Friday, August 31, 2012

Looking Up

Mitt Romney at GOP Convention
photo from Ann Romney's Facebook page
Here at the Spherical Model, instead of a left/right model, we have a three-dimensional model, with the good at the top: civilization, freedom, free enterprise. The southern hemisphere contains the bad: savagery, tyranny, controlled economy. The side-to-side direction is basically neutral, but based on interest, from individual/family at the center west, and expanding outward through local, state, regional, national, on up to  global perspective. The general rule is that the controller of decisions should be left to the most local level possible; otherwise there is usurpation of power, which is a tyrannical position (southern hemisphere).

So when I look at who I should vote for, I look at how well the candidates’ ideas line up with the principles that we know lead to civilization, freedom, and free enterprise. This week at the GOP convention (which I watched from home) has been a good week. A lot of looking up—how to get up to the northern, civilized, freedom zone.
Others may be watching for strategy, or for excitement that will motivate the army of activists to go get out the vote, or for some rhetoric so soaring that it will be remembered and compared in future years. I very much enjoy a brilliant, well-said phrase; I collect the quotable. But I mostly leave that kind of examination to others. I want to know the philosophy and character, to know how well it lines up with what we know will place us in the northern hemisphere of the Spherical Model.
There was much to enjoy in Paul Ryan’ talk, as well as speeches by Marco Rubio, Condoleeza Rice, Mia Love, Chris Christie, and others—and I may take a later post just to enjoy those. But what we need to know is whether we have upper hemisphere hopes from our future president—who will lead the direction of the country. And Romney’s speech did what it needed to for me.
He used the word “optimism” four times, and referred, in various ways, to hope for a better future a few more times. That in itself is upward looking—if it’s tied to the right principles. And I believe it is.
Some of what we need to know about Romney, I have known for a long time; it was a matter of getting the picture out for others, during a time when cynicism is so rampant that a decent family man who wants to serve others seems too good to be true. But he has indeed lived his life that way. Some of the telling had to come from others, and that happened this week. Ann Romney began to introduce this good man to people who hadn’t noticed before, or been willing to believe who he was. And that was followed by a string of actual recipients of his quiet, unpaid, unrecognized service. This must have gotten the story out, because after his speech, the PBS commentators stumbled, trying to come up with descriptors for the speech that clearly didn’t align with their worldview, but they decided to agree Romney is just, really, a decent man.
Does he believe in God, so that he can understand God is the giver of our inalienable rights? Yes. Does he live the Ten Commandments as the basic level of civilization? Yes, and refined with the Sermon on the Mount, I Corinthians 13, and other scriptural directions on how to be the person God wants you to be.
Does he place family as the central civilizing force? Yes.
About Paul Ryan, he said, “I love the way he lights up around his kids and how he's not embarrassed to show the world how much he loves his mom.”
About his parents, and then his and Ann’s family, he said:
My mom and dad gave their kids the greatest gift of all – the gift of unconditional love. They cared deeply about who we would BE, and much less about what we would DO.
Unconditional love is a gift that Ann and I have tried to pass on to our sons and now to our grandchildren. All the laws and legislation in the world will never heal this world like the loving hearts and arms of mothers and fathers. If every child could drift to sleep feeling wrapped in the love of their family--and God's love—this world would be a far more gentle and better place.
The line I highlighted lets us know, maybe more than anything, that this is not someone who believes in taking power to enforce government on minions.  This line, about connecting with his church and community, also tells us he understands how thriving civilization happens:
And that's how it is in America. We look to our communities, our faiths, our families for our joy, our support, in good times and bad. It is both how we live our lives and why we live our lives. The strength and power and goodness of America has always been based on the strength and power and goodness of our communities, our families, our faiths.
A look at Romney’s business record is an example for the world of free enterprise at its best. He told a little of the Bain story—and having it come after the “evil vulture capitalist” claim was revealed as a lie made it clear his success was real success. And that allowed him to say this:
These are American success stories. And yet the centerpiece of the President's entire re-election campaign is attacking success. Is it any wonder that someone who attacks success has led the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression? In America, we celebrate success, we don't apologize for it.
We know he understands and believes in the free enterprise system when he follows his story with this:
It's the genius of the American free enterprise system – to harness the extraordinary creativity and talent and industry of the American people with a system that is dedicated to creating tomorrow's prosperity rather than trying to redistribute today's.
That is why every president since the Great Depression who came before the American people asking for a second term could look back at the last four years and say with satisfaction: "you are better off today than you were four years ago."
Except Jimmy Carter. And except this president.
He didn’t have to be personally negative about President Obama; that would have seemed gratuitous piling on when it is clear to everyone—everyone—that he has failed to provide financial success, American freedom, and social thriving. Obama has failed because he follows the rules that keep people in the southern hemisphere of tyranny. He is literally a tyrant, whether he has the personality of other worldwide tyrants or not. But it isn’t necessary to use that kind of term; all that is necessary is to point out that what we want—personal freedom, economic opportunity, and thriving civilization—can be reached on a path that claims government control is the answer.
This was one of my favorite lines, because what I want during this campaign is to see clearly the truth about the candidates. This shows the contrast:
President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. MY promise...is to help you and your family.
He doesn’t mean he will micromanage your family from Washington; he means he will set an example of a strong family—and how to Dad—but also will help by getting roadblocks out of the way so families can succeed through hard work and helping one another. Economically, things will get better. Freedom will improve with adherence to the Constitution:
That America, that united America, will uphold the constellation of rights that were endowed by our Creator, and codified in our Constitution.
That united America will care for the poor and the sick, will honor and respect the elderly, and will give a helping hand to those in need.
That America is the best within each of us. That America we want for our children.
This is an America we remember, if we’re old enough and from the right places (I am both). And now I feel free to hope we will return to thriving. Things are indeed looking up.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Not Just a Mom

Photo source here
One thing that cannot be assumed about Ann Romney is that she is “just a mom,” implying that she lacks something that could have allowed her more choices. What is really clear is that she is a phenomenal human being: smart, capable, kind, lovely, and particularly supportive of family members, whom she clearly loves.

She is also a survivor of MS and breast cancer. And not just a survivor, but one capable of going on the campaign trail, with all the intensity and interference with real life that that entails. If we have one evidence (and there are many) that Mitt Romney is a brilliant man who makes wise crucial decisions, it is that he chose Ann to marry, back when they were too young to know who they would eventually become. In fact, I think they have become who they are because they chose each other.
At some point I hope to be able to express—especially to women who don’t naturally understand this—that making the choice to stay at home and raise children is a career choice with possibly more benefits to society as a whole than any other career choice. There are many many ways women can contribute; women have the brains, the ideas, the abilities to do almost anything that doesn’t require simply sheer brute force (and even there, some women surpass many men). But when you look at this couple, more than forty years ago, talking it through together, deciding how their family would look, Ann’s volunteering to cover the childbearing and being home tasks must have been an incredible relief to him.
All of their five sons talk about how their dad was very involved in their upbringing—taking them when he did service, teaching them the value of priorities (like the story of losing an anchor, and he left his important guests to go out and dive for it with them, because he needed them to teach them to care for what they had as responsibilities). So it wasn’t so he could give Ann all the dirty work of child rearing. It was that he had in her a helpmeet—the very definition of Eve, when she was given to Adam. And she chose to be the helpmeet from home, because handling five boys without someone always present might have been riskier than they were willing to try. Finding the best way to accomplish something is the Romney way.
I loved her speech Tuesday night at the GOP convention. She said so much about the value of women, totally without the competitive man-hating so prevalent among “feminists.” She also told the human Romney story—as she has been doing all along for years, but this time with a somewhat more attentive and certainly larger audience.
She started out talking about love—love that everyone in the room was feeling together, combined with a love of our country, but also the specific love between Ann and Mitt and their family.
I have often said about Mitt Romney that I have known many men like him, successful, hardworking, and decent. He is not uncommon among Mormons, just more successful than most. Ann Romney is like many Mormon moms I have known—only more so. There was a story this week about media people finally being invited to their vacation home in New Hampshire. The media shows up, and Ann is doing the laundry. They are stunned. The narrative has been that these people are too rich and out of touch with the rest of America. But it also came out that they do their own grocery shopping—and they’re thrilled with the great bargains you can get at Costco.
This is exactly what I have seen. I know many well-off, if not wealthy, Mormons. Everyone does their own laundry and their own shopping. Here in Texas is the only place I’ve been where it is common for people to hire someone to do their lawns (not us—we still mow our own, but we’re not among the wealthy). I’m somewhat distantly acquainted with another very successful Mormon businessman and family, who also used to live in Belmont, Massachusetts, who have raised about as many kids as the Romneys, and the mom suffers MS. Yet I believe she still does her own laundry and shopping. Certainly her own cooking, which is somewhat legendary (as is Ann Romney’s—she ran a little cooking school at one time). I don’t think it ever occurred to them that you don’t do the household “work” just because you can afford help.
If you’re raising kids, and you have an abundance of money, does it help you raise better children if they see you hire help for all the menial tasks, or to do that in front of them and train them to do it? Depends on whether you want them to think they’re better than others and entitled to ease, or whether you want them to value hard work and valuing other people as equals. Could the Romneys have taught their children the best values if Ann had chosen some other career and then hired out the household tasks? Maybe, somehow. But we do know that they could do it the way they chose to do it.
This is not to say that it’s somehow wrong to hire help. It’s just to say that people have made assumptions about the Romneys because of their wealth that simply aren’t true. Their money, as Ann said, allowed them the opportunity to provide for their children’s educations, and opportunities for service. Here’s how she put it:
It allowed us to give our sons the chance at good educations and made all those long hours of book reports and homework worth every minute. It’s given us the deep satisfaction of being able to help others in ways that we could never have imagined. Mitt doesn’t like to talk about how he has helped others because he sees it as a privilege, not a political talking point. And we’re no different than the millions of Americans who quietly help their neighbors, their churches and their communities. They don’t do it so that others will think more of them.
I think we need to believe Ann when she tells us what she knows, as the person who knows Mitt Romney best:
This is the man America needs.
This is the man who will wake up every day with the determination to solve the problems that others say can’t be solved, to fix what others say is beyond repair. This is the man who will work harder than anyone so that we can work a little less hard.
I can’t tell you what will happen over the next four years. But I can only stand here tonight, as a wife, a mother, a grandmother, an American, and make you this solemn commitment:
This man will not fail.

If you didn’t hear the speech, treat yourself to the twenty minutes here:
 

 

 

 

Monday, August 27, 2012

One Giant Leap

Neil Armstrong, 1969
photo from Wikipedia
I was surprised by the news over the weekend of the death of 82-year-old Neil Armstrong, first man to walk on the moon. I hadn’t heard much about him in a long time—which turns out to be pretty much because of his personality and choices. He became very quiet in retirement, making few public appearances or speeches.

As one of the pieces I read noted, “His walk on the moon wasn’t a personal achievement per se, but an accomplishment for all of humanity.” He didn’t take the honor for himself; he was just the man with the assignment of being the human being to take the step made possible by the work of thousands of engineers, scientists, and workers who had worked over time and throughout this particular mission to make his step possible.
His words were brilliantly apt: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” (Or possibly “one small step for a man”; there’s debate about whether the “a” just wasn’t heard or remembered. Not important.) Of all the words that could have been spoken at that moment, those were so beautiful. We’re fortunate he wasn’t just some guy who said, “Huh, it’s kind of dry and colorless here,” or “Nice place for a visit, but I wouldn’t want to live here.”
He was respectful, humble, and reverent. And it appears his life following this moment showed him to embody those qualities, rather than to have just portrayed them for a brief important moment. There was a point at which he stopped signing autographs, because he learned that people were selling his signature for profit, and that seemed wrong. It wasn’t about him as hero or celebrity; it was about the historic accomplishment. He kept the moment sacred.
It’s said that those who saw the event will never forget it. Probably so. I’m of an age to verify that for myself. It was a Sunday. This particular Sunday, as almost never happens, we were dismissed early from services, right after the sacrament (communion), to go home and watch TV—because it was important for us to witness the historic event.
I had just turned eleven a few days before. It was a kind of magical summer; we had moved from a house we’d built when I was three, and until buying another home lived in a house my grandparents had built and normally rented out. There was a creek going through the yard, and horses in the field behind. We did some great exploring that summer. We drove to our regular church, not knowing where we would be moving (we ended up moving back to the same neighborhood a few months later), so it was a good half-hour drive, instead of a walk up the street. That may have made the dismissal to go home to our TVs seem even larger.
We had a small black-and-white TV, with a dial to turn to the three available commercial stations—all of which showed the event simultaneously. There were some simulations showing us what was going on, but the actual moon landing was viewed from a camera set up on the lunar module to chronicle the event. It was a fuzzy image, at least on our TV. The astronauts looked kind of ghost-like. At the age I was, it probably wouldn’t have held my interest without the historic meaning everyone placed on it. In grade school back in those days, if there was a NASA launch, we got to bring in a TV to the classroom and cluster around it to watch; it was always a big deal. But this one was more so. I’m glad, after all these decades, that the adults around made it seem significant, because I do indeed remember seeing the images and hearing the words.
It was indeed a giant leap for mankind; history up until July 20, 1969, landing on the moon had been only real in imagination. From that point on it was part of our history.
I don’t know what is in store for our future, but as mankind, and as a country, I don’t think we’re done with greatness yet. My thanks to Neil Armstrong, who was such a good example. Even in death, he reminds us of that magnificent culmination of efforts for mankind. We can always use more heroes who embody respect, humility, and reverence.
Here's a video of the event--worth seeing again: 


Friday, August 24, 2012

Welfare with Dignity


This past week, by illegal (in my opinion) executive order, the president gutted the welfare reform passed in the 1990s and signed (and taken credit for) by Bill Clinton, removing the requirement of working or showing effort to find work. The president wants it to be a pure handout, an entitlement, separated from the idea of work.
I don’t know his motivations precisely, but I do know this about human nature: work brings dignity. Working for wealth is more meaningful to the human soul than a free handout, particularly an expected one received without gratitude. A handout with no strings attached is a disincentive to work—and the result is a depressive effect on the soul, turning an otherwise productive human being into a mere parasite.
Rather than deal with the numbers on and off welfare during this current depression, I’d like to look at an exemplary private program, begun 76 years ago during the last Great Depression. This is the welfare program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons. The program was highlighted last night in a segment of Rock Center with Brian Williams.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy
 
According to the Church’s website,
The objective of the welfare program is to care for the needy while teaching principles that will help people become self-reliant and retain their self-respect.
That’s the “teach a man to fish” principle, so he can eat for a lifetime, as opposed to the “give a man a fish” strategy, where he eats just for a day.
How does the Church do what it does? By living the principles of civilization: donating time, money, and caring. Every month a Sunday is dedicated to fasting—skipping two meals. The cost of these two meals is donated—above and separate from tithing—as fast offerings. In other words, actual food is given up, voluntarily, to provide food and other needs for the poor. It may be easier for rich people to give up the cost of two meals (and some are much more generous, because they can afford to be), but it helps the soul to feel the hunger for the sacrifice. No one asks or checks up to see who is hungry (and people with health reasons for not fasting, such as diabetics or pregnant moms, are not expected to), and while records are kept for tax deduction purposes, no one is forced or expected to pay any specific amount. There is value in generosity by choice that simply can’t be there with coercion.
The Church’s welfare program has been visited as an example by presidential administrations and other visitors for many decades. It’s kind of mind-boggling. The stores of food and supplies are used worldwide, and are distributed to storehouses around the world. We have one in Houston.
Besides the storehouses, there are also production facilities. Where I grew up, we had fruit farms; that was true when we lived in Washington State as well. My husband grew up in an area with a tuna canning facility (not still in use). Here in Houston we have a peanut butter cannery. [The facilities and equipment were upgraded last year; I wrote about it here. The cannery is also used in a joint project with the Houston Food Bank, to produce about 100,000 jars that go directly into the hands of local families in need.]
There was a month, during graduate school, when a summer internship fell through. I was working part-time, but until a job in his field materialized, we were in dire straits, with a small baby. We had counted on the summer money to get us through not only the summer, but the coming school year. We turned to the local bishop, the lay pastor of the congregation. He got us what we needed. The Relief Society president, the leader of the women’s auxiliary, came and met with me and filled out a “shopping list,” food and supplies we would receive without cost. This included cloth diapers, which I was used to using but needed more of. (Today I think disposable diapers are more likely to be on the list.) Most of the food was produced by voluntary labor of church members, and then some products were purchased by the Church, but not by us.
In exchange, we served where we could. Mr. Spherical Model got assignments on various Saturdays to work, along with some youth and other leaders, on the pig farm an hour away that produced pork products for the storehouse. It was messy, filthy work—that makes me appreciate farmers who do the work all the time. They mucked out barns. They separated the pigs from the bores. They identified the ones due for, uh, removal of reproductive organs. The volunteers didn’t have to perform that surgery, just helped the full-time workers.
It was a hot Indiana summer (90 degrees and 90% humidity that we called 90/90 days), and we had no air conditioning in our little car. There was a traffic stall on the way home from one of these assignments, and Mr. Spherical Model and his cohorts had to spend an extra hour sitting in the heat, smelling one another. Fortunately we had vinyl upholstery, but it took a lot of cleaning and a long time to get the odor out. I refused to let Mr. Spherical Model into our apartment with those filthy clothes. I made him drop all but underwear in the hallway, which I then carried quickly to the laundromat in the next building over. (Fortunately, at that time no one lived in the apartment across the hall, so no indecent exposure took place.)
It was honest labor. If we had not taken the assignment, someone else would have, whether they had received storehouse help or not. Serving is what Mormons do.
We were fortunate that summer work in the department came through, and we had only that single month as receivers of help. But many people are not so fortunate. As with the rest of the population, Mormons are suffering high unemployment today in rates similar to the rest of the population. The Church has an employment specialist in every congregation, to help individuals with their resumes, to practice interview skills, and other employment help. In addition, there is online help, also employment centers—available not just to Mormons, but to anyone in need. It’s helpful that, during these times of extended crisis, there are opportunities to serve—to feel the dignity of being useful—while also gaining work experience.
There’s an anecdote from To Kill a Mockingbird, that I wrote about in one of my first blog posts, that talks about real charity:
The young girl, Scout, learns how her father, Atticus, has helped someone too poor to pay for legal help Scout’s father had done. The man feels his debt, and periodically brings stove wood (because he can’t pay with money, since he doesn’t have enough). And eventually both Scout’s father and the man will know that the debt has been duly paid.
I say it was still charity, in the good sense. Atticus Finch did his work as a lawyer, knowing the client had no money but had a need. He could have gotten stove wood for himself. But he allowed the repayment as a kindness, to show he respected the man’s willingness to work, to show the man wasn’t demanding help he couldn’t pay for. Their good will toward one another is charity (caring), in both directions.
The Rock Center story referenced above says that 600,0000 orders a year are distributed through storehouses, and in addition funds are made available to local leaders, for purchasing goods where storehouses aren’t in close proximity. Additionally, worldwide humanitarian aid is given as disaster relief, as well as long-term help. (Information here). As a hurricane starts threatening the US coastline, trailer trucks full of relief supplies are filled and sent out on the road to be in place in the first hours after the storm—often before either Red Cross or government help arrives. All donations to LDS Humanitarian Aid go 100% to the people in need. Most help is volunteer, but where there is overhead, it is paid for through tithing donations so that no aid donations go to overhead costs.
When people assume that government must supply an economic safety net, I don’t argue that such a net should exist; but I know, because I’ve seen the example, that it can be provided better by private volunteer charity than by government redistribution. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Dave Built That


This past Saturday at the local Cypress Texas Tea Party meeting, after our speaker, time was opened up for general discussion, as usual. A man stood up and told his story. His name is Dave; I didn’t catch the last name. I hope he doesn’t mind my sharing his story here, but it was the kind of story that was beautifully told and ought to be shared again.
Dave is Hispanic (in America since childhood and possibly all his life; he’s a voting citizen). He grew up poor, the oldest of seven children. He worked through his teenage and college years as a migrant farm worker, along with his family, in Michigan. It was in Detroit that he attended school. The migrant farm worker season ran six weeks into the school year, so every year he started school late and had to catch up. And going to school required getting permission from his father; he proved he wanted the education, and he worked hard. Through college, he had to get his father to let him use the money he earned toward his education, instead of toward the support of the family.
Dave wanted to study architecture, and the local college didn’t have a good architectural program, but he got accepted to Texas A&M, which is how he ended up in Texas. He worked his way through, what he considered part-time, which was 40 hours a week (a lot less than the “full-time” work he was used to).
Out of college he got a job with Fluor Daniel, building chemical plants around the world. It was a good job, and he got a lot of good experience. But he had always dreamed of owning his own business. So twenty-one years ago (I think he’d said this was after a couple of decades working for Fluor, but I’m not sure), he left the security of the income, took the risk of putting everything he had into an architectural engineering company, and over time they have been blessed with success.
Then, a few weeks ago he heard President Obama say, “You didn’t build that.” And that made him mad. What part of all that sacrifice should he not get credit for? That was why he decided to come to our Tea Party meeting, to find out what he can do.
Dave has always been conservative. But he knows plenty of Hispanics who aren’t. He talks with them, but many of them don’t even think about their vote. He says when he asks them whether or not they pay taxes—the ones who don’t, the ones who instead receive handouts from government, they’re a lot more likely to vote Democrat. Some just vote Democrat because that’s what everyone around them does; they don’t even know why.
I’d like an answer to Dave’s question: what can we do? As a small, independent Tea Party group, we do several things. We educate one another, on candidates, on issues, on how government works. We meet with candidates and hear speakers from organizations (Saturday’s was from Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, which follows legislation related to taxes and budgets, and helps keep people informed). We share articles with each other, with an email group and a Facebook page. During the state legislative session, we follow legislation on issues that are important to people in our group, and we meet with legislators and/or their staff to let them know our opinions—and we thank them when they vote the way we like. We don’t as a group endorse candidates, but individually we do, and we share that information. Many of us have worked for free and fair elections with True the Vote, as poll workers and poll watchers, and verifying voter information.
I don’t know if participating in our group is enough; it’s a start. But with Dave’s connections to the Hispanic community, I’d like to know ways we could spread our message there. We, as conservatives, have a lot more in common with the values of Hispanics than liberals do. We believe in hard work, strong families, personal responsibility, and getting government out of the way—lower taxes, less unnecessary regulation. We are pro-small business. We’re a lot more likely to say, “Yes, go ahead and build that,” than, “You can’t take credit for that; government made that happen.” And when people are in need, we’re a lot more likely to give personally, through a church or local charity, so our giving doesn’t have to filter through government hands. I think if people in the Hispanic community knew us and knew our message, they’d find themselves comfortably welcome.
Are there better ways, maybe untried ways, to share the conservative message with Hispanic voters? I imagine there are, but I don’t yet know what those avenues will be. For now, we depend on Dave and people like him to keep telling their stories. Yes, life might be tough, but it’s not hopeless. If we can just keep government out of the way, we can work hard and build that dream here in America.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Lost Majority Part III: Prognostications

If you’re going to delve deep into voting data, you kind of expect that you’ll some hint about what’s going to happen in the future. However, while the data from past elections may be exact, predictions are still dependent on whether or not the data, combined with everything you can know about people’s reasons for their votes, can still be something like meteorology: we look up the forecast, but we’re not surprised when it’s wrong.

Sean Trende’s book, The Lost Majority, isn’t a predictor about the upcoming election; it is a discussion of what has happened, with just a few basic themes:
·        There’s no such thing as a permanent majority—and Obama’s election was certainly not an indicator of a permanent progressive majority.

·        Emerging majorities described by overexcited commentators on both sides are wrong; neither party is headed toward extinction or marginalization.

·        The very idea of cyclical long-term direction changes is a wrong reading of history, which shows alternating victories by either party as more normal than exceptional.
So, his point that 2008 did not indicate a mandate for transformation to “progressive,” rather than “constitutional” government , is encouraging—and was borne out by the outcry against such an assumption in 2010. But the book was written too early (by early 2011, well before a GOP candidate was known) to say anything certain about November 2012.
But there are some pieces of information that can be useful. Much of today we’ll be looking at the limits of Obama’s narrow but deep coalition.
Obama’s coalition consists of:
·         Minorities: blacks, Hispanics, Asians
·         Labor unions
·         Youth (18-29-year-old voters)
·         Welfare recipients
That wasn’t enough to elect him in 2008. That year he received support from many disgruntled Republicans and independents who liked the idea of voting for a black and having racism forever off the table as an issue, many of whom were unhappy with the length of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the suddenly collapsing housing, automobile, and banking industries. They were willing to trust that someone who offered “hope” and “change” meant something remotely close to what they hoped would change.
What we can surmise from current polling data, if we can’t yet guess outcomes, is that essentially no one who voted for McCain in 2008 will vote for Obama in 2012. The question is simply, will Obama maintain enough support from his base to be reelected? He received (conflicting reports of) 90-97% of the black vote in 2008. If he loses 8% of that vote, either from changing their vote to the opponent or staying away (and they had turned out in unprecedented numbers in 2008), that could make a critical difference.
He also had the youth vote that lacks enthusiasm this time. I don’t know the numbers, but the insupportably high unemployment rate for young people, including college graduates returning home to live with parents, is going to have a dampening effect.
Unions still support Obama, but the actual workers, what you might refer to as white non-college educated, didn’t go strongly for Obama even in the primary, and became to him “bitter clingers,” were written off before election, so he’s not getting them back after four years of sustained high unemployment. He still retains a fairly strong following among whites with post-graduate degrees (the elites who assume they will be part of the ruling class), but support for him has collapsed among college-educated whites.
Stanley Kurtz has been talking about Obama’s attacks on this group in a recent book (Spreading the Wealth: How Obama is Robbing the Suburbs to Pay for the Cities), and articles about the attempts to transfer wealth from suburbs to urban areas, which Obama believe is the more moral, authentic place to live. In other words, if you’re a middle-class family person who lives in a house, Obama has written you off.
Hispanics are an interesting demographic for prognosticators. There’s an assumption that, as the Hispanic population grows, support for Democrats grows with it. And while it’s true that Hispanics do lean Democrat, as they integrate into American culture and move into the middle class, they become more conservative. Here is Trende’s summary:
But what of Latinos? If they vote like African Americans, it seems that Republicans would be in very deep demographic trouble. However, if they vote like Anglos, it suggests that as more and more Latinos become wealthier and, presumably, more conservative, they will also become more Republican (see figure 8.7).

            As it turns out, the Latino vote looks a lot more like the non-Hispanic white vote than the African American vote. Latino voters in each group are roughly 10 points more Democratic than white voters, while Latino conservatives are about 50 points more Republican than conservative African Americans. The critical distinction is that there are more Latino liberals than there are white liberals and fewer conservatives (pp. 146-147).

So the question is still out there about the effect of a growing Hispanic population. But here in Texas, on the ground, in Tea Party meetings and political conventions, Hispanics have a very strong and very welcome presence. I know this is anecdotal evidence only, but I still believe it’s just a matter of speaking the message of lower taxes, greater opportunity, and freedom, supported by strong religion and personal responsibility. The message resonates.
Many Hispanics vote Democrat for the same reason as many other Democrats: their parents did, their friends do. They haven’t even thought through ideological reasons; they just do what is expected. If they can be led to think it through, they are very likely to recognize how much the conservative message resonates with their personal values of hard work, strong families, and a desire to improve life for themselves and the next generation.
Obama has made some assumptions about keeping retirees, but he’s been losing that argument in Florida, where retired whites in overwhelming numbers are abandoning the president who “borrowed” $700 Billion from Medicare to fund an extremely unpopular government medical takeover.
He has claimed the women’s vote, and tried to frame that as a GOP war on women, but since there’s no such war, sometimes the arguments just look silly (remember Stephanopoulos’s debate question out of the blue on limiting birth control?) This question comes down to women looking completely incapable of paying for basic care that is available and affordable, up against major religions standing strong for their right not to be forced to fund behaviors against their religious tenants. The only way Obama keeps the female vote is by assuming women are totally reliant on government, and are non-religious—and against living in suburban homes with their families. I wouldn’t count on that. He will probably keep single, post-graduate-educated women and poor non-taxpaying single-mothers.
So he has written off whites, except for a portion of elites and the non-taxpaying largesse recipients. His enthusiastic youth vote (much of which was combined with temporary increase in minority voters) has been deflated. His minority support, while still strong, is less enthusiastic and less monolithic.
As Trende says, “There is nothing inherently wrong with a narrow, deep coalition….  But the real threat with a narrow, deep coalition is that there is not much room for error. The party cannot afford for another portion of the coalition to become dissatisfied with the direction it is taking” (p. 105).
In order to win, he must win all major urban areas—with enough leeway to overcome opposing votes in the non-urban areas in many states. There’s still reason for concern, but it doesn’t look likely. And we have the advantage of a very capable, very appealing alternative.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Lost Majority Part II: Political Leanings


Part I about Sean Trende's book The Lost Majority, is here, called "Future Up for Grabs."
To talk about some of the technical data behind recent elections, it will help to know some terminology.
Partisan Voting Index (PVI): This is the term referring to an area’s “lean” toward one party or another. Sean Trende uses the term throughout his book The Lost Majority. He says, “When the book refers to the “lean” of a state, county, or demographic group, it is referring to the PVI. In other words, a state or county that is said to “regularly lean Democrat” in a given set of years is one that regularly has a Democratic PVI.” There will be a number attached. D+6.7, for example, would mean that the designated area voted 6.7 percentage points more Democratic than the nation as a whole.
DW-NOMINATE: This is a term used for measuring the ideology of a legislator. Trende quotes Jay Cost’s description: “DW-Nominate is a very complex methodology that produces a very simple result. Legislators are given an ideological score that ranges from -1.0 to 1.0—with -1.0 being extremely liberal, 0.0 being moderate, and 1.0 being extremely conservative (p. xxx).” The range isn’t usually at the extremes. Trende says that 3.0, for example, is considered quite conservative. Hardly anyone scores beyond 0.5 or -0.5, so that’s where you might find the most extreme legislators. Scores are relative; that is, they are in comparison to other legislators in the same congress, not comparing to particular stands on particular issues.
So, with these two concepts in mind, it might be helpful to look at what went on in 2008 and 2010. This is from the introduction (p. xix):
Democrats who celebrated electing arguably the most liberal president in American history in 2008 frequently overlooked that Barack Obama was running amid two unpopular wars, a nasty recession, and a full-blown financial panic that was consuming 401(k)s and housing equity—not to mention that his opponent was a disorganized, gaffe-prone candidate. In a year when political science models suggested double-digit Democratic wins, and when every conceivable intangible suggested that the Democratic wins should be on the high side of those models’ error margins, Obama won by only seven points and was actually trailing in the polls after the convention season closed. As the Democratic Party enjoyed more success, its elites had pulled it leftward, and in doing so had exposed their right flank. The leftward shift didn’t exact immediately obvious costs in 2008, but the price was steep in 2010.
Trende goes into more detail on this situation in the middle of the book. While Clinton’s coalition had been broad, had been able to turn back some of the coalition components that had turned Republican with the Eisenhower coalition, Obama lost back those areas. Obama’s coalition was “narrow but deep.” And none of it was new. Very little PVI change came with Obama’s election:
Between 2004 and 2008, only three states saw their partisan lean, or PVI, switch. Colorado had leaned one point toward the Republicans in 2004; it leaned one-quarter of one point toward the Democrats in 2008. Nevada had leaned six-hundredths of a point toward Republicans in 2004; it leaned two points toward the Democrats in 2008. And Ohio had leaned two-tenths of a point toward the Democrats in 2004; it leaned two points toward the Republicans in 2008. Only seven states saw their PVI shift more than five points in either direction: Hawaii moved 13 points toward Obama, while Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Alaska, and West Virginia all moved toward the Republicans. If realignments do exist, this was not it. It did not resemble 1932, when Roosevelt completely remade the political map and 16 states leaned in a different direction than they had in 1928. Nor was it like 1952, when 13 states changed their partisan orientation. To put it differently, the average change in PVI from 1928 to 1932 was eight points, and from 1948 to 1952 it was six points. From 2004 to 2008 it was three (p. 92).
To summarize, in a year when Obama had supposedly remade the map, only three states switched their lean, and one of those was toward the GOP. Of the seven states that made a significant PVI shift, only one shifted toward Obama; the other six shifted toward the GOP—in the year of Obama’s “historic” win.
According to Trende, when a change of direction happens, it’s going to happen where the differences were small to begin with. And those areas, the ones most recently changed, are also the most vulnerable to being changed back. There was a fair amount of moving into typical GOP territory in 2006, and some more in 2008. Unless the direction of the country actually trended more liberal (and signs are that it didn’t), then those areas were ripe in 2010 to turn back. As Trende explains:
[W]henever a party occupies a large number of seats in the House, especially when a large percentage of those seats are occupied by freshmen and sophomores, that party is probably going to suffer in the subsequent elections. The reason is simple: as a party picks up more seats, it pushes further into marginal territory. If it picks up a huge number of seats, as Democrats had done in 2006 and 2008, it by definition extends itself into hostile territory. These members are therefore vulnerable, and the party is set up for losses (pp. 172-173).
Democrats, by gerrymandering to protect some particular urban areas from ever going Republican, have allowed for more districts to lean GOP than Democrat:
Due to gerrymandering and Democratic packing of minorities and liberals into a handful of overwhelmingly Democratic districts, the median district in the United States leans toward the Republicans by a few points. Put differently, the most Republican district in the nation leans Republican by 29 points. Democrats have created 25 districts—almost 15 percent of their caucus—that are more heavily Democratic than this. That means that Democrats cannot win a House majority without capturing a substantial number of seats that naturally favor Republicans. In 2010, Democrats occupied 73 seats that leaned toward Republicans. As expected, many of these seats were, in fact, occupied by newly elected members of Congress, who had picked up swing seats in the 2006 and 2008 elections. This is also where Democratic losses were concentrated (p. 173).
While the need for Democrats to appeal to Republicans is greater, the response by Democratic leadership is instead more polarized. Here’s where the DW-NOMINATE term comes in:
Perhaps most important, the Democratic leadership in Congress represented some of the most liberal districts in the country. This put a distinctly liberal imprint on legislation. Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s district leans 35 points toward the Democrats, while the chairmen of the critical districts charged with developing domestic policy—Appropriations, Education and the Workforce, Energy and Commerce, Financial Services, Judiciary, Rules, and Ways and Means—reported back to districts that leaned on average 21 points toward the Democrats. They share an average DW-NOMINATE score of -.552, substantially to the left of even this historically liberal Democratic caucus. With these members responsible for crafting most legislation, it was highly unlikely that a centrist agenda would emerge.
            Virtually every assumption regarding the nature of the Democratic Party that had given rise to the Clinton coalition was eroded in 2009 and 2010 (p. 126).  

What I’d like to say is that there is no way on earth that the Democrats can win the presidency with this incumbent, under current circumstances. Trende doesn’t go that far. But there is more data to look at, to help us in our speculation on what can happen, depending on various ifs and thens. So we’ll need a Part III for prognostication.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Future Up for Grabs


I recently read Sean Trende’s book The Lost Majority: Why the Future of Government Is Up for Grabs—and WhoWill Take It. Trende is the senior elections analyst at RealClearPolitics.com, and I look forward to reading his pieces every time I find them.
The book was a challenge for me. I’ve mentioned before I am not a strategist. My son Political Sphere recommended the book, and had a great time reading it, and a tough time waiting for me to get through to discuss it. I marked and typed up a lot of notes and quotes, and PS told me I’d probably get a month’s worth of blog posts out of this. But, there’s so much here, and I’m not schooled in adequately explaining the strategy. So, there will be more than this post, but I’m not sure how much I can portion out without saying, “Just go read the book.”
Trende is a data guy, and he delves deep into data, including some pretty old historical data that you’re not likely to read about in basic history texts. His main thesis in the book is that the whole idea of political cycles of 32 or 36 years (or any other arbitrary number) is false—more a matter of trying to get data to fit a formula rather than getting the formula from the data. So, if you have that in mind from whatever poli-sci class you took in college, he debunks that. (I had no such handicap; never took a poli-sci class, because I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that politics is a science.) He also argues that there are no permanent majorities.
I would like to say Trende has prognosticated in favor of my inclinations for the upcoming election. He finished writing this in early 2011, so a lot was yet unknown about this presidential campaign. So there are a lot of ifs involved. But he does cover quite a lot about the differences between 2008 and 2010.
Much of every election (ever recorded) Trende covers county by county to measure changes. And then he delves into reasons, the narrative behind the data. All of that together can get fascinating. Trende’s theory is that Reagan didn’t start a new coalition; he continued the one begun in the 1950s with Eisenhower, and that such a coalition for so many years is rare. The specifics show which constituencies joined together—constitutionalists, conservatives (in the broader sense of wanting to retain the status quo on particular issues), populists (constituencies who vote according to specific issues or groups), and geographical parts of the country. And that coalition more or less lasted until Clinton in 1992. Clinton's new coalition was formed mostly by power of personality; he was able to persuade disparate groups to hang together—iincluding more conservative constituencies when he saw the writing on the wall and took up welfare reform, the Defense of Marriage Act, and free trade, taking those things off the table for the GOP.
Clinton’s moderately centrist (in practice) coalition hung on through the Bush years; Bush was more centrist than much of the Reagan GOP would have liked, but that centrism was viewed as necessary to win elections while the Clinton coalition was prevalent. The House and Senate takeover by the Democrats in 2006 was more an assertion of the continuing Clinton coalition than a new direction. But a “coalition of everyone” is tentative at best. It pulls from areas that don’t normally lean that direction, so they tend to revert pretty regularly.
There’s a map on page 199, comparing counties where each of the two parties won at least once, from 2002 and 2010; Trende has provided similar maps on previous pages for various time frames. And then he makes this observation:
The Democrats compete everywhere, while the Republicans win everywhere but the Deep South (and even win there a few times). This is what the world looks like when parties compete, and this is “typical” American history. The oscillations of the past few election cycles are not flukes; they are normal. It is the period between 1950 and 1980 that is the fluke.
In the conclusion of the book, he talks about the problems facing an Obama reelection; his coalition is much narrower than Clinton’s was. This assessment (pp. 201-202) is enlightening:
To many, Obama is still the avatar of hope and change that he was in late 2008, the Republicans are too marginalized to win, and the Democrats have a powerful, dominant majority in the offing.  
Needless to say, these analysts are living in the past. As we’ve seen, it is not 2008 anymore. Obama’s coalition—borrowed from Bill Clinton—is in deep trouble. As president, Obama has done very little to expand his appeal past the voters who cast ballots for him in 2008; the transformational president who hoped for a new, broad majority has instead seen the Democratic coalition narrow. His approval ratings have been mired between 45 percent and 51 percent—they have fallen between those numbers on 95 percent of the days Gallup has polled since the beginning of 2010.
            Even these tepid ratings demonstrate the depth and narrowness of his coalition. His approval rating for March 2011 was 47 percent. But it was a paltry 39 percent among whites. To put this in perspective, when Bill Clinton hit a similar 34 percent approval rating among whites in June 1993, his overall approval rating was 37 percent. The difference is that Obama maintains an 85 percent approval rating among African Americans, while Clinton’s approval among that group had fallen to 61 percent in 1993. Again, this is not to say that black votes don’t count equally. It is just to observe that Obama’s approval rating owes to his unusual strength among core Democratic groups, rather than to his broad appeal.
            This presents a problem for the president going into 2012. A 51 percent approval rating—the high end of Obama’s range—is typically enough to get a president reelected. But it does not leave much room for error. And the concentration of pro-Obama voters among core Democratic constituencies poses a unique set of problems. Minority voters tend to be concentrated in a few congressional districts and even in particular states. Many of these states, such as Mississippi, have heavily racialized voting patterns, where even unanimous approval ratings among African Americans would not be enough for Obama to overcome white opposition. To put it differently, 14 states have larger minority populations than the United States as a whole, and only three of these could really be considered “swing states”: New Mexico, Nevada, and Florida. In other words, if you could challenge state lines under the Voting Rights Act, there would be one heck of a vote dilution claim.
Do you know what PVI is? The extent of leaning toward one party or another (partisan voting index)? It’s a technical term I’m just learning, but I think understanding PVI is going to give us a better understanding about who believes what, and in what areas of the country. What we saw in 2008 wasn’t what we were told we saw, and that makes a difference in the future..

Monday, August 13, 2012

Romney-Ryan 2012

Romney announce Paul Ryan as VP pick
photo: Mary Altaffer/AP:
My heart is lighter today at the prospects for our beloved country’s future.

We were wrong (as most were) on who Romney would pick as a running mate, but not disappointed. My biggest concern about Paul Ryan as a possibility was, how will we replace him in Congress on the budget committee? But I believe we can deal with that.

What I see is a very articulate, remarkably positive representative of our constitutional rights. One of the most encouraging reports I read concerned how similar Ryan is to the kind of people Romney surrounded himself with at Bain: very smart, well-educated, detail oriented and strong on data, and scrupulously honest. He expected a lot from the few worthy of hiring. It wasn’t about some good old boy network, chatting up deals on a golf course; the Bain way is thorough, logical, and sensible. Unprepared employees were much more likely to feel a Bain chill than an underperforming company.
Ryan is smart, data oriented, and fascinated by policy as it relates to the Constitution and free-market principles. That is also true of Romney. If you actually read or listen to his speeches, consistently Romney focuses on positive free-market principles. He has had the disadvantage of trying, as something of a data wonk, to explain the principles to liberals in Massachusetts, and then have each tiny phrase taken out of context by opponents trying to paint him as moderate-to-liberal. Ryan is a good fit for VP because he is so very much like Romney; he is not going to pull a different direction or concern himself with his own agenda. They have the same agenda.
Romney’s ticket benefits because, when people hear Ryan, they hear the policy message connected to the underlying principles of freedom—much less filtered thus far by opponents and the media-in-their-pocket. Romney and Ryan say the same words, and suddenly the message gets through the fog.
The two of them are possibly also the most scandal-free pair to run for office in living memory. Both are faithful family men, both devoted to their religions. They surround themselves with similar sterling people. As Biden says (but, as is usual for him, unaware of the irony), it is "a clear choice the voters face this Noveber."
Romney has possibly the best preparatory experience to be president of any candidate in my lifetime. Ryan has good experience, and the right methods for learning that, if needed, even at his young age, he could step in as president. Certainly without a day of on-the-job training, he could handle the job better than the current underprepared chief executive. But think how much preparation he will have after eight years of being mentored in executive skill by a President Romney.
The enemy is rallying; the method will be that Ryan’s budget was all about cutting Medicare and starving seniors—despite the $700 Billion Obama cut from Medicare as part of Obamacare. Here is the basic info you need to know to fend off the media distortions (coming from American EnterpriseInstitute):
1. No one over the age of 55 would be affected in any way.
2. Traditional Medicare fee-for-service would remain available for all. “Premium support”—that is, government funding of private insurance plans chosen by individuals—is an option for those who choose it. No senior would be forced out of the traditional Medicare program against his will.
3. Overall funding for Medicare under the Ryan-Wyden plan is scheduled to grow at the same rate as under President Obama’s proposals. Is this “gutting Medicare” and “ending Medicare as we know it”? In reality, it’s the market giving seniors cheaper, higher quality choices they can take if they wish, with the traditional program remaining an option.
Romney, of course, has his own plan. It’s been out there for a year. He keeps paring down the message to make it more accessible, but the media continues to insist he has been vague and has no plan. While there are differences, in principle these two understand one another. Ryan has been an advisor, as well as a surrogate, to Romney.
If you like smart, logical, fact-supported and principle-based leadership, it’s hard to dream up a better pair. An amusing, brief summary of “20 Reasons Why Ryan Was a Good VP Pick” is a good read.
A day or two before the announcement, I came across this video of Ryan, speaking before the vote on Obamacare. It says in under two minutes what this election is about: the direction of America. Enjoy. And then find a way to support the campaign.


Friday, August 10, 2012

Economics of Outsourcing

Let’s say that you’re a parent with school-age children, in an area with very poor schools. Outcomes look bleak for your children. Even if they’re smart and hard working, there’s a lot of chaos in the classrooms, and teachers at this neighborhood school have apparently given up trying. Your choices boil down to settling for an unacceptably inferior education for your children or finding an alternative to the neighborhood school.

If you were to remain in your community for all time, including many future generations, and the education of your children only needs to compare and compete with others stuck in the same circumstance, then you might not worry much about it. But, if you don’t live in an isolated village with no contact with the outside world, then you probably don’t want to be stuck with your school.
Suppose you choose an alternative. You pay for a private school, homeschool, or move to an area with better neighborhood schools.
You have just outsourced your children’s education. Instead of hiring the local educators at hand, you hire someone else outside the local public school system. Do you feel guilty about it? Probably not. Your priority is getting the best education you can for your children; it is not making sure local teachers stay employed regardless of value. The very idea of calling this outsourcing seems ridiculous.
Let’s look at a company, a corporation, that makes a product it sells in a worldwide market. Suppose the place where the company resides raises corporate tax rates and insists on hiring local union workers at a pay scale above the market rate. The company’s priority is to make a product or service that they can sell for a profit. They may or may not be additionally interested in employing particular individuals, or contributing to the community in which they reside. But those things can’t be their main purpose, because if they don’t make a product or service they can sell for a profit, then they can’t contribute in those other ways, regardless of intentions.
If the corporate tax rates are too high in one place, the corporation will go do business where the tax isn’t so punishing. They’ll go to a place where they can best meet their purpose of making a product they can sell for a profit. Their market is worldwide. As far as they’re concerned their employment base is also worldwide. If employees are too expensive in one place, they’ll hire people who can do the job with adequate quality at a rate that better allows for profit. If the tax is too high to do business in one location, they’ll go do business in another location.
The corporation isn’t thinking of this as outsourcing; the corporation is thinking about the best way to meet its purpose—just as you thought about going wherever you needed to for you children’s education. Going where taxes are lower and employees are more affordable isn’t a matter of lack of loyalty; it’s a matter of sensibly doing business.
When a government assumes it is against the rules for a business to move elsewhere rather than suffer confiscation of its profits, that government isn’t being sensible. If you tax businesses higher rates, you will be left with only those businesses that are least able to escape—just as a failing school system would be left with the students whose parents are least mobile and flexible.
A piece in Harvard Business Review this week, called “A Better Way to Tax US Businesses,” by Mihir A. Desai, discusses business tax reform and what good reform would entail. It’s more complex than I can summarize here, but even without being an economist, I can understand that, if you make it more expensive to do business in one place, those who can do business elsewhere will go do that. Here are a couple of paragraphs that give the essence of the article:
The worst of all worlds—high rates and a narrow base. In 1986, the year of the last significant tax reform, the U.S. corporate tax rate was lower than that of most developed countries. Today the top U.S. corporate rate of 35% is one of the world’s highest. During the intervening years, America’s global economic importance decreased—a sometimes unsettling artifact of welcome growth in the developing world. As the importance of doing business in the United States has shrunk, the relative cost has risen rapidly.
Because capital is mobile, high tax rates divert investment away from the U.S. corporate sector and toward housing, noncorporate business sectors, and foreign countries. American workers need that capital to become more productive. When it’s invested elsewhere, real wages decline, and if product prices are set globally, there is no place for the corporate tax to land but straight on the back of the least-mobile factor in this setting: the American worker. The flow of capital out of the United States only accelerates as opportunities in the rest of the world increase. This is the key to understanding why, despite political rhetoric to the contrary, reforming the corporate tax is central to improving the position of the American worker.
His point that the way to benefit the American worker is to reform corporate tax is significant. The very ones who say, “Those evil corporations; they’re giving our jobs to foreign workers, and taking our taxes offshore,” are the very ones making it necessary for those corporations to do their global business elsewhere.
Where the federal-caused problem can be mitigated, mobilization happens between states. Where tax rates and other factors set up a business-friendly environment, unemployment is lower and the economy as a whole benefits. That’s why so many businesses leave states like California and move to states like Texas. The evidence is there to prove the theory at the interstate level. Now we need to change federal policy to make the US again the place to do business.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Our Sikh Neighbors

There was a tragic shooting, the murder of six people, this past weekend at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. The shooter was killed by quick-responding police, so we don’t know his motives. But it has come out that he was less than honorably discharged from the military over a decade ago, and was a member in a white supremacist group. We can probably assume mental illness in the general sense, because no one in their right mind sets out to kill innocent people.

This could be a time to write about the second amendment, and encourage sensible gun ownership including training, and possibly a concealed carry permit. But, this is Texas; we almost don’t need to say what our beliefs are. As Candace Bergin’s character said in the movie Miss Congeniality, “Of course he had a gun. This is Texas; everyone has a gun. My florist has a gun.” Enough said.
Instead, I’d like to restate my belief about the contribution of religion to civilization.
One of the questions that arose following the Wisconsin tragedy was, what are Sikhs? I am not expert, but I have a little experience. A few times a year I attend an interfaith event for women, hosted by a different religion each time. One of these was at a local Sikh Gurdwara. The way the evening is set up, the group gathers and hears a presentation on the religion; then we share a dinner and conversation related to our religious beliefs. These have been sweet experiences every time I’ve gone, and always enlightening.
The Sikhs, I learned, are from the Punjab region of India, where the large majority live today. They are a monotheistic separation from Hinduism (I hope I’m stating that correctly). Most of the time they have gotten along well with other religions. The Sikh presentation was given by a very lovely young woman in a colorful sari and headscarf. O that all our clothing could be so beautiful! In her regular daily life, she is a lawyer. So she was well-educated and very good at presenting information. After a couple of years, I still remember a few details. I realized during the evening that I’d known Sikhs for years. You may also know some. The common surname given to Sikh men is Singh, which means lion, and women are surnamed Kaur, meaning princess.
Those who fully practice the Sikh religion do not cut their hair—men or women. Boys wear their hair tied in a knot on top of the head, with a cloth over it. When they reach a certain age (I think around 12), boys go through a ceremony where they learn to tie a turban and begin wearing that. The turban can be placed on the head like a hat; taken off it keeps its shape. To some of us inexperienced neighbors, this might seem similar to a Middle Eastern turban, but they’re actually quite different. Women often wear their hair in a braid, pony tail, or down loose and long, covered by a sheer and colorful head scarf.
There are five particular things they wear that remind them of their beliefs. Among these is a small knife; this is symbolic, not dangerous. It is only a few inches long, and not sharp. They have permission to wear these even in places where no weapons are allowed, such as a TSA screening or a public school. It is not symbolic of violence, but more like the personal fight to live a good life (again, I’m sure they have better ways to put that than I have). They also wear a wooden comb in the hair, under the head covering.
The knot of hair on top of the head was something we first encountered in the small town where we used to live, in a child’s gifted school class. We knew this young boy was making a personal choice to follow this religious practice, but we hadn’t realized what the religion was. We now have Sikh neighbors. When 9/11 happened, these good people put a US flag in their window to show solidarity with us. And they told us they believe all that we do.
One of their concerns was that people might mistake them for Muslims, which was a concern when it was Islamist terrorists who had committed the atrocities. This concern came up in some of the interviews following the Wisconsin event. Of course it is wrong for a crazed serial killer to attack innocent worshipers of any religion, including Muslims. But it does appear that the Sikhs have received a share of bigotry not because of their particular religion, but because of our ignorance about them.
The Sikhs are vegetarian and are concerned with good health. They value home and family life—definitely a civilizing pattern. They are also concerned with equality of all people.
The Sikh population in the US is small. They may or may not adopt the look of their American neighbors, but they tend to keep their Indian culture even while living in their adopted land. One thing they have not done is cause unrest or reason for fear in our country. I want to offer my sympathy to these good people in the wake of the senseless violence they have suffered.
As I said in a post in April 2011,
I am a strong believer in my own religion, and I believe that if everyone believed and lived according to my religion, we would have not only worldwide peace but also flourishing civilization. But since we don’t all believe the same, my plan B belief is that if everyone earnestly strived to live their own religion, emphasizing truth, goodness to one another, and strong families, then civilization would have more than just a fighting chance; it would just about be guaranteed.


Monday, August 6, 2012

Power versus Individual Freedom

I realized something this past week that has stuck with me, so I wanted to write about it. It’s about the Tea Party, what it is, what it represents. This is something pols and media seem to miss. It isn’t about gaining power; it’s about regaining individual freedom.

In Spherical Model terms, desiring power over other individuals is anathema to freedom. Power hunger is a southern hemisphere trait (the tyranny side of the sphere), while desire for individual freedom combined with voluntarily working together for good in the community is a northern hemisphere trait (the freedom half of the sphere). (I wrote a three-part series on the difference between power hunger and leadership here, here, and here.)
Tea Parties are not a power seeking movement, where you measure effectiveness by how many legislators they get elected. Effectiveness has to do with how much freedom all Americans feel as a result of their efforts.
First, it is not a political party; the word “party” refers to the original Boston Tea Party, which was a statement (actually a rebellious act, a demonstration) against unfair taxation. “Taxed Enough Already” is an acronym often used. It is a movement, and a revival of the original founders and their revolution against tyranny. It is not a call to demonstrate with acts of lawlessness; it is a call to action through whatever legal, constitutional means are available. It is a groundswell of regular hard-working Americans across a wide spectrum of income, experience, and backgrounds, most of whom have left the political world well enough alone up until now—until things have gotten so bad that they’re not going to take it anymore. They don’t come asking, “What can this group do for me?” but they ask, “What can I do about this mess we’re in?”
There was talk about what kind of influence they had in Texas’s senate race, where Ted Cruz beat David Dewhurst. Ted Cruz appealed to Tea Partiers; it was at my first Tea Party rally that I first heard him speak, and he made enough of a positive impression that I was willing to consider him as my candidate this year for the senate. But it wasn’t because he associated with the Tea Party; it was because his message resonated with the people going to Tea Parties: we need smaller government, lower taxes, and adherence to our US Constitution.
The local tea party group that I attend regularly (we meet every three weeks) receives no funding, collects no dues, and has no expenses. We use free social media (Facebook and Google groups), and meet in a party room at a local restaurant that lets us use the space for free on the assumption that many of those attending will buy their lunch there. We voted as a group that we would not endorse candidates. Individuals could endorse and share their opinions, but the group as a whole would give no endorsements. And yet during campaign years we have candidates come and speak with us at every meeting. They know that just having access to our group, meeting people in person, is good for their campaign.
Our purpose is two-fold: educating citizens, and helping citizens know what they can do to have an effect on government. We have learned about the US Constitution, the legislative process in our state, the specific issues before our legislature and how to best become citizen lobbyists on specific issues. We’ve learned about how the court system is set up in the state. We’ve learned about the Railroad Commission and its actual role in natural resource use.
We invite opposing viewpoints, and we share articles and ideas and discussions. We do essentially what the early Boston patriots did when they met beneath the Liberty Tree. We’re not party affiliated. Democrats get invited to come and share their positions (so far, though, they don’t come). We have lively discussions between various Republican and Libertarian viewpoints.
I expect the Tea Party, as a loose association of individual community groups across the country—as well as other-named similar groups—will continue as long as there are people who want to learn more about their civic responsibilities and ways they can work toward the greater individual freedoms that we’ve been deprived of even though they’re guaranteed to us constitutionally.
What we don’t have are people with a desire to wield power over others, only to break off those shackles that have been placed on us. Because, to those who love the great experiment in freedom that is America, it’s not about exerting force over others; it is about exercising our God-given rights.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Eat Mor Chikin

We have been a Chick-fil-A family since our oldest, Political Sphere, turned 16 and got his first job—at Chick-fil-A. And not just any Chick-fil-A, but the third most successful of the about 5000 restaurants nationwide. The only two that rate higher have a double drive-thru—which this one is getting during renovation this summer. All of our kids and one daughter-in-law have worked there. We’ve had kids working for Chick-fil-A almost continually for over a decade. For a family that wants their kids to learn hard work but also wants them to come to church with us on Sundays, Chick-fil-A has been a great answer.
Out local Chick-fil-A
photo from KTRH.com traffic, August 1
The owner has two stores, the other one just a few miles up the same northwest Houston road. And that second store is where Political Sphere works now, as his second job. He works the daytime rush, and then comes home for a bite to eat (usually Chick-fil-A food he has brought home with him) and then heads out for his full-time swing shift job. So he was there yesterday during the onslaught. This second store is always busy. While not in the top three like the one down the road, it is consistently in the top 10%. They handle a huge rush crowd for every meal. They rarely take more than two minutes to get your food in hand after taking your order. Efficiency and good food is what they do. And they have a loyal clientele.
They’re located on a busy corner, adjacent to a Wal-Mart parking lot, across the street from a Kroger and Kohl’s. And neighborhoods are nearby. They have a drive-thru setup where they merge traffic coming in from two directions. There’s often a line at lunch and dinner rush, but it hardly ever takes more than ten minutes to get through with your food. Wednesday, Political Sphere reports, wait times were as long as an hour. At one point they had to stop taking orders, because the system was overwhelmed. (I think that means they couldn’t cook fast enough to meet the needs.) When they made the announcement, the crowd cheered. Giving Chick-fil-A the absolute maximum amount of business was the goal.
The ice machines couldn’t keep up with demand. The need was immediate—no time to make a call and wait for a delivery. So they sent personnel across the parking lot to Wal-Mart to bring back three shopping carts full of bags of ice. The Wal-Mart parking lot was crowded, but not with Wal-Mart shoppers; it was packed with people in line for Chick-fil-A.
The next day Political Sphere got the rest of the story. The store has been prepared for 40% increase daily because the other store is under renovation, so traffic comes to this one. And they thought that a marginal increase over that would do the job yesterday. But they weren’t ready for a 100% increase. At about 8:30 they had to announce that they would run out of chicken in half an hour.
The story today was that all of the Houston Chick-fil-As either doubled or tripled their usual business. About half closed early after running out of food. The one where Political Sphere works doubled, but when it starts with such high volume, that’s still significant. In the hour they had to shut down, they did $4500; they had three $3000 hours during the dinner rush.
By the way, they overwhelmed the system again Thursday. And they’re gearing up for the supposed protest tomorrow—because in our area that is much more likely to mean more of what we saw Wednesday (people supporting the company because of its willingness to stand up for its beliefs) than a group of peace disturbers. Down in the Montrose area things could be more troublesome; we’ll see.
Social Sphere
ready for work
Cow Appreciation Day 2010
I had intended to go to Chick-fil-A yesterday. I was up north, and needed to get a salad right at 6:00 and then drive across town to a meeting by 7:00, somewhat against rush traffic, but while traffic is still heavy. So we had strategized and identified two stores near where I would be, and chose the one closest to the freeway. But I checked my email as I got to my car, and a text had just come in from Political Sphere: “Don’t go to Chick-fil-A.” If I’d waited in an hour-long line, I’d have never made it to my destination. I saw on a nighttime news broadcast that the one I had chosen actually closed at 8:00 PM, having run out of food. So, while Chick-fil-A gets my business pretty often, and my support always, yesterday I had to miss out on the community get-together.
I have often thought that the Chick-fil-A marketers are clever; I love the cows with spelling problems, and the apparently endless ways that idea can be used. (I get a Cowlendar for my kitchen wall every year.) But I don’t think they could have come up with a plan and put it into action that would have accomplished what this spontaneous outpouring of support has done. There are several clear messages sent by the clean, orderly, patient, pro-business throngs:
·         We like your chicken, waffle fries, and the rest of your really good food—and the quick service and good prices we’ve come to expect.
·         We support your willingness to stand up for what you believe.
·         We are against the bullying tactics of those who blacklist and marginalize anyone who doesn’t agree with their opinions.
For your listening pleasure, please take a couple of minutes to hear Christian comedian Tim Hawkins’s latest Chick-fil-A song: