both Iowa and New Hampshire with any margin at all. As it turned out, he won with over 39% of the vote.
Ron Paul got a respectable 23%. This is the state where the voluntaryist project is going on (extreme libertarians, gathering together in one place to set up their own local version of free government, which unfortunately includes an insistence on legalization of all drugs). Paul has a strong following with the young, students, not yet making much money, possibly never voted before, who consider themselves moderate to very liberal. Most GOP primaries will not be carried by this demographic. Another day, though, I’d like to talk more about them, and the Overton Window principle, which is why I’m pleased these people are out there articulating their point of view.
Jon Huntsman had put everything he had into this state, and he won a respectable 17% of the vote, well above expectations, and well above the other non-Romneys.
On the usually reasonable conservative Mark Levin Show last night, Levin was suggesting what really needed to happen was a backroom meeting of the remaining opponents, where they make whatever deals are necessary to come to a consensus of who among them would continue on, to put the “real” conservative votes behind one non-Romney candidate. At that point in the evening, Romney was estimated at 36% of the vote, which Levin said was a pathetic showing (even though it would have beaten McCain last time around). But what I’m seeing is that if you exclude Paul (which Levin did, I believe), then you put together all the votes of Huntsman (17%), Gingrich (9%), Santorum (9%), and Perry (1%), you get 36%, actually 7,048 votes short of Romney’s votes. In other words, a backroom meeting to join together behind one candidate would still be insufficient.
But, of course, this is just New Hampshire, practically home turf for Romney. So maybe it would still be worth fighting Goliath? We’ll see, but polls show Romney leading in South Carolina (where Perry is putting his remaining energy), and Florida.
There’s something else. The chart below was put out in a memo by Andrea Saul, a Romney campaign spokesperson. I got it in this blog.


According to the chart, the non-Romneys have little chance of garnering the needed delegates, because they have not met ballot requirements. We’ve heard a fair amount about Virginia’s problems, where only Romney and Paul are on the ballot, and it seems unfair to onlookers. And yet, Romney and Paul campaigns were able to handle the detailed paperwork. I believe it is also true that Romney as a first-time candidate four years ago nevertheless met ballot challenges in every state. He handles details and does what it takes to get inconsequential roadblocks out of the way. There’s something to be said for that. (Same for Paul supporters, many of whom are new to politics, and yet passionate and humble enough to ask what needs to be done and then do whatever it takes.)
Is it establishment GOP that took care of these details? Not from what I can see, where my state's GOP-ers were much more likely to support Perry. Nor was Romney considered “establishment” last time around, yet he was nevertheless able to take care of the details. In fact, Romney did almost everything right last time around, except squelch the inexplicable hatred toward him from his opponents. (Huckabee, McCain, and Paul supporters coordinated in West Virginia to add up to more than Romney won in the first round, thwarting Romney’s momentum, eventually handing victory to McCain.)
When Romney saw he couldn’t win for himself, he put all of his energy into helping the party win, recognizing the danger Obama posed to the country. Romney continued, at his own expense (and often contributing his own money) supported conservative candidates for the sake of the party he thought would best conserve our nation. He didn’t continually run, as accused. In fact, he seriously went through the decision-making process about whether to run again, based on where he could best serve. But his willingness to support and help where he could was exactly the right thing to do to garner appreciation across the country—which equals winning approval from the establishment, apparently. Note that the things he did are almost the same things Sarah Palin did—speak in favor of candidates, help with their fundraising, continue articulating the conservative message.
Yes, we have been burned by the “establishment GOP” in the past—more than a time or two. But doing the right things should not disqualify a candidate. Nothing was automatic for Romney; it was a matter of consistently doing and saying exactly what we would want a leader to do and say.
So, while I would not be terribly distressed with a non-Romney candidate (actually, I’d have a hard time pushing myself to support Paul or Gingrich, but I see almost anyone who reads the constitution as better than Obama), I am comfortable with Romney as our candidate. My major concern has been the almost rabid anti-Romney sentiments people who are usually reasonable and conservative hold against him. I’ve been gathering things to say that might help these people feel better about what is looking more likely. But as I go through this exercise, I am finding that Romney needs little help from me. He’s going to be fine.
One example is his skill at communication. This article highlights his varsity skill as a debater. Debate coach Todd Graham describes one of the strategies Romney used to good effect in the two debates over the weekend:
There is a simple debating strategy when answering attacks: “Backward-step-pivot-forward.” First, put up a robust defense—defend your positions thoroughly (backward-step). And second, figure out how to turn your potential weakness into strength. In other words, start with defense and then attempt to make the same issue part of your offense (picot-forward).
He gives examples of Romney doing this, while his opponents get stuck on the backward defense step. Romney then appears more positive and in control, while the others, even when successfully defining their positions, do it with the negative tone of defense.
This opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal calls attention to Romney’s skill in these debates as well, particularly in the way he took on Stephanopoulos’s foolish attempt to trap him. Stephanopoulos not only failed to make conservatives as a whole look foolish, as was his goal, Romney called him on it in a way that revealed the attack so the average American could recognize it, and in a way that was without rancor. That was skill. And this debate skill is a bonus from a candidate who just happens to be superior for our country in every way compared to Obama.
In other words, how about we give up just feeling resigned with an inevitable Romney nomination, and instead consider rejoicing that he is our guy.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Consistency

I’ve continued watching the presidential debates, though often not live. The one from Saturday, January 7th, proved one consistent point: “journalist” moderators are clueless about how conservatives think, and they seem determined to do two things: make the entire slate look foolish, and pit one candidate against another (mostly they fail at both). What do we really need? A strong contrast between the two parties, and an opportunity for each candidate to express why he is best suited to the job of president.

What did we get this weekend? “Do you agree with the Supreme Court ruling on contraceptives from several decades ago, and do you think there should be a constitutional amendment to allow states to enforce laws against contraceptives?” That’s not word-for-word. But it was actually that ridiculous. There is no discussion in any GOP campaign about whether states should be allowed to outlaw contraception. The ruling that dealt with contraception by inventing a right to privacy is decades old. This distant case, which worded things in a way to keep government out of the personal decisions within sacred marriage, was later used to pretend there was a right to abortion in Roe v. Wade. So, if you’re into connecting all the dots, it might be possible to get a candidate to say they have disagreed with the Supreme Court. In which case, the options are to ignore the case as precedent (my preference, to lessen the outsized power of the court) or, as Romney pointed out, to use the legislature and states to amend to US Constitution to spell out what the Supreme Court got wrong.
The exchange is at the beginning of the second segment, so about 15 minutes in. Romney had to answer Stephanopoulos several times before he could convince him the question was too stupid to bother answering; no states want to enforce contraception, so why in the world would anyone push for a constitutional amendment to make sure they could? What a waste of our time!

All of the candidates performed better than the moderators; they almost always do. I even like Huntsman and Paul compared to those moderators (and Paul did not have a good day).

OK, enough about that debate. What I want to share today are a couple of clips from back in time. There’s a narrative about Romney that he is a Massachusetts “moderate=liberal” who “flip flops.” The first clip is from 1994, during the race for Senator against Ted Kennedy, and the topic is government health care.
            Mitt debates Kennedy in 1994 on government health care takeover.
You’ll see that Romney is passionate and forceful against the all-powerful Kennedy, and that he understands the economic ramifications of government interference. If you follow this up by actually looking (by reading Romney’s book No Apology) at how he approached health care in Massachusetts, so that there was no government insurance, you’ll see huge differences between the limited state approach and Obama’s intentional dismantling of the free market in the medical sector. While the Massachusetts plan entails more interference than any of us living in states that don’t have 85% Democrat legislatures would tolerate, Romney is right that it is solely a state solution. He is also sticking with it (changes implemented by Democrat successor included), because it would be inconsistent to support the plan, as good as he could get it, as governor and then denounce it afterward. And inconsistent is not what he is. Nor is he disloyal
The point is, Romney intends to end Obamacare, because he has always been against the socialized medicine approach of Obama’s plan, and he was right in Saturday’s debate that, if we don’t turn it around soon, it will be very difficult to recover.

The second clip is an interview from 2007 with Glenn Beck, and the topic is free trade.
            Glenn interviews Mitt Romney in2007 on North American free trade union.
Everything he says is so clearly conservative, so clearly favoring free enterprise that Beck practically swoons. Before then, and since then, everything Romney says on the economy favors free enterprise—and says it with the authority of exceptional experience. If anything, since the last campaign Romney has gotten more practiced at articulating the conservative viewpoint.
Yet this time the argument against him is that he’s a moderate? Think about what you would believe about Romney if you didn’t have the liberal media as well as fellow conservative opponents telling you he is a moderate flip-flopper. His own record, and his own words are consistent. His performance in every debate has been impressive. If you’re nevertheless intent on “anybody but Romney,” ask yourself where that prejudice is coming from.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Crime Rate Drop

Here at Spherical Model I have a theory that civilization increases when certain conditions are met: a civilized society is a religious society (seeing God as the grantor of rights, and as the greater being to whom we are accountable). Living the Ten Commandments is a good starting list of civilized behavior. And intact families (with married mother and father) are the most reliable means of cultivating civilized behavior. So I am tuned in to see whether the world fits my theory or not.

This past week I read an article discussing the two-decade-long drop in crime rates. And an interesting thing about this crime decrease (in essence, an increase in civilization) is that we know so little about what has caused it.
The article that started me thinking, “Taking a biteout of crime,” by Charles Lane, in the Washington Post December 26th, is in part commentary on a book called The City that Became Safe, by Franklin E. Zimring about New York City, but there has also been a lot of response to the latest FBI report about a safer US. (I noticed a follow-up in yesterday’s news for Houston, about a drop from the 2006 high, following an influx from New Orleans after Katrina, down to the lowest rate in four decades.) As Lane puts it, “’What went wrong?’ is the question that launched a thousand blue-ribbon commissions. But we also need to investigate when things go right—especially when, as in the case of crime, success defied so many expert predictions.”
Normally I would assume that such an investigation would reveal a shift toward civilization (northward on the Spherical Model). But the evidence doesn’t necessarily, or obviously, show more adherence to the Ten Commandments, nor a religious motivation to do so. Lane (and I guess Zimring) claims that expectations of the left (statists, let’s call them) and right (conservatives, for lack of a better term) are both wrong:
Plunging crime rates also debunk conventional wisdom, left and right. Crime’s continued decline during the Great Recession undercuts the liberal myth that hard times force people into illegal activity—that, like the Jets in “West Side Story,” crooks are depraved on account of being deprived. Yet recent history also refutes conservatives who predicted in the early 1990s that minority teenage “superpredators” would unleash a new crime wave.
Government, through targeted social interventions and smarter policing, has helped bring down crime rates, confirming the liberal worldview. Yet solutions bubbled up from the states and municipalities, consistent with conservative theory. Contrary to liberal belief, incarcerating more criminals for longer periods probably helped reduce crime. Contrary to conservative doctrine, crime rates fell while Miranda warnings and other legal protections for defendants remained in place.
On the whole, though, what’s most striking about the crime decline is how little we know about its precise causes. Take the increase in state incarceration, which peaked at a national total of 1.4 million on Dec. 31, 2008. This phenomenon is probably a source of success in the war on crime—and its most troubling byproduct. But increased imprisonment cannot explain all, or most, of the decline: Crime rates kept going down the past two years, even as the prison population started to shrink. Crime fell in New York faster than in any other U.S. city over the past two decades — but New York locked up offenders at a below-average rate, according to Zimring’s new book, “The City That Became Safe.”
I’ll try taking these on one by one. I’m glad the “depraved because of being deprived” theory is debunked. It isn’t having little that is causative, but probably reasons behind being deprived. A broken home, fatherless home, uneducated single parent, possibly combined with addiction—that could be pretty depravity-inducing. But much of that is based on personal choice—and some of that personal choice is perpetuated by lack of civilization training within the home. Civilized society sees the public goal of trying to make up for the lack where it can. But that requires something of a critical mass of civilization. There are pockets, often in inner cities, where family dissolution has led to generations of poor and crime. But I don’t remember predictions of minority teenage “superpredators” throughout society as a whole.
Next, about turning to government for solutions: The chaos of crime-ridden areas are unacceptable to practically everyone—that is the tyranny of anarchy you see in the southwest quadrant of the Spherical Model (opposite hemisphere from freedom while also opposite to the quadrant of government tyranny). When people get fed up with this marauding tyranny, they will move either toward statist control (give up their freedom to the state in exchange for relief from danger), or they move toward freedom.
If the answers come up locally, targeted at specific local problems, and solved essentially locally, then that is probably a move northward (toward freedom from anarchic tyranny), rather than toward government tyranny. Liberals need to be disabused of the idea that conservatives never trust in a government solution. There is a proper role of government, and it is in essence protection. Using the most local level where such protection can be accomplished is the conservative approach.
About incarceration, indeed having society refuse to accept serious crime by incarcerating the criminals does have a deterrent effect. The criminals are off the streets, unavailable for committing crimes they would otherwise be doing. That deterrence would continue even when incarceration rates decrease isn’t that surprising. Once criminals know that there is a high likelihood that their crime will be punished with incarceration, they may actually choose not to commit the crime. So both the actual criminals and the possible criminals are deterred.
The specifics of how various cities and communities have problem-solved would be worth studying. But underlying the solutions is not really a rescue by governments, but rather it is the societal commitment to refuse to accept the savagery. People in the community work with law enforcement; they report crimes and watch out for one another within their neighborhoods. When “Thou shalt not kill” and “Thou shalt not steal” become important enough to insist on, the aggregate desire for civilization brings it on. In other words, while specific causes aren't clear, I still think the Spherical Model for civilization is true.