Monday, September 30, 2013

Books Worth Reading

This past week was Banned Book Week. Often an interesting list—often with the specific purpose of ridiculing the very idea of limiting books for children. I agree that banning Huckleberry Finn is pretty ridiculous (because it contains the “N” word, along with a whole lot of anti-racist perspective, beautifully told). But that doesn’t mean that every book should therefore be available and recommended.
One of the well used shelves in the home library
I’ve been thinking about youth literature again. Some weeks ago I read Hillsdale College’s Imprimis newsletter, which featured a piece by Meghan Cox Gurdon, the children’s book reviewer for the Wall Street Journal. The piece was called “The Case for Good Taste in Children’s Books,” which was adapted from a speech given at Hillsdale in March. Here is some of her introduction:
[There’s an] increasingly dark current that runs through books classified as YA, for Young Adult—books aimed at readers between 12 and 18 years of age—a subset that has, in the four decades since Young Adult became a distinct category in fiction, become increasingly lurid, grotesque, profane, sexual, and ugly.
Books show us the world, and in that sense, too many books for adolescents act like funhouse mirrors, reflecting hideously distorted portrayals of life. Those of us who have grown up understand that the teen years can be fraught and turbulent—and for some kids, very unhappy—but at the same time we know that in the arc of human life, these years are brief. Today, too many novels for teenagers are long on the turbulence and short on a sense of perspective. Nor does it help that the narrative style that dominates Young Adult books is the first person present tense—“I, I, I,” and “now, now, now.” Writers use this device to create a feeling of urgency, to show solidarity with the reader and to make the reader feel that he or she is occupying the persona of the narrator. The trouble is that the first person present tense also erects a kind of verbal prison, keeping young readers in the turmoil of the moment just as their hormones tend to do. This narrative style reinforces the blinkers teenagers often seem to be wearing, rather than drawing them out and into the open.
If there is one thing teenagers do not need, it is encouragement to be more emotional and less cerebral. “Follow your passions” is about the worst advice in the world for someone who doesn’t yet know how to temper that with a wise, considered decision.
I agree with her about the ugliness of youth literature. I like reading a lot of YA fiction. Some of the better things being written are aimed at the YA audience. But she’s right that a lot of it is too intense, and too ugly for young people without a better, clearer world view.
She makes a very good point further into the piece, about decisions of taste:
Books tell children what to expect, what life is, what culture is, how we are expected to behave—what the spectrum is. Books don’t just cater to tastes. They form tastes. They create norms—and as the examples above show, the norms young people take aware are not necessarily the norms adults intend. This is why I am skeptical of the social utility of so-called “problem novels”—books that have a troubled main character, such as a girl with a father who started raping her when she was a toddler and anonymously provides her with knives when she is a teenager hoping that she will cut herself to death. (This scenario is from Cheryl Rainfield’s 2010 Young Adult novel, Scars, which School Library Journal hailed as “one heck of a good book.”) The argument in favor of such books is that they validate the real and terrible experiences of teenagers who have been abused, addicted, or raped—among other things. The problem is that the very act of detailing these pathologies, not just in one book but in many, normalizes them. And teenagers are all about identifying norms and adhering to them.
Suppose you have some young people (and there are many) who grow up in broken homes, with some chaos and ugliness in the home. Not enough expectation of honesty, or hard work. Not enough hope for things to get better. Nothing like an example of good fathering and mothering working in tandem to successfully raise children to fully launched adults.  There is a dearth of literature that tells children what a healthy household looks like. The stereotype now is broken and troubled homes. How do young people get the idea of a healthy norm if they get it neither from their real-life culture nor from their literature?
Mr. Spherical Model thinks I would be using my time well to write such children’s literature. That’s an appealing idea. I have gone so far as to invent some characters, and some of the surrounding milieu and action. I haven’t yet envisioned the story that will take over my life until I get it written. So, we’ll see. But I’d like to see more of that kind of story.
This past Thursday I came across an article that furthers Gurdon’s point, “Common Core-Approved Child Pornography.” Often when I find articles that make important points, I save a copy; however, while I recommend this one, some of the content in it is so graphic that I don’t want it permanently in my home. This PolitiChicks piece provides examples (with warnings about graphic content—these are in italics, if you must skip them) from a recommended youth novel, so you know there’s no exaggeration. It’s from the point of view of a child rapist, without judgment, so the reader can identify with the point of view of the perpetrator—including graphic descriptions of the violent sex acts, using words like “friendly,” “innocent,” and “tender.” If you are not nauseated, then ask yourself what you’ve been numbing yourself with.
The article itself asks the logical question about why anyone would think this was appropriate reading for children.
Using just the smallest amount of common sense we can deduce that if the book cannot be read aloud in the class, could not be viewable if it was a movie and couldn’t be played on the stereo if it was a CD, then why is it okay for it to be read and discussed; in school of all places! In fact, according to one lawyer, if the incidents in this book were a movie or a picture there would be a very clear cut case for prosecution for child pornography.
A library, not to mention the money needed to stock a library, is a scarce resource. Why use scarce resources on things that defile the mind—of anyone? If there are any parents out there that disagree and think this graphic portrayal of sex and violence is necessary to the education of their child, can’t they just buy it themselves and expose their child to it, without requiring the purchase of it by the rest of us taxpayers, and the subsequent exposure of it to our children, against our will?
When we’re talking about school bookshelves, there are plenty of books that ought not to be allotted real estate there. But rather than concentrating on what gets banned, I suggest we spend more energy and resources hunting for the literature that feeds and civilizes a growing mind, something that normalizes and exemplifies civilization. Let the searchers and selectors be parents and maybe trusted teachers—never some distant so-called expert.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Nice Day for a Filibuster

Senator Ted Cruz
Senate TV/AP Photo
It was a good 21 hours 19 minutes. It deserves comment. I like a good, real filibuster—as opposed to the virtual kind the Senate has done over the years where they say, “You don’t have a supermajority of votes to end a filibuster, so let’s say we’re filibustering and call it a day,” without actually doing the long talking part.

This wasn’t officially a filibuster, technically. It was a long—very long—speech, calling attention to the issue and actually talking about it.
I listened in here and there, and always Senator Ted Cruz was making cogent arguments against Obamacare—except for the break he took to read Green Eggs and Ham to his children for their bedtime. I also heard Senator Mike Lee of Utah, taking a turn, well into the night (about quarter till 3:00 AM EDT) before I turned off my computer for the night.
It’s kind of funny that so much vitriol has been aimed at Cruz and not at Lee, since they were partners in this. I’m not sure why, except that the liberal media is starting to do a hatchet job on Cruz lest he begin to appear presidential. They’ve tried to portray him as crazed, extremist, and unstable.
But if you watch someone stay calm, reasonable, and cogent for 21 straight hours, without food or rest—and he looks a lot better than Jimmy Stewart at the end of the filibuster in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington—then you lose credibility when you claim he’s unstable and crazed.
One of the highlights came in the last hour. Senator Dick Durbin might have been thinking he was on more equal ground taking on a very tired Senator Cruz. But he got schooled. Durbin wanted Cruz to admit to wanting to deprive 50 million Americans of their ability to have health insurance, while he and his family enjoyed the very full coverage available to Congressman. Cruz said he’d answer the question as soon as Durbin answered the three questions Cruz had asked him and Durbin had sidestepped. And then Durbin, thinking he’d gotten him where he wanted him, insisted he was like a witness refusing to answer the question in a trial.
What Durbin forgot was that you never ask a witness a question you don’t know the answer to. Cruz’s answer: “No, Senator, I’m eligible for the congressional plan—but I’m not enrolled in it.” Ouch! Cruz also got Durbin to admit that the way he planned to handle problems with Obamacare was case-by-case, giving exemptions to his cronies as they are asked for, while the American people without powerful friends will be stuck, as Cruz later described it, not just riding in coach, but in the baggage compartment.
The purpose of the marathon speech was to prevent discussion in favor of funding Obamacare, and Cruz was successful at that. He set up circumstances to separate those voting to shove Obamacare down the throats of Americans and those fighting against that monstrosity.
Cloture on the bill is the vote that matters. It will probably happen around noon Friday (possibly as late as Saturday), probably by the time you read this.
The Senate requires 60 votes to close debate on a bill, or cloture. But it only requires a simple majority of 51 votes on an amendment. So if Harry Reid gets cloture, then he will file one amendment to the continuing resolution bill sent up from the House; the amendment will be to eliminate the exclusion of Obamacare from the continuing resolution funding, so it gets fully funded along with the rest of government. And a simple majority of 51 (all Democrat) votes would be the pre-decided Senate vote.
So a vote for cloture by any Republican is a vote to allow Democrats the power to ruin our lives with Obamacare without any Republican opposition. No Republican who claims to be against Obamacare can make such a vote without their betrayal becoming obvious, and some (John McCain, for example) are furious about being put under that scrutiny.
Any Republican who votes for cloture, thus voting for funding Obamacare, deserves to be replaced in the next election. In my state, I’m totally confident in Senator Cruz, but I’m still watching Senator Cornyn; I've already met a candidate running against Cornyn. Very Texan, a little Quixotic, but I'm willing to take a serious look at him if I need to.
Meanwhile, if, by some unexpected miracle, all the Republicans stand firm against funding Obamacare, it puts the Democrats on the hot seat. Several (I think seven) Democrat senators are up for reelection in states that favored Romney in the last presidential election; the people in those states already lean red. If it becomes crystal clear that those senators are at fault for force-feeding us Obamacare, dragging down our economy and our health care as a result, there’s a good chance they lose their seats. Under those high pressure circumstances, a few Democrats might defect, but not if Republicans aren't standing united.
The more likely scenario is that cloture passes with a handful of GOP votes, Obamacare gets put back in the bill, and it gets returned to the House—with just a couple of days left before the current continuing resolution expires. It’s sort of a hot potato game: whoever gets stuck with the bill when the timer goes off gets the blame for shutting down the government.
Of course, government shutdown is not that big a deal. It has happened many times over the decades, with almost no notice. The world doesn’t end. Essential services continue uninterrupted. Which ought to be a clue—if it’s not essential, just don’t let government do it. And, as I said Monday, the 1995 shutdown is remembered as a PR nightmare, but it was a net plus for Republicans, despite the blame heaped upon them.
Since blame gets heaped on Republicans regardless, what could be the harm in standing firm—especially when standing firm against Obamacare is what the vast majority of Americans want and need?
So it’s time to call/contact your senators, and then your congressmen, and pray for God to guide them, to regain the blessed constitutional republic God granted us, after much sacrifice of blood and treasure, more than two centuries ago.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Education Ruse

photo source
I gave a seriously hard time to a school board candidate at this past Saturday’s Tea Party meeting. I’m sorry, kind of. Even affter more than a decade, Mama Bear claws come out. So, while I appeared angry (and probably was, a bit, but we’ll just call it passionate), what I really appreciate is that the candidate answered the question at hand in a way that let me know how I would vote. And clarity is helpful. Plus, this question reveals a larger problem with the public school system.

During the presentation, the candidate—who is an educator at the local community college, with experience as a teacher, coach, and principal, who immigrated from a poor Asian nation and made good, and is probably a very decent human being—made this the main point of his presentation: “We need to concentrate on every single child. We need to be an advocate for every child.” Every child. Every single one.
He had pointed out that there’s a bottom 20% in every class. There are 130,000 current 9th graders who may not graduate with their class in four years. Some end up in jail; some drop out. How do we reach out to get them equal opportunities?
What I think I heard was, “every child” means something more like a specific 20% of children. So I asked more pointedly for a definition of every child.
What I experienced in this very school district was failure toward my children, at high school, middle school, and elementary school levels. The gifted program at all levels was useless. The elementary school level was particularly telling. It consisted of moving my daughter from the class at one side of the room to the class at the other side. Not to a gifted class, just to one that was less slow in math. That was the sum total of the GT program. And she remained assigned to the first teacher, so I wasn’t allowed to meet with the newly assigned teacher. I also got feedback from teachers that they believed “gifted” was how they taught “all” the students, which told me they were clueless about this aspect of special education. There was some resentment that any child should even be identified as gifted.
Meanwhile, the school got an exceptional rating—the highest rating. I was told that the specific reason was that the principal concentrated on a lot of paperwork that looked good for reaching out to low performing minorities and ESL students (plenty were assigned to the school, as well as bussed in). As a principal who should be supportive of teachers and responsive to parents, she deserved a failing grade; I had multiple experiences convincing me. But after her retirement she got a new school named after her, because of her supposed great leadership. Concentrating on that lower 20% pays off in ways that honor a person for ignoring anyone not designated as socially worth helping.
So I asked the school board candidate, did he really mean ALL children, including smart white kids? His answer was that we really need to direct our resources to the lower 20%. His reason: there are three things that every child needs for education success: parental support, personal effort, and school opportunities. If you’re missing any one of those, it will be hard to succeed. So we need to make sure we offer them the school opportunities that all other students have.
There’s a logical flaw here. The school programs are already available for teaching basic education to every student. There are even a great many special programs for slower learners, addressing learning disabilities. There are food programs to feed those whose parents don’t provide their breakfast and lunch, because students can’t learn if they’re hungry. But there still isn’t really anything to make up for lack of the parent component.
If the effort is to provide the opportunity for every child to reach his/her potential, rather than to even out the result, then the school component is missing for anyone well above that lowest 20%.
When the candidate says, “We’re not worrying about those kids; they’re going to do fine,” what he’s saying is, if you’re smart, and a non-minority, and you have good parents, the schools have no obligation to provide that third component to help you reach your potential.
He was right that my kids did get what they needed—because we could see clearly that they could not get what they needed from this school district, so we pulled them out and did it ourselves. We nevertheless had to pay taxes for their education—in addition to the time, effort, lifestyle change, commitment, and loss of income that it cost us as a family. (Note: I was glad I was forced to do it; that decade is something I would never give up.)
But he’s wrong that the schools were doing fine by my kids and kids like them, that he’s justified in turning his attention elsewhere.
There’s a lie inherent in the very idea of public schooling. The history of the system is that it was intended to address the specific problem of those lower 20% who were not being educated by their families. Really, it was more specifically aimed at an even smaller percentage, the children of recent immigrants. There were poor kids on the streets, while their parents were working in factories, and they were getting into trouble and making no progress toward becoming contributing members of society. So a factory-style taxpayer-paid school system became a limited solution to a limited problem—that quickly grew into mandatory government-control of every child’s education except those who had parents with resources and determination to educate their children outside that system, over and above the costs they were forced to pay for all the other children in public schools.
There’s a pattern of tyrannist control here, worth a post on another day.
After the Tea Party meeting, the candidate came up to ask me, sincerely, whether he had answered my question. Yes. Yes he had. He had told me that he will take resources from doing the promised task of educating ALL students and give them to the specific students he feels sorry for, and that is what he means by “advocating for every child.”
I am not against doing what we can for children who are missing the basic social capital that would so benefit them. But pouring money into mitigating that damage, at the expense of students who deserve the ability to meet their potential, is not the solution. That is a way to deprive society of future success. The candidate will not get my vote.
On the bright side, his opponent was there, the incumbent, Don Ryan. I have been unfair to him in the past. When I first became aware of him, he ran on a ticket with two other candidates, neither of whom I liked—one of whom is the most harmful member of the board but most adored by teacher organizations. I had not disliked Ryan at the public forum; he sounded capable of dealing with the financial issues the board faces. But his connection to the others was a serious black mark.
These positions are nonpartisan, so it is hard to get philosophy. Since his election I have developed the priorities question:
You have three constituencies that you’re accountable to in your elected position as school board trustee: taxpayers, students, and teachers. How do you prioritize these constituencies, and why?
Don Ryan answered very well. First of all, he’s responsible to the taxpayers, but the combined goal of the taxpayers is the best education we can get for the students, so you can’t also feel a commitment to the students. He said it would be like choosing which child I a favorite. He mentioned teachers not at all. I liked his answer. He understands it’s about the best use of taxpayer money for the specified purpose of educating the children in our community.
I believed after last November’s election that we no longer had anyone conservative on our board. But after meeting him in person and hearing from him, I think we do have a lot in common. He also volunteered that he has always voted Republican in primary elections, and has always been conservative. Good to know, over and above his other good answers. He’s getting my vote.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Defund It

Senators Mike Lee and Ted Cruz
image from here
I’m on Team Ted Cruz/Mike Lee/Marco Rubio on defunding Obamacare—even if the other side threatens to shut down the government and blame Republicans for it.

The House, where government funding originates, has done its job and put through a continuing resolution (before the current one expires September 30, since the Senate has refused to pass an actual budget for years) that continues current funding through mid-December, with no changes—except without funding for Obamacare. It’s particularly important to defund NOW, because key provisions kick in October 14. It has to be stopped.
I could spend a very long post enumerating the anti-American, harmful effects to health care and the entire economy, but I’m guessing if you’re reading this, you already have an adequate list of your own. We all know the ironically named Affordable Care Act makes medical care less affordable and less available—while giving all kinds of intimate control over our lives to cold, distant bureaucrats. Nothing about the thousands of pages in the bill, and the hundreds of thousands of additional regulations, can be identified as an improvement over what we had--which had plenty of problems mainly caused by separation from market forces. I don’t think we can even give the bill and regulation writers the assumption that they meant well.
So, since we’re agreed on that—and a solid majority of Americans are agreed that the whole thing needs to be scrapped—the question at hand is how to put a stop to it. Before all our freedom options are done away.
In an ideal world—well, in an ideal world, this would never have been proposed, let along been passed; and in an ideal world the Supreme Court would never have stretched the Constitution beyond breaking point to declare this monstrosity lawful. But in a hypothetical ideal world, what should happen next is that the Senate should agree to the continuing resolution minus Obamacare spending. Let’s say that would happen. Then the spending bill would go to the president for a signature. In an ideal world (so, one with a different president), the president would see that the American people have spoken—loudly—through their representatives, that they do not want this bill, so he would acquiesce and sign the defunded bill. And then he’d go ahead and encourage Congress to vote to repeal (again for the House, but the Senate is the bottleneck).
But since this isn’t an ideal world, what can we expect in the Senate? That depends on how much fight the Republicans have in them—and add to that a little bit of worry among Democrats about the heavy anti-Obamacare majorities among voters. Do they want to kill their careers over this extremely unpopular monstrosity, just because their Democrat president says they have to?
Democrats have the majority. So much is in their hands. As it was, entirely, when the bill passed in 2010.
At this past Saturday’s local Tea Party meeting, one of our speakers was Paul Bettencourt, the Tax Man. He used to be Harris County Tax Assessor. Currently he’s running for Dan Patrick’s state senate seat (the large and conservative District 7) while Dan Patrick runs against David Dewhurst for state Lieutenant Governor. Bettencourt also has a gig on the radio (the Dan Patrick owned AM 700 The Voice in Texas), talking about taxes and politics. We know in Texas we have Ted Cruz on our side. John Cornyn, who is more long-time establishment, was a question. But Bettencourt said they had Senator Cornyn on the radio, pressed him pretty hard, and believe he has now committed to vote for defunding.
I have since seen a fair amount of corroboration from Senator Cornyn. He has made the declaration pretty clearly. This was from his Facebook page this morning: “I intend to support the House bill that defunds Obamacare and will vote against a bill that funds it.” There’s also a piece in the Dallas News on his announcement. A couple of days ago I got a link to sign Cornyn’ petition to defund Obamacare. (I signed it, in addition to the Ted Cruz petition I signed weeks ago, just to make sure Senator Cornyn knew constituents out here back that decision.)
Paul Bettencourt suggested getting hold of friends in other states and encouraging them to contact their senators, to encourage them to vote in favor of the continuing resolution that defunds Obamacare (which, for technical procedural reasons, also includes standing firm against a cloture vote).
If nothing else, one thing that the vote should do is, as Bettencourt put it, “put jerseys on every senator,” so you know what team they’re on. That gives some significant leverage in the next election.
If, by some miracle, we were able to get to the point where there is a choice between defunding Obamacare or shutting down the government—the very thing establishment Republicans fear—that would be a great blessing. The fear comes from what happened in 1995, with the government shutdown during Clinton’s term. It was a public relations nightmare for Republicans. The GOP got blamed for everything from shutting down national parks to starving children.
But PR isn’t everything. We need a reminder of what actually happened back in 1995.
Bettencourt recounted a part of the story I hadn’t known. On Sunday, the 21st day of the shutdown, Senate leader Bob Dole caved. He had been worried about his image, since he was thinking of running for president. What he didn’t know was that Clinton had already decided to fold on Monday, the 22nd day of the strike.
Had Dole waited, the GOP would have won the entire battle. But even as it was, Clinton took on welfare reform—claimed it as his own, but we got it, so that was a win.
Last time around the media portrayed the shutdown as a disaster for the GOP. But it actually wasn’t. In the next election, the GOP won something like six Senate seats and held the House. Clinton kept himself politically afloat only by co-opting GOP policies as his own. Rush Limbaugh reviewed the history a couple of months ago, in anticipation of this week’s showdown--worth reading.
Back then, the media voice for the GOP was very limited. As Rush put it, “In 1995 I was it, as far as conservative media goes. The blogosphere had not come into existence; the Internet was still essentially an infant in this regard. There were no other conservative talk shows. Fox News was still two years away. I was it. It was still a media monopoly: ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Washington Post, New York Times, local news, you name it. I was it.”
That’s what I’ve been thinking. The mainstream media will malign conservatives no matter what we do—even if we played for the media audience by praising Obamacare against all the evidence. MSM is a lose-lose black hole for conservatives. There is no changing that. Nor is there getting through to the uninformed voters, who just don’t pay attention. But we have more media outlets now. The internet is, so far, still a free voice. Fox News isn’t as conservative as the MSM portrays it, but it’s at least not the propaganda arm of the administration. The true story will get out—it will be told to every ear willing to listen.
And what is the worst that can happen from a temporary government shutdown? The president will try to make it as painful as possible—just as with the sequester, where he has cut soldier food in Afghanistan to two cooked meals a day (because there’s not enough money with the sequester temporary cuts in the rate of increase, even though there is plenty for him to use Air Force One to transport his dog to wherever he’s vacationing). He will try to make it appear Republicans are trying to starve children and kill old people—same old same old.
But there are other voices now. And it’s possible that, even with the worst case scenario, people will notice little more than occasional irritations at government—nothing new. And with every painful choice the president makes, there will be new voices pointing out that it was his choice, with the purpose of inflicting pain.
If that’s the worst case scenario, maybe it’s worth finally getting past the fear and standing on principle.
The worst-case scenario if this fails is dire. Business and labor already agree that Obamacare is an abomination. Putting off employer mandates was done for two specific reasons: First, employers couldn’t do it, and the effort threatened to pretty much shutting down the economy that is already (still) floundering under this administration. Second, the worst damage was put off until after the 2014 election, because Democrats would have been demolished by the knowledge that Obamacare was the cause of so much pain.
So even the Democrats realize Obamacare is a gross negative for America. Since we all know that, now is the time to act on that truth.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Long Game Players

There’s plenty to worry about without even looking at international relations, but sometimes you need to do what you don’t want to.
I wrote last week about Syria, all I want to write and beyond. But I’ve had a specific question about our president and his long-term strategy. I’ve talked this over with the Spherical Model household, and we seem to have a consensus opinion in answer to my puzzlement.
It is a given that our president is a power monger. He loves control, and seeks more control wherever he can get it. Nevertheless, he acts in ways that weaken the United States on the international scene—apology tour, leading from behind, setting red lines which he manages by hoping they won’t be crossed and then dithering when they are. He has verbalized his belief that America is no more exceptional than any other country, and he believes we have been arrogant, so he is purposely taking us down a few pegs.
Here at home he seems pleased that the economy falters and sputters, and gleefully proud that more and more people become dependent on government. He has devalued the dollar, and our credit rating, to the point that we are at serious risk of losing our economic status in the world. He seems pleased at this new depressing normal.
So my question is, why would someone who seeks ever increasing degrees of power act in ways that reduce his status? What is his long game?
Does he see a path from what he is doing to increased power, such that he could leap from the lowly position of US President to something bigger, something more global?
I think he does see that path. I think he holds the belief that claiming connection with the Europeans and third-world nations, letting them know he’s not like the rest of us ugly Americans, will raise his image in their eyes. And their eyes are more important to him than the eyes of his fellow Americans, who are beneath him—evident in the sneering and condescension showing up his ubiquitous speeches.
He’s the un-American president. It’s a little like that phrase “compassionate conservative”; it implies that the special “compassionate” ones are different from the run-of-the-mill conservatives, who are, then, by definition, compassionless.  He thinks of himself as something other than American, and he believes that having such a self-perception makes him more appealing to the world.
But, as in most things (maybe everything) he is wrong wrong wrong! No thinking person in any country actually likes our president for his anti-Americanism. If they are our enemies, and thus anti-American themselves, they might like what he is doing—the less for them to fight against. But no one supports him as a better leader for tearing down the world’s greatest country—the economic, social, and freedom dream of the oppressed everywhere. No one trusts him as reliable. No one would say, “He’s so wise; why don’t we make him ruler of the world?”
So, if he is a power monger (and I think that is evident), and if he sees the US presidency as merely a career step to even greater power, then the logical conclusion is--he must be deluded.
On the bright side, concerns about him becoming the Left-Behind-Series style anti-Christ world tyrant are unnecessary. Likely his future role will be a more feckless Jimmy Carter, occasionally sniping from the sidelines, but without a listening public.
Do we need to worry instead about Putin? I’m not sure. After the “rescue” Putin did to dissuade the president from a Syrian strike, the metaphor was going around that Obama was playing cards while Putin was owning him at three-dimensional chess.
Star Trek 3D Chess
image found here
I was an adult by the end of the Cold War, so I’m beyond trusting anyone from the KGB. I’m sure Putin wants increased power, and I’m sure he’s playing an actual long game to get it. But I have my doubts that he can do it.
There’s a new book by Ilan Berman, called Implosion, subtitled, The End of Russia and What It Means for America. The author spoke with Michael Medved on radio Thursday (last third of first hour; these details come from that conversation). Much of his theory relates to demographics. Russian culture and people, Slavic Christians we could say, are disappearing. Russians lose half a million of their population a year, to death and out-migration. Life expectancy for men is about 60 years, a good two decades shorter than American men. Women live longer, to about 73, but still on par with Saudi Arabia, well short of Western longevity. Birth rates are well below replacement. The population will be 25% smaller, and still shrinking, by mid-century.
Meanwhile immigrant Muslims abort less, drink less, and support the traditional family more, so their numbers are growing. Some projections show Muslims will reach 50% of the population by 2050, subsuming the native population.
Young Russians are leaving in droves. A shocking 40% of 18-35-year-olds are considering leaving the country. The most popular Russian blog is titled (translated) “Time to Scram.” In the US and Canada there are large, thriving Russian populations, including scientists, engineers, symphony musicians. When a country is bleeding so many if it’s intellectual talent, that’s a county in trouble. And as long as the country continues as an uncertain threat to intellectual property, the bleeding will continue.
So, while Putin is posturing as powerful on the international stage, his country is floundering at home. It is my guess Putin will not be able to satisfy his power mongering hunger either.
Here's the better, Spherical Model long game: limited government that fills the role of protecting natural rights, free enterprise, adherence to the Ten Commandments, and strong families may not lead to world domination but will lead to unequaled flourishing.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Remembering Constitution Day

One of my favorite things to do to celebrate Constitution Day, the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution, is to watch the award-winning docudrama, A More Perfect Union. It was produced in 1989 by Brigham Young University. It brings the story of the making of the Constitution to life—heated debates, multiple votes, not summer weather and all.

It’s the next day now, but still worth watching. You can see it on Youtube, in 8 parts, starting here.
Or you can get your own DVD on Amazon, or through the National Center for Constitutional Studies (—where you can also get additional educational materials to go with it, and download a teacher’s guide. (I’ve used this with groups of homeschoolers, for different age groups.)
I also came across a couple of Constitution loving quotes during the day, worth sharing. Ezra Taft Benson was the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the time of this speech. He was also formerly the US Secretary of Agriculture, and always a strong supporter of the Constitution. (I’ve mentioned his writings here, here, and here.)
This, then, is the ingenious and inspired document created by these good and wise men for the benefit and blessing of future generations. It is now two hundred years since the Constitution was written. Have we been wise beneficiaries of the gift entrusted to us? Have we valued and protected the principles laid down by this great document?
At this bicentennial celebration we must, with sadness, say that we have not been wise in keeping the trust of our Founding Fathers. For the past two centuries, those who do not prize freedom have chipped away at every major clause of our Constitution until today we face a crisis of great dimensions."—Ezra Taft Benson, “The Crisis of Our Constitution,” 1986.

This next quote is from Barry Goldwater. The words seem just as needed today as they were in the 1960s. It’s unfortunate that, among his very good grasp of the Constitution, he also held racist views that only appealed to southern Democrats, who gave him the few electoral votes he received as a presidential candidate. But the Constitution restoration ideas started a conservative resurgence, notably including Ronald Reagan, who made a good effort at restoring respect for the beloved document that leads to freedom, prosperity, and civilization:
The turn will come when we entrust the conduct of our affairs to men who understand that their first duty as public officials is to divest themselves of the power they have been given. It will come when Americans, in hundreds of communities throughout the nation, decide to put the man in office who is pledged to enforce the Constitution and restore the Republic. Who will proclaim in a campaign speech: “I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution, or that have failed in their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden, I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is ‘needed’ before I have first determined whether it is Constitutionally permissible. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents’ ‘interests,’ I shall reply that I was informed their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.—Barry Goldwater, Conscience of a Conservative  

While I’m doing quotes, I came across something that sounds like a Spherical Model concept, from before I invented the model. It’s from Ronald Reagan, who understood a lot more than media gave him credit for:
You and I are told we must choose between a left or a right, but I suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down. Up to man’s age-old dream—the maximum individual freedom consistent with order—or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism.—Ronald Reagan
We need to head back up. When we spend too much time in the southern hemisphere of any of the three interrelated spheres (political, economic, and social), we see savagery with increasing frequency. The day before Constitution Day, on Monday, a madman murdered twelve people at the Washington Navy Yard. No one in their right mind would do such a thing; only someone in a savage mind would. The killer died as well, so we can only learn his warped motives through forensics. On Hugh Hewitt’s radio show Tuesday, he spent time reading the bios of the victims, honoring them. His blog links the Washington Post for the bios. And he used Condoleeza Rice’s phrase, to describe them as extraordinary ordinary people.
It is notable that the savagery is still shocking to us, even with as many incidents as we've seen. This isn't the America we want; we want civilization, prosperity, and freedom. And I believe more people are seeing adherence to the Constitution as the right path.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Candidate Q&A

We’re a half year away from mid-term primaries. There’s a November election coming up, but it will consist mainly of small races and issues, like school boards and bond proposals. So why talk about elections now? Because there’s time now to consider principles, so we can prepare before there’s pressure and heightened emotion.

We’re already hearing from judge candidates at all of our Tea Party meetings. We live in a decidedly conservative area of red-state Texas. Nobody’s going to get elected around here by announcing they’re influenced by liberal/progressive ideology. And it is an unfortunate characteristic of politicians that they seek approval, which is likely to translate to votes, which is what gives them power. So, while we do indeed see a number of sincerely principled, effective candidates, we also encounter some who just try to convince us they’re one of us.
So, well ahead of decision time, I thought I’d list a few questions that might reveal what a candidate truly believes, so you can be a better informed voter.
We’ll start with judges. They talk about their experience (often impressive), their families and character. And they assure us they’ve been active in local GOP politics for a long time. But among these are a number we haven’t seen at district or state GOP conventions, or at our Tea Party meetings, until they became a candidate. This doesn’t necessarily mean they haven’t been active and long-time principled. But how do we know?
A friend, active in party politics, suggested asking about their voting record, so I think I’m going to start asking this: Who did you vote for in the past two presidential and governor races—both primaries and November elections? What was your reasoning for those votes? And how do you feel about those votes now?
A vote for Obama in 2008 might not be a deal breaker, depending on the reasoning—even though those of us paying attention knew what a disaster he would be and were not taken in by the ridiculous hope-and-change blather. But they’d better be able to explain articulately what they were hoping to accomplish with that vote (“It was historic” is simply racist; preventing John McCain from being president might be an acceptable answer). And they had better be very clear at this point what a mistake an Obama vote was.
A vote for Obama in 2010 would absolutely be a deal breaker. Unawareness of just how conservative and effective Romney was might be understandable, considering the negative lying press in the pocket of the Obama campaign, but that sure wouldn’t be a plus for someone who’s trying to convince us of their discernment and wise judgment.
I would ask about primaries for governor because (besides verifying that the candidate voted in the GOP primary) it gives an idea of ideology. Not everyone loves Governor Perry, but he has done a great deal of good. If the candidate supported a Perry opponent, for example, we’d need to have an explanation much deeper than, “I just thought he/she would make a good governor.”
When we’re looking at legislative and executive offices—governor, state representatives and senators and other state offices, as well as US representatives and senators, we can probably ask some questions provided by the Spherical Model concepts on politics (limited to the proper role of government), economics (free enterprise), and civilization (support for religious freedom and strong families).
Political Sphere
·        What do you believe is the proper role of government, and what are the limits?
·        Do you have favorite portions of the US Constitution, and/or any portions that you think ought to be changed, clarified, or improved?
·        When the US Supreme Court makes a ruling that you believe is at odds with the Constitution, what do you think the executive and/or legislative branches should do in response to the ruling?
·        What do you believe is the proper balance between public safety and individual freedom, and what do you believe government needs to do to reach that balance?
·        Who are your favorite examples of a good president—since 1900—and what about them do you admire?
·        How do you define extremists, and what views do you think are examples of extreme?
Economic Sphere
·        What do you believe is the optimum percentage of GNP that should be taken in taxes?
·        What do you believe is the government’s role in contributing to economic health? For example, if there is a sudden recession (as we were hit with in 2008), how should government react?
·        What do you believe is government’s role in the distribution of income discrepancy between the poor and the wealthy?
·        What do you believe should be government’s role in charitable help to the poor and suffering?
·        What do you believe are the purposes and limits of the commerce clause of the Constitution?
·        What do you believe is the role of the Federal Reserve, and how/whether it is benefiting the economy?

Civilization Sphere

·        What do you believe about the connection between moral values and the law?
·        Which institution is most responsible for raising a generation that will benefit society, and why: schools, government, churches, nonprofit organizations, sports teams, families?
·        Which constituency’s desires is public education best accountable to, and why: US government, state government, local government, teachers, students, parents/taxpayers?
·        What do you believe should be government’s role in homeschooling, private schools, charter schools, and school choice?
·        What do you think is government’s role in defining marriage, and why? 

Additionally, asking about a few specific issues might be helpful:
·        What are your feelings concerning Obamacare, and what do you think should be done?
·        What do you believe are the motivations of people who support traditional (man/woman) marriage and family?
·        What are your beliefs about border security and immigration?
·        What do you believe is the proper role of government concerning climate?
·        What do you see as the US role in the world, and what is your view of the UN?
·        What are your opinions on national debt, national deficit, tax increases and/or cuts, and national budget? 

I’m sure this list isn’t exhaustive. But it’s a start. Good luck getting a candidate to answer even a few. Maybe if we divide up the list, and each ask a question or two to every candidate, we’ll be able to share responses. Because, truly, we need the best candidates we can possibly get, before any more damage is done.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Speech Fail

It’s been a few days since the speech to end all…claims that the president is a great orator. This is part II to Wednesday's post, giving background. So, what exactly did the president say in the portentous 9/11-eve speech?

In the fifteen-minutes it took to read, he referred to himself (I or me; I didn’t include we) on average twice a minute. Near the beginning, he used words intended to pull in the military-supporting conservatives, using angles possibly provided him by Speaker Boehner. He used the one significant reason for taking action: use of biological weapons is against the rules of war, and must be punished, or others will be more likely to use them.
9/10/2013 Speech on Syria
In the first couple of days following the August 21 attack, I could feel the pull of that argument as well, and the word from the White House was that they “knew” without doubt that Assad had done it. But, because he has undermined his credibility so thoroughly since we’ve come to know him on the public stage, when rumors of other possibilities came out, it was easy to doubt that assessment.
During the speech, the president did spend a few words to support the claim of Assad’s guilt:
We know the Assad regime was responsible. In the days leading up to August 21st, we know that Assad’s chemical weapons personnel prepared for an attack near an area where they mix sarin gas. They distributed gasmasks to their troops. Then they fired rockets from a regime-controlled area into 11 neighborhoods that the regime has been trying to wipe clear of opposition forces. Shortly after those rockets landed, the gas spread, and hospitals filled with the dying and the wounded. We know senior figures in Assad’s military machine reviewed the results of the attack, and the regime increased their shelling of the same neighborhoods in the days that followed. We’ve also studied samples of blood and hair from people at the site that tested positive for sarin.
Not bad, as evidence goes. Some of it only verifies there was a deadly gas attack. But some pointed clearly to the Assad regime. So why, during the extra week he had to build up public support, did this evidence not get included in every story? Can we trust these claims, without supporting evidence from additional sources (British or Israeli intel, for example), coming from our lying president?
The president did a not-bad job of reiterating the Bush policy of pre-emption:
If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons. As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas, and using them. Over time, our troops would again face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield. And it could be easier for terrorist organizations to obtain these weapons, and to use them to attack civilians.
He voices the arguments against a Syrian strike, and attempts to discount them:
·         It could put us on a slippery slope to another war.
·         Not worth doing a small strike that doesn’t take out Assad.
·         It will increase danger of retaliation.
·         Why get involved in complicated situation where we have no interest?
·         Why do we have to be the world’s policeman?
His dismissals were not particularly effective, but at least they were attempted. Mostly they amount to, "These are of no concern to me."
The odd thing about the speech was that, up till this point he has built up the reason for taking action, including the assertion that all avenues of diplomacy and political pressure had already failed. Having led us to this point, he finishes with this all-other-options-have-been-tried-and-failed paragraph:
I have a deeply held preference for peaceful solutions. Over the last two years, my administration has tried diplomacy and sanctions, warning and negotiations—but chemical weapons were still used by the Assad regime.
Logically, then, the next section should be encouraging Congress to authorize the use of force. That's what the speech was scheduled to do. But—surprise!
The Russian government has indicated a willingness to join with the international community in pushing Assad to give up his chemical weapons. The Assad regime has now admitted that it has these weapons, and even said they’d join the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits their use.
What a great idea! Why didn’t we think of that? After all, inspections worked so well in Iraq during the 1990s. Oh, if only we’d had Russia involved in diplomacy before! And who better to safeguard these dangerous weapons if/when Syria turns them over? (I'm assuming you can hear irony as you read this. Also expect the spin to be that it was our threat that brought about this new diplomatic possibility.)
There’s something about the Chemical Weapons* Convention that caught my attention—that Syria would “join.” So I looked it up. The CWC became effective in 1997, when 65 states (nations) had ratified the agreement. Currently 189 countries have signed on. Only five UN recognized states have not: Angola, North Korea, Egypt, South Sudan, and Syria. The use of chemical weapons was the “red line” that the president said in 2012 would “change his calculus” toward Syria, and that last week he claimed was the not his, but the world’s red line. The CWC makes it a red line for the countries that agreed with it; the other countries presumably don’t think chemical weapons are too savage for use even in war—so anyone tangling with those countries, beware. Syria did not break a treaty by using chemical weapons on its own people; it never said it wouldn’t use them. And so far (that we know of) it hasn’t used them beyond its own borders.
Without question the use of chemical weapons in Syria is abominable—I would use the word savage—but it was not a broken agreement. Many other savage acts have gone on in Syria as well; one of the rebels recently ate the heart of an enemy, with video boldly posted for the world to see. So you’ve got savages fighting savages. Do we punish for 1000 deaths by chemical weapons, but ignore 100,000 deaths because regular rockets were used? Is it our job to decide what and whom to punish?
There are no good political actors in Syria. We have no apparent national interest there. Good people can disagree on whether we should hold accountable anyone who uses chemical weapons, regardless of their promises. But the president failed at every level, either to convince us of the wisdom of taking action, or to convince us the reasoning behind his sudden new plan not to take action.
What was the speech for? He said it was to explain “why [Syria] matters, and where we go from here.” We heard what we already knew, that chemical weapons are bad. We did not learn why Syria matters to us as Americans. And we did not learn what we are going to do. But we can count on our president to dither.
Here is a plan I would suggest: let the savages within Syria knock each other out. But make a path for getting innocent refugees the heck out of there. They would have to realize they will need to adopt the freedom cultures of any nation they move to, and assimilate themselves into their new country. This could be the best possible outcome for Christians living in Syria, as well as any others who would prefer freedom to whatever brand of tyranny has reigned there for so long.
*I used the term "biological weapons" in my last post; I have been thinking of them as the same: weapons used to kill mainly innocents through illness. But there is probably a difference. There are chemicals used this way, and there are biological infectious materials that could be weaponized. A distinction possibly worth noting. I don't see anything in the description of the CWC to include biological weapons separate from chemical weapons, and I had thought the use of both was considered against the rules of war, but I may be unaware of a separate agreement for biological weapons specifically.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

We Remember

There are a number of images from 9/11 that I find moving. I wrote about one of my favorites, a painting called “Out of the Ashes,” for my 9-11-2011 post. Another is the one of the planting of the US flag.
image source
Because of last year’s 9/11 attack in Benghazi, Libya, we probably need to add some images from 9-11-2012. I like this one:

This 9/11 the president purposely brought to our attention the threat of Islamic extremists by scheduling a vote on a Syria strike for this date, and as a prelude to that vote scheduling a speech to persuade the American people to go along with him.
The delay of a week, to consult Congress, was puzzling. I’m guessing (with not a lot of ability to read this sort of mind) that the president thought time would allow him to build up more public support for a strike—on account of the sheer force of his personality or something. But the more people looked at the situation, the more opposition there was to a strike. Certainty that Assad was behind the attack was shaken. More suspicion was raised about this administration’s surreptitious help of the rebels—which include the anti-freedom Muslim Brotherhood (whom this administration calls “moderate”) and al Qaeda, the very source of the 9/11/2001 attack on American soil.
There’s an odd form of brinksmanship going on lately. The president was going to attack swiftly, without going to Congress, as announced by his Secretary of State way back in the first days after the gas attack in Syria. But later that same day he contradicted Kerry by announcing that he was going to Congress. He didn’t ask for an immediate vote to respond to the recent action in Syria; he decided to let legislators finish their summer break of townhall meetings in their home districts, and come back on the historic and portentous 9/11 date. (Technically, he could only suggest the date; it was up to Harry Reid and John Boehner to schedule the votes.) And then, in the speech, he ended up requesting that Congress not vote to strike.
Before we get to the talk, I thought it might be helpful, on this day of remembering, to go through some of what we still recall. Dots, not necessarily connected, but maybe: 
·        Saddam Hussein used biological weapons against the Kurds—citizens in his own country—in 1988, well before the Gulf War. At the time of the ceasefire of the war to free Kuwait from Iraqi invasion, Saddam admitted to having these weapons, as well as a list of other weapons he was required to destroy (including efforts to develop nuclear capabilities). The ceasefire was not an end to the war, but simply a temporary ceasing of attack on a dictator who was severely overpowered militarily, allowing the surrender of weapons. This was to be verified by UN inspectors. Saddam Hussein refused to produce the weapons or supply evidence of their destruction; nor did he allow inspections of specified facilities, and eventually he ousted the UN inspectors entirely. He suffered numerous UN sanctions, essentially saying, “Hey, you’re not supposed to do that.” But without the resumption of force, he simply thumbed his nose at the authorities.

·        After 9/11/2001, the immediate need was to retaliate against the Al-Qaeda-sponsoring Taliban in Afghanistan. Secondary was the looming, continuing threat of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. We still had a list, from the ceasefire of the Gulf War, of the weapons he admitted to having. And he’d had an additional decade to build up more weapons, without the scrutiny of inspectors. There were at those times photos online (and therefore I can’t be certain of their veracity) of satellite photos from earlier in the 2001 of an Al-Qaeda training location (Salman Pak, I believe) in Iraq that included a 707 fuselage. Along with intel from our own sources and a number of trusted allies, who have yet to deny the veracity of their intel, there was evidence that Iraq was intending and attempting to increase WMDs, both biological and materials for a nuclear program. It’s possible, and many believe, the existence of WMDs was a ruse by Hussein to boost his image of power. But was it safe to assume all the intel was wrong? Along with the history, was the evidence enough to qualify as a “grave and gathering threat”? [That was the phrase used in Collin Powell’s address to Congress, not “imminent threat,” which seems to have become part of the collective memory. Bush, in his 2003 SOTU address specifically said Iraq was not an imminent threat and must not be allowed to become one.] I believed so then, and I still do. Majorities of the public above 60%, and large majorities in Congress and the Senate also agreed, as well as some 40 other nations who joined with us in the world-protecting action.

·        In the months during which preparations were made for invading Iraq, there were reports of mobile biological weapons facilities (possibly in trailers, some of which were eventually found, empty) as well as missiles, being moved toward the Syrian border. When the known WMDs did not turn up after the invasion, that transport to Syria seems a much more believable explanation than that all of the world’s intelligence agencies and Saddam Hussein’s own inventory were wrong.

·        Following the 9/11/2012 attack on the Benghazi embassy, the president lied to the American people, blaming an obscure anti-Islam video—clinging to that line weeks after we all knew it was a terrorist attack. A year later, there is still very little truth forthcoming from the administration (which asks, “What difference does it make?”) We don’t know why requests for added security were not heeded. We don’t know why Ambassador Stevens was asked by SOS Hillary Clinton to meet with some mysterious actors, possibly related to the attackers, in the dangerous Benghazi area on the dangerous anniversary of 9/11. We don’t know why rescue efforts were ordered to stand down. Shortly after the event, and continuing since, are rumors that the deal was to facilitate under-the-table arming of Al-Qaeda-affiliated Syrian rebels.

·        On the anniversary of the Benghazi attack, the president had wanted the Congress to red-light his attack on Syria’s regime, harming Assad and helping the Al-Qaeda-affiliated rebels.
If this were a novel, the clues would add up to the president betraying his own people, with some nefarious scheme—a scheme that, if all the details were to become known, would very likely be prosecutable as treason. That would make exciting reading. But in our real, beloved America, such a president still seems unthinkable.
I do not like suffering through this president’s speeches. The condescending tone and twisting of truth are like fingernails on a chalkboard. But I was curious about what he could say under these circumstances, so I gave in and both listened and read the transcript Tuesday evening.
That speech was, if nothing else, proof positive that “the great orator” is a misnomer, even with a teleprompter. But it does reveal some things we should know—whether they are what the president wanted us to learn or not.
So in the next post we’ll go over what he said, and possibly also what the words mean—because what he says and what he means are not necessarily equivalent.